How To Holiday Like A Billionaire
MR PORTER travels to newly available Villa Similan in Thailand to find out how the other 0.8 per cent live
View from Villa Similan. Photograph courtesy of Layan Residences by Anantara
Billionaires build big. It goes with the territory. Expansive bank accounts lead to expansive thoughts, which then become expansive houses and yachts the size of Belgium. I can say this with certainty as I am sitting in a house belonging to one at 7.00am, looking over an infinity pool that juts out to sea and encircles an island, where the American-born Thai billionaire Mr Bill Heinecke’s yacht sometimes bobs.
“I usually entertain at the villa at weekends,” says the affable tycoon whose face adorns a magazine about private jets in the sitting room of Villa Similan. “I usually have my yacht, Major Affair, anchored just offshore in case I do decide to use it for lunch or a sunset cruise on the Andaman Sea. You get the best sunsets.” He is at his Bangkok eyrie when I visit. I feel this is a shame as he sounds rather jolly.
However, his butler, Mr Tony Panwaris, is here. I long not to call him redoubtable, as if he is an escapee from Blandings Castle, but I am afraid he is just that. The most efficient person I have ever met, he is straight out of a storybook. I put down a pair of Dries Van Noten swim shorts and they are taken away, cleaned, folded and put back in the wardrobe – on a hanger! – before dinner. This is very spoiling.
I suppose this is what billionaires expect, no matter how affable: pin-point perfection. Certainly, the house is very much one belonging to a man, rather than a hotel group. There are the little touches, enormous brass frogs sprawled like leopards by the pool, spider crabs in Murano crystal dotted about the lounge, the actual golden gun from the 1974 James Bond film in the cinema room. That is the thing about the place: it was built for Mr Heinecke, 70, and his friends, so they could be “removed from their day-to-day life and work, immersed in natural surroundings”. The thing is, that immersion was only happening every couple of weekends, so like any wise hospitality billionaire, he decided to rent it out the rest of the time and MR PORTER is one of the first to try out this new arrangement.
The sitting room at Villa Similan. Photograph courtesy of Layan Residences by Anantara
Villa Similan sits among 15 other residences on the Anantara Layan hotel resort on the quiet, northwest corner of the Thai island of Phuket. Similan is that little bit higher than the rest, that bit bigger, with views that bit finer: cobalts and greens and golden-yellow beaches so bright they looks like a child’s approximation of a desert island. “Most of my guests are particularly impressed by the views that Similan has to offer, the scale of the residences,” says Mr Heinecke, with some understatement.
The scale would not disgrace a vice-regal palace. But it’s done artfully. It doesn’t dominate the forest it sits in. It sits on the highest point you can find on Phuket and is built with an indoor-outdoor design that deftly addresses the island’s restrictions on roofed structures exceeding 90m. Somehow, within the confines of its terracotta stucco walls, it finds space for eight colossal bedrooms, three salas, a 22m Indonesian Sukabumi stone infinity pool, a burnished metal spa, a games room with antique custom-built Thai billiards table and room dedicated to cigars and wine. It makes clever use of the camber of the hill it sits on.
It ought to be clever, too. This is the final masterpiece of designer Mr Jaya Ibrahim, who died in 2015, and was invariably a feature of Architectural Digest’s list of the 100 best designers in the world. The son of a Sumatran diplomat and a Javanese princess, his genius for open-plan layouts and clean lines, which invite in nature, rather than obscure it, is there to see at the Aman at Summer Palace in Beijing, The Setai in Miami and The Legian in Bali.
What Mr Ibrahim has created here is a little self-contained world of sky-bright loveliness. You sit in it and on it and you feel like top dog. The resort, to which it is attached, with its two restaurants, its Muay Thai ring, its beach bar and all its manifold pleasant distractions, is very lovely, but you must travel down from the villa to reach it. It is like descending from Parnassus, if Parnassus was accessed by golf buggy driven by your own personal butler.
A stay in Villa Similan costs from £13,000 per night including VIP airport pick-up, round-trip transfers, breakfast, live-in butler, private chef and maid service and complimentary minibar (non-alcoholic drinks and snacks).