If you are intent on visiting Ko Phi Phi, then I highly suggest you stay in the North of the Island at Zeavola, the only environmentally friendly resort in the area.
I will admit it now, I was initially in two minds about visiting Ko Phi Phi Don. On one hand, I had heard and seen pictures of its famed turquoise waters, soft sand beaches, and colorful long-tail boats. On the other hand, I also read that tourism had destroyed the island and it was mainly a destination for moonlight party goers. So when I did finally decide to give Ko Phi Phi a chance, I was intent to avoid the main part of town and find something a little more secluded.
After doing a little research, I realised that Zeavola Resort was exactly what we were looking for. The property is located on the northern tip of the island on a white sandy beach, far from all the other resorts that adorn the island. Lush jungle-like landscaping surrounds and hides each individual hut. We were about to sleep in a tropical forest, with the ocean at our doorstep. It was almost like a scene out of a movie.
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LOCATION OF ZEAVOLA RESORT
Ko Phi Phi Don is actually one of several islands and large limestone formations that jut out of the bright blue Thai waters of the Krabi province. It has a population of about 2000 to 3000 permanent inhabitants. Ko Phi Phi Don is pretty small in square footage, yet still the biggest island of the Phi Phi group.
Zeavola Resort is located on the northern tip of the island, far from all the commotion that defines the rest of the Island, near Tong Cape and facing out towards Mosquito and Bamboo Islands.
CHECK-IN AT ZEAVOLA RESORT
ATMOSPHERE AND DESIGN OF ZEAVOLA RESORT
Phi Phi Island has several resorts catering to different clientele but Zeavola is primarily a couples resort. It is certainly unique and won’t suit everyone. If you’re expecting the typical comforts of a 5 star hotel, then perhaps this isn’t the address for you. But if what you seek is an unpretentious, laid-back and private resort where you can kick of your shoes and enjoy nature then Zeavola is your best option on Ko Phi Phi.
Florian Hallerman, the Austrian general manager of the resort – who himself succumbed to the barefoot appeal of the island a couple of years ago and promptly replaced his shoes, socks and long trousers with bare feet and shorts – was kind enough to show us around.
Zeavola Resort was designed to resemble a traditional Thai jungle village with teak bungalows scattered around a green lush garden. At first the positioning of the huts seems random, but on second glance you’ll realise that the resort has been planned in such a way that each bungalow is located no more than a few steps from the beach, whilst still being hidden enough to protect your privacy.
The resort is heaven for flora and fauna enthusiasts. You could spend hours here discovering all sorts of trees, bushes, flowers, birds and insect. In fact the word Zeavola is the Latin name for the Half flower tree – a tropical coastal round leafed tree with fan shaped flowers that is seen all over the resort. In Thailand the tree is named Rak Talay , which also translates to “loves the sea”.
STAFF AND SERVICE AT ZEAVOLA RESORT
Particular care is taken at Zeavola Resort to ensure each guest the highest level of service. On arrival a welcome photo is taken of you and delivered to your room in a handmade saa paper frame, which you keep as a momentum. I’d never heard of Saa or Mulberry paper, it is native to Northern Thailand and as a perennial regenerates itself after each harvest. The bark is soaked and boiled with wood ash, then it is pounded into pulp, which gives a wonderfully unique feel. And at turndown a teddy is placed in your bed to sleep with, in my case it was ‘Chicken’ that I fell for and cuddled with. By day Chicken disappeared, but when time was right for sweet dreams, he magically reappeared. The staff live at the resort and have grown into a little family. It was a pleasure to see and experience their joy and pride in carrying out their work.
OUR LUXURY BUNGALOW AT ZEAVOLA RESORT
Zeavola is not your typical five-star resort and staying here for a couple of nights is unlike any other experience I have personally had. The best way to describe it, I suppose, is as a form of luxurious glamping.
Whilst at Zeavola you will reside in one of 54 private bungalows. Each timber bungalow has been built in the tradition Thai way with local materials and is surrounded by nature.
