We travelled to Zazen Boutique Resort on Koh Samui, Thailand and were pleasantly surprised at their pioneering eco initiatives on an island without much awareness.
I just read a New York Times article: Billionaire, If Only for a Day, where a middle class writer slipped on the shoes, and lifestyle of the very rich for 24 hours. I am a middle class writer who not long ago had the chance to tour some luxurious hotels in Koh Samui, Thailand as a guest and I felt some parallels in the experiences of the NY Times writer.
On the hunt for sustainable initiatives to share with other eco-conscious travelers, I hit the Internet and Googled for “green hotels in Thailand” and came across Zazen on Koh Samui, a boutique hotel that was not only happy to announce its involvement in a local green council, but advertised other local hotels that were a part of the initiative. After some emails and an invitation, I was lucky to be for two nights at Zazen, on the northeast side of Samui Island, a good distance above the crazy beach parties.
Affordable luxury, if only for a couple of nights, is not hard to find on Samui Island; but what made me want to stay at Zazen is the management’s interest and early beginnings at environmental awareness and action.
I am not sure if billionaires stay there regularly, but millionaires for sure. At a few hundred dollars a night, it’s very expensive for Thailand. And Thailand is certainly not lacking luxury. It is the destination to get spoiled, if that’s what you are looking for.
The hotel started out as did many of the hotels on the island, as simple wooden beach huts built by the locals. A charming francophone Swiss man who looks like he’s from a Hemingway novel married into the family, and along with his Thai wife they transformed the family huts into a 5-star resort with all the local and European trimmings.
A cabin facing the beach.
The boutique hotel, which sits on the beach and inland, has only 26 cabins, and several staff assigned to service each one. Walk in and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived. But the best part of your day at Zazen might be the night as the pillows define heaven: I simply have not laid my head on anything quite like them before, and since.
Like in the NY Times piece, the upper class or at least the upper middle class who travel to Zazen, can expect a parade of service staff to treat you, from the second you enter the parking lot where you are greeted with smiles, down to the daily newspaper and weather reports placed on your bed, which is turned down for you before you go to sleep.
Me, my baby and our friend Nok.
It’s as though the staff at Zazen are able to read your mind, but after a few hours you’ll notice the entourage equipped with walkie talkies, keeping track of guests so your room will be ready, morning, noon and night, without any embarrassing overlap of cleaning staff. Some people might find the attention a bit unnerving if you like privacy, but as I am used to staying at hotels in the Middle East where the service is much inferior to the Far East, I welcomed the chance to experience what the good life offered.
Some of the basics at Zazen can be found in many hotels in Thailand: the use of refillable ceramic dispensers for shampoo and shower soaps. I love that approach over small packages of stuff. There is also the use of local fabrics, materials and artisans, in the building structures themselves and in the décor. They provide beach bags for taking out of the hotel, as well as bathrobes, slippers, flip flops, and umbrellas should it rain.
Local foods and jams prepared with love, and an expert chef, will meet you at your meals.
Zazen is a specialist at catering to small, intimate weddings, which without all the excess of hundreds of guests you don’t know, would certainly fulfill the criteria for a green wedding in my eyes, except for the carbon footprint of flying into the island.
But when you go behind the scenes, as I did, and see the underbelly of Zazen from an employee’s point of view, you’ll appreciate Zazen, and I don’t think they boast enough about this on their website.
Maria who was a day manager at the time I was there in February, took me through the kitchen and showed me where the staff separate wet waste into compostable piles, sent to special areas in landfill sites on the island. While this might seem generations behind city restaurants like in Toronto, it is light years ahead for Thailand where little environmental awareness and practice (in the western sense) exists.
Recyclable materials sorted in bins waiting for pick up
She then took me to the staff quarters, past their canteen where all kinds of waste items were sorted for pickup (above), from cardboard to plastics, and glass which are shipped out to public bins in Thailand, which can be used voluntarily. Education of the staff on how to separate the waste, and on how use the bins, has been part of their activities at Zazen, and no doubt the effects will pass on to locals living in nearby communities.
While not done at the expense of a guest (that’s up to the individual I suppose on how to use and conserve energy), there are a number of unique energy saving tactics Zazen management is using with their staff:
Air conditioning is very expensive, so instead of turning it on at 8 am when the staff arrives in the cooler mornings, it is programmed to turn on at 9. It goes off again at lunch, and before the administration leaves at night saving 4.5 hours a day of air con power. Smart!
The water at the beach
Other points worth noting, is the use of EM Balls to clean the local river which can turn into stinking and stagnant water in the holiday times before the rains. Not able to control the pollution that runs into the river upstream, downstream before it hits the sea, Zazen uses these biological and natural aids, that cost about 1 baht a ball, to rehabilitate their end of the river.
They’ve also hosted beach cleanup days and have had their staff and some guests trek down to Chewang Beach to do some much-needed cleanup of bottles and trash.
Guests stay an average of 7 to 10 days at Zazen, with the hotel’s busiest time being December and January when Europeans and northern hemisphere people need a warm escape. Clientele look interesting – and this is just in my imagination – they are everything from well-to-do industrialists, to oil barons from Russia to nouveau riche and young high-tech entrepreneurs.
A beach bag at Zazen
And if you’re passing by Zazen on the beach and can’t find room at the inn to fit your budget, the 800 baht breakfast will be the best bucks you’ll spend in Thailand. But if you can, if only for two nights, stay at Zazen for a little bit of luxury and to meet management with a growing ecological awareness for this Thai island paradise.
In Zen Buddhism zazen means seated meditation. Grab a beach chair, and a Zazen fruit juice and practice what they preach.