Private but no longer confidential: my experience of Soneva Kiri, Thailand

When I started the Trunki Files, I was a father of two working at a national newspaper. Nearly 4 years on, a fair bit has changed. Not only has another child entered the mix (and sleep decreased exponentially) but I got a new job; not just any job, a dream job, working for a holiday company. Overnight, my passion and pastime became my livelihood.

My job has no doubt been a factor why posts on the Files have been a bit less prolific than in the early days. I love my blog and sharing my experiences; but even I can struggle to spend my evenings writing about holidays when I’ve been thinking of them all day. And whilst the company I work for has a well-deserved reputation for luxury family holidays, I deliberately don’t use the Files as a platform to promote their products; where I have credited them, it’s because they offer something I think readers should know about.

The reason for all this disclosure is that there is somewhere I’ve wanted to write about for a while – a very special, once-in-a-lifetime, jaw-droppingly amazing place – that I had the very good fortune to visit with my family (my wife and three kids aged 9 months, 4 and 6) in March 2015. I have to be upfront: were it not for my job, it’s unlikely I’d have made it there. It’s unapologetically exclusive, indulgent, and a long way away. However, having made my confession, I cannot keep this place a secret any longer. For all of you who win the lottery, get a bumper bonus or possibly have an inheritance fall into your lap, the incredible resort of Soneva Kiri should be high on your list for a blow-out holiday-of-a-lifetime.

Main beach, Soneva Kiri

Main beach, Soneva Kiri

Located on the island of Koh Kood in the Gulf of Thailand, everything about Soneva Kiri is quite magical, starting with the journey there. The only (sensible) way to arrive is by the resort’s private plane. This departs Bangkok several times a day (flights are timed to meet incoming international arrivals) and gets the holiday off to a glamorous start, although nervous fliers be warned: it’s a single-prop aircraft that bounces around a bit. After an hour or so looking out at the emerald coasts, blue waters and remote islands of the Gulf below, you land at Kiri’s private airport (on its very own island!). You’re greeted by your ‘Friday’, your dedicated butler who will be at your beck and call until the moment you leave. Ours was called Ploy and she was the most gracious, gentle person you could ever hope to meet.

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A cold towel and drink later, you are whisked onto a speedboat for the 5 minute transfer to the resort’s jetty. The resort team, including the Manager and kids clubs nannies, are lined up on the jetty ready to welcome you. If you didn’t already, by now you are feeling like a rock star. You know this is the start of something special.

The whole ethos of Soneva is ‘no news, no shoes’. The look is rustic, the philosophy holistic. I have to say, our shoes came off in the boat and we were happy not to see them again for 7 days (they did make a brief reappearance when we did an island tour later in the week, but that was it). To be honest, I don’t really remember how our shoes even made it to our villa but the next time I saw them they were neatly arranged in the wardrobe. That sort of service – the kind which robs you of the need to think of the mundane and tedious – typifies the experience at Soneva Kiri. Minutes later, Ploy was unpacking our clothes (and folding everything more beautifully than it’s ever been folded before) whilst we swanned around and checked out our home for the next 7 nights.

Our accommodation was probably the most ridiculously luxurious place I’ve ever stayed in.  An Ocean-front suite, it comprised: a huge bedroom, with king-size bed and daybed; an ‘ante-room’, separated by sliding doors, with wardrobes and ample space for 2 beds for the children; a huge outdoor bathroom with rain shower and sunken bath tub; a frankly ridiculous private lagoon pool that wrapped around the villa; and a massive outdoor lanai with more daybeds and a dining table. It was all so huge and extravagant that when I pointed out the pictures of our villa online before we left, my wife actually thought I was showing her the whole hotel. I particularly loved the access down to the water – not a pristine tropical sandy beach (don’t fear there is one at SK) but a tidal bay that is great for little ones to patter about on and hunt crabs .

Looking for crabs, Soneva Kiri

Looking for crabs, Soneva Kiri

Despite the amazing-ness of our villa, the wonder of Kiri is not, in fact, your accommodation. It’s the way in which everything you do there is carefully crafted into memorable experiences.  The resort’s creators, enterprising couple Sonu (an old Etonian) and Eva (a Swedish model), have succeeded in a creating a kind of dreamspace that is fortunately, and skillfully, the right side of theme park.

