Koh Kood’s Soneva Kiri, what luxury – and sustainability – looks like now

Travel writer Ian Lloyd Neubauer visits Koh Kood to try out Soneva Kiri’s luxury accommodation offering and examine the hotel’s eco-credentials.

On arrival, two things strike me about Soneva Kiri. First, it’s massive: 400 hectares. But the grounds are not covered in water-greedy gardens or golf links. Instead, they’re jungle, as nature intended.

Private_Cliff_Pool_Reserve_4BR_V.61_Exterior_night_by_Asit_Maneesarn

The second thing to stand out are the 36 villas: they, too, are massive. I stayed in the smallest: a Bayview Pool Villa Suite with 464 square metres of living space – eight times the size of my two-bedroom unit in Sydney. Soneva Kiri’s largest villas, eight six-bedroom clifftop residences, each covers 2000 square metres.

Constructed from local timber, driftwood and bamboo, my villa looks a bit Robinson Crusoe-esque, but on a Macquarie Bank budget.

In the main bedroom, a leather trunk at the foot of the four-poster bed conceals a flat-screen TV that pops up with a touch. Window walls open onto sprawling decks and a wraparound oasis swimming pool and a walking track behind my pool leads to a private beach and calm harbour.

Every villa comes with a pair of mountain bikes and an electric buggy. The bikes are obviously greener but hooning around the resort in the buggies is plain fun. So is catching a ride on a slick leather-trimmed speedboat to Soneva’s private beach club in a neighbouring cove, catching a flick at the moonlight cinema and visiting the chocolate room: a refrigerated glass chamber crammed with the finest handmade chocolates, macarons and 60 bespoke ice-cream flavours.

Soneva Kiri Moonlight cinema credit Paul Raeside

How is this air conditioned luxury environmentally friendly? According to Soneva’s sustainability report, the company emits 34 tonnes of carbon a year. Of that, 70 per cent is attributed to guests’ air travel, which cannot be mitigated. Of the remainder, two-thirds is power use, which is drawn from the grid and roughly the same at Soneva Kiri as any other property of similar size and capacity.

The last 10 per cent of Soneva’s carbon footprint comes from food, ground travel and freight. Soneva Kiri certainly scores high here, growing its own vegetables and making biofuel.

But even if emissions in these categories are cut by 50 per cent (a big call), Soneva hotels would be only 5 per cent more sustainable than their competition.

When I pose this conundrum to Soneva Kiri environment officer Eline Postma, she takes me to a clearing in the jungle not far from my vila. There I see ponds covered in lily pads, with birds, flowers, butterflies and fish.

“You want proof of our green credentials, well you’re standing on it,” Ms Postma said. “Look around you. This may look like a healthy wetland but it’s our sewage treatment plant. We dig these holes, pump our sewage in and utilise biological agents like fish, birds, insects and plants to recycle it for gardening.

“I’ve been to so many resorts where I see sewerage pipes going right into the sea. We could do the same, no one would know,” she adds, “but as a marine biologist, I’ve seen the effects of nutrification on coral ecosystems when it comes into contact with untreated sewage, and I know the coral in our bay is healthy.”

On my last night at Soneva Kiri, I meet general manager Francisca Antunes at The View, a cantilevered bar that hangs over the edge of a cliff with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Thailand.

“Many luxury resorts today talk about sustainability but few actually do anything about it on a day-to-day basis,” she said, “but we do. Look at the way we build our villas and public areas. Not a drop of varnish. All this wood would last twice as long if it were treated, but that would mean thousands of litres of paint ending up in the soil and water.

“Maybe we are not 100 per cent sustainable or self-sufficient. But we try 99 per cent harder than the rest.”

Accommodation at Soneva Kiri starts from about $1500 per room per night.

This review was first published in The New Daily. Read the full article here.

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