British born Kate and Andrew Kemp are the owners and Executive Directors of Khao Lak’s luxurious boutique resort The Sarojin, which they built together in 2005. The couple met at Loughborough University in their teens and after backpacking around the world they married in Hong Kong in 1994 and settled in Asia. Parents to two children, they are now based in Singapore. Andrew has over 30 years corporate and managerial experience overseeing private hotel, leisure, and recreational businesses, and Kate has over 30 years experience in international sales, marketing and brand management for major blue chip companies. Kate and Andrew share a keen love of sports and a true passion for the hospitality industry in Thailand. In this interview, they share the story behind The Sarojin and what makes it such a special location to visit.
The idea for The Sarojin came during your university years. Tell us more about this journey and how the idea became a reality.
Kate: We always wanted to travel. After university I worked for 4 years in a pharmaceutical company in sales and marketing and then left the UK with Andrew and backpacked through Africa, India and Nepal before arriving in Hong Kong in 1992. We ended up staying, working, getting married and having our daughter Charlotte there until we moved to Thailand in 2002 to develop The Sarojin.
Andrew: After leaving university we knew we wanted to work for ourselves. Whilst in Hong Kong and discussing with friends they gave us some great advice; “make sure you choose something you love and you’re passionate about as working for yourself is hard work!” So we immediately thought ‘travel’ and that eventually led to The Sarojin.
Why did you choose Thailand and specifically Khao Lak?
Kate: The conversation mentioned above with our friends in Hong Kong took place around 1997/1998 at the same time as the Asian financial crash. During this time, Thailand remained fairly politically stable and was well known for tourism globally with its great beaches, delicious Thai food (with many Thai restaurants already popular overseas) and its reputation of the famous Thai smile, great hospitality and friendly people. These same values of ‘brand Thailand’ remain true today and ‘Amazing Thailand’ is the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s very strong and long lasting slogan to reflect this.
Andrew: We were looking for a beach destination in Thailand and Phuket airport was (and still is) the biggest ‘beach location airport’. But we were looking for 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 led us to Khao Lak versus Phuket as we felt Khao Lak had more to offer inland with its national parks and local towns/villages that offered more of a glimpse of local life and the authentic Thai lifestyle. Khao Lak is also the gateway to the world famous Similan Islands and Surin Islands and just one hour by road from Phuket airport.
And how does living in Thailand compare to the other countries in which you have lived?
Kate: We have lived in the UK, Thailand (Phuket/Khao Lak), Singapore and Hong Kong and for us, Thailand wins every time for its Thai smile, amazing food and spectacular beaches.
Building a luxury hotel resort is no mean feat, tell us about some of the challenges you faced.
Andrew: Securing a bank loan from a Thai Bank was one of the initial challenges we faced and it took us four years and much perseverance to secure this funding. We had no hotel background and Khao Lak was a new destination, relatively unknown to tourists which all made it more difficult. However, our perseverance was successful and now, not only is The Sarojin an award-winning hotel, but tourism now helps provide a sustainable economy to Khao Lak, which is a fantastic destination for those looking to experience authentic Thailand.
The Sarojin is one of the most beautiful hotels in Thailand we have visited. Please tell us a bit about the style of the property, where the inspiration came from and what makes a stay here so special.
Kate: Thank you! When we started to develop the design for The Sarojin in 1998-2002, boutique hotels were a new concept for the type of resort we were looking to offer but we could see there was a growing demand for it. We felt the warmest hospitality is when you stay with a very good friend – who also shares with you the local area and something a little more ‘off the beaten track’. This is what makes a stay truly special for us so we developed The Sarojin to be reminiscent of staying at a friend’s private estate. As such, the concept of Lady Sarojin’s home/private estate was born.
Andrew: Lady Sarojin is fictitious but represents and embodies the very essence of Thai hospitality. The concept can be felt and seen throughout the residence, from the deliberate lack of logos and branding on our stationary and around the resort, 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. 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, so our all-day a la carte breakfast was born. 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.
Kate: 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. We emphasise to them from the start that they must embody Lady Sarojin first and their position second. To reward this, each year we also hold a special evening of celebration with our Lady Sarojin Awards, where key staff are honoured for delivering ‘the spirit of exceptional service and attention’ that Lady Sarojin would deliver.
Andrew: Nature is also very important for relaxation and rejuvenation and is a key element of our contemporary Asian design concept. We really try to celebrate the beautiful area within which The Sarojin sits 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. 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 Sarojin has an excellent record of helping the local community, please tell us more about this.
