THE DREAM --
I want to travel to incredibly gorgeous places that are still off the beaten path. I am looking for places that are in developing nations, where the act of just traveling there can help eradicate poverty and bring in much-needed tourism dollars into the local economy, and that the journey to get to the exotic destination rivals the destination itself.
Sometimes finding a mission helps you to find a destination to travel to and not the other way around. This is how I happened to stumble across the Ani Villas, owned by visionary, Tim Reynolds.
“Ani” is a play on a Swahili word. Andjani means ‘to be’ on a path or a journey. Think of a man from, say, Tanzania, who comes walking through a village on a journey of 200 miles to his ancestral burial ground. That’s Andjani, and to Tim Reynolds, that seemed like an appropriate word for people who wanted more than just a vacation or a wedding and for artists just setting out on their journey. He wanted to create a place that transforms you when you stay there and also the local economy.
Traveling to a destination that transforms you is the travel trend of 2017, but Tim Reynolds had this vision already years ago when he came up with the concept of building Ani Villas. As a former banker on Wall Street, having sold his company for a lot of money, he decided to create something sustainable and meaningful with his fortune.
He not only wanted to build what would become extended family homes in some of his favorites places in the world, but he wanted to give back to the local communities as well. This doesn’t mean just creating jobs for locals at his resorts, Tim took his passion for Art and decided to build local Art Schools near each of his villas that offer full scholarships and training to locals who want to hone their art and learn how to make a living at it.
Being the entrepreneur that he is, Tim has managed to combine all of his skills and passions in life; making money, building schools in developing countries and giving back, and vacationing in far off gorgeous, exotic places, to create Ani Villas, a one-of-a-kind hospitality educational operation that builds art schools in far-flung corners of the globe, and complementary, boutique resorts that are rented to one group at a time.
So the Ani Villas were born and the resorts offer the exclusivity of a private estate rental with the amenities of a fully serviced resort, including a restaurant, bar, spa, pools, leisure coordinators and concierge services. There are four Ani Villas around the world; on Koh Yao Noi (near Phuket) in Thailand, on Anguilla in the Caribbean, on the central south coast of Sri Lanka, and on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
The sister schools are called Ani Art Academies and offer a full scholarship, comprehensive drawing and painting program to the local communities in Anguilla, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic, and at two additional locations in the United States.
After three to four years of painstaking development, each school steers students out into communities that, hopefully, will be all the richer for having art in their mix. One hundred percent of the expenses, construction costs and the endowment for the Ani Art Academies is financed by Ani Villas and the Tim Reynolds Foundation. And what’s even better is that the actual villas you stay in becoming a place where students sell their work.
When the art sells, the artist gets 100% of the proceeds. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. I mean, who doesn’t want to bring back a really nice piece of art from the vacation of a lifetime?
THE PLAN (ITINERARY) --
I was already going to be in Southeast Asia for a conference in Phuket, Thailand with a group of wedding planners, so we decided to pop over to the nearby island of Koh Yao Noi to check out the Ani Villas there.
The island of Koh Yao Noi is the Thailand travelers remember from decades ago and not the overcrowded tourist havens that seem to be what the Thai islands are becoming. I am all about escaping the hoards of tourists when I am traveling, so we contacted Ani Villas and they organized a boat to come pick us up from Phuket to make the hour-long journey to Phang Nga Bay with its dramatic sea-cliffs, beautiful lagoons and pristine beaches on Koh Yao Noi island, home to Ani Villas Thailand.
The best part about staying at an Ani property is that their concierge takes care of everything for you, so you don’t even have to pre-plan an itinerary, transportation or meals, worry about timelines, or even know what time of day or day of the week it is because they have it covered!
Their spectacular 10-suite ocean front private resort comes staffed with a full team dedicated to all aspects of your journey or celebration, and together they can help you select activities with as much action or relaxation as you and your group desire. Ani Villas can arrange for a traditional Thai wooden, longtail boat to come pick you up and take you on a variety of adventures around the islands from scuba diving, rock climbing, dinner on private beaches, boat tours and kayaking through sea caves and lagoons.
ACTIVITIES ANI’s CONCIERGE CAN ORGANIZE FOR YOU
Experiencing the local culture and finding unique adventures is the way that I like to travel. Although sipping cocktails by the pool all day and getting messages is a perfect way to spend the day, I personally like to taste the local flavor and get out and explore.
I believe in nurturing your mind, body, and spirit when traveling, so I chose activities every day that did just that! I also love to pack in as much adventure, spa treatments and culture into every trip that I do, so I suggest trying EVERYTHING on this list and choosing one adventure activity, one cultural one, and one spa treatment a day.
COMPLIMENTARY CYCLING TOURS
Our cycling guide will take you through some of the most idyllic natural settings on our tranquil island. Passing rustic villages, quiet beaches, rice paddies and rubber fields, spotting some beautiful birds, monkeys and even the odd monitor lizard.
