Mexico Asian-influenced elegance at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba By Paul J. Heney / May 04, 2017 Share 1 Each of the 121 villas at the resort features a large pool. -- "This changes my mind about what Cancun can be," my partner said during our first night at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba near Playa del Carmen. We were enjoying a delicious Thai dinner, seated on a deck cantilevered over the water with string lights gently swaying above our heads. The salmon-colored sunset was fading, and we could see the constellations of Canis Major and Orion start to come out.We weren't exactly in Cancun, but a 45-minute drive south of its airport in Mayakoba, a 1,600-acre development built amid a natural wonderland of shallow waterways and mangrove forests. The luxurious accommodations, high-end dining and unparalleled privacy represented a far different world from the party central experience that many people pursue when flying into Cancun.Banyan Tree is known for melding its Asian traditions with the local customs of each property, and the Mexican-Asian vibe, while restrained, is ever present, from the multitude of sculptures to the service culture. The majority of the resort is nestled in with the natural surroundings, with winding pathways connecting the main building to individual villas. A smaller number of two- and three-bedroom villas are located within sight of the beach, about a half-mile away.A two-bedroom villa at the Haven, a beachside enclave at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba near Playa del Carmen. My initial reaction to the layout was disappointment that we weren't right on the beach, but that quickly dissipated when I found out that each villa included two bicycles, complete with large front baskets. Riding to the beach was a pleasure and afforded us more opportunities to spy the many birds, monkeys and other wildlife that populate Mayakoba. You can also take golf carts or electric boats to the beach from the main building. The staff will gladly transport your bicycles back to your villa if you're too tired and prefer a cart ride back from the beach.At the beach, there's a central building that contains the Sands lunch restaurant, a children's activity room and a beach activity center. It abuts a pool with a swim-up bar that overlooks the white-sand beach.One of the most captivating things about the resort is the villas themselves, which feature a great deal of privacy. Each of the 121 villas has its own large pool, and many also have a hot tub. Ours included two buildings, one with a large family room containing a big couch/daybed, a dining room table and a TV. The other housed an expansive bedroom and a first-class bathroom, which featured a walk-in shower and an outside soaking tub that was walled in for privacy but open to the sky. In the evenings, the staff will prepare a bath for you and light the myriad votive candles tucked into one wall, so you can soak immediately after returning from dinner.The villas also feature a lawn area where the staff will barbecue a private picnic lunch upon request. Lush landscaping surrounds the edges of each villa, and combined with the layouts and elevations of the neighboring villas, there is complete privacy afforded to guests using their pools or hot tubs.Eleven of the villas are situated apart from the main complex. Five of these are two-bedroom affairs just steps from the beach, while the remaining six are oceanfront, three-bedroom setups.Saffron, the Banyan Tree Mayakoba’s signature restaurant, specializes in Thai cuisine. The dining at Mayakoba is top-notch. Saffron, the signature restaurant, features Thai cuisine, while Cello focuses on Italian specialties and the Tomahawk Den is an Argentinian steakhouse extraordinaire. The breakfast buffet at Oriente was a highlight, with an excellent assortment of Mexican, Asian and international specialties. Lunch at the Sands was magical, with fresh seafood and Mexican favorites perfectly accompanying the blue water and warm breezes.The Banyan Tree Spa was a marvelous experience. Our couples treatment began with the Rainforest. This hourlong, private affair includes multiple rooms that bring your senses alive with an array of warm and cold water as well as steam, fragrances, body rubs and textured surfaces. It finishes with a huge pool area that heats and massages you with a variety of jets. Finish that up with an hourlong Thai massage and you'll never want to leave this very different side of Mexico.Nightly rates begin at $ 549, double. Visit www.banyantree.com/en/em-mexico-mayakoba.