Kate: This is something we’re hugely passionate about and it all started as we wanted a way to share the beautiful area of Khao Lak with our guests, the national parks and local communities. We were mindful that our guests were on holiday and a holiday is more than a hotel. Many 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. Many guests have travelled a long way to stay at The Sarojin, maybe half way round the world, so we are also in a 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.
Andrew: We implement this in so many 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. We have also formed a sustainable tourism and ecological sensitivity/awareness committee within the resort. The committee aims to maintain the focus and awareness among staff of our key responsible and sustainable initiatives, both on a community and ecological basis, and help us ensure that the hotel remains on the cusp of global trends and awareness initiatives.
Please explain more about the Sarojin Cares initiative and your support for sustainable tourism.
Kate: One of the main reasons we chose Khao Lak as the location for The Sarojin was its stunning natural beauty and we are constantly looking for ways to help preserve this. We run our ‘Sarojin Cares’ initiatives to help our local community, limit our energy and water consumption, reduce waste, decrease our carbon footprint and minimise the impact of our boutique resort on the environment – including The Sarojin Khao Lak Community Fund.
Andrew: Since 2011 our team has been running monthly ‘Sarojin Cares’ days where they volunteer in the local community and since October 2019 we’ve been inviting our guests to join these too. We’ve seen that travellers are increasingly wanting to help combat the climate crisis and participate in sustainability initiatives, so we’re thrilled to be able to offer these experiences to our guests. 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, guests can also help plant new trees and restore the vital mangrove ecosystem which was damaged by the disaster.
Andrew: To reduce our plastic waste, alongside making smaller changes such as replacing plastic straws with sustainable lemon grass alternatives we also made a big commitment in 2019 to take this further by investing $50,000 in a brand-new on-site water bottling plant – which has been in operation since October 2019. With this, we estimate that we can reduce our plastic waste by up to 120,000 bottles per year. We also invite our guests to help keep our stunning 11km (7 miles) 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.
Find out more about our sustainability initiatives here:
Sustainability and helping the local economy will become even more of a priority in the future. How do you think guests at the hotel can play their part?
Kate: One of the wonders of tourism and travel is the coming together of two different worlds. When this is done respectfully, fantastic things can happen. The Sarojin and our personal guides help guests and our local communities to meet. The impetus is always to bring together these two worlds in a highly meaningful way; providing an unforgettable holiday experience for guests while actively giving back to the local community.
Andrew: The Sarojin’s initiatives offer guests a unique insight into the local community and Thai culture. The Sarojin supports a number of community projects and actively shares these with interested guests during their stay. Many guests are naturally inquisitive and interested to learn and understand more about the local life and surrounding national parks. This thirst for an appreciation of where they are when travelling is present amongst the luxury sector and many also contribute financially to the community.
Tell us more about the tailor-made private experiences you design for guests.
Kate: The private experiences all developed from the concept of being reminiscent of staying at a friend’s private estate, where the friend is the private guide. Any excursion would not be on mass, it would be ‘just for two’ and the friend would know the local community, people and the most beautiful places to go – and when! They would be able to set a private table for dinner, or whisk guests away for an adventure in their private car or boat, so these are the types of things we really try to replicate at The Sarojin.
Andrew: Our private dining experiences are truly memorable for our guests, we want them to be extraordinary, magical and romantic. Whether it’s dinner by a candlelit jungle waterfall or on a secluded white sand beach or private sand island we offer locations that not only showcase the very best of Khao Lak, but also offer our guests something truly special.
Kate: Outside of our private dining experiences we also have a wide range of excursions and experiences that prove really popular with our guests. From 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 or jungle setting. 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!
If you could sum up the hotel in three words, what would they be?
Kate & Andrew: heartfelt, boutique, luxury.
What is your ultimate top tip for a first-time visitor to Thailand?
Andrew: Slow down and take some time to sit, watch and observe everything around you. Engage and talk with the local people and try to learn a few Thai phrases – at least hello, goodbye and thank you, as this effort goes a long way with the locals.
Kate: Be a little adventurous and go beyond the walls of the hotel. Thailand is stunning and should be explored!
How is the hotel dealing with the Covid-19 situation and what are your ‘reopen’ 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.
A big thank you to Kate and Andrew for sharing their story. Khao Lak is a wonderful destination to visit and The Sarojin is an amazing place to stay. The hotel supports responsible tourism and continues to do great work with the local community. If you have any photos or happy memories of The Sarojin or Khao Lak, feel free to share them with us on Facebook and Instagram.
You may also enjoy:
Fan Club Thailand
Tourism Thailand (UK & Ireland)
We are here to help you experience the best of amazing Thailand. Bookmark our online magazine for ideas and tips for what to see and do in Thailand, and follow us on social media for even more travel inspiration.