Koh Samui’s Chaweng Beach is the island’s most lively and populous, lined with beachfront resorts, bars, restaurants, water activities, and endless eye candy (hello, hot tourists from all over the world!). The adjacent town is downright jumping, with rainbow flags indicating a spattering of gay clubs and hangouts, and endless spots to eat, drink, and party. It’s very much akin to Phuket’s infamous Patong, a smaller sibling if you will: in fact, Koh Samui is second in size to Phuket.
Today, however, riding in a car from the airport, my driver avoids Chaweng altogether, navigating to the island’s comparatively isolated northwest tip where the Four Seasons Koh Samui (219 Moo 5, Angthong, Koh Samui, Thailand. Tel: +66-77-243-000. www.fourseasons.com) occupies a lush, cliffside stretch that overlooks the Gulf of Thailand. En route, weaving along the narrow network of roads, we pass by tourists and locals riding scooters, and what seems to be an endless number of 7-Eleven and Family Mart convenience stores; there are reportedly over 500 on Koh Samui, which is convenient indeed. We get delayed by sporadic traffic jams, some due to the refuse being cleared from narrow roads after a rainfall flooded and paralyzed the island a couple of weeks earlier.
An hour in, turning right on to a steep path, we make our way up to the resort’s tuckedaway entrance. Exiting the vehicle, I walk through the doors to discover a stunning mix of lush landscaping and dense coconut palms, an open-air, polished-wood lobby, and dramatic views of the water and surrounding islands. Having celebrated its tenth anniversary in February 2017, the 71-villa Four Seasons Koh Samui (11 are private residence rentals) is as breathtaking, verdant, cinematic, and luxurious as the brand’s two other Thailand properties in Chiang Mai and Tented Camp Golden Triangle.
A third, a sparkling new Bangkok hotel and residence development situated on the Chao Phraya river, is slated to open in 2018 and will no doubt raise the bar for the bustling city’s growing number of waterfront properties and developments.
The work of Bangkok-based architecture and landscaping firm Bensley, headed up by gay American expat Bill Bensley and his Thai partner in life and design, Jirachai Rengthong, Four Seasons Koh Samui (check out Bensley’s gorgeous video for the property at youtu.be/6I9H1I6zYZo) has seen an extensive slate of upgrades, renovations, exclusive experiences, amenities, and features over the past couple of years, some to ring in the tenth anniversary.
One of those is an open-air lounge area for those who arrive early or depart after check-out time. Unveiled for guests in December 2016, its comforts include outdoor deck armchairs, an Illy espresso machine, a shower, and of course that sweeping Gulf and surrounding islands view.
I won’t need to take advantage of the lounge today, though. Following a dragonfruitlychee welcome drink, I check into my deluxe one-bedroom pool villa. Facing the Gulf, a private 269-square-foot infinity pool is the crown on my home for the next couple of nights, with plenty of comfortable spots to lounge on its wooden deck, including a daybed, several chairs, and tables.
Inside the air-conditioned, 1,000-plussquare-foot space, a small tray of snacks, and a pre-made cocktail awaits me on a writing desk. The cocktail, stored in a gleaming, compact metal shaker, serves as a sample to whet the appetite for CoCoRum, the property’s “casual luxury rendition of the timeless Caribbean rum bar.”
My king-size bed is flanked on either side by twin, knotted stalks of silk mosquito netting, which staff can undo and deploy if necessary, while the room’s amenity kit includes two different types of mosquito repellant: an organic body spray, and a room mist to keep them from coming inside when the room is empty (I sprayed it liberally around the doorway when exiting).
In the bathroom, I find a giant, egg-shaped tub positioned in the window for gulf views, and a separate shower. Happily, the tech was up to snuff, with dependable Wi-Fi, iPod dock, and LCD TV (not that I watched anything).
Rather than jump into my private pool right away, I instead picked up the telephone to summon a cart, as I had a spa appointment coming up fast. Guests are transported from place to place around the property via small carts due to the intensely steep, snaking terrain.
Within a minute, the driver arrived, and whisked me off to The Secret Garden Spa. Hailing from France, with about ten years of Four Seasons experience under her belt at the Bali, Maui, Doha and Georges V Paris properties, Stephanie Arveux joined Koh Samui as spa manager in 2013. Feeling that many visitors are seeking escape from hustle and bustle, and because this is such a green and abundant paradise, she decided that Thailand’s lush nature and beauty should serve as the Koh Samui spa’s concept.
December 1, 2016 saw the launch of her new spa menu, featuring treatments that utilize indigenous scents and organic ingredients. Coconut is one such plentiful resource, and the Four Seasons commissions a scrumptiously sweet, pure coconut oil from a local woman who burns it during her production process, so it boasts a toasty, delectable scent.
Speaking of coconuts, sculpted monkeys can be spotted all over the property: some obvious, others playfully hidden among foliage or even disguised as objects like vases. These are Bensley’s playful homage to local primates that are trained to pluck coconuts from the trees, which is a common practice around Thailand (the island Koh Yao Yai features a simian training school).
