Thailand was love at first sight when I arrived in 2014. I was completely mesmerized by the people, the beaches, the hotels & service… I mean ‘WOW’… not to mention the food – some of the most delicious produce I have ever tasted, let alone the delivery in the form of Thai cuisine. Someone told me once that Thailand is considered a ‘cheap’ holiday, not a true luxury vacation like Dubai or Maldives, I of course laughed that person out of the room, as the only person who would say that, is one who has not yet experienced the magic of Thailand. What better reason to return to one of the most breathtaking places in the World than to show that certain someone how wrong they are. And, wrong they were…
Fast forward 8 years, as I was planning our Easter holidays – I am in charge of travel in our family, sometimes my husband jokes: “do you already know what you are going to be eating upon arrival”, because I do extensive research before booking a holiday spot. However, I wasn’t looking for a new destination, in fact, my first choice was the magnificent Four Seasons, Koh Samui, but the unavailability of flights and connections (after all it was Easter and a very popular destination) made me reconsider. I went through my bucket list of travel destinations, and there it was… one of my dream places to go… how could I not think of it earlier??
Everyone has heard the household name Soneva, the brand that owns Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani, Soneva Aqua and of course Soneva Kiri. Soneva, is a 5 star luxury ECO friendly hotelier group founded by Sonu Shivdasani and his model girlfriend Eva Shivdasani, Sonu is also the founder of the Six Senses resorts.
Soneva Kiri being the only one of the Soneva brand resorts that is not in the Maldives, for now at least was my ultimate dream to visit, so I immediately messaged my travel agent who is THE PERSON to go to when it comes to traveling to and within Asia, Shanoon at Adore Maldives is your guy. To my surprise Soneva Kiri had availability and this is where our Easter adventures began.
To begin with, Koh Kood is a remote Island in Thailand (when I say remote, I don’t mean cookie cutter remote, its practically deserted), it is closer to the Cambodian border, located by the Thai province of Trat. Now, if one were to travel to Koh Kood independently, the only way of accessing the Island is by flying Bangkok to Koh Chang and taking a 6-hour Ferry ride to Koh Kood Island. By independently I mean not to Soneva Kiri, because Soneva resorts take it upon themselves to fetch their guests to and from their hotels on charter flights. After settling on our flights, which were Dubai to Bangkok and then a domestic flight to Koh Kood on the cute little Soneva Kiri plane, all that was left is excitement and anticipation of the great adventure ahead of us.
The day had arrived: we were on the 7-hour Emirates Airlines overnight flight of one of the best Airlines in first class, so we were perfectly comfortable in our personal suites, with delicious snacks and meals available to us throughout our flight. Upon arrival, a Soneva Kiri representative escorted us directly off the plane onto the domestic flights area for us to get on our little private Soneva Kiri flight, but… little did we know upon approaching the passport control our fantastic, uber luxurious journey took a slight turn. We were told that our passports needed a visa for entry to Thailand – at that point my heart went up my asshole, yes, we were turned away from passport control and directed towards the visa upon arrival section (WHAAAAAAT). Visa upon arrival did not mean a little sticker in our passport, we went through an unfathomable process of filling out forms, taking passport photos, queuing in line and waiting for our number to be called out – bottom line is, if you are planning on visiting Thailand and your passport requires a visa upon arrival, get it in your Country of residence before actual arrival – I assure you, the experience will be a lot more pleasant. Luckily, they offered the option of a fast-track service, which we happily took and managed to be out within an hour and not miss our Soneva Kiri flight to Koh Kood. Finally, aboard the tiny little aircraft I was able to breath out and take it all in… After all, I was on the adventure of a lifetime.
Koh Kood is probably one of the most remote Islands I have ever visited, add to that, the fact that we were staying at an eco-friendly hotel, and you have found yourself a true explorer in the making. Just kidding! Upon arrival to our “room” (it was more of a hut) we were shown the amazing but nevertheless rustic facilities, as well as advised, that if we find “anything” in our room, not to worry as they have pest control. At this point I was slightly confused as to what exactly am I to find that it will require an actual pest control team, but I took it with a pinch of salt. We were a big group so we took the 5 bedroom beachfront residence, which included 5 huts, a cold room, which I liked to refer to as ‘the life size minibar’, as it kept all our drinks, food and snacks fresh, since the rest of the residence was completely open (HUT, remember), even our bathroom was outdoors, trust me I had fun using the toilet at night… Come morning though… Calling it ‘a view’ would be a diss, it was waking up to a dream, to a parallel reality – it was hard to believe this place was real, every moment on our terrace looking onto to the horizon felt like we were staring at a screensaver or a backdrop, not a thing out of place, not a single leaf moving, complete and utter serenity.