Gary and I stayed in one of the Garden Suites, No 46, which I’m told is actually the GM’s favourite. It was simply yet perfect.
OUTDOOR LIVING SPACE
Each bungalow features a covered terrace, that is generous in size and designed as an additional outdoor living space. The wooden deck is open to all three sides but can be closed in the evening for privacy with automatically controlled bamboo shutters. On the terrace, you will find a bar, fridge and sun mats.
Each bungalow also has a big water bowl and a wooden scoop in front of the terrace, so that guests can wash their sandy feet before entering the room. Indeed a nice little detail for a barefoot resort to have.
Two large glass door lead from the deck into the bedroom. The doors can be locked with an old-school padlock. The bedroom itself is enormous.
The first thing that hits you are the gorgeous shades of reds, yellows and blues of the upholstery alongside the dark timber walls. Interestingly the colours of the resort deliberately echo that of the Thai flag – red for the people, blue for the monarchy and white (ie. yellow) for Buddhism.
The bedroom is entirely glass fronted on two sides, immersing you deep in the surrounding jungle. It is important to note that the fully glazed wall might be an issue for those that seek complete privacy. To remedy this each villa has been provided with a sheer curtain to create privacy during daytime and a thicker one for the night.
If however, you are incredibly shy, then you might want to consider booking a penthouse villa rather than a village garden bungalow. These are set back in the slopes at the back of the resort and you need to climb up a steep set of stairs to reach your own private space.
A timber sliding door separates the bedroom from the bathroom. Here you’ll find an outdoor shower and a dressing table with a hand-carved butterfly chair. The sink is handcrafted from terracotta and the tap is actually an outdoor fosset. Stained green and blue and yellow glass reflects light into the room in a stunning and unusual way.
It is these little details that make Zeavola so special. If you expect standard boring luxury than Zeavola probably isn’t the right place for you.
If on the other hand you seek something a little different, a place where you’ll be at one with nature than it is. Here you’ll be sleeping in a hut (albeit a very modern and comfortable one) in the jungle. So if it rains you’ll hear the patterning on the roof. If you don’t spray yourself with insect repellent you will probably get bitten. You don’t close the door with a key card but with a padlock. All of this is part of the experience, and what an experience it is!
SUSTAINIBILITY AT ZEAVOLA RESORT
Sustainibility is often a bolt-on, both in architecture and in tourism. But true sustainibility goes beyond that. It’s an attitude, a very specific perspective on life.
True sustainibility engenders from a gratitude for your surroundings and community, it’s a way of life and a beautiful one at that.It is rare to find a place that truly and integrally embraces sustainability. By that I mean a hotel that goes beyond adding light saving light bulbs to its bedrooms and solar panels on the roof. A hotel that really puts sustainability at its core and makes sustainibility a fundamental part of how its run.
In the last year’s Ko Phi Phi has truly suffered. This island, which was once renowned for the beauty of its untouched nature, has almost completely been devastated by tourism. In an attempt to sell what was so special about Ko Phi Phi, humans almost completely destroyed it.
That is why I was so impressed by Zeavola attempts to protect the local landscape, to manage the use of their natural resources and to give back to the environment.
Before we arrived at Zeavola, I had read that they had won numerous awards for being sustainable, green, etc., yet I wasn’t sure how their motto of sustainability would translate.
Zeavola has a water reserve system which includes four deep wells and a reverse osmosis plant to minimize unnecessary water consumption at the resort. They create their own mulch which is then used to feed the surrounding plants and trees.
But my favorite thing about Zeavola Resort, is the way in which they attempt to draw their guests attention to the surrounding ecosystem. A bird walk takes you along the paths and wooden walkways that join the rooms, with signs pointing out the 18 species of birds to look out for. There is even a resident breeding pair of Brahminy Kites which can be seen circling above or in one of the tall palm trees.
