On Thailand’s least populated island, Gretchen Ferrao indulges in some serious pampering.
My travel companion nudges me in near-aggressive excitement. ‘Get a picture!’ he says. I fumble for the camera, not for a second taking my eyes off the landing strip. Over the hill and barely there. I stretch my arms, trying to frame a shot in the space between the pilots. All the while, mentally willing us both, ‘Please don’t miss. Please don’t miss.’
I miss; the pilots, thankfully, are spot on. Following the directions of the lone air traffic controller, the eight-seater Cessna Grand Caravan makes a U-turn and rolls to a leisurely halt. We’re escorted down a wooden jetty where a weathered set of planks bear the signage, ‘Soneva Kiri Resort Airport’. My vacation starts now, well almost. There’s still the two-kilometre boat ride from the island of Mai Si to the island of Koh Kood.
We’re whisked away in a speedboat and that is about as fast as life would go for the next few days. Once you set foot on Soneva Kiri, you’re urged to take it slow. For the resort’s Maldives-based owners, Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, and the Soneva hospitality brand, the ‘Slow life’ is a mantra that stands for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences. Over the coming fortnight, we’ll see more practical aspects of this philosophy. For now, we decide to take things literally, setting our watches back an hour to ‘resort time’ and then forgetting about the concept of clocks altogether. While living in the present, there’s no wait for tomorrow. So when invited to sample some home made ice-cream at So Chilled, we indulge in what soon becomes an afternoon cool-down ritual. Although I start off with a single scoop of a conservative flavour, strawberry I quickly make the guilt-free transition to two scoops of one of the 60 flavours of sorbet, gelato and ice cream. Alright, maybe there’s some guilt involved but it’s talked away with the fact that there’s about 6,00,000 sq m of property to walk it off and the option of yoga at the Six Senses Spa.
All good intent is forsaken the moment we step into our 464-square-metre Hill Pool Villa Suite. Cocooned in greenery with the Gulf Of Thailand sparkling in the distance, it would be difficult to leave this haven. The one-bedroom abode is like a mini water park with an infinity-edged swimming pool and three bath options – a step-down al fresco bathtub, a rain shower (also open to the elements) and a sauna-esque shower cubicle whose acoustics are sure to inspire many a bathroom singer. Scoping out the villa (one of 36 on the property), we observe details that tie in with the Slow Life philosophy – structures crafted out of sustainable bamboo, and what we’re told is recycled teak and forestry stewardship pine, a repurposed kadai (wok) adopts the role of a washbasin with varied nuts for pipeline cladding, and a sandstone sun (the Soneva logo) serves as an indicator to let the staff know when a change in bed linen is needed.
Getting acquainted The next morning I meet resident ayurvedic practitioner Dr Ranjan Kapoor. A consultation with whom feels like a game of 20 Questions with myself as the subject. In 30 minutes Kapoor seems to know me better than I do myself and has deduced my ayurvedic dosha (body type) as a combination of vata-pitta (air-fire) so prescribes a dietary and fitness regime accordingly. Before leaving, I enquire about therapies. Being the good doctor that he is, Kapoor suggests the three-day Puriti Detox. As intriguing as this sounds I realise I can’t pass up on the resort’s dining options. I do, however, try an Anti-ageing Facial and Holistic Massage, but he encourages me to return soon for the newly launched yoga programmes. ‘The Discover Yoga and Yogic Detox programmes focus on offering wellness in a light-hearted way. So they’re flexible; the diet is tasty and can be arranged at any of the restaurants.’
Coming back to the subject of dining, options vary from the traditional Benz’s by the river to the continental cuisine sea-facing The View that’s perched on the edge of a cliff. The former is a romantic nine-course experience curated by eccentrically adorable chef Benz; the latter’s á la carte offering includes some of the best Australian steak this side of the equator. While the creatively designed cutlery makes eating an effort, it’s worth it for the Maisie island wahoo, Australian Bultarra saltbush lamb cutlets and the Soneva Kiri dairy yoghurt mousse.
Bliss out There’s no better way to start your morning than with back-to-back spa treatments. The Anti-ageing Facial and Holistic Massage leave me in a dream-like state. Of note is the ten minute Thai silk cocoon face scrub by therapist ‘Magic Fingers’ Meaw. Sipping on some herbal tea in the spa reception after, I meet a younger guest who excitedly tells me about the giant manta-ray-shaped bamboo play area, The Den. Painting, volcano-making and jewellery design are among the activities offered. After sampling that my nw friend decided she wanted some pampering so departs for a pedicure and head massage. I, on the other hand, retreat to the library – a well-stocked sun-soaked space, perfect for whiling away summer afternoons.
Later, we get a taste of the island life on the Koh Kood Discovery Trip that’s centred around local markets, temples, hangout haunts and the Klong Chao Waterfall. Other cultural activities hosted by the resort include: a day-trip to neighbouring island Koh Chang, traditional fishing excursions, cooking classes and underwater adventures. Evenings bring their fair share of entertainment – from a weekly beachside cocktail event to open-air movie screenings at Cinema Paradiso. Tonight it’s the observatory where we attempt to woo the moon, smartphones awkwardly pressed up against the eyepiece of a telescope.
On my last morning there, we celebrate at the much-talked-about Treepod, a cosy triangular dining capsule that’s suspended amid the trees. Our breakfast of bread, cured meat, cheese, fruit and tea is zip-lined across to us (so you might want to avoid ordering the fruit).
Yes, it’s all about the understated drama at Soneva Kiri, a bundle of luxurious experiences that leaves you wanting more. 110 Moo 4, Koh Kood Sub-District, Koh Kood District, Trat 23000, Thailand, www.soneva.com/soneva-kiri (+66 82 208 8888).
Intensive Yoga Retreat & Annual Yoga Teachers Training Programme The course packages include tuition fees, travel from Bangkok, spa treatments and villa accommodation. Prices start at Dhs13,400 per person. Until August 28 2014.
The Green Season Escape Making the most of the monsoon, the package includes season-tailored spa treatments, yoga sessions and family activities. Until October 31 2014.