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The first time I saw the Soneva Kiri Resort’s photos on travel media spreads back in 2010 I knew I had to go. The beautiful and undiscovered island of Koh Kood, which I had never heard of prior, despite it being the 4th largest in Thailand. The stunning beach villas, some of the largest in the world, with their own pools and sunken bathtubs. And the promise of the freshest most local food, enjoyed on a tree pod, perched on the forest canopy, with the food being zip lined by the waiter. Sonu and Eva’s eco-friendly and back to nature approach is my definition of luxury. I knew that, from the Soneva Group, I could expect nothing but an unforgettable rustic-chic hideaway wrapped up in unpretentious luxury. I was not disappointed in the slightest. Here you are, my Soneva Kiri review.
Arrival and check-in
The Soneva Kiri Resort is a 90min private jet ride over the Gulf of Thailand on the resort’s 8-seater leather-seat plane. Departing from Bangkok’s largest airport, we were taken on a bus to our small private branded plane for a scenic ride under the clouds. This could not have been a more magical way to travel. Just like celebrities Brangelina, who visited with their bodyguards and children, we arrived on our own plane, under the subdued colors of the moody Thai sky, at the end of the rainy season.
I have taken lots of small Cessna-style planes across Africa, even chartered a fair few for private safaris and trips across the disconnected continent, but this one was a notch above the rest with plush leather seats, purified water bottles and even snacks tucked away in a chest of drawers behind the pilot. “Here you have some snacks,” pointed the pilot with an ear to ear grin. I saw my friends’ sightly confused look, as if the usual airline meal was turning into a luxury self-service.
As soon as we landed on the private airstrip, a bare feet blond girl on an internship from Switzerland’s top hospitality university smiled and welcomed us to paradise, indicating that we could take a seat on the electric buggy by the side of the orange soil by the airstrip. The pier where Soneva’s private speedboat was waiting was a mere few meters away. We had just enough for a photo before we docked at the resort. I realized I had completely forgotten about our luggage. The real luxury is not having to worry about anything, not even your belongings.
Our “Friday”, as butlers are called, Amp, was waiting for us as soon as we disembarked from the speedboat, as was the rest of the resort’s staff, greeting everyone with the Thai palms together on a Buddhist prayer. Standing on a line in their cotton and linen shorts and short sleeve shirts it was hard to tell who belonged to senior management. Soneva Kiri’s approach is that of a friendly and unrushed philosophy. No shoes, no news. So we followed suit and didn’t put our shoes back on until we boarded the speedboat on our way back to the tiny plane a few days later.
Amp directed us to our own electric buggy. “Khun Mar and party”, it read, and we drove through forest, jungle and bamboo towards our villa.
The villas at Soneva Kiri
As soon as we stepped into the villa I saw the magazine images in real life. The usual pastel green, yellow and orange that make the brand so recognizable were greeted me into paradise. Being my fifth property and sixth stay with the Six Senses and Soneva Group, I was immediately at home.
Considered to be one of the ten largest villas in the world, Soneva Kiri’s villas are gigantic. There were times when we frantically searched for each other in the villa’s various spaces. Is Marisa in the bathroom? Or is she getting changed? Perhaps she is relaxing on the beach’s sun loungers? “Marisa?!”
The villas are set in various levels and are entirely made of bamboo and tan wood with glass. From the entrance, we descended into the bedroom where we found the four poster bed in its own glass walled semi circle room surrounded by the swimming pool and the jungle foliage. It was early morning but all I could think of was that I would sleep so well on that bed.
The yellow cushions of the outdoor loungers merged into the baby blue of the pool and into the lush green grass in front of the villa. This was the theme for our stay: green, blue, yellow, orange. Except for the pink of the ice cream lounge.
After Amp walked us through the various gadgets and switches in the villa, we were left to enjoy the space. Our Beach Villa had a bedroom, a walk-in closet, two toilets, two showers, one bathtub, a large vanity area with two mirrors and two sinks and several drawers to store things. Outside, the canvas roof, in the shape of a large manta ray, covered a very spacious lounge area with a table and an L-shape sofa with more cushions than we could lay our heads on. It was bliss, and the look and feel of the place, with soothing colors, bamboo sticks and overgrowing vegetation felt like we were in complete peace. “The cicadas and the geckos are very noisy during the night”, I had read other guests complain on TripAdvisor. It was as if someone complained that New York is bright at night. Give me the noise of nature any day.
