Hidden away in the jungles of Phuket, Keemala is a magical retreat for the body and soul, offering a healthy alternative to vacationing in Thailand.
You’ll find Keemala hidden amongst the trees in an area not too far away from the lights, the parties and the hordes of Patong. In fact, it’s only a ten-minute drive away from it all, which makes the serene atmosphere that permeates the grounds even more impressive. Unlike your typical Phuket hotel, Keemala is not a seaside resort but a uniquely designed rainforest retreat built to transport its guests into a fantastical world.
The inspiration for this rather quirky hotel comes from a fictional story devised by the Bangkok architectural firm who designed it. According to the fable, a large caravan composed of people from very diverse backgrounds arrived to Phuket Island after encountering a storm in the high seas. The nomads found the place so beautiful and the resources so plentiful that they decided to settle down there and formed a community divided into four clans named: Earth Clan, Wanderer Clan, Sky Clan and Nest Clan. Lifestyle, beliefs, interests and the jobs with which its members contributed to the community were the main factors that separated one clan from another. I love a good story and Keemala story doesn't disappoint.
The Ethos of Keemala
The hotel is a surreal mixture of cottages, villas and houses with a very contemporary design scattered amongst the trees. Each level – from the ground to the treetops – takes after a different clan from the Keemala legend. Ground-level cottages belong to the people of the Earth Clan – fishermen, farmers and carpenters who believed in living close to the earth – while Tent Villas covered with breezy white tarps were inspired by the adventurous spirit of the traders and explorers of the Wanderer Clan.
Further up are the two most impressive structures in the hotel: the Sky Clan’s tree houses and the Bird’s Nest villas. The Sky Clan’s tree houses are teardrop-shaped baubles made out of rattan with a very light design that includes suspended seating, a semi-circular plunge pool and an airy staircase connecting the bedroom to the main level. Bird’s Nest villas are the most luxurious available at Keemala and are made out of a material woven into an abstracted interpretation of a nest. The hotel’s grounds are vast and, although a lot of it was still under construction when we visited, I have no doubt that once it’s finished it will be a beautiful sanctuary.
Keemala is a place to feel healthy and to relax. The experience is highly personalized and they do a great job at setting the tone of your stay even before you arrive. A few weeks before our trip to Phuket, they sent us a questionnaire to establish our preferences, dietary restrictions and special interests so that their team could be prepared in advance for us. Menu options at the restaurants and bars are extremely accommodating to a multitude of dietary restrictions and lifestyles and each villa has an attendant that knows all of your preferences and whose job is to make your stay is as comfortable as possible.
Although personal health and wellness are at the top of the list here, the environment comes at a close second. Keemala inherited a deep love from nature from the four tribes who founded it and being kind to the environment is a very important part of their philosophy – most of the food served at the hotel is organic and grown on-site, construction materials and techniques are sustainable and minimally invasive and there is a strong policy on protecting the local flora and fauna.
Living in a Birds Nest
When I think of a tropical setting, ‘modern’ is the last thing that comes to mind, and yet the blend of organic details and materials with contemporary design in our Bird’s Nest villa made the place feel very much in the 21st century. Dim lighting, liberal use of wood and stone and a dark palette created an intimate atmosphere that contrasted with the bright surroundings... and also made putting on makeup quite difficult in the evenings. It didn’t bother me much, though – I strongly believe no makeup and no-fuss hair should be the norm in the tropics :) The bathroom had huge windows facing the ocean and there was a carved stone bathtub and a monsoon shower with mosaic floors at the center.
From our private pool and the veranda, we could see much of the hotel’s grounds, the forest, the ocean and the small town next door. The room attendant was always a simple call away to answer all our questions and arrange for meals and experiences. It was very nice to have a point of contact during our stay! Although there is plenty to do at the hotel and in Phuket, we liked our nest so much that we found ourselves staying in most of the time and venturing out only to visit the restaurant and the spa.
More than just a vacation resort, Keemala is heavily focused on being a retreat for the body and the soul combining holistic experiences and activities with a wholesome cuisine. Depending on what you are looking to achieve, the hotel offers personalized retreat packages for purifying, energizing, unwinding or rejuvenating through a series of spa treatments, fitness routines, meditation sessions and take-home wellness plans. Guest practitioners visit throughout the year and include experts on well-known disciplines such as Chinese medicine and acupuncture and more obscure ones such as traditional Maori healing and Mayan massage.
The Mala Spa has eight treatment rooms in the shape of pods raised above the forest floor. Our spa room was perched amongst the trees and had its own private bathroom, steam room, treatment room and a beautiful outdoor stone bathtub. After a brief consultation with the spa director we decided to do a harmonizing treatment. The spa’s staff is very professional and incredibly knowledgeable on the body and how to solve problems naturally.
The products used are all organic, cruelty and paraben-free and feature all-natural ingredients. They also offer fun hands-on classes you can participate in during your stay. I took a very unique lesson on how to mix homemade toothpaste. Homemade toothpaste is a little bit too “natural” for me, but the flavor was great and it really left my teeth squeaky clean!
Dining at Keemala
Keemala describes its food as a “holistic gastronomic experience” and the ingredients and the preparation reflect the hotel’s approach to health and wellbeing. The food is not traditional Thai, but a modern blend of eastern and western influences focused on using whole and nutritious ingredients. All the restaurants offer a Healthy Living Menu with vegetarian and pescatarian dishes and you can choose to have any of the Living Menu’s options prepared sans gluten, sugar, dairy or wheat. Smoothies, non-alcoholic cocktails and fresh juices are available at breakfast. At the restaurant and the bar there is a “Spa Menu” offering salads, light dishes and fresh juices for guests who are participating on the Wellness Retreats.
We loved the breakfast buffet! I was a beautiful spread of fresh fruits, breads and cereals plus an array of smoothies and made-to-order hot items. Our favorites were the green smoothie and the quinoa porridge bowl. Lunch always consisted of classic Thai dishes such as pad Thai and green curry with a healthy twist consumed right on the deck of our villa’s private pool. There was an Indian option for dinner that absolutely blew our minds – it was some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had! Also: make friends with the chef. He’ll surprise you by bringing you a selection of yummy bites for you to nibble on!
What to do at Keemala
Keemala is perfect both for active types and for those with more indulgent souls. If lounging around your own private pool, relaxing in the spa or sipping tasty smoothies does not sound like a perfect day for you; there are a lot of more engaging activities available on site. Yoga, Pilates and Thai Boxing lessons are free for all guests and there are running and trekking trails cut through the surrounding rainforest. There is an hourly shuttle to Kamala beach and you can take a tour of Old Phuket or visit Patong Beach for a fun night out as well.
For more information about Keemala, visit their website: