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NO NEWS, NO SHOES

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Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

KOH KOOD, THAILAND – A fully stocked cheese closet in the middle of a steamy jungle on a remote island off the eastern coast of Thailand?  How about the chocolate cellar, chilled to preserve the 15+ varieties of homemade temptations in all sizes, shapes and flavors?  Or, over 35 different sherbets and gelatos, also in a special chilled private room, and open for raids by the guests at any reasonable hour?

All this and more, only at the Six Senses Soneva Kiri Resort.  This super private retreat, maximum capacity about 100 guests, is built onto the northwest edge of the seldom-visited island of Koh Kood, located 75 minutes southeast of Bangkok via Six Senses own private Cessna Caravan. This single engine cargo plane reeks of adventure and looks like something Crocodile Dundee would fly (don’t worry, it’s in perfect condition and is surprisingly roomy inside).  Once landed, we boarded a speedboat for the short sprint to Soneva Kiri’s landmark pier and bridge, designed in a kind of modern, user friendly yet rustic island style that we found very appealing.  In fact, with the exception of some choppy surfaces and questionable use of space in the main compound, the overall design of the grounds and individual villas using native stone, branches and fauna is very tasteful.

Soneva Kiri is the brainchild of Sonu Shivdasani, an Englishman of Indian descent who was educated at Eton College and Oxford.  His concept is “The Slow Life” which originated at his first resort in the Maldives.  “SLOW LIFE” stands for “Sustainable; Local; Organic; Wholesome Learning; Inspiring; Fun; Experiences.”  Yes it could be marketing hype but from what we saw, not really.  Soneva Kiri is absolutely a world leader in sustainable systems and building techniques.  The entire design of this world class facility is green from the ground up, including:  natural habitat and vegetation for flora and fauna; use of solar power;  local, organic farming techniques;  homegrown islander employees and culture; design of building materials and overall architecture;  water management and reclamation;  liquid and solid waste removal;  not to mention other special green projects like “aqua-ponics” which marries growth of fish and produce in layers of rainwater and gravel to create fully organic seafood and vegetables for the onsite restaurants.  Suffice it to say, Six Senses is a leader in the sustainable resort field and spends significant dollars on environmentally responsible features that aren’t readily visible to its guests.

The spa is a series of hidden jungle huts that truly give you a “million miles from civilization” experience.  Thus the “No News, No Shoes” motto is followed by guests as well as the Soneva Kiri staff.  No television is available, no newspapers, and the walkways and beaches are designed for bare feet, if desired, 24/7.  You can watch DVDs, as our room had a nifty authentic-looking chest at the foot of the bed which opened to reveal a DVD screen.

We were lucky enough to stay at one of the beach villas, which featured its own saltwater disappearing edge pool; private pathway to a small, secluded strip of sand and sea inlet which is best for experienced swimmers.  The “real” beach for Soneva Kiri is on the other side of the resort and offers groomed sand, calm waters, the coolest, most comfortable hanging hammocks in the world, and decent water toys including windsurfing, one or two person kayaks, but surprisingly, no standup paddleboards.  Also a little unusual is that the native cabana boys are not real watermen, in fact, I was not sure they knew how to swim?  Scuba diving is available on the island but visibility was not favorable in early January so we did not dive, unfortunately.

The outdoor location of the shower and bath took some getting used to.  The heat and bugs made us wish for a more traditional indoor (i.e.  air-conditioned) latrine and shower.  Be that as it was, once oriented to the outdoor facility, you feel as if you’ve entered your very own “blue lagoon” or Irish Spring commercial.

Other activities available at Soneva Kiri include a charming private outdoor movie theater showing mostly old Hollywood classics and kids’ films; biking although there aren’t a lot of places to ride other than up and down the resort’s rather steep hills; ping pong; tennis court (they had great racquets but bring your own balls, the humidity destroys them quickly), nicely equipped fitness room and a pricey but outstanding spa offering all the expected treatments and massages.  You also get a well maintained electric golf cart to use as your personal vehicle during your stay, which is handy as the facility is rather sprawling and walking all the time would be a lot of work in the jungle heat.  How about the porters coming around late-night, plugging in your cart to recharge the battery, then rotating it so when you depart your villa in the morning, your vehicle is about-face and ready to roll?  Nice touch.

On that note, service is memorable.  The beach villas offer 24-hour butler service, and that doesn’t mean call the front desk at 3 a.m. and maybe someone will show up an hour later.  Our butler was assigned to us 24/7; she gave us a special one-touch cell phone that produced immediate response, day or night.  Our air conditioning unit decided to malfunction after midnight, and what might have been a very uncomfortable night’s sleep instead was corrected within the hour by our butler and not one but two engineers who quickly repaired the compressor.  Not to mention, with an apology and a smile.  Who said great service is dead?

The food, ah, the food.  Probably best not to plan on losing weight here.  I already mentioned the cheeses, chocolates and gelatos.  I could probably have lived on those alone.  Traditional Thai dishes, Continental fare, and even some Italian and other specialties are available.  Exotic fruit and veggie juices, jellies and jams to die for are in abundance.  The breads were baked fresh daily – sourdough and multi-grain that would make the cut even in San Francisco.  The View, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, offers true gourmet experience and quite possibly the best wine cellar in Thailand.  Fine Bordeaux, desirable vintages of California cab, Italian Barolos and brunellos are offered at semi-reasonable prices.  These wines are very hard to find anywhere in Thailand, much less on an obscure island.  And the subterranean cellar itself is an architectural marvel worthy of personal inspection.  We met the chef, Vishal Khulbe, who had received his training at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago as well as El Bulli in Spain.  This was not surprising when we tried the food, the squid with pineapple salsa and a pan-fried pork tenderloin with pancetta and oyster mushroom sauce were particularly scrumptious).  Suffice it to say, even serious foodies will find plenty to be happy about at Soneva Kiri.

Privately owned residences are also available.  A super posh six bedroom retreat was said to go for $15-20 million, so, while very limited in availability, one can assume they are on the pricey side to put it mildly.

For those who like a remote, truly relaxing, off the grid type of vacation, Soneva Kiri is tough to beat.  It is extremely private, with outstanding service and food and thus a very civilized routine for being in the jungle.  It is also surprisingly kid friendly, with a custom built Kids Club and friendly staff to monitor the little ones.  The relatively easy transit from Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok makes this a strong choice for a few days as part of a Thailand or other Southeast Asian vacation.

GETTING THERE:  Fly from the East Coast (NYC) or West Coast (LAX, SFO) to Bangkok, usually via Taipei or Singapore.  Then catch Soneva Kiri’s own Cessna Caravan, out of the main BKK airport, into the resort.

HOW MUCH?  We purchased our package through Charity Buzz (www.charitybuzz.com) in support of Oceana (www.oceana.org) through the Christie’s Green Auction.  Depending upon season and your choice of accommodations, all-inclusive pricing runs from $500 to over $2,500 per day.  Meal choice on this plan is basically unlimited, alcoholic beverages are an extra cost as are some of the optional activities.  www.sixsensesresorts.com

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

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