- Here in Krabi, Thailand, the beauty and hidden gems are as endless as the many rock formations you can climb. You can spend days and weeks trying to explore every nook and cranny and never get to see it all. Enjoy the thrill of rock climbing
- Beginners and climbers of all abilities are welcome
- Price / Person: Baht 3,500++ per person
- Min 2-6 Persons
- Includes half-day instruction, guide, all equipment, boat from Tha Kao Pier, fruit and drinks
DEEP WATER SOLO
- Deep Water Soloing in Thailand is the ultimate tropical climbing experience
- Climb straight out of a boat up the cliff side and JUMP
- One of Thailand’s most exhilarating and unforgettable experiences
- Price: Baht 3,500++ per person / minimum 2 persons / maximum 6 persons
- 10am – 3pm
- Amazing marine life and coral are just a short boat ride from Ani Villas Local Dive: Baht 4,000++/person (Minimum 3-6 persons). Shark Point: Baht 5,700++/person (Minimum 3-6 persons) . Koh Talu: Baht 4,600 ++/person (Minimum 3-6 persons) . Phi Phi Island: Baht 6,600 ++/person (Minimum 3-6 persons)
- Price includes longtail boat, diving gear, national park fee, dive master, lunch box, fruit and drinking water
- Private Dive can also be arranged upon request from Baht 13,000- 31,000++ /person
KOH KUDU, KOH ROI & BIG TREE
- Take a longtail swim in the beautiful sandy bay of Koh Kudu.
- Cross over to Koh Roi to visit the Bat Lagoon
- Ending the trip on the Northern tip of Koyao Noi to view the Big Tree hidden within the jungle.
- Tour includes: Longtail boat, English speaking guide, soft drinks & seasonal fruit
- Half Day Trip (4hrs): Price: Baht 2,000++ per persons / Minimum 2 person, children below 12 Years old half price
KRABI - AO-THALENE CANOE AND KOH PAK BIA
- Explore the mangroves of Ao Thalene by canoe, where you can spot wild monkeys and birds. A Take a dip at beautiful Koh Pak Bia
- Tour includes: Longtail boat, canoe, English speaking guide, soft drinks, lunch and seasonal fruit
- 9am – 4pm
- Price: Baht 3,000++ per person / Minimum 2 persons, children below 12 Years old half price
EXPLORE THE ISLANDS OF HONG, PAK BIA, LADING AND RAI
- This is one of the most popular trips • Swim, snorkel, relax on white sandy beaches.
- 9am – 4pm Tour includes: Traditional Longtail Boat, English speaking guide, Snorkeling gear, Soft Drinks + Lunch on the Beach + Seasonal Fruit and National park fee
- Price: Baht 2,500++ per person / Minimum 2 persons, children below 12 Years old half price National park fee Baht 300 per person is not included in the price
COOKING CLASSES WITH CHEF YAO
Learn to prepare, cook & enjoy some famous Thai dishes: Pad-Thai, Tom Yum Goong, Green Curry & Som-Tum, and delicious Thai Desserts including Mango with Sticky Rice.
Learn about Songkran or Water Festival: both the traditional and fun
Loy Kratong or Candle Festival Make eco-friendly banana leaf Kratongs (floating flower baskets)
- Learn to paint your own Batik handkerchief, scarf or sarong with the Tha Kao Women’s Group
- Prices per person from Baht 200 – 1,000++
- 4 hours
MUAY THAI BOXING
- Get fit and have fun with this Thai Traditional Martial Art
- Instruction by the Thai National Champion
- Training : Baht 600++ / per hour / per person
- Private Courses( 1 person) : Baht 1,000 ++ / per hour
Enjoy relaxing treatments including a Royal Thai Massage, Deep Impact Massage, Aromatic Essence Massage or a Herbal Foot Ritual. Six complimentary treatments per day are available for 2 in our Double Spa Room
- Enjoy Viyasana, Hatha or Yin Yoga
- Private ( 1 person ) : Baht 1,500++ per hour
- 3-4 persons: Baht 600++ per hour / per person
- Private Classes at the Ani Villas can be arranged upon request.
THE EXPERIENCE --
“It’s all yours”, the woman said to me when I arrived at Ani Villas and asked for the WIFI password. I love that this is their motto here, that anything is possible because that is truly the mission of the Ani Villas around the world.
There is something romantic about arriving at a destination that you can only get to by boat or seaplane. The journey was long, we flew into Phuket, Thailand, took a taxi to the marina where we boarded a speedboat arranged by Ani to the nearby lesser-known island of Yao Noi, where another “taxi” was waiting for us to take us to Ani Villas. Basically, any kind of vehicle you can think of here in Thailand has been retrofitted to become a taxi.
We found ourselves sitting in the back of a covered truck on parallel benches driving through the lush, windy roads through villages and jungles and past white sand beaches and green water for 30 minutes until we finally reached our destination. At first, I thought, “How is this the only way to get to this 5-star luxury resort?, but then I realized that this journey was all part of the experience.