FOOD AT ZEAVOLA RESORT
BREAKFAST AT ZEAVOLA
Although slightly rushed by our own itinerary on both mornings, Gary and I really enjoyed Zeavola’s extensive breakfast buffet. It offers a range of cuisines – from continental to Asian – so everyone should be able to find something to suit their palette. Breakfast at Zeavola also includes a selection of items that you can order to be freshly made. To our surprise, the table menu also doubled as a bag of beignets served with a range of dipping sauce. From the items available on the menu, the Maharaja breakfast, in particular, was a standout.
AMENITIES AT ZEAVOLA RESORT
You are not going to run out of things to do whilst at Zeavola. The resort offers a whole range of activities, from individually tailored island hopping tours, to speed boat trips around Phi Phi National Marine Park, scenic tours aboard a traditional Thai longtail boat and leisurely sailing aboard the resort’s 32” yacht. You can even book a small group tour to the further flung locations such as Phang Nga and Krabi.
Weather permitting, I would recommend you spend at least one day island hopping. Zeavola actually offers a package tour, the huge advantage of which is its early departure from a starting point in the North of the island. The resorts speedboat leaves the hotel at 8am and you’ll reach Maya Bay – the site of the movie The Beach -before it gets too crowded by huge sightseeing boats crammed with tourist troops. Alternatively, there are plenty of tours available online or you could simply arrange your own long-tail boat for the day. On the way to Maya Bay make sure to stop at the Blue Lagoon, Mosquito and Monkey Island.
Unfortunately, Gary and I got caught out by a mini Typhoon and thus weren’t able to visit Maya Bay. However sensing my urge to get out onto the water and explore the area, Florian very kindly arranged for a longtail boat to take us out to a local snorkeling spot. I had such a good time investigating the coral reef, that our speedboat only just made it back before the storm hit.
Zeavola Spa is tucked up among the trees and offers what they call an adventurous spa experience to enliven the senses with a strong emphasis placed on nature. We opted for their Phi Phi Lomi treatment which is a combination of a Polynesian Lomi Lomi and Thai Massage which uses rhythmic dancing techniques and long stroking movement and stretching to release tension, increase blood circulation and enhance spiritual healing. It certainly did all of that for me and I was so relaxed I could hardly speak when I came out … Zeavola Spa uses a range of traditional, ethically sourced and imported products. The tree-house-like building offers a steam room, sauna and rain shower facility for guests to enjoy. You have the option of a couples massage too if you like and there is a gym if you feel you need more exercise than is on offer from the sea. It really is a tranquil area with large wooden decks and soft fabrics, the rustle of the leaves on the trees and the most incredible massage therapists.
If you are a keen diver or are planning to get your PADI certification than Zeavola is a great place to do it. They have their own diving center right on the beach, where you can also hire out snorkeling and surfing gear.
Zeavola is lucky enough to be positioned right on the beach. So you have the whole sea at your disposal if you fancy a dip.Personally I would always choose salty waves over a pool, however if you prefer something a little more contained, Zeavola does put a pool at your disposal. It’s not the biggest, but if you have it all by yourself it’s marvelous, with a lot of greenery almost growing into the water and big palm trees waving high above.
GETTING MARRIED AT ZEAVOLA
In closing I’d like to add that when I mention staying on Phi Phi Island, many people make an immediate connection to wild Full Moon parties, backpacker madness and a different kind of holiday or travel experience to the one I seek out. Yet there is so much more to the place and I am thrilled to have discovered it. Here at Zeavola Resort you find a piece of land with unspoilt beachfront and forest, where the focus is on sustainability, a symbiosis with the environment and a positive relationship with the local community, all while ensuring that every guest is made to feel special and awarded the sense of being entirely at home. We’ve all heard the expression barefoot luxury before, and here at Zeavola Resort, Phi Phi Island, that is exactly what you will find
11 Moo 8, Laem Tong, Koh Phi Phi
Ao Nang, Krabi 81000, Thailand
For the purpose of this review, A Life Beautifully Travelled was hosted by Zeavola for two nights. However, as always, all our opinions are our own.
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