Barefoot in Paradise

As Thailand is getting ready to expand its Sandbox pilot in October and fully reopen by January 2022, here’s a look at the perfect getaway in times of pandemic, a luxurious and sustainable vacation on the fourth largest and least populated island in Thailand.

Have you heard of a Koh Kood? Probably not. This pristine island in Eastern Thailand, closer to the border with Cambodia, is well off the beaten track, despite its size.

Now, if you’re looking for Thailand’s full moon parties and bustling nightlife, this is not the place for you. However, Koh Kood hits the spot for those seeking a true sense of tranquility amid a magical tropical forest, with traditional fishing villages, spectacular beaches, and some great culinary and other experiences.

Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

The island has many accommodation options at every price range. If you opt for an ultra-luxurious resort hotel, however, you are in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not to mention some rare Insta moments.

Private is the operative word

The unique experience of Soneva Kiri, repeatedly voted one of the best hotels in Thailand, starts at Bangkok Airport. We were met by a company representative, who led us through passport control and straight to check-in (and a little rest at Soneva’s very own lounge) before our next flight.

Villa and pool
Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

Around 90 minutes later, including a short flight on a private company plane and a very short speedboat ride from the small island airport, we finally arrived at our private villa. And when I say private villa, I mean just that.

The entire resort consists of beautifully designed and spacious private villas – from a villa for two to a veritable mansion for eight, ten, or more guests. Each eco-friendly villa is surrounded by a bamboo wall for complete privacy and comes with a large pool, open and covered seating areas, direct access to the beach, as well as a Mister or Miss Friday, Soneva’s version of a personal butler. And if you’re wondering about the name, think back to Robinson Crusoe and his loyal Man Friday. Your stay on this secluded island will definitely make you feel a bit like Survivor or Robinson Crusoe, the 5-star version.

villa inside
Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

Imagine soaring palms almost touching the sky, vast stretches of white sand beaches (during low tide), and turquoise waters lapping sunbeds (at high tide). Our bedroom was surrounded by lush vegetation, opening directly to the infinity pool. There was also an open rain shower (plus a sunken hot tub), and the villa had all the amenities you usually find in exclusive hotels of this type (a Nespresso machine, a flat-screen TV discreetly hidden in an old suitcase, quality sound system, and more), plus a personal electric buggy.

Shot and edited by Yaroslav Yudenko

Stylishly sustainable

The whole philosophy of Soneva is that real luxury consists of peace, time, space, and a lifetime of rare experiences. Therefore, while Soneva Kiri is the epitome of luxury, there’s nothing too flashy about it. Don’t expect any gold faucets or crystal chandeliers; the design is elegant but comfortable and always in tune with nature, using natural and perishable products. You won’t find any plastic here, it is all recycled paper, and even the straws in our detox juices were made of paper.

At Soneva, they call it barefoot luxury, and the motto is “no shoes, no news,” so I expected to hand in my shoes the moment we set foot on the island. In the end, I was not required to do so, perhaps because it was the rainy season, but walking around the island barefoot was definitely an option.

The Eco Center
Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

As part of our visit, we had a private and fascinating tour of the Eco-Center, covering a large area with mushroom huts, greenhouses, and a huge vegetable garden where they grow edible flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits, some chili, and even cocoa and coffee beans. There is also a small recycling plant and a vast oxidation pool, so you can say Soneva Kiri really compensates for its guests’ carbon footprint. Similarly, the company also bans the import of mineral water, and the drinking water you get here in abundance (in glass bottles) is produced on-site.

A lifetime of experiences

The staff at Soneva understands that most of us lead hectic and stressful urban lives, and provide a complete program of rare and extraordinary experiences, those unforgettable moments that enrich our lives: from a private breakfast on the pier at sunrise, through diving expeditions, short treks to hidden waterfalls or a long day trip (with a helicopter ride) to the famous Angkor Wat temples, as the island is closer to Cambodia than to Thailand. Many of these are extras, of course, but our vacation package included more than enough fabulous activities (at any rate, you should also leave some time for a swim in your private pool, right?).

North Shore
Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

Soneva Kiri boasts an open cinema (Cinema Paradiso), an elaborate observatory, a rich library, and a fabulous spa. Our vacation package included an hour-long massage and a diagnostic appointment (as guests can have a detox and treatment package tailored specifically to their needs).

Parents can entrust their children to a supervised playground called the Den, a huge structure inspired by a manta fish and built entirely of wood, with certified caregivers who will keep the children busy for a few hours and allow you some peace and quiet… and a bit of romance.

And culinary delights

We sampled a different restaurant each day, on and off-site. For example, on the second day, we took a speedboat to the North Shore and enjoyed a light lunch on a completely deserted beach, against the backdrop of tropical vegetation and fluttering butterflies on one side, and some hammocks, swings, and warm turquoise waters on the other side.

Lunch at Soneva Kiri
Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

In the evening, we were driven to the famous Benz restaurant (now Tuk’s Kitchen), built on stilts by a beautiful lake, where we had a traditional and totally scrumptious ‘no menu’ multi-course Thai meal. Then, on our last evening, we had another culinary celebration at the aptly named View restaurant, set against a beautiful sunset. And I haven’t even mentioned the resort’s cafe and dining area, where you can also choose between the ice cream and chocolate parlor, a veritable sweet tooth’s heaven.

The highlight for me was the breakfast we had above the tree line, cocooned inside a nest of twigs. This experience, called Tree Pod Dining, has become highly popular on Instagram in recent years. It was just one of many fabulous experiences that truly made our stay at Soneva Kiri an unforgettable vacation.

chocolate parlor
Photo: Yaroslav Yudenko

Prices: All this pampering doesn’t come cheap. Accommodation alone starts at $900 a night for a small villa, and a Bucket List package with full board and a long list of experiences would cost another $5900 per person for your entire stay.

The writer was a guest of Soneva Kiri.


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