The villa would not be complete without a mention to the fabulous swimming pool. Curvy and wrapping around the deck area, the pool edge finished onto a grassy garden that led to the beach.
There were countless details that made the villas extra special. The espresso machine, modern but retro looking, matched the colors of the decoration and came with proper instructions. We were free to switch the WiFi off if we wanted and the fridge was stocked with a welcome fruity and lemon grassy welcome drink which we finished later in the day. The two showers, one indoor and one with a rain shower head, set amongst the overgrown vegetation were perfect for the three of us so we could get ready in no time. We had a pillow menu to choose from, as is the case in all Six Senses properties, and we had received a pre-arrival form to fill for our Friday to provide a personalized experience. We could choose the type of music, which was pre-loaded on the iPod, and a scent for the pillows. Should we want to change our minds, the menu rested by the bedside table. The mosquito net had an extra pouch hanging from the inside to place our mobile phones at night so we could store it inside the net. Complimentary sparkling and still water was available throughout the villa.
The decor had the feel of a Robinson Crusoe stranded island. The tables and furniture looked like traveling suitcases from the beginning of the 20th century. One of them, piled up in front of the bed, was hiding a flat TV. If Amp had not showed us, we would not have missed it. But the design was clever enough to preserve the feel of disconnection while providing guests whatever they may need. Some travelers prefer to send their evenings watching movies that counting stars.
With so much space, beautiful views and such peace, it was hard to find a reason to leave the villa, yet Soneva Kiri experiences were a noble opponent in such feat.
What to do at Soneva Kiri: Experiences and activities
Since the resort is on an island, marine and aquatic options abound. We went on a snorkeling trip and sunset cruise around the area. However, I would not consider this the highlight. As opposed to other parts of Thailand, namely the South, Koh Kood is not necessarily a marine life paradise. The resort takes care of coral programs to repopulate the reef but you will not see much under water. The sunset cruise was a welcome celebration with champagne, the sun setting behind the horizon in all hues of orange and blue and a few canapes to add flavor to our otherwise salty lips. It was the perfect girl’s escape and, despite the choppy and even rainy afternoon on the boat, we had the pleasure of enjoying a smooth ride through the mangroves and could spy on local life on the over water houses.
The crescent beach is on the pretty side of the resort, facing West. On our eco-friendly electric buggy, we crossed the resort’s length and headed to the beach. It wasn’t a desolate white sand, flat beach but a green oasis of trees, palm trees and vegetation.
For the more active ones, the resort had a fully equipped gym, including a pilates machine, and tennis courts. Yoga sessions were offered free of charge before breakfast every day and a visiting health and fitness professional was at hand for private consultations.
But, as well managed and great as all of these activities were, they were not memorable. Where Soneva Kiri excelled was at all the other added SLOW LIFE experiences. The open air Cinema Paradiso, set over a lake, reflected all of James Bond’s Casino Royal action scenes on the still water. The Observatory, staffed with an eager aspiring astronomer, was a great way to take a peek at some far-flung stars. Benz, the Thai restaurant, was reached via a speedboat ride and sat over the water on the mangroves. The hand made ice cream and sorbet lounge had over 40 flavors on offer, despite one of the fridges being out of order. The chocolate room featured Scioli Botanical chocolate compositions in all shapes and forms. Both ice cream and chocolate were available on free flow, free of charge, any time of the day. The tree pod dining was not only enjoyed from the top of the jungle but also served on a zip line. The larger villas had slides, for children to entertain themselves or adults to remember their youth.
The Spa was a Six Senses Spa property and focused on local ingredients, like the home-made coconut oil used in the massages, and on Ayurvedic treatments, starting with a consultation with the in-house expert.
These, did take Soneva Kiri beyond traditional luxury. The resort is in the business of trying to surprise the customers which have seen it all.
