We know the upcoming Smith family holiday is going to be something special when our biggest discussion around the dinner table, pre-departure, is: should we take the helicopter or speedboat transfer to our island destination? (The resort’s private charter plane is undergoing maintenance when we're visiting.) At times like this, you have to pinch yourself and realise that life isn’t all that bad.
So it is that the Smith family of four boards the speedboat after a short flight from Bangkok to Trat, and a comfortable hour’s drive to the boat jetty. A bumpy but pleasant hour later, the mirage that is Soneva Kiri materialises before us. Greeted by management and a private assistant (known on the island as a ‘Friday’) at the jetty, and encouraged immediately to implement the hotel's ‘No news, no shoes’ policy, we're splashing around our villa’s private pool in less than 10 minutes.
Now, some hotels have butlers, but to have a dedicated, delightful and discreet ‘Friday’ for the duration of our stay – contactable and within reach at almost any time of day or night – that is something special. Our ‘Friday’, who (much to the delight of the two little Smith girls) is named Pink, has an ability to read minds – she’s one step ahead the whole time. When we realise that we have left Miss 3’s floaties at home, within a blink of an eye Pink returns with a pair of fully inflated Finding Nemo floaties, and has them on Miss 3’s chubby arms before we can even offer to float across the pool to assist. (At this point, we decide to take Pink home with us.)
The words ‘one-bedroom’ don’t resonate well with most families travelling with young children, and this Mr and Mrs Smith (self-confessed night owls), are anxious at the prospect of spending the holiday tucked up in bed by 7.30pm, so as not to disturb the kids. ‘One-bedroom’ at Soneva Kiri, however, doesn’t quite mean the same thing as it does anywhere else. There is indeed one bedroom, but this is housed in one of three standalone ‘huts’ that make up what is really a one-bedroom villa complex. The two additional huts house a ‘dressing room’ (think massive walk-in-wardrobe) and an enormous double bathroom. With the dressing room large enough to comfortably fit two single beds with accompanying hanging mosquito nets (naturally transforming them into ‘princess beds’), Miss 5 and Miss 3 shack up on their own – albeit only a few metres from the main bedroom – and love it.
So many decisions: to lather up in the open-air rain shower, the glass-brick-enclosed massage shower, or the poolside shower? Or to soak in the outdoor oversized sunken bath? If we should suddenly need to do a simultaneous family cleanse, we are certainly in the right place.
The difficult decisions continue outside the villa… do we drive our buggy down to the pristine white beach and watch the kids from our paddleboard, from a hanging double cabana, or swimming in the calm shallows that seem to stretch to the adjacent island? Or muster some energy and head to the tennis court or gym-with-a-view to work off the unlimited ice-cream (32 flavours, made in-house, no less) and chocolate that’s on offer, followed by some well-deserved relaxation in the exquisitely designed (and rightfully award-winning) spa?
As the end of the day nears, a family meeting is called for – two little hands up for a 7.30pm kid-friendly movie at the deluxe outdoor cinema (with obligatory popcorn and snacks); two bigger hands up for a world-class dinner buffet on the beach, accompanied by the most spectacular and breathtaking Thai sunset. The elders in this tribe pull rank and vote for the beach, but not before organising the nanny-on-a-buggy to collect the children and whisk them off to bed, once the sun has done the same. Our capable nanny is called upon the following night, when Mr and Mrs Smith decide on a romantic dinner at the resort’s Thai degustation restaurant, which is arrived at by boat just before sunset – a truly stunning and delicious experience.
Soneva Kiri is consciously super eco-friendly, almost Robinson Crusoe in style. It is designed so cleverly that all man-made structures blend seamlessly into the rugged natural surroundings, yet every modern luxury you could ever need or want is subtly installed and discreetly hidden behind or within bamboo walls or wooden panels. A TV, DVD and Bose surround sound system (with pre-loaded iPod) planted inside a pile of vintage luggage trunks at the end of the bed… it’s like something out of a James Bond movie. Don’t expect to pick up cable, though – the TV is purely for those who can’t do without a cinematic fix, maintaining the ‘no news’ theme. I must admit, this Mr Smith starts to panic, before realising that the WiFi connection is excellent, and I can still (covertly) keep up to date with the outside world (namely who is leading the golf).
The eco-aware, sustainable and superior quality approach of the resort is nowhere more evident than in the food on offer on the island. Soneva Kiri operates the only dairy in Thailand, producing its own yoghurts, cheese and milk. The hotel also smokes its own meats and seafood, and has just hung its first round of salamis, ready for consumption in a few months. The talented international and local chefs are immensely passionate about what they are achieving in such a remote location – I feel it would be an insult to them to not try everything on the breakfast buffet: chia seeds and organic nuts sprinkled over natural yogurt and fresh organic fruits with a wheatgrass and raw vegetable juice, followed by pancakes and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, accompanied by a great latte – a perfectly balanced start to the day.
Soneva Kiri is the resort that resort-owners would head to for a break. It aims to be the best resort in the world, and it could well be. The whole feel of the island is one of calm and respect – for the environment, and for each other. Staff have their own village, where there is a restaurant, gym, bar, and very comfortable accommodation. The staff are happy – and it shows.
Luxury like this does come at a price, so if you want to stay in what may be the best resort in the world, you need to be prepared to pay for it. Though our bed and breakfast charges were taken care of long ago, the cost of all other meals and drinks (in a remote luxury location) needs to be factored in. With the price of Treepod dining as high as the forest canopy you are suspended in, it may not seem such a ‘must-do’ experience after all. Oh, and one other extra cost to bear in mind: the under-5’s kids club is charged at US$20 an hour (babysitting is charged at the same). Completely worth it, I say!