Thailand’s Zeavola fulfils eco-luxury mission
Phi Phi’s only five-star resort, Zeavola is a luxurious yet rustic retreat offering hillside pool villas and beachfront, garden and village suites, with a vision to create “the best possible hotel embedded in sustainability”.
It’s fitting that you take an hour’s boat ride to reach Zeavola, whether you arrive from Phuket or Krabi. After all, the name Zeavola is derived from Scaevola taccada, the Latin name of the coastal flowering plant known in Thailand as Rak Talay, which translates as ‘love the sea’.
Zeavola hosted 100 guests last December for the second Blue List Expedition, with 14 yachts making their way from Phuket to the award-winning eco-resort, whose spectacular location in the north of Phi Phi Don offers a warm and colourful welcome.
As you come closer, blue water laps against the white-sand Laem Tong Beach, which is dotted with yellow umbrellas and backed by lush, green rainforest, with teak villas camouflaged in the tropical setting.
Little is left to waste in Zeavola, which rhymes with Scaevola, so the rest of the plant’s Latin name has been used to name the Tacada beachfront restaurant and bar, which specialises in Mediterranean and international cuisine. Guests also dine at Baxil, a Thai restaurant set back from the beachfront that’s open for breakfast and dinner.
The all-suite resort features 52 villas including the 40sqm village suites, 60sqm garden suites and three 60sqm beachfront suites with sea views. Topping it all off are the sensational 120sqm, split-level pool villa suites on the hillside, offering lofty views over the rainforest and the bay.
Also set on the hillside, the Zeavola Spa is among the main attractions in a resort designed as a getaway to relax, recharge and reinvigorate. The spa offers Thai, Chinese, European and Polynesian therapies, while the experience extends to a steam room, sauna, spa, gym and beauty salon.
Guests can read, relax and laze in their villas or on the beach, and take cooking classes or a swim in the bay. If you want to head out, a huge range of boat trips and tours let you explore the area’s bays and islands, with options for fishing, jungle trekking and kayaking.
Scuba diving is one of the most popular activities and Zeavola has its own PADI Five Star Centre. Dive trips can be arranged to a huge number of locations within the Phi Phi marine national park, while specialties include wreck, night and deep diving. Zeavola can introduce first-timers to scuba diving using its own pool before taking them on introductory dives, while a full range of PADI courses are available.
On a romantic note, the resort has hosted over 100 weddings, with long-time General Manager Florian Hallermann conducting the ceremony. A resort tradition is that each couple plants a coconut palm accompanied by a placard carrying their names, which can later include those of their children. The Phi Phi islands may be just an hour from Phuket and Krabi, but they can feel like a world away.
“Zeavola gives you the time and space to discover yourself and each other,” says Hallermann, who has worked in the hotel industry in Asia since 1990. “It’s a place to create magical memories.”
In this tranquil setting, Zeavola lives up to its billing as a paradise of barefoot luxury, taking guests back to a life of elegant simplicity. This has been Hallermann’s aim since he started managing the resort when the current owner took over in 2008, two years after the opening of the original development.
Hallermann admits he found “the hotel destined for me” in Zeavola, having worked for the likes of Shangri-La, Banyan Tree and Mandarin Oriental during a career that has taken him to seven countries in Asia.
For over a decade, the Austrian has implemented a whole ecosystem of changes at Zeavola designed to improve sustainability, many of which are hidden from view, but apparent to those in the know.
In 2014, he travelled to London for the World Boutique Hotels Awards ceremony to collect Zeavola’s award for World’s Best Sustainable Boutique Hotel. The resort is also a member of Green Pearls, a
marketing company promoting unique, authentic and green experiences.
Sustainability is a very real issue in Asia’s most popular tourist areas. In the smaller Phi Phi Le to the south, Maya Bay has been closed since 2018 to allow it to recover from the damage caused by mass tourism, litter, pollution and boat damage since starring in the 2000 movie The Beach.
“There are complexities running a luxury, yet rustic, resort on a remote island,” says Hallermann, who admits it’s more difficult to create a sustainable operation after most of the physical infrastructure is already in place.
However, recent developments include a Reddonatura composting machine that reduces wet waste by up to a staggering 40 tonnes per year, as well as a highly efficient water system that uses reverse osmosis to produce clean water.
Drinking water is provided to guests in glass bottles that can be refilled by staff or by guests at multiple water-filling stations, inspired by RefillMyBottle. The introduction of the glass water bottles for guests and metal bottles for staff has reduced the usage of single-use plastic bottles by 120,000 per year.
Laundry water is now also cleaned and reused for laundry due to a new system that saves over 1.4 million litres of water each year. Meanwhile, the swimming pools now benefit from the Enviroswim ES3 water-purification system that annihilates any bacteria, fungi, and viruses, allowing the resort to discontinue the use of chlorine or any other chemicals.
“We’re striving to protect our precious island home with a self-sufficient lifestyle that will bring benefits for generations to come,” says Hallermann, who says the 150 staff that live on the island are a huge focus of the resort and another of the attractions for guests.
“The Zeavola family is the backbone of the resort and the team strives to please guests by offering unrivalled service with a genuinely warm Thai smile. Zeavola is determined to create natural enjoyment for our guests and staff members. We are passionate about achieving this for the benefit of all.”
The Zeavola Resort and the Phi Phi Islands play host to the second edition of the three-day event, which features 100 guests, 14 yachts and a packed calendar of watersports, beach barbecues and parties.