The Sarojin is one of Thailand’s most luxurious boutique beach resorts located in Khao Lak in the Phang Nga province (you can read our review here). We’re delighted to share with you this inspirational Q&A with Kate and Andrew, original founders and owners of The Sarojin. Read on to find out more about their journey, tailor-made experiences, sustainability and keeping the community spirit alive.
The idea for The Sarojin came during your University years and the time you spent living in Hong Kong, tell us more about this journey and how the idea became a reality?
Andrew: After backpacking through Africa, India and Nepal, Kate and I ended up in Hong Kong where we went on to work, get married and have our daughter Charlotte. It was here whilst discussing our desire to work for ourselves with friends that we were given the advice “make sure you choose something you love and you’re passionate about as working for yourself is hard work!”. Immediately we thought “travel” and that eventually led to The Sarojin.
Why did you choose Thailand over other global destinations and specifically Khao Lak?
Kate: We began to develop the idea for The Sarojin in the late 1990’s around the same time as the Asian financial crash. During this, Thailand remained fairly politically stable and was already well known for tourism globally. The Thai people, its delicious cuisine and its unique culture really set it apart from other places in Asia and its reputation of the famous Thai smile and great hospitality was already well known. With this it also delivered on our criteria of wanting a beach destination with something extra, as we felt there was a developing group of consumers that were looking for more than just a ‘flop & drop’ holiday. This is also ultimately why we chose Khao Lak over other places in Thailand, as we felt it had more to offer inland with its national parks and local towns/villages that offer a really authentic glimpse into Thai local life. Khao Lak is also the gateway to the world famous Similan and Surin Islands national marine parks and just one hour by road from Phuket Airport making it the perfect location for a resort.
Building a luxury hotel resort is no mean feat, tell us about some of the challenges you faced.
Andrew: There are many challenges when building a luxury hotel, but securing a bank loan from a Thai Bank was definitely one of the biggest initial challenges we faced. Khao Lak was a new destination, relatively unknown to tourists and we had no hotel background which all made it more difficult so it took us four years and much perseverance to secure the funding. However it all paid off as now, not only is The Sarojin an award-winning hotel, but tourism also helps provide a sustainable economy to Khao Lak, which is a fantastic destination for those looking to experience authentic Thailand.
What does a typical day look like for you – if such a thing exists?
Kate: Working for yourself is 24/7 and 365 – you are always on call and it is so easy today to be in contact – which is good and bad. However, it is so important to have “time off”. I love exercise and usually always start my day with a run, boot camp or yoga. I am also a keen mediator and mediate pre / post my morning exercise 3-4 times per week. This really sets me up then for time at the desk – then it’s mainly managing emails, skype call meetings , project planning . Working for yourself is good that you can work flexible hours – so although I usually maintain day working hours I can also meet a friend, or attend a school activity, and manage my work around deadlines.
The Sarojin is one of the most beautiful hotels in Thailand we have visited, what makes a stay here so special?
Kate: We want our guests to feel the same warm hospitality when staying with us as they would if they were visiting a close friend, someone who shares with them the local area and something a little more ‘off the beaten track’. We developed The Sarojin to be reminiscent of these feelings of staying at a friend’s private estate and as such, the concept of Lady Sarojin’s home/ private estate was born.
Though Lady Sarojin is a fictional character she represents and embodies the very essence of Thai hospitality and the concept of her home can be felt and seen throughout our resort. From the deliberate lack of logos and branding on our stationary and around the residence to naming each of our rooms after a member of the team rather than allocating them a number, we really try to represent the feeling of home rather than a hotel. Through this our dining concept was also developed including our all-day a la carte breakfast, as if a guest were staying with a friend at a private estate they could have breakfast at any time and it wouldn’t be from a buffet. For dinner our guests can have a private ‘just for two’ dining experience anywhere in the grounds of the resort as if their friends were setting a table for them in their own garden.
We pride ourselves on delivering a high level of personalised and discreet service and to ensure Lady Sarojin’s standards are always met, Andrew and I meet all of our new staff members during their orientation to really emphasise from the start that they must embody Lady Sarojin first and their position second. To reward this we also hold our Lady Sarojin Awards every year, where key staff are honoured for delivering ‘the spirit of exceptional service and attention’ that Lady Sarojin would deliver.
The accommodation at the hotel is stunning and there is a real sense of space throughout the resort. Please tell us a bit about the style of the property, and where that inspiration came from?
Andrew: When we started to develop our ideas for The Sarojin in 1998-2002, a boutique hotel of this style was still a relatively new concept but we could see there was a growing demand for it. A sense of space and connection to nature was a key element of our contemporary Asian design concept as we felt it was very important for relaxation and rejuvenation. From naming our Ficus restaurant after the ancient tree it sits under to giving each of our rooms its own ‘inside out’ bathrooms which feel as if they are in a garden, we really try to celebrate the beautiful area around The Sarojin and fuse each of our buildings with their natural surroundings. Another example is the walk to our Pathways spa, which is surrounded by lush greenery and wildlife as if our guests are stepping through the jungle and our treatments there utilise the wonderful healing properties of nature.
