Birds’ nests, seedpods, thatched hobbit holes: Phuket resort Keemala’s pool villas are incredible architectural anomalies, and an intriguing mix of history and myth, loosely based on ancient tribe dwellings. Nestled in glorious greenery – a short drive from Patong beach – the resort’s holistic philosophy proposes healing spa rituals, healthful home-grown cuisine and an eco-friendly ethos. Naturally, we’re on board.
Double rooms from £304.65 (THB13,354), including tax at 18.7 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast, a villa host, personalised fitness programme, daily fruit plate, minibar items and in-house activities. A three-night minimum stay is required during peak season (24 December–10 January).
Your villa host is on hand to help with spa, restaurant and excursion bookings, and they’ll unpack your bags and deliver room service personally. If you’re particularly fond of your villa’s decor you can pick up home wares in the hotel’s boutique. Take a minute to peek at the mosaic by local artist Surachai Sripaiboon in the welcome pavilion, it tells the history of the four clans of Keemala; ask nicely and staff will regale you with the full saga.
At the hotel
Spa and fitness centre, hourly shuttle to Kamala beach, wine cellar, library, boutique, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: private pool, flatscreen TV, iPod dock, traditional coffee-grinder and beans from Chiang Rai (Nespresso coffee machines available on request), kettle with a selection of local teas, free minibar and bottled water, and Siam Botanicals bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each villa is ingeniously designed; but if hard-pressed, we’d pick the Bird’s Nest Villas. This cocoon of woven wood has a glass wall overlooking the rainforest, mountains and Andaman Sea. Scope out the scenery curled up in your four-poster, while submerged in your alfresco bath tub or from the edge of the private lap pool. The Tent Pool Villas – canvas-covered hideaways each set on a rocky outcrop, with sea and forest views – are also rather dreamy.
Close to the main hotel pavilions there’s a sparkling, freeform pool and Jacuzzi with sunloungers by the side. Surrounded by greenery and nestled up to the lagoon that wends through the resort, it’s a palliative for on-the-go minds.
Set in thatched huts among the trees, Mala spa’s eight treatment pods (four with a sauna and steam room) are like a small village. Siam Botanicals, Voya and Spa Ritual products are used in healing therapies, from massages and reiki, to restorative raindrop and sound treatments. There’s a programme of guest practitioners, including chiropractors and nutritionists, and a mani-pedi salon sits on the lower floor of the main spa pod. Little waterfalls and streams trickle by the yoga pavilions, and there’s a meditation cave for tranquility seekers.
Chic and comfy yoga gear. Pick up a few Thai phrases before you leave too; this authentic stay offers a chance to meet and greet the locals (to get you started, here’s hello: swạs̄dī).
Leave your drone at home: Keemala is a no-fly zone. Public areas and two of the Clay Pool Villas (116 and 108) are wheelchair accessible; staff will happily arrange shuttle trips to wherever you wish.
Children of all ages are welcome, but the hotel is best suited to older teenagers.
Indeed; the hotel contributes to non-profit organisation Kamala Green Club and participates in their monthly beach clean-up. Food is grown on site or locally sourced, and leftovers are composted. Natural cleaning-products are used, and styrofoam packaging has been banned. Staff are schooled in eco-friendly practices, and the hotel strictly vets companies who run excursions involving animals.
The intimate dining pods dotted around the swimming pool; if these two-person hidey-holes aren’t quite romantic enough, a man-made waterfall cascades close by.
Prim Phuket partygoer: tropical prints, bold colours and just a hint of flashed flesh for ladies, tailored khakis and loose linens for men.
Bamboo and wood-clad Mala’s dishes hail from south Thailand and spice-route stops China, India and Sri Lanka. Spoils from the hotel’s ‘enchanted garden’ and mushroom-patch, and a rack’s worth of spices are added to fragrant fare: coconut curries pepped up with chili; exotic salads tossed with papaya, ivy gourd and banana blossom; and tasting platters with Fine de Claire oysters and herby catches of the day. Find healthy organic fare at the spa, and light meals at Cha-La Pool Bar. A tasty Thai afternoon tea has samosas and tropically tinged pâtisserie. For breakfast, there’s fresh fruit, organic Asian dishes, and a live-cooking station. Intimate dining options include gourmet picnics, and lavish dinners served in the hotel gardens or on a rocky outcrop.