The food extravaganza at Soneva Kiri
Soneva Kiri, like Six Senses, places importance on the food it serves. 85% of what is being served at the resort is locally and sustainably sourced. “Strawberries and kiwis cannot be grown in Thailand so we import them,” clarifies Amp as we stroll along the Eco Centro, in the heart of the resort, where the villas water is treated and the vegetable garden is located. A team of four takes care of this recycling and reusing small operation designed to minimize the resort’s impact.
The chefs’ grocery shopping list can be complemented with what is grown on the resort and the herbs that can be found along the main paths. Soneva does not serve endangered species like shark fin or fish that are not sustainably sourced.
The result is a food experience worth traveling for. There are several venues and menu options but I could not start without mentioning the most impressive breakfast buffet I have ever seen.
As we were stocking up on pretty much anything and everything available from the various stations and the a la carte menu we realized that our table was full. “We may have gone a bit crazy here”, I thought to myself as I piled up a fresh coconut, a ginger, carrot and orange juice and a latte between plates filled with a three egg white omelet, waffles, pancakes, bowls with yogurt topped with fresh cut fruit, cereals, quinoa and nuts and an empty plate where buttery pastries once laid. I even had a pretty plate with a spread of all the cold cuts and cheese on offer, and there were many, plus some crackers and some jams for color. That was the breakfast of Queens and we were in the Soneva’s Royal Palace. Needless to say, breakfast took two hours, by which time, it was already lunch hour. We didn’t get to try everything though. There were noodles and other Asian dishes as well as a long list of a la carte options with dishes from all over Asia and several organic, nutritious and healthy takes on the more indulging breakfast favorites. “Would you like to try our organic coconut milk latte?”, tempted our waitress. It was a valid question.
The sweet selection of fruits was completed with an equally impressive fresh organic salad bar. The plump and shiny vegetables could be drizzled with several types of oils and an obscene amount of types of salt, six to be precise. The choice was such that we vowed to return the next day and sample the rest. Did I mention that there was a cold room filled with jams, cheeses and cold cuts plus some smoked delicacies and sushi? Haven, if you ask me.
Starting the day off on the right foot is always key when on vacation. But the food extravaganza at Soneva Kiri did not end at noon. The other dining options stacked up proudly to this food show-off.
We enjoyed fine dining dinner at The View which, as the name indicated, faced the sun set and was set over the hill. The food was delicate and well prepared, if slightly pricey. It was also the chef’s first day so we could see him in action as the restaurant’s tables were structured around the open kitchen. The cocktail menu had over 25 pages, it was hard to make up our minds. On the food section, the chef, hailing from Soneva’s Maldives property, Soneva Fushi, was offering a raw set menu apart from a mix of local and international dishes with decidedly refreshing touches. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner.
The star of the resort’s food scene is Benz’s, a Thai gourmet restaurant led by the female chef of the same name. Reached via a short boat ride, set on a bamboo deck over the mangroves and lit by candles, Benz is an eminently romantic experience. The food, although we didn’t get to try it, is said to be spectacular and, the chef, was personally discovered in Phang Nga by Sonu and Eva, founders and owners of Soneva. All of the food presented at Benz is locally grown on Koh Kood or Koh Chang, the neighboring island.
No beach resort would be complete without a beach BBQ night. At Soneva Kiri, the BBQ night is special. We watched the sun go down with a silky pina colada before the large meat and fish spread was set on the sand. The cold room, on this occasion, was used for desserts and salads. The food was excellent and the setting relaxing and wonderful. We saw the sun go down behind the island and turn the sky on fire. Dinner happened under the dimmed light of a mere candle in almost complete darkness.
The main resort’s lobby area has another restaurant, the So Spirited sunken bar. Offering lazy sofas and facing the infinity pool, So Spirited serves international and Thai specialties. And it is right next to the ice cream parlor and chocolate room. I can’t remember how many ice cream scoops we had, but I remember we tried almost every flavor. Did I mention they had over 40?
Lastly, the resort prides itself in being able to organize an intimate meal anywhere. A picnic by a waterfall, on a private island or anywhere that catches the guests’ eye. That’s what Fridays are for, to make magic happen.
