Travel an hour from Phuket’s airport to the edge of the Andaman Sea to find a resort offering something more than the luxury experience: a place to escape the world among like-minded wildlife.
Indulging oneself and living responsibly aren’t mutually exclusive at Khaolak Merlin Resort. Among the pool villas and rainforest canopies lining pristine Khao Lak South Beach are features and spaces uniquely dedicated to safeguarding species, preserving big trees, reducing plastic and minimizing waste.
Its mission to support sustainable tourism puts guests in close proximity with nature while putting eco-friendly concepts into practice from waste-free reuse of its water and composting to refillable amenities.
“I know. It’s a lot of work,” said third-generation owner Chanon Wongsatayanont. “But in the long-term, it’s worth it.”
Chanon, who recently took over the family property, said the place built by his late grandfather was green long before sustainability became a crisis-driven marketing fad.
While the resort’s eco bonafides are many – more on that below – the most thrilling part of my recent two night, hosted stay were ethical encounters with wildlife just doing their thing, like a fluttering spotted wood owl hunting about, and a slow loris living up to its name. This wasn’t captive entertainment: The animals weren’t there for any other reason than the grounds provided a welcome natural haven to be themselves.
They were the highlights of activities including a wildlife scavenger hunt and night walking safari that found the resort an enchanting getaway for luxury holidaymakers with a conscience or nature lovers with a budget (the resort currently offers deals for Thais and expats during the pandemic).
When Chanon’s grandfather built the place two decades ago, it was one of Khao Lak’s first resorts. He avoided cutting down the large trees and instead designed the rooms and facilities around all the ta-khian, resin, banyan and Siamese Rosewood trees – some of which are a century old and survivors of the 2004 tsunami.
The resort opened with a closed-loop treatment system that recycles, filters and reuses wastewater. To keep the jungle hydrated, the resort is equipped with purifiers, microbes and natural filters that Chanon says saves up to three millions liters of water per month.
Unlike most hotels, Khaolak Merlin’s bathroom amenities come in refillable dispensers rather than single-use disposables. Plastic straws and plastic cups are not used, either. At a corner of the complex sits a composting site where leaves, fruits and vegetables are repurposed into fertilizer.
The efforts earned the property a 2019 Gold certification for accommodation sustainability from Travelife, a Netherlands nonprofit promoting tourism sustainability.
‘Not a Zoo’
Surrounded by lush jungle including the Khao Lak-Lamru National Park, the resort also welcomes animal species to hunt through its trees, ponds and streams. The partnering Love Wildlife Foundation said that up to 100 species including flying lemurs, gliding lizards, treefrogs, Nile tilapias, hermit crabs and many birds have been counted roaming free on the 36-rai (5.8-hectare) resort.
Even endangered slow lorises have been spotted. Despite legal protections, the nocturnal mammal native to southern Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia is most often seen on a leash exploited for tourist selfies or on sale at flea markets. Safeguarding their welfare has thus become the resort’s hallmark cause.
With the paradigm shift of eco-conscious travel, one Love Wildlife animal advocate said there’s an urgent need to extend that to the creatures we live beside.
“We need to focus on quality over quality,” said Nancy Gibson, founder of the Love Wildlife Foundation. The nonprofit has trained more than 100 resort employees on guidelines for wildlife conservation including how to react when encountering it.
Can you see what animal is hiding in the tree?We have facilitated a migration of the vulnerable slow lorises into the…
But promoting conservation of the slow lorises came accidentally.
“A tourist showed me a picture of what they thought was a monkey,” Chanon said. “When I asked the Love Wildlife Foundation, it was instead confirmed to be a slow loris.”
With the pandemic bringing much human activity to a standstill, Chanon said sightings have increased in recent months. To facilitate their safe commutes, ropes are secured between trees to keep them off the roads at night, when they’re likely to become roadkill.
“We’re not a zoo, not a safari. We’re not doing this to become a tourist attraction to see the slow loris. We only want to conserve the abundant biodiversity as it is. Our goal is to conserve them, not commercialize them,” Chanon said.
Khaolak Merlin Resort is located in the Tai Muang district of Phang Nga province about 70 kilometers from the Phuket International Airport.
Khaolak Merlin Resort
Petchkasem Road, Lam Kaen, Tai Muang, Phang Nga
This article, Seaside retreat for humans (and wildlife) doubles down on sustainability, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!