The first villa that I saw when arriving at Keemala was not one of the 16 Clay Pool Cottages with private pool and outdoor shower; it wasn’t one of the 7 stunning Tent Pool Villas, also with private pool and panoramic views; and nor was it one of the 7 Tree Pool Houses, on two floors with private infinity pool set high in the tree tops. It was in fact the perfect pint-size Duck Villa, complete with mother and babies, who greeted us as we traversed a small ford to reach the entrance. This unexpected and charming welcome paved the way for a very special stay high in the Thai jungle and forest above Kamala beach on the island of Phuket.
I later found out that the General Manager Conor, a charming and jovial Irishman, is a passionate animal lover, and along with the inhabitants of the duck villa, there’s a water buffalo, chickens and two peacocks who can also call Keemala their home.
Keemala is the dream of the Kee family who bought land high in the hills (Mala meaning hat or crown,) with a vision to create a luxury eco spa resort using only natural materials and blending with the natural surroundings. In their own words, “to put Phuket back in Phuket”. It took 3 years to build on the steep land, retaining the existing environment and as many mature trees as possible, a number of which have edible produce.
It opened in 2016, and the result is a quite unique series of individual ‘tree pods’, a fusion of nature and design, linked by narrow roads where transportation is by electric golf buggy or on foot. 38 of the pods are villas, with the Clay Pot Cottages in the lower part of the resort, and the Tent Pool Villas and Tree Pool Houses towards the top. The higher you climb, the more stunning the view over forest and sea. Each villa is different although with similar features and luxurious attention to detail. Outdoor rainforest showers, four poster beds, private pools and free WiFi (should you really need it) are the norm, the main differences being design, size, spaciousness, and of course the view.
The ambience at Keemala is one of relaxation. It’s a retreat in every sense, and guests from many countries visit this hideaway in the hills: to take one of the range of detox programmes, to escape the hustle of daily life, or to find a sanctuary of peace and calm away from the busy streets of Phuket.
Water is very much a theme; as well as the private pools with each villa, there’s a large horizon pool with a bar and a stunning waterfall. At almost every turn, there are natural ponds and streams with a variety of fish, and one of my favourite spots was the meditation room, tucked away and overlooking the water.
For those who like to enjoy a little more action, the daily programme includes yoga, Pilates, Zumba and a gym. Yoga with Jose was a most enjoyable way to start the day, and he talked us through a series of ‘yin’ postures, each one held for around a minute which frankly felt like a great deal longer.
And for those who prefer to relax while letting others do the hard work, there’s a range of treatments in the award-winning Mala Spa that embrace traditional healing. These included (of course) Thai massage. I chose medium strength and am glad I did, as the strong variety seemed to involve a great deal of high-intensity groan-inducing kneading and pummelling!
Other activities on offer include cookery classes using herbs from the Keemala vegetable garden, cocktail making, leaf and lotus folding. And if you really have the energy and inclination to explore further afield, there’s a shuttle service to the beach, visits to Phuket town and a photo tour.
The Mala restaurant high in the tree tops serves excellent food – Thai and international cuisine – with a range of choice to suit every diet, from those on the healthy detox programme to those who prefer to indulge. Local drinks include a Butterfly pea mojita, a stunning blue drink made from flowers grown at Keemala. An alternative local use for the Butterfly pea flower is for painting the eyebrows of babies after the ritual shaving of their heads.
And on the subject of children, they are not encouraged at Keemala, as it’s very much an adult-only environment. The spaciousness of the resort and the spread-out design of the villas create privacy and one is barely aware of other guests. A wide range of ages and nationalities included fashionable Japanese and Chinese guests dressed in elaborate kimonos, protecting their pale skin with parasols, juxtaposed with bronzed sun-loving Europeans. The steepness of the hills and the number of steps involved in accessing different parts of the resort mean that it could be challenging for guests with limited mobility, and therefore it would be recommended for more active silver travellers.
After just two nights at Keemala, re-entry into the busy streets and beaches of Phuket was something of a jolt from the tranquillity and relaxation. With such a range of activities on offer, or simply the chance to do absolutely nothing and enjoy the peace, it was with some envy that I bid farewell to the ducks and their villa. I do hope they know how lucky they are.
For more information please visit www.keemala.com.