Soneva Kiri sets the standard of luxury in Thailand
By: Sarah Engstrand
November 21, 2018
Ever dreamt of escaping to paradise and leaving the real world behind? Well, you can do just that at Soneva Kiri, a hidden luxury resort in Thailand. It’s tucked into the jungle of Koh Kood, one of Thailand’s biggest and least developed islands, and is only 90 minutes from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. While regular visitors to the island shuttle between public transport, resort guests arrive effortlessly via a small private plane and speed boat.
Soneva Kiri, part of the Soneva Brand founded by husband and wife team Eva and Sonu Shivdasani, has a ‘no shoes, no news’ philosophy, encouraging guests to turn off from the hectic digital daze, and recalibrate. You don’t need to know how the stocks are doing, you just need to know that your Tibetan singing bowl massage is at 11:30am, and there are fresh coconuts at breakfast. WiFi is available in the rooms and some public areas, and there’s a DVDs-only television in all of the rooms, but honestly, you won’t want to use them.
Here, it’s about living a slow life, but an enriched one. They’ve even set the clocks forward an hour to ‘resort time’, so guests can enjoy that little bit more of sunlight. Soneva Kiri looks like it came straight out of Robinson Crusoe, but with fabulous touches of a designer. The entire compound is mostly made from natural materials, like bamboo, sandstone and timber, so the buildings seem to blend into the natural surroundings.
The first day is a little overwhelming, a bit like the on-boarding process on a cruise. You meet so many people that their names become a blur, and you’re given a schedule of a dozen possible things to do. The questions pile up quickly. What time was breakfast again? Is this our villa? But with the help of your personal Mr. or Ms. Friday, the confusion soon shifts into a tranquil flow.
The Fridays are essentially on-call valets who facilitate your life at Soneva Kiri, scheduling excursions, making reservations, and essentially helping arrange anything you might need.
We stay in Villa 16, a one bedroom that looks out onto the ocean. Outside, there’s a private pool, expansive sitting area, shower and bath. Inside, there’s a boudoir, handsome wooden desk, and a bedroom straight out of an explorer’s dream. A stack of vintage travel trunks conceal the television—which we use once— and the double doors open up to a private pool. Co-founder Eva and her team of designers custom make all of the furnishing, using recycled wood, hand-woven fabrics and sustainable leather.
In the high season, when the weather is best, it’s easy to imagine a buzzy hum of energy as guests mill about the resort, taking full advantage of the outdoor offerings, rushing from kayaking to water skiing or snorkelling at Koh Rang National Marine Park. Weather permitting, there are open-air film screenings at the Cinema Paradiso, or you can dine 20 feet in the air with Soneva Kiri’s famous Treepod Dining experience, just buckle yourself into the bamboo pod and await your zip-line-delivered meal.
But we are here in July, the low season, so we don’t do any of that. Our rain-soaked days are slow and tranquil, and we fall into an languid routine. We wake early for a complementary experience, like a yoga session or a chakra balancing class, and then meander to the Dining Room for breakfast. We explore every ‘zone’, from the juice bar to the pastry room and the towering table of fresh local fruit. Then we go for a swim in the private pool, before heading off for another experience. We make organic beauty products, like tea tree foot soaks and coconut husk body scrubs, and learn to use Tibetan singing bowls; we walk barefoot and learn to balance on the slippery wood as we head to the chocolate room (yes, this exists – and it’s right next to the ice cream bar).
For those interested in detox holidays or healthy retreats, the resort has an on-site Ayurvedic doctor who will create a custom-made activity plan and menu to reset your body. As enlightening as the wellness screening was, I opted to indulge in the amazing restaurants instead (sorry Dr. Singh!). The resort is dedicated to sustainability, and they produce around 50 per cent of their produce in their organic garden. The rest they source from a local market, or a larger market 64km away. They don’t have suppliers, instead their culinary team heads out each day to select the freshest ingredients. A last day massage seems to right all the wrongs I did to my body, and so I am at peace with myself and my choices.
After a few days in paradise, I find that I’m no longer compulsively checking my phone, and I’m sleeping better than ever. I don’t completely drop off the grid – my Instagram was lit for that week – but I did remember a startling truth: there are better things in life than scrolling on a screen. Things like taking a treacherous hike to a waterfall or soaking in an outdoor bath and listening to the rain fall. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget that we are not our jobs, and that holidays were made for relaxing. When you’re at Soneva Kiri, the emails can wait.