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EXPERT REVIEW Honeymoon heaven on a remote Thai island, this is what eco-luxury dreams are made of

Eco


Overall eco rating


Six Senses give more back to the local community and take better care of the environment than most.  Responsible travel, supply chain issues, biodiversity, water and waste issues are all covered by excellent initiatives.

Energy efficiency and energy supply have had a similar level of effort put in but this is perhaps one of the harder problems to solve, particularly in remote island locations like this, and there is still some way to go.  The use of renewable energy systems at the Eco Villa shows that Soneva Kiri are thinking seriously about cracking the energy problem.

  • The resort is pretty green but the pilot Eco Villa project [link] pulls out all of the stops
  • Self sufficient for water from rainwater and wells – drinking water processing plant reduces plastic bottles and transport (import of water banned) and on site waste water treatment
  • Extensive monitoring of energy and water use allows team to identify waste e.g. leaks in below ground pipes
  • Good recycling efforts extends to include the usual plus light bulbs, batteries are collected and sent overseas for processing, an on site pig farm/wormery to process food waste and the resort’s own mini biodiesel plant to fuel one truck
  • Responsible purchasing includes a blacklist of products not to buy (chemicals, refrigerants, fish, water, non-sustainable timber and others) and preference for local and eco-labelled suppliers
  • Public areas are naturally ventilated with no air conditioning, hot water provided from reclaimed heat from generators and energy efficient lighting
  • The resort’s Little Green Book is one of the best produced guides to guests on green initiatives and the steps visitors can take that EcoLuxHotels have seen
  • Overall >3% of revenue goes into environmental and charitable projects
  • Preference for local staff and suppliers (98% of food and 92% of hosts are local)
  • Extensive guidance to guests on how to interact with wildlife and avoiding purchasing certain products (shells, etc.)
  • Reforestation programme provides ~180 acres per annum and intends to include visitor education and wildlife clinic

  • Energy is not as strong as other areas – good effort to reduce consumption and experimenting with clean sources of energy at Eco Lodge [link] but almost all energy for the resort comes from diesel generators (which have been designed to be as efficient as possible)

People

Six Senses as a group clearly take responsible travel seriously and Soneva Kiri has some specific local projects to be proud of.

  • The resort’s Little Green Book is one of the best produced guides to guests on green initiatives and the steps visitors can take that EcoLuxHotels have seen
  • SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wholesome Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experience) trail educates guests and is visited by local schools
  • 0.5% of revenue (c.USD40,000pa) is recycled into a ring-fenced Social and Environment responsibility Fund (SERF)
  • SERF finances waste education projects with the local council and schools, events for Earth Day, teacher development projects and more
  • Guests can visit and take part in SERF projects if interested
  • A further 2.5% of revenue (c.USD100,000pa) is raised for carbon offsetting – see biodiversity
  • Additional special charity fundraising is carried out over and above this for dedicated causes       
  • Preference for local staff and suppliers (98% of food and 92% of hosts are local)
  • Promote local crafts and visits to local villages
  • Donate second hand items and food (including pigs from pig farm)
  • Further social engagement is provided by the Eco Villa

Animals & nature

Six Senses group if funding habitat creation and biodiversity work elsewhere in Thailand through their carbon offsetting programme.  At Soneva Kiri, the work is more about trying to minimise impact on local nature.

PETA assessment of cruelty free credentials of cleaning products and toiletries to come.

  • Avoided disturbing some parts of the site and transplanted trees and plants in construction
  • Planting makes use of local species and intended to create shade, shield noise
  • Extensive guidance to guests on how to interact with wildlife and avoiding purchasing certain products (shells, etc.)
  • Composting/wormery and on site garden
  • Waste water recycling means zero discharge of sewage into ocean
  • Good selection of vegetarian/vegan meals
  • Further biodiversity projects are provided by the Eco Lodge[link]
  • Carbon offsetting from several Six Senses Resorts funds a 180 acre per annum reforestation programme in collaboration with UK charities/local universities to recreate diverse natural habitats
  • Reforestation programme intends to include visitor education and wildlife clinic

Environment & buildings

In terms of water use, chemical use and recycling, Soneva Kiri is as good as or better than the vast majority of hotels.

Like a few other island based resorts on this site, the weakness is probably energy and a reliance on diesel generators.  Six Senses’ efforts to address energy use are to be praised and the pilot Eco Villa project looks to the future with alternative energy sources.

