Nestled in a seaside grove of coconut trees planted by her husband's father, and a deep commitment to planting roots, Nuan Re-Ki built The Kala, an eco-resort in the tropical paradise of Koh Samui in Thailand. And she built it for keeps.
Unlike other boutique and luxury hotels on the Gulf of Siam island Nuan and her husband wanted to build something to last, and for her children and grandchildren to inherit. This is the basis of sustainable eco-tourism, and The Kala is a great escape for anyone looking to dip into some traditional Asian aesthetics in Thailand.
With thick reclaimed teak wood furnishings, floors and fixtures from Chang Mai in the north and local natural fabrics dyed with mango and other local plants, the only plastic you'll find in the resort is garbage liners (no doubt recycled) and packaging on your min-bar snacks.
A fanatic who aims to create as little waste as possible, Nuan (below with her husband) says that new staff don't always get the message.
This 37-room resort isn't ecological in the western sense you'd expect: I mean it wasn't built with a LEED guidebook but was inspired by the simpler ways of Buddhism and influences from European environmentalism.
After staying there for two nights this past February with my family (husband, kid, mom and dad), I feel that this resort is light years ahead of most other so-called eco resorts.
While Nuan was influenced from her time working in Switzerland, it's really an innate sense for protecting the earth and community that Nuan embraces, I feel.
Let me explain: you'll find locally-made coconut soaps in your bathrooms and in the spa -- all in locally-made ceramic dispensers. A gift shop in the lobby sells only handmade locally sourced products: you'll find no Made in China junk trinkets there.
When you enter your room, you'll feel Asia, but you'll also feel home. Built with real materials and not veneers and plastics, the rooms at The Kala will age well as the resort lives on.
Getting there: like I always do I looked online for a good deal for a direct flight to Bangkok. Then we took an expensive flight from the city to the island of Samui (Ko Samui) This resort is located atop a mountain a few minutes drive north of the popular Chewang Beach and a few minutes south of the equally crazy Lamai Beach. Stepping inside this resort is tranquil, and it's like walking into a picture frame, with the sea as a the subject.
The existing greenery on the site was preserved when The Kala was built, and the resort uses only ecological methods for pest control.
Sticking to traditional Thai style, the couple very much had an input into integrating their boutique hotel buildings with the local surroundings when they worked with their architect.
They took a boat out to sea to see how the buildings could be built within the trees, while maintaining the integrity of nature. Neutral and natural colors were chosen to minimize the built environment pollution.
It's zen modesty at its best.
Every room at The Kala has a sea view, and while some of them are stacked in units, you'll feel complete privacy. The more costly rooms are private cabanas, with incredible outdoor showers and tiny private pools.
I loved the cotton Japanese kimonos in the rooms (see my dad in one below), all the way to the cloth napkins served with room service and the bowl of fruit that awaits you when you arrive. Laundry service bags are also cloth, further giving you that feeling of home.
There are no plastic signs hanging all over the place inside the rooms calling you to buy things -- signs that I tend to remove anyway and put in drawers for any length of stay in a relax-style hotel or resort.
There is lots to explore both inside your room and outside. Each room while similar has unique features from the next. My parent's room had an Asian style seated area near their balcony, while ours had a remarkable sliding door-window that gave way to the bathtub. See me playing in the door below.
There is a maze of nature and treasures on the grounds: as you work your way down to the rocky shoals of the sea for a dip (snorkel or kayak perhaps?), you can also take a dip in the pool.
While the beach isn't sandy, The Kala resort has a wonderful swimming launch pad from the sea, off some of the local volcanic rocks, which are weather worn and smooth, but not too slippery. It's very private and couples could easily find their own romantic sea nook. I was with a toddler and walking down there was kind of frightening. If you are going with a family, wait until your kids are at least four before feeling safe down at the beach. Most of Thai beach resorts aren't little kid friendly, so keep that in mind.
Sea kayaks and snorkling gear are available for guests' use, along with a library, computers and free Internet.
I loved staying at The Kala, because I felt it was an authentic experience, built by authentic people who have built something to last. Of the 10 hotels I stayed in the Samui Island region this past winter, The Kala gets the best grade. It's highly recommended to stay there, especially if you like privacy, but also the ability to quickly dash off the craziness of Thai-style paries on Chewang or Lamai beaches.
Clientele ranged from cool Japanese to quiet Americans to excited Russians. I liked how it attracted Asian clients, because most of the other resorts we'd stayed at were favorites with just the Europeans and Americans. I guess it says something about the nature of the place.
All images taken by Karin Kloosterman. Karin is constantly scouring the globe looking to review eco-hotels and resorts. Send ideas her way: firstname.lastname@example.org.