The Very Model of a Modern Island Paradise; Kate Moss and Damien Hirst Are among the UK Celebrities Who Enjoy Phuket's Fine Beaches, Says Jim Dunn

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Dunn

HIGH on a lush green hill along Phuket's glamorous west coast -- known locally as Millionaires' Row-- there is a small group of very happy housemaids. These are the women who work at super-chic Villa Chan Grajang, which has recently been let for about [pounds sterling]2,800 a night but which is now on the market for [pounds sterling]5 million. The maids are thrilled because a guest, who visited the villa with his family, left them a handsome tip for their efforts, plus a potentially even more generous present. The "charming" man had sketched the maids in a group and signed it: Damien Hirst.

Given the astonishing prices the artist's work commands, perhaps the maids will soon make an offer on the villa.

The house has six bedrooms, all en-suite, and nearly 2,270sq ft of living space, with a swimming pool and all the latest technological gadgets. But what will sell it will be the stunning view it has over the peaceful Surin Beach below and on to the Andaman Sea.

Should you be tempted by the villa, the uber-smart Amanpuri Hotel, where Kate Moss is a regular, and the luxurious Banyan Tree spa hotel are nearby to take any overspill of guests -- or to offer you a light lunch. Also a short walk away are boutiques that offer endless designer shopping.

Phuket, an island off the south-west coast of Thailand, has long been a tourists' playground, now with six million visitors a year. It has also accrued an impressive list of homeowners including film star Jackie Chan and Finnish Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen. Members of the Thai royal family have a huge villa on this coast, and hold court with a sparkling array of guests.

In a country that has seen political upheavals, mainly in the capital Bangkok, a one-hour flight away, and the tragic tsunami of 2004, tourism has nonetheless increased.

With its steady 25 to 35 degrees throughout the year, Phuket entered the British tourism scene in the late Seventies and after many years UK visitors are now buying homes there. There are residency restrictions but you can spend up to three months on the island at a time, the over-fifties able to stay longer if they can prove they have a healthy bank account. Once granted, visas must be renewed every year, which, provided you are wellbehaved, is a simple formality. Like all tourist islands it has made its mistakes, with huge areas of overdevelopment particularly around Patong, the main beach, with its sleazy strip of bars, nightclubs and tacky T-shirt shops. But then, every paradise has its dark corners and life would be duller without them.

Elsewhere there are numerous quiet and secluded bays to swim in and hundreds of islands to escape to for that castaway feeling. And there is property to suit all pockets.

On a bay in Kamala on the upmarket west coast, a four-bedroom en-suite duplex penthouse with stunning sea views and endless beach to explore is on the market for for [pounds sterling]600,000. A twobedroom apartment in the same area is going for [pounds sterling]350,000 and rents for [pounds sterling]400 a night in season. …