Passion Points: Green/Eco
Bangkok-based resort and spa company Six Senses has built a name for castaway-chic retreats in such places as the Maldives, Vietnam, Oman, Jordan and Thailand. The most sumptuous of its multiple lines is Soneva, a trio of stunning resorts that are the passion projects of the pioneering and devoted Six Senses founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani. The first two Sonevas— Fushi and Gili — opened in the Maldives. The newest addition Soneva Kiri (www.sixsenses.com) opened in Thailand a little more than a year ago on Koh Kood. Thailand’s fourth largest —but very lightly developed—island, Koh Kood is located in the far southeast of the Gulf, near the Cambodian border. The resort occupies 1,200 acres of hilly, dense tropical forest and creamy beaches on its northwest side. Due to the timing of the opening, which coincided with the global recession and political unrest in Thailand, Kiri was off to a slow start, but that afforded the resort a chance to hone service to perfection. It’s now ready for prime time.
Six Senses is known for a rustic-chic look and feel, and Soneva Kiri delivers beautifully on that front. The 28 sprawling resort villas, measuring between 1,300 to 2,500 square feet each, and eight residences, celebrate relaxed casual living. The private compounds are built into the lush vegetation with loads of space between them (guests navigate the large resort in electric golf carts). Arriving at Soneva Kiri, I was struck by the joyful, untethered imagination of its design. The wood dock where guests arrive leads to an elegantly constructed 50-foot-long bamboo suspension bridge capped by a playful high roof that resembles a dragon’s spine (which, incidentally, took a German engineer, an Australian bamboo specialist and twelve local rice farmers five months to build).
The villas all feature enclosed, air-conditioned bedrooms with four-poster, mosquito-netted beds and velvety vegetable-leather desks. Flat-screen TVs are hidden in the topmost of a stack of antique-looking valises. Outside are multi-level wooden decks, covered dining areas and cool turquoise swimming pools. In every spot where one might consider stopping is an inviting canvas-clad daybed piled with cushions.
Great care has been taken to reduce Soneva Kiri’s environmental footprint. The villas are stocked with reusable glass bottles of the resort’s own purified mineral water. The teak floor is recycled wood. The resorts’ massive pine decks and boardwalks are from reforestation projects, and there’s liberal use of bamboo, which grows quickly and plentifully. Knowing the thoughtfulness behind the resort’s conception just makes it all the more easy to relax.
There’s also a serious focus on wellness; suffice to say that the spa is situated in its own village with eleven treatment villas, a gym and yoga pavilion. For young guests, or those that are young at heart, Soneva Kiri offers Cinema Paradiso, an outdoor movie theater where films are shown on a massive inflatable screen while guests enjoy popcorn, canapés and cocktails. Other activities include snorkeling around neighboring islands and a wide array of water sports are augmented by hikes to a beautiful local waterfall.
When it comes to the culinary offerings, the Shivdasanis are huge advocates of all-things sustainable, local, organic and wholesome. Catalan executive chef Jaume Esperalba, whose resume includes a stint at El Bullì, oversees three restaurants that rely as much as possible on local produce and serve an exceptional selection of Mediterranean and Thai dishes. A fanciful cellar is stocked with vintages from around the world (an interesting inclusion are labels from Thailand’s emerging wine country in the northeast of the country). The restaurant’s locations are a study in whimsy: the home-style Thai eatery occupies an open-air, stilted building that sits on a canal and is reached by powerboat. Another is literally in the treetops, in a four-person pod that is serviced by waiters who arrive via Zipline. For sweet-tooth travelers, a complimentary ice-cream parlor is stocked with some sixty fresh-made sorbets and ice creams. And a refrigerated chocolate room has an almost daunting selection of house-made bonbons, drinks, and cakes that changes daily. Both of these operations are overseen by David Inglada, once voted Barcelona’s best pastry chef, an eccentric wizard who manages to produce crisp-crusted breads and flaky pastries despite the island’s humid tropical clime.
Playful, indulgent and unexpected, it’s these kinds of details that best summarize the Soneva Kiri spirit. Even though visitors can engage in a host of activities and pampering, perhaps the biggest luxury at the resort is the sense of having truly escaped the stress and demands of daily life. It’s a well-thought-out, castaway fantasy that keeps everyone thoroughly entertained and surprised throughout a visit. Suites from $1,500.
WHO SHOULD/SHOULD NOT STAY
Soneva Kiri is ideal for families and couples, since the villas are extremely private and set far apart. Staying at the resort, however, requires climbing staircases and the willingness to drive a golf cart, so it’s not ideal for the physically-challenged. Also, the bathrooms are in separate buildings, which entails opening and shutting doors and venturing outside during the night, so it’s not for the critter-phobic.
Guests are met at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and whisked through customs by a Six Senses representative, then ushered into the Thai Airways business class lounge to board the hour-long flight to Koh Kood aboard the resort’s Cessna Grand Caravan.
IDEAL LENGTH OF STAY
Three nights is the minimum; a week is ideal.
SUITES TO GET
The resort’s unique Eco Villa—the first of its kind in this part of the world—lacks the ocean views of the Cliff and Beach suites, but makes up for in secluded jungle fantasy and romance, with the bonus of zero-carbon emissions. The pool is a saltwater pond, and the bedroom’s interior ceiling is a collage of teak leaves. Wild as it is, the villa can be fully closed and air-conditioned at night.
Soneva Kiri is close to the Cambodian border, so the resort offers an over-the-top excursion to the magnificent ruins of the Khmer empire’s capital, Angkor. Guests travel aboard an 8-seater private Cessna Grand Caravan. The trip includes amazing insider access, including to conservation areas of the ruins and a wonderful catered meal served among the ruins. Guests can also choose to spend the night at one of Siem Reap’s best hotels (like the Colonial-era Raffles or Amansara), then rise early to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It’s an incredibly special way to add some culture to a trip that’s essentially focused on beachtime and relaxation. ~ LAUREL DELP
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