There’s still some work to be done in Thailand when it comes to eco practices. But some hotels are already paving the way.
by Dave Stamboulis
While July brings the onset of the rainy season to Thailand in earnest, it is nevertheless a great month to travel. The countryside turns a lush green, with all the rice fields fully planted, and low season prices take effect and the crowds thin out. Although the landscape may be verdant, Thailand has often lagged behind other vacation spots when it comes to green resorts. Many tourists want to have eco-friendly and green vacations these days, and, unfortunately, low-impact and small-scale alternative tourism that employs sustainable and conservationist methods falls somewhat flat in many areas here—it can be pretty disparaging to arrive in a gorgeous natural environment, only to find that one’s holiday bungalow is dumping sewage right out into the bay ahead. However, while the pickings may be slim, there are a few shining examples of green retreats that are setting the trend for Thai eco-resorts and providing great examples for the future of green tourism in Thailand.
Asita Eco Resort
(33 T. Taihard, Samut Songkhram; 034 767 333; 089 866 2168; www.asitaresort.com) may be 65 only kilometers from Bangkok, yet it seems like light years away.
This haven of serenity is perched alongside of a canal leading into the Mae Klong River, just a short boat ride away from the Amphawa floating market. Bounded by water on one side and a forest of pines on the other, all of the 20 low–key and minimalist villas here are constructed with eco-friendly materials. The rooms feature creatively designed wooden stools, light holders, and tables, rattan sofas and wall hangings, and all have large windows looking out upon the meandering canal that runs through the property, with bamboo decks leading right from one’s room out to the water, which is suitable for swimming in and filled with an array of colorful carp. Low-energy light bulbs are the norm here, collected river and rainwater is used for gardening and cleaning, waste gets separated for recycling, and toilets and washing machines are low water consuming. The resort also grows its own vegetables in an organic garden, and the owner, who comes from a family in the seafood business, sources only extremely fresh local seafood, which is reflected in the superb scrumptious and healthy meals served by the canal-side restaurant.
While Asita is far removed from the chaos and stresses of city life, all rooms do have fast and free wireless connections should you need to stay in touch, and if you do feel the urge to do more than just chill out, there is a wealth of sightseeing practically on the doorstep. The Amphawa weekend floating market is a short scenic boat trip away, and the resort runs a free shuttle boat on Saturdays when the market is in full swing. In addition, the famed Damnoen Saduak floating market is a short drive or boat ride away, and also the traditional Tha Kha floating market, where locals hawk food and fruit to each other on various lunar dates each month, is nearby and a great place to experience traditional life. One also should catch the unique Mae Klong railway market while here; where a vendor market is set up right on the train tracks and the umbrella-covered stalls must be collapsed each time a train rolls through. Asita provides bicycles at the resort for those who wish to get some exercise, and the quiet roads around the river are ripe for exploring.
While many visitors to this area come to take boat tours at Amphawa to watch the seasonal fireflies at night, Asita Resort has an abundance of them throughout the grounds right on the property. Instead of rushing around, you can just relax with a cocktail or locally grown organic herbal drink on your private balcony over the canal, watching the light show take place in this oasis of tranquility.
(110 Moo 4, Koh Kood; 081 345 2791; 082 208 8888; www.soneva.com/soneva-kiri) has a pretty, paradisiacal spot on sleepy Koh Kood and does a great job of taking care of it as well. The resort has 27 huge pool villas and eight private residences hidden away among the palms draped over a postcard-perfect bay. The all-natural materials used here help the villas and buildings blend in effortlessly with their surroundings. The resort also has some features one won’t find anywhere else in Thailand, let alone the world, such as the Tree Pod dining experience, an intimate bamboo pod built for two that is hoisted up in the air above the jungle canopy and sea, where wait staff arrive on zip lines and serve fresh gourmet fare from Soneva’s organic garden. If the heights are a bit too dizzying, you can always choose the resort’s restaurant, Benz, a lantern-lit eatery built from recycled wood which perches on stilts over the mangroves.
The Tongsai Bay
(84 Moo 5, Bo Phut, Ko Samui; 077 245 480; www.tongsaibay.co.th) Located on a secluded beach just 10 minutes from Koh Samui airport, family-owned The Tongsai Bay—a hotel with 83 suites and villas, each with sitting area, terrace or balcony with open-air bath—has been a serious custodian of the environment from day one of its construction. Aiming to preserve the island’s natural environment while maintaining luxury and comfort, the resort has developed its own “Green Project,” taking care to not contaminate water and soil, decreasing the amount of rubbish created, avoiding plastic products on site, and supporting animal and tree conservation. These efforts have earned the resort several accolades, including the Green Planet Award 2007 by Kuoni, Lifestyle+Travel Magazine Reader’s Choice Award 2008 – Green Award (Runner-Up), Green Leaf Certificate 2009 by the Green Leaf Foundation (4 Leafs), as well as the “Green Spa 2012-2013” award from from the Green Leaf Foundation and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), among many others.
(42/12–13 Moo 5, Rawai, Ratcha Yai, Phuket; 076 355 455; www.theracha.com) is for those who want to play Robinson Crusoe. Located on an unspoiled beach on Racha Yai Island, 35 minutes by boat from Phuket, with exquisite Andaman scenery, it features a perfect white sand beach and an emerald bay. Befitting such a paradisiacal spot, it remains true to environmentally sound principles. The single-story villas blend in with the land, and for each tree that has been cut down in order to build something at the Racha, two more have been planted as replacements. Plenty of rope lights and energy-saving lamps are used throughout the resort, the pools use ozone instead of chlorine, and there are no fabric curtains used anywhere, as a way of cutting down on laundry. In addition, the resort cleans the public beach in front of it daily, and has even installed public toilet facilities for visiting day trippers from Phuket.