Viewed from the cabin of the single-prop plane, Thailand’s eastern seaboard seems to stencil the horizon in green. The rest of the world is a wild blue expanse — water stretching endlessly in all directions, the shifting scales of the Gulf of Thailand. As the plane begins its descent, Koh Chang’s saw-toothed peaks come into view. A series of tiny emeraldhued rocks rise around its southern bend. Before long, Koh Kood emerges, an island lined with soft sugar sands and draped with deep, untainted jungle. The plane swoops around it, landing on a small narrow runway carved into a nearby island, where a speedboat and a few white-clad butlers await disembarking passengers.
This is Soneva Kiri by Six Senses’ introduction, its welcoming committee waiting patiently to escort guests to a tropical Shangri-La. The resort occupies a palm-speckled flatland kissed by a turquoise bay on Koh Kood, Thailand’s fourth largest, but perhaps least developed, island. A 90-minute private plane ride from Bangkok — or, alternatively, a one-hour speedboat ride from Trat — is central to Soneva Kiri’s founding commitment to natural, nonpareil luxury.
After deplaning, visitors are ushered by boat to the resort’s inimitable grounds, the short speedboat ride from the airstrip generating a sense of anticipation. There, they drop their shoes in a canvas bag, symbolically freeing themselves from the shackles of everyday life. Thirty-six pool villas, ranging from one to six bedrooms, encompass some of Asia’s most spacious accommodation. Each has its own free-form pool looking out over a bright white beach. An open-air theatre, known as “Cinema Paradiso,” a riff on the Tornatore classic, screens classics at night across a lagoon, where guests nibble on gourmet snacks in the embrace of plush cushions. Personal butlers, dubbed “Mr or Ms Friday,” race around the villas, catering to every beck and call. These, the standard amenities, effect pure Elysian peace.
While luxury and pampering and jaw-dropping facilities abound, the resort’s credo captures the ideals of the slow life — no news, no shoes, as they say. Moreover, there’s a driving belief in supporting sustainable practices. Soneva Kiri is integrated with the local community. Guests are encouraged to go on bike rides through rubber plantations to fishing villages. Chefs use local honey and seafood caught offshore in their dishes — dishes best savoured in a treetop dining pod, to which servers deliver fresh feasts from a zip line. Children are invited to have meaningful exchanges with local students on the island. A trained marine biologist offers snorkelling and diving tours, and the resort, itself, is partnered with Plant a Tree Today, a foundation that promotes the restoration of the rainforest. The CSR philosophy promotes wellness of the mind, body, and soul of all living things.
Soneva Kiri draws not only couples in search of romantic getaways, but also families looking to unplug and reconnect with one another. Aside from the obvious appeal of the beaches and pools, kids are catered to with The Den, a bamboo playground crafted to resemble a manta ray. Dedicated child minders interact with one- to five-year-olds, offering fun, hands-on activities with an educational bent. Kids learn to play Thai instruments, wander jungle-like bamboo structures, and immerse themselves in the local world, going on guided walks through the forest or visiting schools. Older kids can go on excursions with their parents, including father and son fishing trips or mother and daughter spa treatments; the whole family can enjoy cooking classes and private sunset cruises.
Amid moments of self-reflection and exploration, guests might wonder where the journey leads from Soneva Kiri. The answer might be across the border, to the ruins of Angkor in
Cambodia. The resort offers twice-weekly private flights to Siem Reap, adding a sensational dimension to already luxurious expeditions. The plane flies low, taking in the full view of Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains and red-and-green terrestrial dichotomy. The journey and the destination blend into one.