Count on the Six Senses Yao Noi, Thailand

Expectations were sky high for our virgin trip and sojourn to the perpetually fully booked out Six Senses flagship resort in Yao Noi, Thailand. Only upon our fourth attempt was our hotel reservations finally honoured and fulfilled! The moment we landed at Phuket international airport, we were  ushered away in a comfortable hotel van to get to a nearby marina where we boarded a white speedboat.

The 40-minute transfer aboard the high-speed boat was both extremely scenic and intensely exhilarating. Strong gales and gusts of wind furiously ruffled and messed up our hair as the speedboat swiftly navigated across Ao Phang Nga National Park just as the sun started to make its gradual descent behind the numerous limestone rock cliff formations that the region is world famous for.

The flagship of the Six Senses is prominently located on the lesser-known and infrequently visited Koh Yao Noi, which literally translates to “little long island”. Before I got wind of the Six Senses Yao Noi, I never knew of the existence of this island. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of big brother Phuket, and situated right next to sister Koh Yao Yai (big long island), isolated Koh Yao Noi has little to offer in terms of shopping, entertainment and nightlife. But that is precisely the reason why it is a well-kept secret and a prized glittering gem in the Andaman region. Visitors come to this charming isle to get away from the maddening crowded beaches, seedy bars, and sketchiness of tourist-besieged Patong.

Upon arriving and docking at the resort’s jetty, we were being warmly greeted with the traditional Thai wai and hospitable smiles of the welcome team. The staff promptly introduced themselves before escorting us to the entrance of the expansive resort for a voluntary prayer ritual ceremony.

Our courteous Thai GEM (Guest Experience Maker) led us to make prayer offerings to honour and pay homage to the spirit guardians of Koh Yao Noi by placing lit joss sticks in the incense pot right in front of the purpose built spirit house which was strategically nestled under a tall and ancient banyan tree. At the end of the sacred ceremony, Sai Sin white cotton thread string bracelets were tied around our wrists for blessings of good fortunes and as a symbolic gesture of goodwill and well wishes. As a spiritually inclined and attuned person, I personally found this deliberately planned welcome blessing procedure to be meaningful and well thought out.

After wolfing down a sumptuously delectable dinner of Thai western fusion dishes, we retreated to the rustic luxurious comforts of our spacious ocean deluxe pool villa. I was flabbergasted by the vast number of visible stars under the blanket of the night sky, which were also reflected on the still watery surface of our private pool like a mirror. Due to a combination of insomnia and zealous excitement, I silently crept out of bed while my partner was still sound asleep and made my way outside our villa to tune into the ambient nature sounds, and commune with the forested surroundings. In the pitch darkness of the celestial spheres, I was able to clearly discern the brightest lodestars: Orion’s Belt and Polaris (North Star) of Ursa Major, and could even make out the distinctive stellar constellations of Cygnus, Draco, and Auriga. I basked in solitary bliss and sat in silent meditation until the first flaming golden amber rays of sunrise blazed across the horizon.

As night broke to dawn, we sauntered up to the Hilltops, which is nestled at the highest peak of the resort for some morning salutations to the sun amidst the breathtakingly stunning and epic backdrop of the vast Phang Nga Bay. The tree-lined limestone islets that dot the bay looked majestic as they rose and towered above the calm sea that sparkled from being kissed by the morning sunlight. We were at a loss for words as we soaked in all of the resplendent beauty. What was right before our eyes has got to be, hands down, one of the top 100 most beautiful natural landscapes on this planet.

Just as we thought it could not possibly get any better, seemingly out of nowhere, a large flock of approximately two dozen majestic Oriental pied hornbills glided gracefully from treetop to treetop, showcasing their elegant wingspan comprising of their signature black, white, and yellow plumage. Now that is a sight that we do not see everyday! Ms Selina Chin who is the marketing and communications manager of the Six Senses Yao Noi, even remarked and commented in a matter-of-fact manner that in all of her years working and living in Koh Yao Noi, she has never seen that many hornbills in one group setting. The entire scene was utterly spellbinding and an ineffable sense of immense gratitude washed over me. We went back again at dusk, and the Hilltops transformed into a romantic al fresco fine dining venue that was perfect for sunset cocktails and feasting on gastronomical delights.

There are a myriad of fun-filled activities to be had over at the Six Senses Yao Noi. Take your pick from private Muay Thai lessons to kayaking around the bay. Some of our favourite activities were to feed the goats and to collect freshly laid chicken eggs at the resort’s animal farm, which is needless to say a perennial highlight with the kids (or the kids-at-heart). There was a glimmer of a sparkle glistening in my partner’s eyes as he ran wild and let loose his inner child while chasing quacking ducks around their compound.

Another major highlight has got to be the island-hopping tour onboard a chartered private yacht that accorded us the liberty to explore the many islets, azure lagoons, and sunken caverns that surround Phang Nga Bay. After snorkelling amongst a plethora of brightly coloured marine fish, we enjoyed a specially prepared picnic basket of gourmet brioche sandwiches and healthy cold pressed juices while relaxing on a secluded sandy beach.

To end off our adventures for the day, we cycled on the road bikes provided by the resort for over an hour in the late afternoon when the weather got cooler, whisking through quaint villages, deserted pristine beaches, rubber plantations, mangrove swamps, and rice paddy fields. While cycling around Koh Yao Noi, we got an authentic slice of island life when stopping along the way at the local market stalls to replenish and rehydrate ourselves by sipping on refreshing coconut water, cut straight from the coconut trees that line the seashore.