  • The resort is pretty green but the pilot Eco Villa project pulls out all of the stops
  • Public areas are naturally ventilated with no air conditioning
  • Construction uses local natural materials extensively and much of the timber was FSC certified
  • Interior design makes use of driftwood and local coconut shell crafts
  • Self sufficient for water from rainwater and wells – drinking water processing plant reduces plastic bottles and transport (import of water banned)
  • Good water efficiency programme with low flow showers, toilets, taps and push valves to reduce consumption
  • Pools are saline or use ionising filters – no chlorine – laundry has automatic dosing and uses biodegradable chemicals
  • Waste water treatment
  • Extensive monitoring of energy and water use allows team to identify waste e.g. leaks in below ground pipes
  • Like many hotels guests are encouraged to save energy, water and recycle but information at Soneva Kiri is a class above
  • Good recycling efforts extends to include the usual plus light bulbs, batteries are collected and sent overseas for processing, an on site pig farm/wormery to process food waste and the resort’s own mini biodiesel plant
  • One truck run on biodiesel, motorised boats have 4-stroke engines (much less polluting than the more common 2-stroke) – bikes and kayaks
  • Responsible purchasing includes a blacklist of products not to buy (chemicals, refrigerants, fish, water, non-sustainable timber and others) and preference for local and eco-labelled suppliers
  • Rechargeable batteries used throughout
  • Water based low VOC paints and low VOC finishes – natural dyes and unbleached cotton

  • Staff constantly readjust the guests' temperature controls, so you'd turn the air-conditioning off, only to return to the room to find that it had been switched back on to freezing.

Reviewed by Tim Starley-Grainger


Luxury


Overall luxury rating*


A rare find - a honeymoon resort that caters to families as much as couples, without infringing on either. One of the world's most (barefoot-) luxurious (and one of our personal favourite) beach resorts, Soneva Kiri by Six Senses is worth saving up for.

The scene

Located in Thailand's southeast corner, near the border of Cambodia, this is one of the world's premier luxury resorts, attracting royalty (the Swedish royal family, including all the glamorous princesses, were there on our visit), Hollywood A-listers and rock stars - all on the down low, of course. You might be seated next to them on your (literally) barefoot dinner at mangrove-side Thai "shack" Benz, but you mustn't pretend you know who they are, even if they smile and say hi (stay a few days, and you become on 'hello' terms with most guests).

The island of Ko Kood (or Koh Kood, Ko Kut, Koh Kut - spellings vary) is around an hour by boat from the mainland (after a five hour bus from Bangkok), or an hour-long trip from Bangkok Airport by Six Senses' private, eight-seater plane, followed by a five-minute speedboat.

Getting here sounds like a hassle, but it's through (or over) beautiful Thai scenery, so in reality, it seems much shorter.

The 105-square-kilometer island has some hills, lots of rainforest, coconut groves and rubber plantations, and little else. A smattering of hotels and fishing villages skirt the edge, but the interior has little in the way of human habitation. To be honest, Six Senses Soneva Kiri is large enough that few guests venture beyond it, and while some might balk at the income not going to locals, here, the hotel has provided significant employment - both by employing well-paid staff at the hotel and through its supply chain - to the 2,000 residents of the island.

Couples - including plenty of honeymooners - and families in their 30s to 50s make up most of the clientele. Each villa is in its own grounds, so even the screamiest of babies won't disturb neighbours, while the resort really looks after kids of all ages, but discreetly so that non-kidsy guests barely notice they're around.

  • On Ko Kood island in southeast Thailand, near the Cambodian border, making a two-country break easy
  • A laid-back, little-developed island with no Full Moon parties or nightclubs
  • Located on the island's lush, rainforested north, a three-minute boat ride from one of the island's best beaches
  • Attracts honeymooners, families of all ages, royalty and mega-stars
  • A friendly, barefoot-luxury scene

  • One hour by Bangkok by eco-unfriendly private plane or six hours by scenic bus and ferry

The style

Six Senses might not have invented barefoot luxury, but it certainly maximised the concept. Even at Soneva Kiri's most expensive (and justly so) restaurant, Benz - an open-sided stilted Thai-style "shack" - guests remove shoes before flopping on low-lying banquets.

Apart from the Eco Villa, the 28 wooden villas are individual open-air complexes, kind of a collection of rooms spread out on two floors of wooden decking.  Each room is completely separated from the others. To get from the Master Bedroom, for example, you have to open the glass door and walk a few steps along the deck to the bathroom. A pitched canvas roof covers the whole lot, but each room also has its own roof, completely sealing out the mosquitoes and sealing in the cool air.

Stacks of old-fashioned travel trunks, cleverly refashioned into sets of drawers or dressing tables, evoke the era of Colonial exploration. Every villa - whether beach or hillside - comes with huge day beds - sometimes a collection of stones with a vast cushion on top, sometimes a wood-slat two-person lounger - outdoor showers with glass-block walls for privacy, white-duveted beds romantically swathed in netting, outdoor kitchens with stocked refrigerators and top-of-the-line espresso machines, and a large amorphous pool, plenty big enough for laps or games of water polo.

