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Phuket, Thailand – An Indulgent Wellness Retreat at KEEMALA

I have never been tempted to visit Phuket due to its notorious wild partying reputation, courtesy of Patong Beach. My curiosity to visit was finally piqued by Keemala, a new Small Luxury Hotels of the World property opening in December 2015. Located on the hillside in Kamala on the west coast of Phuket, Keemala is very different from other Phuket resorts in both concept and ethos – the property’s owners endeavour to highlight the island’s natural resources and local Phuket culture, as well as to promote healthy and sustainable living in their guest experiences. The wellness-focused experience is luxuriously magical and invigorating for the mind, as aptly expressed through its tagline “Beyond Enchanting.
KEEMALAKeemala is located near Kamala Beach on the west coast of Phuket, close to Patong Beach (10-minute drive) and Surin Beach yet far enough for a serene, relaxing getaway. The resort is built around its unique hillside topographical conditions, making use of natural features and slopes to offer guests full sea views, streams, waterfalls and indigenous trees.KEEMALAThe 5-star luxury resort’s design concept is based on the indigenous stories of four fictional ancient Phuket tribes, the ‘Pa-ta-pea’ (Earth), ‘Khon-Jorn’ (Wanderers), ‘We-ha’ (Sky), and ‘Rung-Nok’ (Nest) tribes. Each aspect of the property – from the architecture, décor, cuisine, activities to spa treatments link back to the key attributes of the four tribes. Upon arrival at the resort, this mythical tale  is told through an intricate tile artwork located at the entrance. I love the chickens on the wall!KEEMALAMuch effort is made in supporting local talents – its 38 villas (which comes with its own private pool) are designed by Thailand-based Architect Space and Pisit Aongskultong of Pisud Design Company, while furniture and fittings are sourced within local communities and hand-made using traditional methods. Effort is made to conserve the existing environment as much as possible.KEEMALA
With such strong design attributes, it is no surprise that guests get shutter-happy from the moment they check-in at the main lobby. Check out the amazing ceiling made out of tree trunks and intricately-tiled floor! (I was super tempted to lie on the floor for a photo lol)
KEEMALAWith a strong focus on nature and wellness, the resort is ideal for gusts who appreciate nature and relaxation. Its Mala Spa offers a range of carefully-curated spa treatments, wellness activities by visiting practitioners and Holistic Living Retreats for those seeking to unwind. Only natural, paraben and cruelty-free spa products by VOYA, Siam Botanicals, and Spa Ritual are used for their treatments. I had the opportunity to chat with their wellness consultant, and it was heartening to hear the thoughts that went behind their well-rounded wellness offerings, the choice of products and even their staff (their personal trainer has a doctorate in sports, and used to be a Muay Thai fighter, whoa!).
KEEMALAA fitness gym and comprehensive schedule of activities are offered for all guests, including yoga, muay thai (amazing cardio!), meditation, movement therapy, nature walks, outdoor TRX, aqua fitness, forest Tai Chi and special classes/talks by visiting wellness consultants. In addition, they do plan customized tours and itineraries for guests, so you have to try very hard to get bored here. Our charming personal butler North was always on hand to ask if we needed anything, made sure we were on time for our activities and warmly welcomed us back with a bright smile and glass of champagne (can I bring you home lol?)KEEMALAThe resort has four room categories inspired by the four mythical Phuket tribes, with the lead-in category being the Clay Pool Cottage (staring from THB19,050+++). The 16 ‘Clay Pool Cottages’ reflect the earthiness of the ‘Pa-ta-Pea’ clan who believed in a strong connection to the earth and were leaders in agriculture at the time.  They also excelled as fishermen, gardeners, carpenters, blacksmiths and miners. KEEMALANot only would they build their homes on ground level, they’d also incorporate earth into their walls, roofs and furniture. They’d build around life-giving rivers, on flat land; this was mainly to facilitate their strong agricultural skills and allowed them to fully live off their land. KEEMALAI love the high ceiling and skylight in the bathroom, makes me feel like I am bathing in the rainforest.KEEMALAThe 7 Tent Pool Villas are inspired by the ‘Khon-Jorn Clan’ (Wanderer Clan) who were an adventurous group consisting of foragers, herders, performers, traders and explorers, who spent their time trading goods with other tribes they encountered on their journeys. Due to their nomadic ways they’d prefer to construct semi-permanent homes, so they could easily move on. (I would gladly stay here forever!)
KEEMALAInside the Tent Pool Villas (starting from THB21,200+++) you will see the forms of wildlife and textures that have inspired the interiors, and materials were also chosen to highlight their pursuant lifestyle.
KEEMALACheck out the minibar hidden inside a giant wooden trunkcaseKEEMALASpacious Bedroom. I bet the nomads didn’t have it that good :pKEEMALAEvery detail is carefully curated, from the wooden keg basin to the tribal engravings on  copper water pipes that were specially commissioned for the resort. KEEMALAI can imagine reading a booking while sipping a cup of tea on the outdoor terrace, and having a dip in my very own pool with a glass of champagne in hand. (now where’s my bikini…)KEEMALAThe seven two-storey ‘Tree Pool Houses’ (my personal favourite) are built to represent the ‘We-Ha’ people who worshipped the universe and chose to live suspended from the trees to be nearer to the sky. The clan included the talents of healers, creators, architects and inventors.KEEMALAI liked how the different areas are spilt over two levels of living space, allowing utmost privacy. KEEMALAThe inviting bed beckons…The bathroom and