Sparkling bellinis, a lime-and-lemongrass-infused Tom Yum cocktail, and bittersweet martini with raw cacao: the bar’s cocktail list is inventive and classic. Set next to Mala Restaurant, the bar has a terrace for sundowners. Cha-La Pool Bar is laid back with brilliant snacks, and the wine cellar has biodynamic, organic and dessert wines, renowned bottles from around the globe and a full flight of champagnes and proseccos. Wine tastings with cheese and chocolate platters can be arranged with the sommelier.
Mala Restaurant opens for sunrise breakfasts and late-night digestifs from 6.30am to midnight. Chill out at Cha-La Pool Bar from 10am-7pm. Wines and cocktails in the Wine Cellar and Bar run dry around 1am.
Just ask your villa host and dishes will be ferried to your hideaway.
Keemala is in a tree-swathed patch of Kamala, on the west coast of the Phuket province (roughly a 50-minute drive from Phuket town). Kamala Beach is a 10-minute shuttle ride away, and lively Patong is a 20-minute drive.
Phuket International Airport is a 45-minute drive from the resort. Direct flights arrive from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, Russia, Japan, the UAE and Europe. Some flights connect via Bangkok (just over an hour’s flight), which has connections to major international destinations globally. Private transfers can be arranged through the hotel for an extra charge.
Coastal route 4018 from Phuket International takes about 10 minutes longer than inland Route 402, but its scenic vistas make up for fashionable tardiness. There’s an Avis car-hire booth at Phuket International, and free parking onsite.
If you’re hopping from stop to stop, you can board a ferry in Krabi Town (from the port at Noppharat Thara Beach or Klong Jilad Pier) to Phuket (stopping at Rassada Pier).
Worth getting out of bed for
Kamala is the restful yang to Patong’s shady yin; set inland from the coast in dense woodland, Keemala’s setting is more meditation and yoga (three free sessions of each are held a week), than Go Go bars. Free classes include tai chi, fitball or aqua aerobics, or pulse-pumping Muay Thai and circuit training. Learn how to make gaeng phed goong (red curry with prawns) or kluoy buad chi (bananas in coconut syrup) at the culinary academy; guests pick their ingredients, then whip up a feast in the ‘enchanted garden’ (THB3,500 a guest, for two guests or more). Your villa host can arrange zorbing, ziplining through Kathu forest and long-tailed boat trips to pretty Paradise Beach (entry is THB100 a person). The resort’s selective about animal encounters, but eco-friendly options include elephant bathing, and a trip to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project(+66 76 260 4912) near Bang Pae Waterfall. Kamala’s night market is held each Friday; head to the food stalls for skewers of fried fish, bags of spicy noodles and banana pancakes with condensed milk. A free shuttle takes guests to Kamala Beach, and craft shops and cafés line lantern-lit Kamala Walk Way. Patong is filled with backpackers and dodgy bars, but the Muay Thai matches (Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays) at Patong Boxing Stadium (+66 76 345 578) are some of the town’s less-salacious activities, where guests can mingle with locals.
Keemala’s cuisine is of such a high standard and so flexible (all dietary needs are tended to) that you’ll rarely stray from Su-Tha Restaurant. However, Kamala’s no culinary desert; mod-Asian eatery Silk Restaurant & Bar(+66 76 338 777), by Kamala Beach has panoramic views of the Andaman Sea and Mediterranean and Asian dishes include tom kha gai (coconut-poached chicken), blue-crab curry and beef tenderloin with foie gras. After dinner, take a nightcap on the terrace’s alfresco ‘opium beds’. Bianconero da Tuveri Restaurant (+66 76 385 952) in Kamala has chic monochrome furnishings; Sardinian chef Salvatore’s handmade pasta, breads and desserts; and wood-fired pizzas are a tasty diversion from Thai fare.
German café Kokosnuss(+66 81 538 5285), close to Kamala Beach, has a few aromatic Thai favourites on its menu, but it’s beloved for its schnitzel, sausages and all-you-can eat roast-pork buffet. The drink list offers both Thai and German beers, and neon-hued cocktails.
Rooftop-set Vanilla Sky Bar & Lounge(+66 76 337 300) is a bit more burnished than most local drinking dens and overlooks Kamala’s curve of coastline. The terrace is furnished with wicker bucket chairs and the cocktail list is lined with tempting fruity sundowners, including mango daiquiris and passion fruit mojitos.