The local community and the natural environment are two matters that you and the team at The Sarojin are very passionate about. Tell us more about this and the Sarojin Cares initiative.
Kate: We’re hugely passionate about helping our local community around The Sarojin and sharing the beautiful area of Khao Lak with our guests. Many who stay with us have travelled a long way, maybe half way round the world, so we are in a really unique position to be an interface between guests and the local community.
Tourism has an ability to connect these two worlds and if done respectfully, wonderful things can happen. This is very much the spirit and philosophy of The Sarojin and its community engagement.
Many of our guests cherish the opportunity to explore the surrounding area outside of the resort, to touch and feel the destination and meet and understand a little about the local communities. We try to make this possible in a number of ways, from partnerships with local organisations and providing financial support to local worthy causes via The Sarojin Khao Lak Community Fund to offering immersive experiences that contribute to a sustainable local economy and offering valuable work placements to children of the local orphanage.
Andrew: We have also formed a sustainable tourism and ecological sensitivity / awareness committee within the resort and since 2011 our team has been running monthly ‘Sarojin Cares’ days where they volunteer in the local community. Since October 2019 we’ve been inviting our guests to join these too as we’ve seen that travellers are increasingly wanting to help combat the climate crisis and participate in sustainability initiatives.
Activities have included cleaning up nearby town areas, coastlines and waterfalls, restoring and painting local bridges and regularly joining our local Camillian Centre – a day care facility for disabled children – for a day of arts and crafts.
Kate: Additionally one of the other regular activities our team contributes to is the Mangrove Forest Planting Project in Baan Nam Kem, which was set up by local fishermen following the 2004 tsunami. Here, our guests can also get involved and help plant new trees and restore the vital mangrove ecosystem which was damaged by the disaster.
Andrew: Sustainability is also a key focus for us at The Sarojin and part of our efforts to support the local community. To reduce our plastic waste, alongside making smaller changes such as replacing plastic straws with sustainable lemon grass alternatives we made a big commitment last year to take this further by investing $50,000 in a brand-new on-site water bottling plant – which has been in operation since Oct 2019. With this, we estimate that we can reduce our plastic waste by up to 120,000 bottles per year.
Guests can also help keep our stunning 11km stretch of coastline in Khao Lak clean by joining our Beach Maintenance Project to remove any washed up plastic or litter from our shores. Guests can pick-up one of our recyclable bags at the hotel’s beach hut, which are decorated with painted illustrations from the children at the Camillian Centre, and bring back any plastic or waste items they see on the beach for us to recycle. Guests can also join the children to paint the bags if they wish, creating valuable interactions for those at the centre.
As part of The Sarojin service tailor-made experiences can be designed for guests, including some fantastic dining options, tell us more about what guests can expect from some of these experiences.
Kate: When it comes to The Sarojin’s tailor-made experiences we again take inspiration from the concept of Lady Sarojin and aim to offer our guests something reminiscent of staying at a friend’s private estate. Here the friend would be the private guide and know all of the best local places to visit, including the most stunning locations for dinner, and more importantly they would know when is the best time to go – so that’s what we try to replicate with our tailor-made and ‘just for two’ experiences.
From truly memorable private dining locations such as dinner by a candlelit jungle waterfall or on a secluded private sand isle, to a rejuvenating spa massage lulled by the sounds of the Andaman Sea to Thai cooking classes and gourmet safari style lunches on a spectacular river bank we offer locations that not only showcase the very best of Khao Lak, but also offer our guests something truly special. We also offer private charters on our luxury yacht Lady Sarojin or personal jungle adventures complete with champagne – really the only limit is our guests’ imaginations!
Luxury means different things to different people – what does it mean to you?
Kate: Totally agree luxury is very personal indeed – it is really a celebration that we are all unique, individual and different. A special favourite for me will always be relationships and very special times shared with family and close friends. Memories of moments and feelings that last a lifetime – real “top me up” memories to cherish.
The travel sector, especially the luxury market has evolved considerably over the last few years. What are the most notable changes for you and what do you predict for the next few years?
Kate: Service – genuine, heartfelt, service – personalised; and the server being totally cognisant of “your needs ” for that moment in time – that is luxury.
How is the hotel dealing with the current CoVid-19 climate – and what are your ‘re-open’ plans?
Kate: Like many in our industry The Sarojin is going through an enormous change to our daily lives right now but we remain focussed on ensuring the safety of our staff and, when they are able to return, our guests. We’re regularly checking in with our team to ensure their health, have implemented social distancing rules within the resort and have given our team additional health and safety training in response to the crisis.
Andrew: We’ve also retained our staff and they are taking it in turns to work from home, help their families and communities and maintain a small caretaking team at the resort. We’ve set up a dedicated WhatsApp group chat for all of our team to liaise and share their experiences, thoughts and even some fun games as well as creating our new #SarojinUnited hashtag which can be spotted on our social media posts and new staff uniforms. This time is really about maintaining connections and getting through this together as The Sarojin family, which is what the hashtag embodies and represents.
Finally, what is your life motto if you have one.
Both: Be true to yourself and respect others.