Luxury comes in many forms. There is gold taps and sumptuous chintz or there is bare minimalism where less is definitely more.
Hotelier Sonu Shivdasani believes in the second type. He thinks luxury is “space, privacy and simplicity” and has made a small fortune selling this dream to celebrities and wealthy business people through his award-winning hotel chain, Soneva Resorts.
Now he has launched his first foray into residential property on the Thai island of Koh Kood. Soneva Kiri is a self-contained resort due to open next year with 42 hotel rooms and 19 private villas. Facilities include a Six Senses Spa, three restaurants and children’s activity centre.
Koh Kood is a quiet island of 2,000 people on the east coast of Thailand near the Cambodian border. It takes 45 minutes to reach by air from Bangkok. The area is lush, with rainforests and white beaches, and there is very little development. Visitors can mountain bike or hike in the mountainous interior, but mainly this is for people looking to kick back and relax.
“We are remote but accessible,” says Shivdasani. “Koh Kood is Thailand’s fourth-largest island yet is virtually untouched. Because access was difficult, we bought an eight-seater Cessna and will fly owners in.”
Not the actions of a confirmed environmentalist, perhaps, but Eton- and Oxford-educated Shivdasani claims to be fully committed to green issues. At his Maldives resort of Soneva Fushi, he is aiming for zero carbon emissions by 2010, using wind turbines and solar power and a deep-water air-conditioning unit.
So how does he justify turning the 247-acre site on Koh Kood, with its views over the Gulf of Thailand, from a coconut plantation into a “luxury resort”? “You have to be realistic,” says Sonu. “The 21st century traveller wants enriching experiences, and I think there will be benefits to the local population.”
Sustainable building at Soneva Kiri is watched over by an environmentalist who says he will be using eucalyptus poles, bamboo ceilings, natural swimming pools cleaned by plants and LED lights throughout. Shivdasani’s vision has found favour with Thai planners, whose government is focusing on eco-tourism.
The sprawling four-bedroom houses, that sleep up to 10, come with wine cellars, Bose sound systems and pools, and will be the answer for guests happy to shower outside and live without nightclubs. But why buy at a price of £2 million — when you could rent the villa for a few weeks every year for about £1,500 a night?
“Our resorts get booked up very quickly,” says sales manager Harsh Roopchand. “Owners can come when they want or put the property into the rental pool when they are not using it.” There is an unusual quota system to ensure nationalities are evenly distributed. “A Russian client wanted to buy 10 villas but we said no,” says Roopchand.
Royal Phuket Marina
Elsewhere in Thailand, on the island of Phuket, Savills is selling apartments and villas at Royal Phuket Marina with prices ranging from £324,650 to more than £5 million. The new 300-berth marina is nine miles from the airport and has been built to encourage wealthy yachties into the region.
“The marina opened after 200 per cent import duty on boats was abolished,” says sales director Norbert Zuker. The tax had brought the yachting business to a standstill in Thailand.
* For more information on Soneva Kiri, call Aylesford International on 020 7351 2383, or visit www.aylesford.com.
* For information on Royal Phuket Marina, call Savills International on 020 7016 3750 or visit www.savills.co.uk.
Why buy in Thailand
Thailand is naturally beautiful and has more than 1,000 islands and a long coastline, and the people are warm and friendly. The cost of living is low, you can have wonderful food and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.
However, foreigners cannot buy land freehold under Thai law. They usually buy with a Thai partner, getting a land lease with a maximum term under Thai law of 30 years. However, this can usually be renewed twice, effectively giving a lease of 90 years. Currently, the Thai government is under pressure to make owning property easier for foreigners.
Thai Airways flies twice a day from Heathrow to Bangkok. BA also flies from Heathrow to Bangkok, also twice daily, with lead-in fares from £655.50 inclusive. For more information, visit www.ba.com.
Bangkok’s impressive new airport, Suvarnabhumi, opened in September 2006 with a capacity for 45 million passengers annually. It has regular daily flights to Phuket International Airport.
Thailand is the entry point to South-east Asia and has excellent international connections. Tsunami warning systems have been installed.