Camping to me is the opposite of relaxing. It seems to be a constant battle where conversation is mostly ‘What’s that noise?’ and ‘Why is it raining again?’, and basics like washing and cooking become Herculean tasks. I always finish a camping trip feeling twice as stressed than I was when it started. Which is precisely why I love hotels. Thing is, Mr Smith loves camping…
So it was with a happy heart that I found the perfect hotel for Mr Smith and I in Phuket. Keemala is a breathtakingly designed, completely unique hotel built around the concept of some make-believe Thai tribes. All the rooms have different styles: beautiful split level pods; clay cottages; bird's-nest villas and, yes, tent villas.
In the name of diplomacy, then, and with my husband’s taste firmly in mind, I booked us a tent villa. Thankfully this happened to be much more villa than tent. We walked under our own veranda (with outdoor seating and table) into a stunning safari-chic suite with a huge double bed, dressing area, large desk, two showers, stone-carved bath, private pool and sunbathing area. It’s hard to do the design justice, but let’s just say this might become the year’s most Instagrammable hotel.
I’ve travelled an awful lot and stayed in arguably some of the world’s best hotels (I know, I know), but I found Keemala completely different and completely wonderful. To me it’s the small things that separate the good from the bad. Like the huge leather-chest minibar, say, which was stocked with fresh coffee, mixers and little jars of interesting snacks like Fuji plums and puffed rice crackers, and topped up daily with cookies, sweets, cakes and seasonal fruit.
There was also everything from herbal bath salts, to citronella mosquito spray to a beach bag for us to use during our stay. This is what a hotel should do: take away the responsibility; stop you worrying about anything.
But back to the design… The suites-only stay is interlinked with little roads and hills weaving in between very beautiful mature gardens, verdant forest, trickling streams and flowing waterfalls. (I later found out that this made the construction of the hotel take a very long time, as keeping the natural habitat was paramount to the Thai owners. Bravo them.)
Each private pool has so much character of its own, yet there is still a larger, deep, slate-blue pool at the base of the estate where you can lie on submerged bubbling ‘beds’, swim under a waterfall and watch the ducks float by in the surrounding pools and ponds.
As for entertainment, there is a comprehensive range of activities from yoga to market tours; meditation to boat trips. It’s a relaxed, healthy retreat, which is reflected in the food too.
I’m a very critical traveller when it comes to food and I think that hotels should always offer healthy fare and gluten-free options. Keemala has this nailed with some really exciting juices and menu choices (try the smoothie bowl – it’s stunning), even gluten-free pizzas.
The regular menu is a great combination of classics, upmarket Thai staples and some of the best Indian food I’ve had in years. Mr Smith, while nursing a Patong-induced hangover, even had a Chinese black chicken soup (Google it: the actual chicken is black through and through) and I got my dim sum for breakfast (heaven).
Later in our trip I met the chef and he showed me around the gardens that completely supply the hotel with herbs, salad leaves and mushrooms. They also have chickens, ducks, goats and two very beautiful water buffalo. I got the feeling that no request was too much trouble for the him and his team – something which is quite rare (I know how much work goes into the F&B side of hotels).
The breakfasts were some of the best I’ve seen, and everything seemed homemade with true passion. In the evenings they offer steaks and seafood cooked on pink Himalayan salt platters and killer cocktails – should you want a romantic dinner before sloping off to your private pool for a midnight swim.
There is really too much to mention is this little review, but one thing that can’t be ignored is the spa. I had a full Thai holistic treatment by senior therapist, Nok. This included massage, stretching and, at times, being tapped with a wooden stick. It might sound strange, but it left me feeling absurdly relaxed. Mr Smith who finds it very hard to sit still, especially in a luxury hotel, proclaimed one morning that ‘This is the most relaxed state I have ever been in’ and on our last day quietly said ‘Please don’t make me leave this hotel ever’. Praise indeed from the anti-hotel faction of our family.
So it was with a heavy – but very relaxed – heart that we left. Our flight was super early, so the chef sent us on our way with Keemala breakfast goodie bags with Buckwheat pancakes, smoothies, waffles, honey and salad laced with edible flowers. It was a perfectly magical finish to a perfectly magical stay. If only all camping was like this…