Private pools, crystal blue waters and snorkelling Thai island paradise at sensational Soneva Kiri

 
Timothy Barber
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TALK about arriving in style. Soneva Kiri, a far-flung resort on the Thai island of Koh Kood, is the kind of place that keeps its own private plane. A single-engine propeller job but a luxurious one, it picks you up from Bangkok airport, climbs over the rice paddies and swings out to sea, descending 45 minutes later on a tiny islet just big enough for an airstrip.

From there, you clamber aboard a stupendously glamorous speedboat – all polished wooden bows and sumptuous leather seating – and zip across the surf to the jungle-covered expanse of Koh Kood. As you dock at a long wooden jetty, a resort staff-member holds up a sign: “no news, no shoes,” it reads – a smart holiday philosophy. You’re then instructed to wind your watch back an hour – Soneva Kiri, you see, keeps its own time, so as to make maximum use of daylight hours. Barefoot and instantly unburdened by the anxieties of normality, you stumble up that jetty and into a world of carefree, downright whimsical contentment.

Soneva Kiri is the work of the people behind Bangkok-based Six Senses, the destination spa brand with lavish boutique resorts dotted around South East Asia’s more beautiful coastlines. Along with two Maldives Soneva resorts, Soneva Kiri is what the company did when it decided there were people for whom the Six Senses retreats weren’t quite lavish enough. It’s all to do with space, really – for a large resort covering a significant chunk of the island, with several restaurants and bars, a large outdoor spa and an especially gorgeous beach, the number of guests is pretty small. Villas are huge and there are fewer of them, and you can rattle around the resort on your golf buggy (each villa gets one) without really encountering other guests if you don’t want to.

PRIVATE POOL
Not that you need to leave the villa. Each has a private pool – one that’s big enough to do lengths in – and acres of outdoor and indoor space. Mine, halfway up a hill and facing east across the resort’s magnificent bay, consisted of a series of secluded wooden buildings (bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, all grandly furnished) arranged around a courtyard with an outdoor bath at its centre, and an outdoor shower in one corner. A spiral staircase led down to the pool area, surrounded by sun-loungers and a day bed, and overlooked on the other side by an al fresco living and dining room filled with expansive sofas.

Make it out of this haven of sun-kissed horizontal living, and your options range from hitting the beach or going snorkelling to being taken out to a golf course or visiting nearby islands – all can be arranged by your personal butler (you get one of those as well as a buggy).

Alternatively, you can head to Cambodia. Koh Kood lies in the Gulf of Thailand close to the Cambodian border (and far from the traditional tourist trap of Phuket, out west on the Andaman coast), and at a fee Soneva Kiri’s plane can be used to hop you over to Siem Reap for a visit to the wondrous temples of Angkor Wat. I was planning to make this daytrip on my visit, but was thwarted thanks to the less-than-neighbourly dispute that’s been raging along the border in recent months. The service will be running again once things calm down, I’m told.

I wasn’t too disheartened about that though – it meant more time to absorb the pleasures of the resort itself, and of the island. Koh Kood is an alluring place: a rainforest-covered strip in the ocean, with mangrove swamps and coconut plantations. It has a couple of remote fishing villages where fishermen inhabit ramshackle huts that line the jetties, and head out in vibrantly coloured boats to catch squid at night. There’s the odd smaller resort in sheltered locations, but it’s largely unencumbered by the backpacking hoards.

DIVINE FOOD
There’s one essential off-resort stop on the island. A speedboat can whizz you south down the island’s western flank, before swinging inland up a small river that opens into a musky mangrove swap. At the water’s edge, what looks like a traditional wooden house contains the eponymous restaurant of Khun Benz, a female chef who delivers some of the most divine Thai food I’ve tasted – simple, gentle dishes infused with flavours as vital as the ingredients are colourful.

The dining options back at Soneva Kiri include being winched up into the treetops in a large bamboo pod, with waiters swinging down zip lines to bring you your food. The feet-on-the-ground alternatives are, in their way, no less extravagant – a fine-dining restaurant at the resort’s highest point, and a more relaxed restaurant in the resort’s central complex, with a daily epicurean fantasy spread of buffets and grills, not to mention its own ice-cream parlour and walk-in chocolate booth.

There’s also a very good sushi restaurant at the beachfront, from which staff bring you delicacies with cocktails as you lie in the sun contemplating whether to take another dip in the iridescent sea or head off to the zen loveliness of the spa. That’s about as big a problem as you have to deal with at Soneva Kiri.

TRAVEL DETAILS
Travel company Bailey Robinson offers seven nights at Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, Thailand from £2,800 per person, based on 2 adults sharing a Hill Villa Suite, including full board, international flights and transfers.

The offer is valid for travel between 16 August and 31 October 2011.

A day trip to the temples of Angkor Wat can be added on from £1,200 per person, based on two adults, including a return private plane transfer, full day tour, visa and immigration fees.

Contact Bailey Robinson on 01488 689700 or at www.baileyrobinson.com.
www.sixsenses.com/soneva-kiri

OTHER LEADING THAI RESORTS
SANTHIYA, KOH PHANGAN
The island of Koh Phangan is best known for its full moon beach parties, beloved by the back-packing crowd. Santhiya, up on the island’s northern tip, offers a more relaxed and high-end experience than that. The 18-acre resort’s villas are recognisable for their elaborate, traditional teak stylings, and several have their own private pools.

An eight night Hideaway package starts from around £1,330.
www.santhiya.com

PARESA, PHUKET
Paresa is one of the leading luxury resorts on the ever-popular island of Phuket, and has a particularly beautiful location, perched high on a cliff overlooking the Andaman Sea. The design style here is contemporary and minimalist, an understated place and all the more luxurious for it. Potential excursions here include elephant trekking and a day island hopping, snorkelling and swimming.

For details of current offers visit www.paresaresorts.com

RAYAVADEE, KRABI
The heartstoppingly beautiful Phranang Peninsular, jutting out from the edge of Krabi Marine National Park on Thailand’s western flank, is home to the tropical paradise that is Rayavadee, surrounded by sheer cliffs, gorgeous tropical gardens and coconut groves and accessible only by sea. Accommodation is in quirky two-story pavilions sitting amid the coconut groves.

A four night Rayavadee Experience package from around £1,500.
www.rayavadee.com