As I write this – wooden longtail boats bobbing in the sea a few metres away, the golden ball of the sun hovering over the horizon – I must admit a certain difficulty in maintaining focus. Paradise, after all, is hardly the most professionally constructive place to spend a long weekend. And, no mistaking it, Zeavola on Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, is certainly paradise.
We’ve all been to those hotels that try to overwhelm you with a spectacular first impression – a sweeping, mile-long driveway that snakes up to a gilt hall where 100 members of staff are poised with baskets of rose petals. Then there are those that seek to win you over with their design savvy – all floor-to-ceiling mahogany doors and Armani-clad staff. Zeavola, by contrast, barely even has an entrance. Instead, Koh Phi Phi’s tranquil Laem Tong beach dissolves seamlessly into the hotel’s grounds: the transition from crystal sea to white sands to palm-lined bungalows, like so much else here, being both subtle and flawless.
From the moment we hop off the speedboat (while there are certainly cheaper, less glamorous connections to the island, it seemed rude to arrive in anything less), Mrs Smith and I resign our footwear to our bags, where they in fact remain for the entirety of our sojourn. Given my lover’s incomparable shoe collection, this might seem utterly ridiculous, and I assure you that we are hardly the hippiest couple on God’s boutique-hotelled Earth. It’s just that, here at Zeavola, there is need for neither Choo nor Birkenstock, nor, thank heavens, even Croc. For, with the sands flowing into the white-gold estuaries that form the paths between the bungalows, the distinction between beach and suite is virtually non-existent.
And, my, the suites. Ours is perhaps the ultimate tropical cabana: comfortably spacious, raised romantically on stilts, and with its own front gate and just the right amount of 21st-century luxury. After washing the sand off our feet at the entrance, we are greeted by a central expanse of wall-less dark wood and simple furnishings – a pair of carved, wooden chairs, a side-counter laden with tropical fresh fruit, a simple, bronze-coloured rug and cushion laid out on the floor. And, off this, to one end a bamboo-screened outdoor shower and dresser, to the other a glass-fronted bedroom, and a modern, closed-door bathroom between. Yet despite the openness, with the plentiful distance between us and our neighbours and the simple use of palm trees and dense green bushes, there is such a sense of privacy that I cannot shake the notion of having the entirety of this paradise to ourselves. And if I were to say that this is all a mere stone’s throw from the beach, you really ought to believe me. Mrs Smith is a firm believer in the scientific method. Thankfully, she’s also a good shot.
Once settled in, we book ourselves an early morning boat trip to The Beach’s infamous Koh Phi Phi Lai (before the tourist army arrives con Hacky Sack) and the neighbouring Monkey Beach. And then we head off for a wander along the length of Laem Tong, where we discover that there is a much welcomed dearth of hawkers, that everyone here is infused with a wonderful sense of peaceful cheer, and that none of the other hotels along the beachfront come anywhere close to Zeavola. And, so, feeling more than a little smug about our choice of abode, we head back to what is already feeling like home for a long, relaxed lunch on the beach from a menu of oddly (but admittedly rather comforting) international fare.
Perhaps it is the charming service, perhaps the afternoon sun or the waves gently lapping on the shore, but either way it’s not long before a spot of dozing appears on the post-lunch menu. And when all that stress of eating and sleeping on such a stunning beach has gotten a bit much, there’s only one place left for us to go (other than the bar, that is).
As Mrs Smith has been hinting at a traditional Thai-style massage since we arrived, it seems only fair that we give Zeavola’s beautiful spa a try: my better half for a strenuous bout of kneading and yanking, and myself for a Sun Soother session of cooling wraps and a half-hour head massage. As I saunter out in a tight-skinned, stress-free bubble, there is Mrs Smith waiting for me: a full two inches taller, and thoroughly radiant as the setting sun paints her in long shadows and burnished golds. If there is anything more romantic in this world than the large, private, outdoor shower we share back in our suite beneath a sky that is turning to rich cherry red and purple-streaked orange, then I do not know it.
So I think it can’t get more romantic? Well, clearly the Zeavola folks overheard and are out to prove me wrong, for then we return to the beach for supper. Except that this is as much an understatement as declaring that ‘the view here sure is pretty’. The cheery and infinitely accommodating staff respond to our request for ‘something a little more private’ by leading us to a single, candlelit table, sat by itself a few metres away towards the whispering sea, where we dine on a delicious array of the chef’s specials and get almost as drunk on the unending beauty of it all as on the eternally flowing Mai Tais.
And when our bellies and palates are satiated, the warm darkness of night rolling in, it’s back to our haven, where we lower the remote controlled bamboo shutters and flick on the cosy mood lighting – the lime-green sink on the traditional wooden dresser playing against the rich coffees and dark reds on the rug – and we treat ourselves to a final gin and tonic to a soundtrack of cricket-song before we retire to the comfort of air-con and a large four-poster bed.