Don't let the crowds on Thailand's second-largest island fool you: There's peace and relaxation (also five restaurants, a yoga pavilion, and boxing ring) to be found at The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui.
KOH SAMUI, Thailand — Koh Samui brings together travelers of all styles and budgets. On every side of Thailand’s second largest island, backpackers bide their time until the next full moon party, yoga retreaters practice salutations to the rising sun, and luxury travelers sip piña coladas made from local coconuts on private beaches. But sometimes that melting pot of foreign visitors turns into a melee, like the one I encounter at the Fisherman’s Village walking street on a Friday night. For an introvert like me, the strip of pavement sandwiching sunburned tourists between two rows of farang street food is enough to make me want to spend my entire holiday in my hotel. Luckily, when it is as extravagant and all-encompassing as The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui, that is not a problem.
The next morning I set off from the resort in a kayak, just me, Aat (my Ritz-appointed guide) and the sea, heading for a shallow reef. I don’t think I need a double-seater kayak and a guide, but when the ocean currents whip our kayak around the small cove that protects the Ritz’s beach, I am grateful for his steady steering and powerful stroke. Then he asks if I want to see a sea cucumber. “Um, yes please!” As we glide over the coral just inches below our boat, he glances around and expertly spots one in seconds, showing me how it stretches out and dances in the current. Who needs crowded beaches when you have sea cucumbers doing the wave?
I won't lie: The vast majority of my holiday is spent lounging in my villa’s private plunge pool, making up quality time with my Kindle. But when the shade of the villa no longer covers the whole pool, I venture out to explore, and find there is plenty to do without ever leaving the hotel’s grounds. I head to the Muay Thai ring to learn martial arts basics from the island’s current reigning female champion, cook a delicious tom kha gai with the oversized executive chef (known by everyone at the hotel as Big Papi), and snorkel in a swim reef populated with injured tropical fish (and sharks) caught in the local fishermen's nets. I have zero regrets – I’ve never left a holiday feeling more refreshed or relaxed.
Tucked away on the island’s northeast coast, the The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui juts out at the tip of the island. The villas face sunrise over the ocean and the lobby looks out over the bay at sunset – a nightly event the hotel pairs with complimentary cocktails and delicious nibbles, although the colors of the day’s denouement alone are enough to encourage even the most reticent guest out of her private plunge pool.
Tropical luxury with a friendly Thai vibe. The vaulted paneled ceilings above the bed and floor-to-ceiling windows with 270-degree ocean views are Instagram perfection.
This Place Is Perfect For
Couples or families looking for a no-fuss holiday that doesn’t require too much decision-making.
But Not So Perfect For
Solo travelers. Plunge pools get lonely after a few days.
What’s on Site
Everything you could possibly need for a stress-free beachside holiday: a coconut-themed holistic spa, open-air sunrise yoga pavilion that doubles as a wedding chapel, Muay Thai boxing ring with classes, a well-equipped gym, a spoiling choice of pools, a stretch of white sand beach, and on it goes. Oh, and the largest swim reef in Southeast Asia, because why not?
Food + Drink
The resort offers five restaurants that cater to every inclination (and dietary restriction – one of our party is diabetic and they go out of their way to bring her sugar-free snacks wherever we go). International classics (think whole grilled lobsters and juicy steaks) are served at candlelit picnic tables on the beach at Sea Salt; spicy Southern Thai favorites are sourced from the local markets at Pak Thai and Tides, a poolside cevicheria.
For breakfast, the spread at Shook! is international (and included with your stay). Chefs wielding machetes crack into fresh coconuts to order at the juice bar, and there’s a buffet of European cheese and cold cuts, freshly baked pastries, an omelet station, and Asian favorites. Daily specials include interesting Thai twists on morning dishes (a Thai massaman currywurst is a delightful surprise).
Make sure to stay over on a Saturday, as the al fresco patio outside Shook! turns into Baan Talat, an open-air street food market that is heaps more authentic than the Fisherman’s Village downtown.
Number of Rooms
114 suites and 61 villas, all designed to offer sweeping ocean views.
The free WiFi is great, as are the tropical candies left in my room nightly – tamarind lollies and pandan jellies are particular favorites. Asprey Purple Water toiletries come with the light linen bathrobe, as well as a bubble bath for the roomy tub. A well-stocked Keurig machine supplies espressos or Americanos, and a buggy is available at the press of a button to ferry guests anywhere on the resort.
The proprietary bug spray available through the resort is made in-house, a combination of citronella, eucalyptus, and neem essential oils that smells so delicious it doubles as my perfume during my stay. Two bottles even manage to sneak home with me.
What to Do Nearby
The famous Big Buddha Temple is less than ten minutes away by car, but hawkers selling tourist tat surround the religious icon. It’s worth a quick visit, but don’t go at midday, as there’s little cover and the hot sun will melt you before you can enjoy the twelve-meter-tall golden statue. You will likely spot this landmark before you arrive, as the flight path is directly above the temple, and even Boeing 787s fly low over it before landing.
Just a couple minutes’ drive from the Big Buddha is the much more sedate Wat Plai Laem, a complex of several temples featuring an eighteen-armed statue of Guanyin (the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion) sitting on a jade dragon, and a giant Chinese Buddha (the fat, laughing one). The ceremonial halls here are worth spending some time in, both for the shade and for the intricately carved wood panels and ceilings. Make sure you bring a scarf and wear something that covers your legs to show respect.
Good to Know
NaviGo is the local version of Uber on the island, and the app works similarly with a map and your driver’s information on the screen. You’ll only spend a couple of dollars to get to most places nearby when using the app, so it is worth downloading.
Plan Your Trip
How to Get There
The hotel offers private transfers from the island’s airport, or you can take a taxi, which takes about ten minutes.