When architect Lek Bunnag designed the Ritz-Carlton Phulay Bay he wanted to detach the resort from the outside world. Inspired by the ancient Khmers, who separated their heavenly temples from earthly realms with moats guarded by demons and seven-headed snakes, Bunnag makes guests tip-toe around a water-filled courtyard before reaching the welcome hall on the far side.

It’s an obstacle designed to throw the visitor, muddle their sense of reality and prepare them for the sanctum within. It certainly throws me, particularly when I’m too busy gaping at the enormous Thai temple skeleton forming the welcome hall and nearly end up head first in the water.

A collection of 53 villas, five restaurants and a spa in a watery labyrinth of ponds, streams and fountains, Phulay Bay is as Bunnag intended- pure escapism. Spacious villas, exquisitely crafted with oversized beds, dual tubs and metres of private balcony overlooking lush gardens, are good enough to live in. Having survived the courtyard, I contemplate not leaving my villa for my three-day stay but what fool would miss out on a signature Phulatini cocktail at Chom Tawan bar, with its views across the limestone outcrops rising out of Phang Nga Bay?

Ten minutes before cocktail-o’clock, my chirpy butler, Aom, knocks on the door with an iron, “in case I need anything pressed”. A hotel anticipating my needs; I’m impressed. What’s more, Aom tells me this is her first time as a butler- and I am her first guest.

“When we interviewed staff for this resort, we weren’t looking for the person with the most impressive CV or even most relevant experience,” says Ritz-Carlton’s regional director of PR, Daniel Ford, as we dine at Sri Trang, Phulay Bay’s elegant Thai restaurant. “Instead, it’s all about how the applicant approaches us when they step into the room: eye contact, openness, honesty and enthusiasm. We can train hotel etiquette but we can’t train personality.”

The next morning I wake to Aom beaming from the front door. I have to get to the daily complimentary yoga class and she needs to show me the way. With some trepidation I agree to let Aom do my chores while I’m gone: book a flight, iron a bunch of clothes, file name card details. She assures me the only thing she has to do today is look after me and she’d be bored otherwise.

Besides, there are far bigger things for me to resolve, like should I take a boat out to the uninhabited islands peppering Phang Nga Bay, or snuggle under a white curtained sala flanking the resort’s enormous infinity pool? I opt to zone out with a Thai massage in the Zen-styled spa before heading to the pool- the outside world can wait for another day.

Villas start from 19,550 baht ($670), including breakfast (opening and low-season rates- until October 31)

This review appeared in the March 16, 2010 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspaper’s Traveller.