bedroom are on the upper level, while the pool and lounge area are on the lower level.KEEMALA I could stay here all day… KEEMALALooks like utter bliss to meKEEMALAAnd this innovative structure is what I called home at Keemala – the ‘Rung-Nok’ tribe who inspired the design of the eight ‘Bird’s Nest Pool Villas’ (starting from THB25,500+++) enjoyed an opulent way of life. The interwoven design of their homes was thus to aid protection and privacy. This clan was thought to be more superior in both intellect and spirituality and comprised of artists, poets, musicians, philosophers and astrologers (I chose the right tribe, lol!).KEEMALAThe people would bathe under the moonlight believing that their souls would be replenished, thus the inspiration for these beautiful private pool villas. You can see the mountains, local Phuket life and Kamala Beach right from the pool which also comes with a jacuzzi.KEEMALA8-cellent interior decorKEEMALABest part about luxe travel – state your desires and your itinerary is planned and arranged for you by your personal butler – super stress-free! :) A pre-arrival form is sent so you can let the resort beforehand know your preferences from the amenities you need, hardness of your pillows, items you want in the minibar, to activities that you are interested in. KEEMALAUber spacious living space, I could play hide-and-seek here *cheeky grin*KEEMALAOur welcome jasmine garland which we placed inside the cupboard to make our clothes smell amazing :)KEEMALAInstead of a conventional minibar, Keemala provided a picnic basket which tempted us to go picnicking.KEEMALALocal coffee beans and a hand grinder are provided instead of a coffee machine, so you can make your own coffee fresh. KEEMALAWell-stocked fridgeKEEMALAThe locally-flavoured nuts were great snacks especially when lazing on the couch watching TV :pKEEMALAWe totally dig the retro-looking high chairs from a Thai brand. Our welcome fruit basket came with lots of local fruits as well.KEEMALAThe bathroom is a highlight by its own right – I loved the stone basins, the unique monsoon shower with its hand-made tile flooring (every villa has a different design).KEEMALAIn line with the resort’s eco-wellness theme, only naturally-made toiletries are offered KEEMALAA turndown service is provided, and this evening we had pomelo stuffed with cminced hicken for a light snack. KEEMALAKeemala has four outlets for dining – the main restaurant, pool bar, lounge area and a wine cellar ideal for small parties and meetings. I am impressed with the large and diverse menu offering, from local Thai food, Western, Chinese to even vegan and gluten-free choices.KEEMALAAs an extension of the wholesome spirit of Keemala, ingredients used in the cuisine are locally sourced and organically grown where possible. They have a garden where they grow their own herbs. Do say hello to their three adopted water buffaloes when you visit :)KEEMALAMeals were cooked with nutrition and taste in mind – that morning I chose a wholesome Chinese chicken soup with quinoa porridge. KEEMALAThe mushroom soup was memorably delicious.KEEMALAA native of Phuket, Executive Chef Poonsak carries more than 20 years of culinary experience under his belt and is well-versed in crafting gastronomic sensations for his guests, such as this very pretty oyster and soft-shell crab appetizer.KEEMALA
A piece of culinary artKEEMALAHealthy baked fish with vine-ripened tomatoes and olivesKEEMALAThe desserts are amazing at Keemala – this cheesecake was a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. The rich chocolate trio and mango with sticky rice were fabulous as well.KEEMALAMeals at Keemala are developed to match the tribe/room category that you are staying at as part of the storyline – I was surprised with a sumptuous “Rung-Nok” dinner which I could have right at my Bird’s Nest Villa – they would set up the dinner table by the outdoor pool, and the chef would barbecue the fresh seafood for you under the stars. Luck would have it that it was raining that day, so we had our treat indoors at the restaurant.KEEMALAThe gazpacho was a simple yet satisfying starter.KEEMALAA sumptuous bucket of sashimi and sushi, OMGKEEMALAThe star of the night – fresh catch from the Andaman Sea. Bon appetite! :)KEEMALAWe thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Keemala. The property was visually spectacular, being so different from the usual hotel offerings. It is also one-of-its-kind in Phuket focusing on wellness and relaxation. I liked how the tribal theme permeates every vein of the property, from the architecture, décor, F&B to activities. Furthermore, I appreciated the effort to offer guests an insight into the local way of life instead of the usual touristy gimmicks. Most importantly, we felt totally relaxed and happy during our time there. I am glad we stumbled upon this enchanted rainforest :)

Now x’cuse me while I soak in utter bliss…c’etait une bonne vacances :) 

Address: Keemala Phuket, 10/88 Moo 6, Kamala, Kathu, Phuket, Thailand, 83150

Tel: + 66 (0) 76 358 777
Website: keemala.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/keemala
Email: stay@keemala.com
Distance from Phuket International Airport: 40 minutes (Their airport transfer is swag – it’s a rugged-looking Land Rover with wifi access)

Nearest beach: Kamala Beach (5 minutes by car)
Note: Adults-only policy (14 years old and above)

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Iceland – Aurora Borealis in Akureyri

Aurora Borealis in AkureyriI have heard so much about it, and witnessing the Northern Light (Aurora Borealis) in person for a first time was nothing sort of surreal. It was my first trip to Iceland, first visit to Akureyri, first night chasing the lights, and first time lucky, woohoo! The lights were so strong we could clearly see it dancing in the sky right in front of our naked eyes. I was freezing to death (blow wind, blow!) but this one-in-a-lifetime experience was worth every strand of standing hair on my body. More photos to come…wish me luck :)

xoxo from Iceland brrr…