Thailand is famous for its golden sands, turquoise waters and tropical climate, and its second-largest island Koh Samui, which is a 75-minute flight from Bangkok, is one of Asia’s most idyllic spots for exotic beach getaways.
Banyan Tree Samui raises the bar very high with its private beach and 88 villas (infinity pools included) on stilts of varying heights — some perched high on the palm-dotted hillside and others snuggled deep in lush greenery.
Knowing it also had an acclaimed spa and the finest of fine dining, there was every reason for us to hop into the resort’s Mercedes S Series at Samui airport for the 30-minute drive to this tropical hideaway with the promise of a stellar stay.
On arrival, the views from the Lobby Lounge over the private bay and the Gulf of Thailand confirmed our expectations of an exotic paradise, and we were given lotus blossoms to float on the pond, which general manager Remko Kroesen ([email protected]) told us is an old Siamese custom. The next day, we would have another fabulous floating experience — but more about that later.
There are nine different villa categories, and they are all ultra-spacious with Thai décor and similar layout and facilities, although they come in different sizes and have different wall and bedhead features. They also have large living rooms, with couches that can double as an extra bed, and bathrooms with soaking tubs and large rain showers.
The real stars of the show are the sundeck and the infinity pool. The deck has two sunken sunbeds, a giant pouf and a table with two comfortable armchairs, and our pool had a perfect mixture of sun and shade thanks to the tall trees around the villa.
We had a C group Garden View Pool Villa at the bottom of the hillside, so without ocean views but just a short walk from the beach, the spa and the main infinity pool. These are some of the most secluded accommodations as they are immersed in rainforest trees, palms and shrubs.
Many of the villas on the higher terraces mean a steep climb but the Villa Hosts, who are just a call away on the complimentary in-room smartphones, arrange pickups with electric golf buggies that zip guests around the extensive grounds.
Tip: The Presidential Pool Villa is not just for VIPs; it is also a great family choice as it has two master bedroom villas and a separate pavilion with a living area. It even has two private pools. Other good options for families are the Family Villas that can sleep four: Two in the twin room in the separate pavilion that has a second bathroom.
Booking Tip: Make sure to state your preferences for ocean, partial ocean or garden views, and also for villas with or without steps. For example, Horizon Hillcrest Pool Villas I07 and I08 have great ocean views, but they do have 50 steps up to the door, and the H02 Family Deluxe Garden View is even higher, with 72 steps and views over the treetops. This has a heated jet pool on the deck as do the Spa Sanctuary Pool, Family Ocean Pool, Presidential Pool and Royal Banyan Ocean Pool Villas. The two Spa Sanctuary Pool Villas also have outdoor wellness areas with two treatment beds.
Good to know: For the best sunset views ask for the A group of Hillcrest Pool Villas that overlook Lamai Bay on the other side of the promontory. From the B1, B2 and B3 villas it’s easy to step onto the golden crescent beach and B20, just behind them, is suitable for guests with mobility issues.
Assistant director of marketing and communications Ryan Nerone ([email protected]; 011-667-791-5333 Ext. 7116) says bookings for July and August, and from a week before Christmas to mid-January need to be secured at least two months ahead by contacting the reservations team ([email protected]). Koh Samui’s sunniest months are January to April and there are sunny days — expect showers in the afternoons and evenings — until September, with the monsoon season kicking in from November to mid-December.
Back to that other floating experience that really blew us away. When the Villa Host rang with our wakeup call, she said that breakfast was served in the pool — not at the pool, but in the pool — where we found a circular rattan tray with our breakfast floating on the water. The tray’s raised edge meant there was no danger of anything slipping off, and we happily dug in. Top Tip: Recommend this Floating Breakfast to your A-listers and make sure they book a barbecue dinner, to be cooked by a chef or DIY beside their pool.
For those looking for something more active, there is snorkeling around the rocky boulders that frame the beach and canoeing and sailing equipment is complimentary. Chief concierge Adirek Baikrut ([email protected]; 011-667-791-5333 Ext. 7211) told us that golf is available at Santiburi Golf Club, 40 minutes one-way by car, and that he can arrange day trips such as eco-jungle jeep safaris and private speedboat marine excursions.
The concierge team can also advise on off-property dining to some of the best eateries on the island like Namu for fine Japanese cuisine and Prego for lovers of Italian food. They can also arrange transport to the Central Festival Samui, in the area of popular Chaweng Beach, which we were told is the best for one-stop lifestyle shopping.
Executive chef Rainer Roersch ([email protected]) hosted us to a Chef’s Table dinner at The Edge. As his team prepped, we sipped prosecco from the Monsoon Vineyard in Hua Hin, a resort town south of Bangkok. The crisp sparkling white was proof that Asia’s “new latitude wines” are just as exciting as those from the great winemaking regions. The prosecco also paired flawlessly with Rainer’s spicy beef salad and wonderful crispy noodle-wrapped prawns with zesty Khao Soi sauce.
The Edge, which is the all-day dining restaurant, does international and Asian mega breakfast buffets, as well as a healthy Spa Breakfast and a Champagne Breakfast. There is even an ice cream corner with a choice of flavors to scoop out of tubs.
Saffron, the award-winning hilltop restaurant, is open for dinner and has seating indoors and on the lantern-lit terrace overlooking the ocean. This is one of the top dining spots on the island and the menu, which is strong on flavorsome curries and fresh seafood, is authentic contemporary Thai.
Top Tip: Visitors should not leave Thailand without trying its delicious street food, and every evening street markets pop up around the island with live-cooking stalls, souvenirs and clothes.
Families will enjoy the grills, pasta and pizzas in Sands, where there is also a kids’ menu. For children aged four to 12, the Kids’ Club has a variety of activities, including Thai dancing, and children also have their own pool. For romantic nights, ask the Villa Hosts to arrange candlelit dinners on the beach and, for couples traveling with junior jetsetters, they can also organize babysitting services.
Spa director Naphasawan Badklang ([email protected]; 011-667-791-5333 Ext. 7500) suggests that advisors make contact to secure bookings for treatments. She says the most requested therapist is Suppattra Srichan but knowing the top-notch training therapists get at the famous Phuket Banyan Tree Academy, it would be hard to go wrong.
The Rainforest, which is the first of its kind in Thailand and is best booked ahead of arrival, is a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy circuit. It takes about an hour and consists of alternating hot and cold areas, including a rain walkway, rasul mud treatment, ice fountain and vitality pool.
Cathay Pacific operates non-stop A350 and B777-300ER flights from seven U.S. cities to its Hong Kong hub, with connections to many Asian cities, including Bangkok.
Passengers traveling on to Koh Samui from Bangkok can take Cathay’s codeshare partner, Asia’s boutique airline Bangkok Airways.
Cathay Pacific has six Business Class and two First Class lounges in Hong Kong, and the à la carte and noodle restaurants, hot and deli choices, tea and coffee menus, champagne bar and five exclusive Cabana Shower Suites turn the time between flights into a gilt-edged experience.
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