According to local legend, the Mergui Archipelago was once a single landmass that, after a flood of biblical proportions, cracked and crumbled into 800 islands. One of those resulting fragments was Pila, the site of Memories Group’s newest resort, Awei Pila, an airy jungle paradise affixed to the island’s northernmost beach.
“Awei Pila has more than 40 minor and 10 major beaches – many of which can be reached by trekking through virgin rainforest,” says Michel Novatin, chief executive officer. “Some are accessible only by boat. You can feel the sense of exploration; an opportunity to be in areas where you might be the first person to have stepped in ages.”
Awei Pila and the whole of the Mergui Archipelago has this untouched, unexplored atmosphere because it’s fresh to the tourism sector. “The Mergui Archipelago only opened to foreigners in late 1990s, 200 years after its discovery by Thomas Forrester in 1792,” explains Novatin.
As one of the first luxury resorts in the area (another includes PUREist Wa Ale, also opening this autumn), Awei Pila’s aim is to set the bar high. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to lead sustainable development on a scale as massive as this,” says Novatin, hoping for a ripple effect throughout the area, as tourism predictably expands.
“It is inevitable that we will see more resorts opening over the next few years; but as long as all stakeholders, from operators to suppliers, are committed to preserving the habitat and reducing the use of plastics by not introducing them into the islands, this destination will retain its charms and endure as an exemplar of sustainable development.”
“If one is looking at the island from an aerial view, the resort is all but invisible. We want to keep the resort incognito!”
Michel Novatin – CEO of Memories Group
Awei Pila’s dreamy tropical aesthetic takes its stylistic cues from the surrounding ecosystem. “The design seamlessly merges with the natural environment,” says Novatin. “The Moken [local seafaring community] stay on land only during the monsoon seasons. Since they may not return to the same location every monsoon season, their abodes are light and infrastructure transient. Awei Pila’s structure emulates that with a lightweight fabric tented structure that relates to the spirit of the Moken. The colour concept closely replicates the surrounding flora and fauna. If one is looking at the island from an aerial view, the resort is all but invisible. We want to keep the resort incognito!”
A close, but considerate relationship with the local Moken population is another factor in the resort’s sustainable development. “Rather than try to change who they are, we’re establishing programmes to see what traditional skills they have that can be expended and incorporated into our resort,” says Novatin. “We intend to employ and train a minimum of 70 per cent of our staff from the mainland in Kawthaung, and we would like to see this number grow year on year to 90 per cent by 2020.”
“We intend to employ and train a minimum of 70 per cent of our staff from the mainland in Kawthaung, and we would like to see this number grow year on year to 90 per cent by 2020”
Michel Novatin – CEO of Memories Group
This is all undertaken with the utmost sensitivity. For example, the school Awei Pila is building for the local children will be an area that’s off limits to guests. “People are welcome to make donations or offer support, but we have no interest in using the school as a way to instigate any kind of ‘authentic’ encounter with local residents for our guests.”
The same sense of reverence is applied to the resort’s considerate ecological handlings. Novatin calls it “a non-negotiable approach”. After all, the pristine setting is a big part of the island’s allure – and Awei Pila leans into this by offering an extensive menu of outdoor activities, like jungle trekking and water sports. There’s even an in-house marine biologist, Marcelo Guimaraes, who Novatin calls “instrumental” in devolving the best guest experience and best environmental practices.
On land, it’s the same story: “Where we haven’t been able to build within the confines of the natural habitat [in the back-of-house area, for example], we’ve managed a painstaking replanting programme that’s been very successful,” says Novatin. “We’ve installed solar panels on all available rooftops in the back-of-house area to reduce our consumption.”
Waste management is another challenge thankfully tackled by Awei Pila. “We won’t bring any single-use plastics (water bottles, packaging, etc.). We’ll leave all of that on the mainland. Glass will be pulverised into sand, and, when possible, solid waste will be returned to the mainland and recycled at a centre in Ranong. The minimal organic waste we have now is composted… We’re planting a small seed that we hope will have a great impact on the immediate environment and the world.”
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Nicole Trilivas is an American writer based in London covering high-end travel and food and drink. She’s a luxury lifestyle contributor for Forbes.com and a restaurant reviewer for Time Out London. Her work has appeared in NYTimes.com, Condé Nast Brides, Men’s Journal, Fodor’s, Yahoo, HuffPost, Wanderlust, Afar, Suitcase, and Country Life (upcoming). She’s the author of the travel-theme novel, Girls Who Travel (Penguin Random House, 2015).