The idyllic Thai island of Koh Samui is a little more sophisticated than her larger, brasher sister Phuket. Quentin Long went in search of the ultimate Thai island escape.
When it comes to a ‘relax, recharge and unwind’ getaway, Banyan Tree has pretty much set the standard for most of Asia for a long time, so booking a Banyan Tree getaway is always going to be relatively risk free.
But Banyan Tree Samui was a stand out from the moment it opened in 2011. Condé Nast Traveller summed it up; they awarded it Best New Beach Hotel – in the world.
The 78 villas of Banyan Tree Samui sit on the steep hillsides of the quiet and private Lamai Bay Beach, on Koh Samui Island. Being perched on such steep cliffs allows for stunning views from two of the three restaurants, and from many of the villas. Pay that little extra for a vista, and you’
ll wake to an idyllic landscape: swaying palms, bright water, stretches of sand.
But the show stealer is not the view, nor the beach or even the restaurants, but the villas themselves. In fact, it’s a little hard to concentrate as you’re shown around by your ‘villa host’.
Partly because there’s a magnificent pavilion to take in, and partly because you are coming to terms with having a dedicated concierge/butler for your stay.
The grand pool – and smart villa design
My grand pool villa was typical of all the villas, a massive three-room structure beautifully furnished with quality fittings, fixtures and furniture.
The ceiling is at least four metres high. The plunge pool would comfortably fit a bloat of hippos (yes, that’s the very apt collective noun for hippos). The bedroom is larger than the one at home, and the tub – well, that would fit the next bloat that cared to amble on in here.
The interior colour palette is a lot of chocolate, orange and black, which makes it cosy and cocoon like when the sun sets.
Externally, the villas were designed to resemble the coconut that is synonymous with Samui; it was an island of coconut plantations until tourism found it in the 1970s. The coconut palms are dotted all over the property and provide some added privacy.
But it’s the smart villa design and service that makes this such a worthwhile and indulgent stay. The pool, for example, can be accessed from three directions; the bedroom, the sun lounge, and the shower/bathroom area.
So you can quite literally slide into the pool from bed, then sashay (glamorously) to the shower or the sunken outdoor-lounge-cum-day-bed. Just don’t do it in your birthday suit, because the villas are rather close together. No skinny dipping here…
The evening turndown service arrives with a small glass cookie jar, with a scrumptious little chocolate tart inside.
Return to your room at night and you’ll find your essential oil burner lit the ‘daily scent’ and your room tidied. I didn’t know how much I wanted a little chocolate surprise and my room filled with eucalyptus (Friday’s scent) until it happened.
If the essence of immaculate service is delivering things before you realise you want them, then Banyan Tree is unrivalled.
The best views are from two of the restaurants, The Edge and Saffron. The Edge serves a massive breakfast buffet spread with the essential egg station from the southern cliff face, while Saffron serves dinner on the northern cliff face.
In between is the beach, bay, spa, gym and most of the resort.
At Saffron, the beauty of modern Thai food in that setting would soften the least romantic heart to mush. Curried chicken is accompanied by four different types of rice – turmeric-infused, coconut with garlic, lemongrass, and my unexpected favourite; saffron brown.
The signature dessert – a coconut brulee – arrives inside the ‘bowl’ of a young coconut. A romantic dinner on the balcony at Saffron is one of those shared memories couples will cherish forever.
Sands is the third restaurant of the resort. As the name would suggest, Sands is by the beach and offers a relaxed Italian menu with pizza, pastas and steaks. The food doesn’t cut corners; the creamy lobster linguine overflows with actual lobster.
Sands also serves lunch to beachgoers making a beeline for one of the four beach daybeds. These mini recluses are sumptuously set up with billowing curtains, reclining lounges, a mini table and attentive staff, who wait to serve you all manner of cocktails without hesitation. (Consider this your warning).
The nearby beaches
The beach is very glamorous until you go for a swim. Alluring turquoise water hides several sharp rocks, so you’ll need to be fitted out with geeky booties to protect your feet while you paddle. You can’t fake a Daniel Craig-like exit from the water in those things…
If the experience is just too much for you to bear, the spa receptionist will order you some relief from the dazzling range of massages available.
One look at my shoulders up around my ear lobes saw me booked in with a masseuse who moulded my stressed body into some semblance of its former unknotted self. Walking to my villa from the spa was, in the best possible way, like pushing jelly up a hill.
One of the few weaknesses
And here is one of the few weaknesses in the overall experience. Getting around requires either climbing the hills yourself or asking your villa host to pick you up in a buggy.
And so it becomes abundantly clear that if the most I can complain about is being driven in a buggy everywhere by my helpful private butler while wearing geeky booties, then life is pretty darn fine at Banyan Tree Samui.
Banyan Tree Samui
99/9 Moo 4, Samui
+66 77 915 333
We paid $638 (including taxes) per night for a grand pool villa.
The IT Verdict
Quentin Long, who paid his own way and visited anonymously, says:
“Banyan Tree Samui is a bolt hole of fabulous relaxation – perfect for the stressed and exhausted seeking some recharging.”