This is sacred ground, we’re told. Thirty-eight pool villas are cut into a steep hillside in Thailand’s largest island, Phuket. They are designed to celebrate the four clans who once trod this land: the earth clan, the wanderers, the sky peoples and the nest clan. Keemala Resort, which opened in December, has harnessed their histories and traditions and built a hotel to celebrate them.
Except those clans – the Pa-ta-Pea, Khou-Jorn, We-Ha and Rung-Nok, in turn – never existed. Their names, histories and preferences for particular types of fabrics are invented. It’s a bizarre marketing ploy used to justify the strange choices of this strange resort. It’s too bad that the high-brow concept is held back by low-quality construction, creating an eye-wateringly expensive luxury hotel that baffles at every turn.
Keemala is in Kamala, only a few kilometres from Patong Beach (where people are generally lecherous) but close enough to some of Phuket’s loveliest beaches: Kemala and Surin. The hotel offers a shuttle to Kemala Beach for those looking to get away from the resort.
The location is very steep, meaning the buggies shuttling guests to their villas struggle to climb the near-vertical roads when more than one guest is riding in the back.
And it’s a jungle. Now, when staying in a jungle hotel there’s a reasonable expectation that some nature will get in – mosquitoes, mostly, or a beetle or two. But the poor construction invites in more of the outside world than is reasonable. Either the three-centimetre gap under our villa door or the considerable space between the toilet and bathroom floor were sufficient to create the following scenario:
A man wakes up in the middle of the night to use the washroom. Beside the toilet, trying to hide behind the garbage can, is a snake. It’s about two feet long and pale green. Through a combination of flapping towels and spraying the snake with water, the hotel reviewer tries to chase it out the door to the outdoor shower, but the snake disappears in a gap beneath the toilet leading to the jungle below. The reviewer gets up every 20 minutes throughout the night – silently, so as not to tip off his snake-phobic partner to the presence of a snake – to ensure the snake has not returned with friends. This scenario could have easily been avoided by ensuring that the rooms were well-sealed at ground level.
In non-snake-related problems, our Tent Pool villa – sprawling as it was – had very little usable space. Some issues:
1. The bathtub was in front of a full-wall window with views to almost every other villa in the resort, making its intended use – bathing, nude, with a view over the sea – impossible for all but exhibitionists.
2. The dressing table had a mirror placed too low to see while standing and no chair at which to sit.
3. The desk was behind the bed, offering stunning views of the back of the headboard.
4. The lounge chairs were tucked into an atrium between the villa door and the pool, limiting the view considerably and never, at any stage, in the sun.
5. The only place with a proper view (albeit of low-rise apartments in the nearby town) was the bed, which was inexplicably ringed by a foot-wide, six-inch tall platform specifically designed to trip you when getting out or to stub your toes on while getting into the bed.
Eat in or eat out?
There is a refreshing emphasis on healthy food, with Keemala able to cater to all diets. The resort has an extensive in-villa dining menu and 24-hour room service to offset its lone restaurant, Su-Tha, and all villas come with a good supply of beer, soft drinks and snacks. My dining experience at Su-Tha was quite good – a specially prepared four-course meal of tasty mango-crab salad, average mushroom soup and a nice piece of salmon cooked and served on a Himalayan salt block with good wine. But I was dining in a group supervised by the PR team: guests must order a la carte from a mixture of Thai and Western dishes (and the Western offerings outshining the Thai fare). Later, when ordering room service, we found the curries overly sweet and fishy, and the rice cooked to a paste.
What’s worse, in the restaurant at breakfast our coffee took 25 minutes to arrive (after asking twice), our order was wrong at first, and then, once the correct food arrived, it was cold.
Food is also astronomically priced for its quality, mostly because it can be. There aren’t other restaurants in easy walking distance, and guests paying $750 a night for the privilege of chasing snakes away may not think twice about a $30 ciabatta sandwich and rubbery potato wedges.
Each villa is appointed a personal butler, and the young woman in charge of our stay was an absolute gem. Bew was attentive and discrete in equal parts and made sure we were comfortable at all times. She drove her golf cart masterfully. She smiled constantly. And she was very sympathetic when hearing about Snakegate. In a luxury setting with a world-class spa (which was truly excellent), Bew stood out as the best feature of our visit.
Whom you’ll meet
If I could change one thing
All new hotels need time to settle, but settling won’t fill the snake-sized holes in the villas. That should be done manually.
Keemala Resort, Nakasud Rd., Kamala, Phuket, Thailand, Keemala.com; 38 pool villas from $750, including breakfast.
The writer was a guest of the resort.
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