Six Senses wellness spas have a reputation for being world class and top-notch. People come from far and wide to unwind and indulge in their carefully curated holistic wellness packages. The spa village complex over at the Six Senses Yao Noi exceeded our expectations. Other than the magnificent Hilltops, I would consider the entire wellness and spa village area to be my other favourite part of the resort to have a wander around.

Designed like a cute little quaint village at the bottom of the resort, the extensive list of relaxing spa treatments range from rejuvenating Thai herbal compress massages to multi-day immersive healing programs that include a bevy of regenerative therapies such as singing bowl sound healing meditations, detox diets, Ayurvedic treatments, biohacking, and then some. There is also a pretty gift shop selling sustainable resort wear, environmentally-friendly beauty products, designer crystal jewellery, colourful scarves, intricate Tibetan singing bowls, as well as books on all things health and wellness related.

The tiny but well decorated alchemy room allows guests to concoct bath salts, as well as to blend their own body scrubs using upcycled food spent ingredients such as coffee grinds, matcha green tea powder and rice bran, that are further infused with drops of aromatic floral essential oils of ylang ylang, rose, geranium, patchouli, jasmine, lavender, and more. There is something gratifying about learning to make your own personalised beauty products from all natural ingredients. I spotted an elated grin on my partner’s face as he pounded away on his blend using the traditional mortar and pestle like an adept apothecary. The body scrubs and baths salts are then carefully wrapped up in biodegradable banana leaves and secured using wooden toothpicks for us to take back with us to our villa to relish at our own leisure. Pure heavenly bliss.

After a thoroughly relaxing and much needed snooze granted by a private sound healing session featuring ornate looking singing bowls, resident wellness expert and consultant Dr Aneesh Vadakkeveedu, who trained at the Ananda Spa Institute, conducted a non-invasive biohacking wellness screening on us. The proficient doctor gently placed cool looking electrode pads onto our temples which measured our various biomarkers and furnished us with a highly detailed diagnosis and report of our health, as well as any potential pitfalls to look out for. Upon analyzing our reports, knowledgeable Dr Aneesh then supplied us with useful suggestions and practical pointers on how we could balance our doshas, and further enhance our total well-being based on our individual wellness screenings.

Our half-day pampering at the Six Senses Yao Noi spa village was concluded with an energising deep tissue massage that utilised unique silicone suction cups, which was followed by an invigorating immersion in the eucalyptus-scented steam room.  The holistic spa therapies and friendly therapists were truly a Godsend as just prior to these treatments, my partner and I had a tiff. The treatments enabled us both to rapidly defuse any altercations and also did wonders to ease away the strains while ironing out the kinks in our connection. We could tangibly feel our tensions melt away with each subsequent healing treatment. By the end of it all, our bond with one another was being ameliorated, fostered, and revitalised. Just what the doctor ordered.

Six Senses Yao Noi’s two main restaurants cook using the freshest produce directly harvested and garnered straight from the various on-site organic gardens, permaculture farms, and curious mushroom hut. The Dining Room consists of an open-air double-floored jungle pavilion complete with babbling streams and alluring moss foliage visible through its glass bottom floors. Dinner here is an indulgent European culinary affair of lobster, wagyu beef, codfish, and duck confit. The restaurant also has an impressive award-winning wine list to boot.

Down by the beach, the Living Room dishes out all-day dining and comfort foods. Breakfast is also served there, and consists of an extensive à la carte menu and a decadent buffet spread of southern Thai-style breakfast dishes. Freshly baked viennoiserie pastries, fruit yoghurt, fermented kombuchas, imported cheeses and charcuterie are also readily available over at the air-conditioned deli counters. A free-flow selection of yummy homemade gelato and gourmet sorbet flavours available all day every day tempts and beckons at us from the ice-cream parlour located right next door to the deli.

Chef Ton who has been the executive sous chef of the Six Senses Yao Noi for the past eleven years is respected amongst his peers for his professional expertise in cooking authentic southern Thai cuisine. He is especially lauded and highly regarded for his constant no-nonsense approach to zero-waste in his daily kitchen practices such as brewing sauces and creating delicious pastes from scratch; ensuring that everything is being used and absolutely nothing is being wasted. His discipline and dedication to sustainability and minimising food waste in his cooking process are the main motivational factors for inspiring and leading his entire kitchen crew to innovate new ways to combat the problem of food wastage.

We were very fortunate indeed to have had the golden opportunity to witness and learn first-hand from masterful Chef Ton who trained us to prepare and cook three mouth-watering Thai dishes. We watched in awe and fascination as the consummate chef expeditiously chopped up the vegetable ingredients with the skilful dexterity, finesse, and aplomb that can only be honed from many decades of experience working in the kitchen. I also appreciated the fact that the dishes that we were being instructed to create by Chef Ton were not the stereotypical Thai fare, but exotic dishes that featured unusual upcycled food ingredients such as sustainable crispy floss made from fish cartilage and bones that were surprisingly tasty, and which gave an elevated texture and crunchy mouth feel to the improvised spicy tossed Som Tum salad that we were taught to make.

Environmental sustainability is a hallmark and cornerstone of the Six Senses hospitality brand, and it is hardwired into their DNA. Jeff Smith who is the vice-president of sustainability for the entire Six Senses group quipped, “Every Six Senses has an organic garden and practices composting. Additionally, all Six Senses also hires a sustainability director to lead environmental conservation efforts for that property. We educate our guests and get them to come on a sustainability journey with us. It is a big misimpression that it costs more to be sustainable, but it is actually quite the opposite. Travel slowly, and travel farther. Be mindful with your travels. Ride a train. Take a boat. Take your time.”

Images: Luke Elijah

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