If we were to arrive by plane, step into a limousine, and somehow magically appear at our villa, we would never truly appreciate or understand where we were or how remote and special this slice of paradise in the Indian Ocean really is. It takes you by surprise when you finally arrive here. It’s like reaching a refreshing oasis in the desert to be greeted by the friendly staff with cold wash cloths and welcome drinks, being told that “It’s all yours”.
That theme is prevalent as we toured our new home away from home and were shown to our individual, unique villas. The philosophy of the Ani Villas around the world is to feel like you are staying in a private family home.
The villas are all different, they all share common spaces and instead of having a restaurant, they have a large open kitchen and an outdoor dining room pagoda in the pool with a large table where everyone sits together for their meals like a family.
The meals are all served family style as well and their master Chef Yao personally comes to our table to check on us as course after course is brought out for us to enjoy. The best part about this place is the infinity pool with large furniture and pillows to lounge on, partially submerged in the pool, while overlooking one of the most stunning vistas you will ever see of the Thai islands. Your view is straight out over the Andaman Sea towards Krabi, the mainland, and dozens of large rocks and islands floating across the horizon in jagged, dripping forms.
They pointed out to us these three rocks that when you look at the third one framed through the other two rocks, the shape of a heart appears only visible from this angle at Ani Villas. If you get up early enough, you can watch the sun rise behind the rocks, making the famous “heart rock”, glow different shades of orange and it is an incredible view to wake up to. It is no surprise that when they host private weddings here that they aim the ceremony chairs to face the “heart rock”.
The entire resort is made for gatherings of friends and family to come stay together on holiday or to celebrate special occasions like weddings or anniversaries. It is an intimate environment set up where you feel like you have space and privacy, but you are still together and not isolated like many other private resorts here in Thailand.
What also makes everything feel like you are staying in a family home and not a resort is that all of the activities, food, and drinks are “all-inclusive” or easily organized by your personal concierge, meaning you can just sign up for massages at the spa, paddle boarding, muay Thai kickboxing lessons, or snorkeling as often as you like and your wish is always granted.
The best part is that after you complete your spa treatment on the third floor in their spa, there is a double helix water slide that you can jump on to take you back down to the villa level, which I think is the most genius way to get down three flights of stairs ever. Who wants to walk down stairs after an amazing Thai massage anyway?
One afternoon we went and visited the famed Ani Art school that we had heard so much about on Koh Yao Noi and it was like visiting a zen artist commune, watching the artists shade hyper-realistic drawings in pencil while outside water buffalos roamed in rice paddy fields.
Ani Villas doesn’t just transform its guests through their stay and experiences, but also these artists, and the locals with giving them jobs and opportunities to enhance their lives and communities. Transformative Travel isn’t just a trend here at Ani Villas, it is their entire philosophy.
After touring the art school, we all arrived back at the resort for lunch and it was a particularly hot and humid day. They were ready to serve us our family lunch and all we wanted to do was jump in the pool we were so hot and sweaty.
So in typical “Ani fashion”, following their mantra of “It’s all yours”, they said no problem and they served our lunch and drinks to us at one of their two submerged seating areas in the pool. So we were able to have everything we wanted all at once. It was amazing and one of my favorite experiences at the resort.
SHARE (Reflections + Learnings) --
Some may ask WHY travel so far to such a remote island to have your wedding or vacation. The answer is simple, anything is possible here. If you want to have a private wedding ceremony on a nearby island, the answer is yes. If you want to have a massage, have your lunch served in the pool, learn how to make local art, or have a local Muay Thai fighter come personally show you some moves, the answer is yes. Pretty much anything your heart desires, the answer is “yes”.
On top of the obvious reasons to go there, like the gorgeous natural settings, the exclusivity, the luxury, the spa, and the pools, the main reason is to feel like you are staying at a home away from home.
All inclusive here doesn’t mean drink gorge on food and alcohol until you drop, instead it is about experiencing the culture and adventure of this unique island at whatever pace you are ready for and it is about including you in the heart of this place, giving back, and feeling like you are with family even though you are thousands of miles away from home. Their wifi password couldn’t have said it any better, “It’s all yours”.
WHAT IS INCLUDED WHEN YOU STAY AT ANI VILLAS
- One round trip transfer per group from the airport
- Fully staffed including Butler service, housekeeping & turndown
- Laundry (wash and fold)
FOOD & BEVERAGE
- A Private Chef to prepare Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
- Beverages including wine, beer and top shelf alcohol
- All-day snacks and cocktail service
- 33m Infinity Swimming Pool
- Children Swimming Pool with waterslide
- Yoga Platform
- Open Dining Sala
- Open Living Sala
- A/C Living Sala with Pool Table
- State of the Art Fitness Room
WATERSPORTS & ADVENTURE
- Snorkel equipment
- Stand-up Paddleboards
- Mountain Bikes for adults and kids
- Cycling tours
- Cooking classes
- Thai cultural activities
- All spa treatments
Photo credit Lauragrier.com and CHRISTIANGOMEZ.COM