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Soneva Kiri: Intelligent luxury in paradise

Soneva Kiri , an eco-luxury dream destination that features 42 resort villas and 21 private residences spanning over a luscious expanse of beach and tropical rainforest.

Discovering a unique travel destination with an inspiring advocacy is like finding that one magnificent diamond that outshines the rest as it sparkles like no other.

Nestled in the tropical island of Koh Kood in Thailand is a captivating and precious sanctuary called Soneva Kiri, where intelligent luxury reigns supreme. With its breathtaking “remote but accessible” natural location, the inspiring ethos of sustainability comes in the same package as experiential luxury.

Just imagine yourself in the middle of a very lush forest overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. To your right is the sun setting on the horizon and opposite it is a slice of the shy moon beginning to peek behind the cumulus clouds. The cool and crisp wind kisses your cheeks as you walk up several steps towards a wooden platform where you alight on a wicker orb that serves as your handcrafted carriage. Leather seatbelts are comfortably strapped around your waist and you are hoisted very gently towards the treetops.

At Soneva Kiri, the air is even sweeter from this towering height. You await in suspended animation as you see a man on a zip line carrying a basket of croissants, cheese, cold cuts, coffee and Danish pastries. He is your flying waiter on sturdy harnesses serving you breakfast in this innovative Robinson Crusoe setting. With a winsome smile, he graciously welcomes you to Soneva Kiri’s all-day Tree Pod Dining, an eco-friendly “nest-aurant.”

As if this isn’t enough, Soneva Kiri creates what is almost impossible and logistically challenging. Can you imagine, in the middle of this tropical resort, is a chocolate room maintained with a steady temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit where all kinds of chocolate you can dream of are being made for you. Next to it is an ice-cream room with 65 luscious flavors to choose from including smoked bacon and cream cheese ice cream, tomato and celery, Thai basil, coconut coriander, frozen whisky and mojito sorbet.

At this haven that promotes barefoot sophistication, the exhilarating Soneva experience begins upon arrival at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, where Soneva Kiri’s private airport representative leads you to the First Class lounge to refresh and relax while all your customs facilities are attended to. The resort’s private custom-fitted eight-seater called Ever Soneva So Over the Top Cessna takes you en route to paradise for the duration of an hour flight to Thailand’s only private resort airport.

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As we disembarked the luxurious sea plane replete with a fully stocked bar of beverages and snacks, we boarded a speedboat, where we were requested to remove our shoes and deposit them into eco-bags that read “no shoes, no news.” My curiosity was piqued. What was this magical, enchanted island that did not require shoes? We were intrigued by this haven for the world-weary where they had our feet covered.

Waiting by the dock to welcome us were charming GM Frank Grassman, with Khun Gaew, who would be assigned to us for the entirety of our stay as our very own “Friday.” Akin to a “butler” or as my imagination would have it, our very own Julie, the cruise director of the Love Boat or Tattoo, Rourk’s trusty accomplice on Fantasy Island.  After all, on this modern-day wish island, all your dreams come true while respecting and preserving the environment.

In this paradise, which can be explored either by buggy, bicycle or barefoot, expansive villas and luxurious amenities are heavy on privacy but light on carbon footprint. What meets your eye besides the sky and the horizon is an eco-wonderland of several villas created by artisan wood furnishings topped by a clean white canvas.

Be delighted by their fabulous spa that takes eco-luxury to another level with its hot stone beds, wooden steam rooms with natural rock floors, sound pods with Bose speakers and an ingenuous collaboration of glass and wood furnishings. There are also solar panels, an impressive eco-villa, a children’s amazing discovery den and an underground wine cave. Sommelier Mark Bittner shared his expertise on the fine wines in the resort.

At the resort’s outdoor amphitheater Cinema Paradiso, you can enjoy your favorite films al fresco in their giant movie screen while munching on freshly popped corn and sipping ice-cold mojitos. While watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we savored the delicious phad thai, fresh spring rolls, seafood in hot basil and lemonade. As the film credits were rolling, the giant orb of the moon illuminated the dark night for exactly two minutes and 49 seconds.

We said a prayer of thanksgiving to the good Lord for divine miracles realizing that many beautiful things in life exist though we may not see them all the time. We retreated into our private one-bedroom suite, rustically created with all the intelligent luxuries like WiFi, iPod decks and the most comfortable duvet beddings and linens. Surrounded by swimming pools, treetop living here is coupled with brilliant design twists like a stack of leather luggage right in front of the bed that hides the DVD player inside.

Lynn Villadolid, a winsome Harvard-educated Filipina and managing director of Soneva Private Residences, empathically shares, “Soneva Kiri Private Residences offer intelligent luxury of the highest international standard in a remote environment that nurtures the indigenous feel in design, architecture and service. Construction methods have been carefully adapted to protect and even nurture the environment.” The resort still has ready-built and made-to-order villas from two to six bedrooms for sale.

Soneva is a story of love, a modern-day fairy tale of sorts where the beautiful pair of resort owners, Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, live happily forever in this paradise. Some 15 years ago, Sonu, a young Eton- and Oxford-educated Indian entrepreneur and his wife Eva, a gorgeous model who graced the cover of more than a hundred fashion glossies in the ‘70s and ‘80s, set up a company that aimed to redefine the idea of small, exquisite, luxury holiday resorts. The couple combined their first names to produce the Soneva and Evason brands, which flourished along with Six Senses Spas. Today, they have sold Six Senses and Evason brand and decided to focus on their Soneva resort properties and the private residences that they offer. Soon to open are their properties in Greece and Sri Lanka. 

In my interview with Khun Sonu, he shared that 52 percent of their customers are repeat ones and I teased him that Madonna falls under this category. Madonna, I learned in my trips to the Maldives, is a regular visitor of Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, the company’s very first property. Khun Sonu recalled there was not much infrastructure in the Maldives when they purchased their 100-acre atoll, the site of Soneva Fushi today. Being so close to a population of two billion in Asia plus a strong European following, there was no denying that the Maldives with its unrivalled beauty would continue to be a strong tourism destination.

Both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Kiri bottle their own water. Instead of having to import millions of bottles of water for the resort, Khun Sonu enabled the locals to produce their own bottled water.  While bottling the water, they play classical music in the belief that the quality of the water crystals is positively affected by the music played. Lynn shared that they were inspired by the studies of Japanese water specialist Dr. Masaru Emoto who is responsible for this amazing discovery.

Many resorts on tropical islands have flourished in the past but in Soneva Kiri, it preserves your future through its philosophy of intelligent luxury. The resort subscribes to the concept of “SLOW LIFE,” an acronym for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wholesome Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences, the philosophy that the couple has created for the Six Senses group. “Its core purpose is to create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate our guests’ love of Slow Life,” said Khun Sonu.

Many travel destinations have enchanted me and left me breathless but Soneva Kiri swept me off my feet. Here, life’s luxurious moments unfolded when least expected. The resort taught me that the only way to preserve our future and continuously enjoy its bounty is to respect the present.

Soneva Kiri impressed upon me that the most precious kind of luxury is the sustainable one. Just like a diamond, it lasts forever.

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