[As published on cosmopolitan.co.uk, January 2014]
Cosmo gets eco-friendly on Koh Phi Phi
Karen Edwards heads east and discovers a combination of luxury and sustainability at the beautiful Zeavola Resort, Thailand
Where on earth? Remember that beautiful island where a topless Leonardo DiCaprio writhed around in soft white sands in flick The Beach? Based on Alex Garland’s famous book of the same name, Leo’s portrayed image of this Thai paradise has drawn millions of holidaymakers to the area over the last 16 years. It was filmed on the mesmerising islands of Koh Phi Phi Lei and Koh Phi Phi Don off the south western coast – and today, Koh Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s most stunning and popular destinations.
While most people, particularly party-hungry backpackers, head to the south of the island – we went in search of the same sort of humble beauty Leo found – and at the northern most tip, we found the back-to-basics-yet-seriously-stunning Zeavol Resort.
What: With the floor-to-ceiling glass-walled bungalows glimmering in the sun, pristine marble bathrooms and remote-controlled bamboo shutters, this eco-resort manages to provide luxury accommodation without over-the-top measures. Some ‘huts’ even come with an outdoor deck and wash area – allowing you to shower under the stars. It’s a clever way of getting close to nature while still being comfortable, and we have to salute General Manager Florian Hallermann for his efforts.
The team have even built a water reserve on-site so consumption can be monitored and reduced, while more recently the use of anchor buoys has been introduced so boats don’t damage the coral when they dock. Waste is shipped back to the mainland to be recycled (which is a pretty expensive measure) and beach clean-ups are a part of the daily workload here. Every Friday, kitchen staff take saucepans of freshly-cooked food to the local school – and you can get involved by helping to carry the load and offering meals to the kids.
Why: On the other side of the island – while revellers are embracing the overcrowded hostels and all-you-can-drink club nights – little is being done to look after Koh Phi Phi’s beautiful marine park. Even now, there’s a distinct smell of sewage in the air in Ton Sai (‘Tourist Town’) and empty beer bottles litter the lanes. This environment may provide short-term fun for visitors, but there will be very little left of this unique beauty in a few years. That’s why what Zeavola are doing is so important – and everyone on Koh Phi Phi should follow suit in doing their bit.
Top tip: Always wanted to learn to dive but not quite got round to it? Then learn here with Zeavola’s international dive experts. They’re trustworthy, experienced and know the area inside out. Plus, training begins in the swimming pool, which is a lot less intimidating. A four-to-five day courses will earn you a PADI certificate.
For those who prefer to snorkel, there is still plenty to experience – including the actual beach, Maya Bay, where Leo lay his tanned torso – and many mysterious lagoons where you can swim with black Tip Reef Sharks (they’re harmless, don’t worry), glide alongside elegant sea turtles and spot the ghostly Pipe Fish which are famous in this area.
Cosmo Loves: For the ultimate afternoon of relaxation, book in for an aromatherapy massage at the Zeavola Spa. Each body treatment ends in the most magical head massage and the surprisingly lovely girlie-touch of hair combing and braiding. The spa itself is located in a hill above the gardens, which mean your get a gorgeous view across the trees and over the sea while you wait.
Don’t leave without: Enjoying dinner at the beachside Tacada restaurant, where you can choose from delicious traditional Thai curries and noodle dishes to western alternatives. We couldn’t get enough of the Thod Mun Goong (shrimp cakes), and the delicious chicken and prawn fried rice served in a pineapple. Wash it all down with a fresh island coconut or classic cocktails.
Do it! I flew to Bangkok with the superb Qatar Airways who offer super-comfortable return economy flights to Bangkok from £535. Air Asia provides a domestic flight service to Phuket International Airport from £25 and Zeavola organise daily speedboat transfers from Phuket. Rooms at the Zeavola Resort start from £140pn, including breakfast for two. Don’t miss the 25% discount on spa treatments from 1 May – 31 October.