You'll use your villa's bicycles and electric buggy to get around the resort. Stay in a beach villa and you get your own patch of the white stuff, but otherwise, it's a short boat ride to a palm-fringed sandy beach, with crystal clear water and a huge shallow area.

  • Natural, wooden, stilted villas
  • Each villa in its own grounds for total privacy
  • Decor evokes travel's early days
  • A vast amount of space, with even the smallest of villas covering 403 square metres
  • Each villa's private pool is properly large and swimmable, as opposed to the useless plunge pools all the rage in most five stars
  • Barefoot luxury, with an emphasis on luxury
  • The beach is a stunner, with wide, shallow area and crystal-clear bath-warm water with colourful schools of small fish darting hither and yon, perfect for lazy snorkelling

  • Having each room completely sealed off from the others sounds good, but wake up in the night needing the loo, and opening your bedroom's glass door to leave the room will probably wake your partner
  • Unless you book a beach villa, the beach is a short boat ride away. The boat's always ready to go, but it's not quite the same as strolling right out onto the beach

The facilities

  • In keeping with the villas, the main focus of the resort is a stilted wooden area, all open-air and spacious. Here, you'll find a little boutique shop, the main open-air restaurant, a loungey bar, a huge infinity pool, an ice-cream bar with a huge selection of homemade ice creams, a chocolate room with vast quantity of handmade help-yourself chocolates, an observatory and a library.
  • Meals are mainly in the open-air restaurant here, with a menu that's best described as international - dishes range from Italian and French to Indian and Chinese - but for the best Thai food you'll ever have, served in a preposterously humble setting, make sure to book a meal at stilted Thai shack Benz. And to really push the boat out, book a meal in the private tree-top dining pod.
  • The spa here is something else, all bamboo huts and sky-high yoga pavilion, and with easily the best treatment this spa junkie has ever had - a floating water massage. Forget four-handed massages (I've had those two). This is what you want. A-maz-ing.
  • Pre- and post-dinner, you can linger in the open-air cocktail bar or catch the movie at the open-air cinema, which pops up amid a little lake, with popcorn, cushions and drinks all provided.

  • Benz restaurant - one of the best Thai restaurants in the world, and in the most authentically adorable Thai shack setting
  • Watsu massage in the open-air spa
  • Yoga or meditation classes on the treetop yoga deck
  • All-you-can-eat handmade chocolates in the open-all-hours chocolate room
  • Huge variety of homemade ice creams, whenever you fancy
  • Library with carefully curated selection of books, mostly English but a decent selection in other languages
  • The main pool bar has loungers in the pool so you can splash your feet in the water while sipping a Mangotini

  • The spa is a treatment-only space, with no facilities for the casual pop-in guest

We love

  • Huge villas in beautiful mega-luxe beach-shack style
  • Proper, swimmable pools with every villa - no plunge-pool nonsense
  • Thai meals in Benz stilted shack. The world's best Thai food, eaten barefoot and with ocean-sprayed hair - no formality here
  • Watsu massage in the spa
  • Anytime handmade chocolate and ice cream, free and easy
  • Palm-fringed white-sand beach with bath-warm crystal clear water

You might not love

  • It's off the beaten track, so getting here can be a bit of a journey - albeit a memorable, scenic one
  • The separate collection of rooms is good in theory, until you wake your sleeping partner by opening the bedroom glass door in the middle of the night

Reviewed by Jill Starley-Grainger


Six Senses Soneva Kiri

Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, 110 Moo 4, Koh Kood Sub-District, Koh Kood District, Trat 23000, Thailand

Thailand
+66 (0) 3961 9800

Standard room rates from US$2,600

Eco

Luxury*

"Tented roofs, open-air bathrooms, and beds draped in mosquito netting lend a safari feel to the 29 villas, while personal electric buggies allow you to zip freely through the 102-acre palm tree–dotted compound to the 32,000-square-foot spa and private white-sand beach" Travel + Leisure

"Soneva Kiri is among the most exciting resorts in Southeast Asia. Guests land on a private airstrip on neighboring speck Koh Mai Si and then arrive via motor launch to a jetty jutting into a pretty cove" Conde Nast Traveler

"The spa is the opposite of clinical, featuring open-air treatment rooms and exercise lofts with spectacular views and outdoor baths and showers" Departures

"The look and feel is back-to-nature-bling, with 36 house-sized rooms whittled from eucalyptus, and scattered discreetly through the jungle. There’s a flawless swathe of beach, umpteen restaurants, an ice-cream room and a personal assistant" Sunday Times Travel Magazine