The service at Soneva Kiri was something else, now this is where the ‘luxury’ factor came in. We had a personal butler who at Soneva they refer to as Mr/Mrs. Friday, who handled everything for us. Now upon booking, it might say that each residence has a Mrs/Mr Friday living in the residence, this is not the case at all, it only applies to homeowner’s villas, which would have greatly disappointed me, had it not been for the immaculate service provided by our Mrs. Friday – she was amazing. Available at any time of day or night, literally serving every whim of every single member of our party, which consisted of 12 people, including the kids. The superior service however, was accompanied by superior F&B… being a fan of Thai food I of course focused primarily on local options, even though a large selection European and American options were available, would not recommend that in Thailand aside for breakfast. Our magical, jungle resort offered several authentic experiences, my favourite and most popular was the Tree pod dinner, which entailed us dining in an untamed jungle hanging off a tree by three titanium ropes in complete darkness by the end of dinner except for a very faint lamp in our pod – not an experience for the faint hearted, but unbelievable in all its splendor.
The other truly memorable culinary experience was ‘Colours of the Garden’, which was an Indian cuisine serving hut at a secluded beach (reminded of the Leonardo DiCaprio film ‘The Beach’), it had a lot less to offer in terms of thrill, but the food was the best we had on the island the entire time we were there – it was served in a table sharing manner and resembled a clam bake but with meat. A large wooden tray with 6 different styles of cooking with various meat and poultry – the presentation was outstanding, as well as it was delicious. The third truly authentic and exciting dinner we had was Kruua Mae Tuk – a fine dining Thai restaurant located in the middle of the forest in an actual mangrove, accessible by boat or the traditional Tuk-tuk car which we opted for as it was late and dark. Still the walk from the tuk-tuk to the restaurant through the faintly lit jungle sent chills down my spine. The food was not as impressive as the beauty of the mangrove, the best choice on the menu was the kid’s option: fried chicken wings with rice. BUT, those were some of the BEST chicken wings I had ever tasted.
The highlight of Koh Kood island and Soneva Kiri is hardly the food… it is the beautiful scenery, the authentic explorer experience and the absolutely incredible clear as air sea water, that comes up to your knees and is warmer than a jacuzzi.
One might think they’re in paradise, until reality hits, and oh did it hit… one gorgeous afternoon, while sitting on our terrace, just after lunch, we noticed a few flying insects, which started increasing in speed and quantity rather quickly, within seconds, not minutes we realized it’s time to go inside as massive unidentified insects are swarming in uncountable quantities. Quickly removing ourselves into the only indoor space in the villa on the second floor (still had little cracks in the walls), my husband stayed behind in our hut (room) on a phone call, within a minute he sent me a photo of a massive honey bee colony resting on one of the beams in our outdoor bathroom. It was the single most breathtaking wildlife experience I have ever encountered – it was real. These were wild Asian honey bees migrating and they chose our villa for their stop to rest… it was terrifying and fascinating at the same time and an encounter we were so lucky to experience.
The hotel management was shocked, in all the years at Soneva Kiri they had never come across such an incredible wildlife occurrence. Unfortunately, the hotel had to smoke the bees out as per safety protocol, and we had to remain indoors until it was done. Thankfully this was near our last few days in Koh Kood, so at this point we started looking forward to going back home… we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. Luckily, we managed to capture another once in a lifetime experience! Our last day in Koh Kood was on Songkran, which is the Thai New Year’s celebration, which is widely celebrated by a ceremony of splashing water and spraying each other with water. Traditionally coconut shells are filled with water and the contents are thrown at the nearest passer-by, after which a long march through the forest was conducted with water splashing at us from various points along the way until we reached the beach where water games awaited us on land as well as sea. Songkran was a fantastic experience and we deemed ourselves incredibly lucky to be able to experience such an elaborate taste of Thai culture.
It was the most fantastic end to our holiday in Thailand, made only more special by the sublime, yet terrifying tropical storm the very night before our departure. After packing our belongings and arranging a late night check out due to our early morning flight, we peacefully fell asleep hoping to get as much rest as possible before our long journey back to Dubai, but at around 3a.m. I was woken up by the doors to my room blasting almost open and the rumbling thunder and whistling wind, which quite literally was shaking our hut which stood above ground on a bamboo platform, my only concern was our flight… our tiny Soneva plane scheduled to depart at 6:30a.m. which was in just a few hours… I was terrified that a delay could result in us missing our 9:30a.m. flight to Dubai. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. Upon rising at 5:30a.m. the horizon was clear; the sea was as flat as a lake and we indulged in the peaceful silence with just a hint of mist in the air… it’s really true what they say about tropical storms… the calmest time is after the storm.
Contrary to our arrival, our trip back went rather smoothly. We arrived on time and were on our Emirates flight with no surprises, I was ecstatic to be comfortably settled in my seat for our 7-hour journey to Dubai.
Despite the jaw dropping experiences, Soneva Kiri is an acquired taste. Someone who is after the typical 5-star luxury hotel experience might not appreciate everything this wonderful resort has to offer, unless the said individual is looking to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Having had the best time in Koh Kood, I believe 6 days was a little too long, in order to take it all in and not anticipate your return to mainland, when visiting Soneva Kiri, I would recommend not exceeding a 4night stay.
Thailand is forever going to be one of my favourite destinations in the World and I look forward to exploring more of this incredible Country.
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