The smell of lemongrass and spices wafts through the trees of our jungle-like lunch setting.
The heat of the sun only amplifies this delicious aroma while our teacher Guan continues to pound the garlic into her mortar with her battered stone pestle.
We watched as she grabbed a bunch of leaves growing from the ground in the Nai Mueang restaurant’s garden, tore off a few pieces, and beckoned us to eat them.
That’s the beauty of Kwan Cooking School, tucked away in a local village in southern Thailand—everything in the traditional Thai dishes served here is grown on-site, and you get to taste the food fresh before cooking.
In less than two hours, my friend Rowan and I whipped up a spicy pan naan curry and a noodle shrimp appetizer that looked better than anything I’ve had at Thai restaurants back home much.
Back at our resort, Avani+ Khao Lak, chilled cocktails and shaded sunbeds awaited us, all of these delicacies somehow tasted even better.
All-inclusive resorts like ours are a big selling point in Thailand.
With white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and everything you need at your fingertips, living here feels like stepping straight into a movie set, not to mention, now that the hit TV series “White Lotus” is heading to Thailand for its third installment. series.
Cooking classes are just one of the many excursions Avani+ Khao Lak offers.
But for those looking for a vacation in pure luxury, this is the place to go.
most people read on beach holidays
There’s a laid-back outdoor bar lined with colorful bean bags that backs onto a beach lined with hammocks, where you can watch the waves crash on the shore while sipping a drink.
Further down the beach our room (technically a villa) was equally gorgeous with a private pool, indoor and outdoor dining areas, lounge and two modern and stylish bedrooms with all mod cons.
There are no cooking facilities though, as you have a huge choice of restaurants including breakfast and lunch buffets, cafes, a poolside Italian bar and a beachfront restaurant serving Western/Thai fusion dishes such as Tom Yum Spaghetti.
Like the fictional staff at The White Lotus, the staff here go above and beyond to be on call, on call, on call, and on call.
Of course, exploration is a must when you venture into this exotic world.
On the nearby Wang Kiang Ku River, you can book a bamboo rafting experience (£12 for two) to get in touch with nature.
Each raft has been crafted by locals and will take you through winding waters teeming with wildlife – we spotted snakes hiding in trees and baby turtles perched on rocks.
There is much more wildlife to see, but do your research as there are still many unscrupulous companies offering pictures of baby monkeys and riding elephants.
If you want to do your part to help, but also want to get up close and personal with some wildlife, Phuket’s last remaining tropical rainforest is in Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, home to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (gibbonproject.org), The charity was established in 1992 to save gibbons that were taken from their homes by poachers.
Most of the workers are volunteers, and registration fees go directly to further rescue missions.
You’ll observe apes in their natural habitat, swinging from a rope.
We smile, and Tam, a white-handed woman with only two fingers on her left hand and one leg, gulps down her mangoes as happily as we are fascinated by her presence.
When you’re done, walk from here to Bang Pae Waterfall, or hire a driver to take you around the island’s top attractions.
Popular spots like Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha are further south (you’ll need to dress modestly), or visit the old town, which is packed with traditional cafes selling cheap dumplings and boutiques selling handmade clothing and handbags.
If you want to experience the buzz but still be close to the beach and pool for leisure time, sister resort Avani+ Mai Khao is a prime location, just a short drive from the old town and a 10-minute walk to the sea.
Early risers can hop onto the beach for sunrise yoga, while the kids can spend the day by the pool, complete with swim-up bar and giant inflatable cinema.
Excellent restaurants abound.
Try Phuket lobster, available on most menus but best at Sea.Fire.Salt, where the fish is still sizzling on hot bricks and served with a sweet and spicy Thai sauce and garlic butter.
If you want to try it all, the on-resort Claws & Co offers buckets of seafood (literally), including sweet lobster, succulent king prawns, sticky squid, flaky sea bass and crab, all served in sauce, along with shells Delivered to your table – smashing hammers, aprons and disposable gloves – trust me, you’re going to need them.
During meal time, there are plenty of activities on site to keep you entertained.
Just make sure you allow plenty of time between lunch and climbing the resort’s climbing wall, or better yet, channel your inner Jennifer Coolidge and order another poolside rosé.
reach there: Emirates is £359.50 one way from London to Phuket. See emirates.com.
live there: Rooms at Avani+ Khao Lak start from £93 per night, while one-bedroom suites at Avani+ Mai Khao Phuket start at £136 per night. See avanihotels.com.
More about: A Kwan cooking class at Nai Mueang Restaurant costs £48 (THB 2,000) per person for four people. The gibbon program costs £60 (THB 2,500) for a group of three. All excursions can be booked through the hotel reception, including the driver.