Food is definitively an area where the resort showed its true colors. But great food needs to be paired with equally exceptional drinks. The Soneva Kiri had a whiskey cellar and a large selection of wines in the subterranean cellar, including several organic and bio-dynamic options, in keeping up with the brand’s values. At the Six Senses in Laamu, Maldives, I had the pleasure of sharing a most enjoyable wine pairing dinner with the resort’s sommelier which opened my eyes to the increasingly popular bio-dynamic and organic wines.
The service: Soneva Kiri Friday
I have an eye for detail for the smallest most insignificant of gestures that can show if a resort is truly a luxury destination. Soneva Kiri surpassed my expectations repeatedly and managed to show me how a real high-end place should be run. There were too many silent and unnoticeable details to list them all but I was particularly impressed with our Friday. Amp was silent and worked behind the scenes to make our stay an incredibly smooth one to the point that, by the second day, I felt as if she could read my mind. She anticipated our needs even before we knew we had them. She would wait for us before and after any activity to make sure we would find our way, she brought us repellent and waited for us after the sunset cruise just to show us how to turn on the light on our buggy because, being our first night, she thought we might have to fiddle to find the switch. She re-scheduled, several times, our Tree Pod dining when the weather made it impossible and without having to ask her. She was always available and always responsive to a remarkable level.
Our buggy was recharged and U-turned every time we parked it, so it was easier to maneuver. When we went to the open air cinema or The View for dinner, the buggy was moved to the entrance of both, ready to go, as soon as we stood up from our seats. A security staff was waiting by the side of the stairs leading to the main lobby area only to illuminate the stairs with his torch on our way up. When, on our snorkeling tour, it started to rain, the boatman put all our things inside the box so they wouldn’t get wet.
On our Tree Top breakfast, we ordered an incredible amount of food that we would have, in no way, been able to finish. Amp managed to send us only the food we could eat, smartly canceling everything we had ordered and which would have been too much. How could she know what we wanted better than we did?
One morning, as my friend Kate couldn’t work out the coffee machine, she came all the way to make us a cup. Amp made our experience uniquely personal and we quickly learned to depend on her. Nothing was too much trouble, nothing was impossible, nothing was an issue.
I have a hard time believing in the value of butlers. It is hard for someone who has just met you to know what you want before you do, but she did it, to a degree that I had not seen in any other Six Senses properties, or elsewhere for that matter.
The rest of the staff were as courteous and friendly as her. They were helpful, well-trained and courteous but the reality is that Amp handled all our dealings, as if she had known us for years, silently appearing and disappearing when we might have a question.
I can’t praise the Soneva Kiri Resort enough for a truly memorable stay. At $1,500 a night during the dry season, the resort had much to live up to, but I do believe it delivered on its promise. We had a fabulous stay; who can’t be grumpy with an unlimited supply of artisan ice cream?
As I am a perfectionist and always see opportunities for improvement, there were two things I would have changed.
During our stay, the return flight for one of us was delayed by three hours. Although she was given the choice of flying one day earlier, this would have cut her stay significantly. The flight was then further delayed on the day. Although we did not have connecting flights, this caused inconvenience which was compensated by the Resort Manager with a spa treatment for the three of us. This could have been a one off issue, but something to consider as the resort may have little power over Bangkok’s busy airports and most of the guests are coming from outside of Bangkok.
Although the villa was absolutely fantastic, the beach in front was hidden and only visible through a small aperture in the trees. Access was only through the overgrown and muddy grassy area between the pool and the beach, not a walk one would want to take bare feet. This could be easily solved with a stone path. I provided the feedback to Management. If you have the image of laying on your own private beach villa in your mind, Soneva Kiri’s villas have more of a rustic, jungle feel than of a beach getaway. For that, you can ride your buggy to the beach.
If you are after a truly fabulous, luxurious but unpretentious island getaway with a sustainable philosophy and gourmet food, Soneva Kiri will become the benchmark holiday destination for all of your future trips.
Disclaimer: This was a paid stay. However, I enjoyed media rates for the accommodation, flights and F&B at the property. All opinions are always my own.