You rarely just ‘eat’ at Kiri, for example. Every meal is something exceptional. Take Benz, for example, the Thai restaurant. Not actually on the main site and only open two or three nights a week, you are transported by speedboat (or private car if, as in our case, the timings don’t quite work) to a most atmospheric spot in the mangroves. Benz is the chef, a gentle, lovely local lady who cooks the most delicious – and unusual – Thai food you will ever taste. No green chicken curry here. Another option is to eat in a ‘treepod’: you’re winched up and suspended above the forest canopy as food is reeled in on a zipwire. Hardly your average lunch.

Whilst Kiri welcomes its fair share of honeymooners, it’s these fantasy touches that makes it such a magical place to visit with kids. Mine were pretty much permanently in heaven and it was a privileged joy to share it all with them. There were almost too many highlights to document, but I’ve had a go:

1) Golf buggies. Each villa comes with one and it’s how you get about – to breakfast, to the beach, to kids club… You drive yourself (and you kids) and it’s 100% fun.

2) The chocolate room. An entire, wonderfully chilled room filled with every conceivable form of chocolate – fondue, milkshake, brownie, bars (oh, and randomly, macarons) – which you can help yourself too. You really do know what it feels like to be a kid in a sweet shop. Unsurprisingly, we found ourselves needing to ‘cool off’ in here fairly frequently.

3) Ice cream bar. As above – a squillion flavour choices, on demand. With sprinkles. Seriously.

4) Kids club. There are two, not one, clubs – the Eco den for kids aged 1-4; and the main treehouse, an incredible structure in the shape of a manta ray built into a tree, for those aged 5+. The club was rather short of other guests the week we were there (the school holidays started the following week) but it didn’t actually matter. My kids loved all the attention bestowed upon them by the wonderful staff – they basically got one-on-one playmates and did all sorts of activities from treasure hunts to t-shirt painting, waffle-making and playing pirates on the beach.

5) Food. Everyone ate well, really well. We loved that kids ate free from the room service menu, and we were able to have delicious lunches on our deck by our pool. Everything was cooked fresh and the chefs accommodated all our kids’ dietary foibles. Particularly special was the chocolate brownie and ice cream, delivered to our villa in a little portable fridge.

6) Open air cinema. Now this is cool. Twice or so a week they have an after-dark screening of a kids movie; it was a real adventure for Leo and Genevieve (Rufus alas too young). Limitless popcorn completed the scene.

7) Private pool. The kids spent hours in it. Best of all there were some shallow areas for our baby to sit in whilst the others did cannonballs and splashed about.

8) Beach. The kids enjoyed both beaches – catching crabs was the order of the day at the tidal one by our villa. But for true tropical bliss, we jumped in our golf buggy and headed to the main white-sand beach. This is where the watersports took place and Leo had a go at windsurfing – all included.

9) The observatory. Wow wow wow. Yes, Soneva Kiri has its own observatory – one of the largest private observatories in the world – and a resident astronomer. Our Friday arranged a private tour for us one beautifully clear night and we got to see the moon up close – mind-blowing stuff.

10) Fishing and snorkelling. There’s a nice little reef by the jetty that’s easy to explore with kids. But the best moment for Leo was catching a fish, all arranged by the lovely staff (his attempts with his bucket were proving futile).

Soneva Kiri is not a place to go if you want to socialise with other guests – I don’t think we spoke to a single one. The whole experience is about privacy and discreet attention from the staff. The resort is about spending quality time together as a family and – thanks to the kids club – a couple. Some of you will also be wondering whether, despite all this amazing-ness, it’s actually worth going so far with young kids. In our experience, overnight flights both ways made the flight element quite painless. The private plane transfer would also be totally fine if you can switch straight onto a flight from Bangkok’s main international airport Suvarnabhumi (we unfortunately had to transfer to Don Muang, the ‘budget’ airport, which was quite full-on and added stress we could have done without). As for jet lag, the kids dealt with it far better than my wife and I – one good night’s sleep and they were on ‘island time’. Finally, bugs and mossies were not really a problem. The island isn’t malarial, so no worries on that front. And despite a few bites, no one was eaten alive .

So there. After a year of deliberation, I’ve finally written about it. My intention, I do hope you understand, has not been to brag; I consider myself very, very lucky to have had this experience and, moreover, to have been able to share it with my family. But for all those dreamers, would-be lottery winners or diligent savers ready for a splurge, I’ve hopefully convinced you that Soneva Kiri is one to put on, and tick off, the life list.

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