A signature spa treatment, Kala Coconut is a massage that not only spotlights this delicious smelling oil, but also uses a polished coconut shell for a unique sensation. The Coconut Hydrating Facial and Warm Coconut Scalp Massage are also ideal for coconut lovers.
Other aromatic herbs, fruits, and plants like lemongrass, tamarind, ginger, and chili are grown in a garden around the spa, and are also put to use in treatments as well as in takeaway products like the Perfect Contour Hot Chili Body Gel.
It was tough picking a treatment. The Samui Fusion, a Thai massage incorporating ginger paste and herbal oils, was a top choice, but I eventually opted for Kala Coconut, administered in a standalone villa. It was superb, and I smelled like an Almond Joy afterward. I’ll add that the dark, slightly sweet ginger tea served in the spa was absolutely wonderful, too.
After a short rest, I was riding a cart to the resort’s private beachfront for dinner and drinks at CoCoRum, which opened in December 2015. A tiki-inspired, open-air venue, the long bar’s roof is made from an inverted Thai longboat, while branchlike chandeliers provide artful spots of light. Although rum is perhaps most often associated with the Caribbean islands, Koh Samui is actually home to a local rum distillery, Magic Alambic (run by French expats).
Magic Alambic and Thailand’s largest collection of international rums fills out the CoCoRum menu. Singapore’s outstanding Proof & Company, behind the city-state’s best speakeasies and craft bars, helped set up their impressive collection and drinks program.
CoCoRum’s cocktail list represents a mix of “Rum Soaked Classics” heavy on fresh ingredients, housemade, and aged components. Corn n’ Oil entails Blackstrap rum, housemade falernum, and bitters, while the zombie comprises rum blend, passion fruit, lime, hibiscus grenadine, orgeat. A handful of “In The Tiki Spirit” libations include a Thai G&T with Bangkok’s own artisanal Iron Balls Gin, lemongrass, lime, star anise, and tonic. The menu also indicates each cocktail’s year and place of origin.
The CoCoRum food menu is delicious, and heavy on Peruvian and South American fare: ceviche and tiradito, Wagyu beef atichucho, and an octopus beetroot causa. A dessert of condensed rice pudding with rum-infused raisins, slivered dry mango, and caramelized macadamia nuts brought the meal to a sweet ending indeed.
Foodies and rum fans can take things further with The CoCoRum Experience, an exclusive five-hour itinerary introducing guests to all things rum, from a local distillery visit (driven by a Mercedes-Benz limo) to a mixology class and tasting of rare rums, with a takeaway bottle of CoCoRum’s signature Aged Rum Negroni. A one-day advance reservation is recommended, and there is a two person minimum at about $360 per person. Family-friendly cooking lessons can also be arranged.
Another new addition to Four Seasons Koh Samui’s line-up of experiences for guests is an excursion to Angthong National Marine Park via the property’s luxury boat, Minor Affair. This includes snorkeling among the coral reefs, swimming, an on-board lunch, dinner on a hidden beach, stargazing, and more.
Of course, one can simply stay on property and enjoy a swim in the beachfront pool, which was expanded to 50 meters in 2015. Just nearby is the Kids Club, a December 2016 debut hosting an impressive daily schedule of activities from 9 A.M. to early evening. These change daily, range from exercise to arts to eating, and I must admit seem quite fun even for adults! We’re talking kids’ yoga, crab hunts, making donuts, taking photos in Thai costumes, making photo frames, and s’mores. Teenagers, meanwhile, can while away the time and bond playing pool and other games at the close by Beach House.
Adults and families, however, may lean more toward a muay Thai lesson at the Bensley-designed cliffside ring, which was completed in 2015. A free lesson is offered every Thursday at 8 A.M., and the ring can be used almost anytime, although beyond Thursday’s lesson there is a $72 per hour fee for the instructor. If you’re really into the sport, arrangements can be made to see a match from VIP seats at Chaweng’s Boxing Stadium.
Fridays see a free 8 A.M. yoga lesson at the Yoga Sala, and a meditation class at the same time on Wednesdays. These are limited to eight participants, so be sure to sign up or show up early.
December 2016 saw an expanded, glass enclosed fitness center, which is open 24/7 and boasts a comprehensive selection of free weights and equipment, including Life Fitness. Again, there are fantastic views to be savored while sweating.
Two turf tennis courts are available both day and night, and a 2,500-step hiking trail can be walked/climbed (they call it The Koh Samui K2). Aspiring horticulturists and landscapers, meanwhile, can take a tour with the head gardener on Thursdays at 4 P .M. to marvel at the property’s rich assortment of foliage, orchids, and trees.
On my second evening, I had dinner at KOH Thai Kitchen & Bar, perched dramatically on a hilltop with dense coconut palms on all sides and almost panoramic water views: this is the place to catch the sunset for sure. There is a third restaurant on property, the Mediterranean the med Pla Pla, located next to CoCoRum, plus unique dining experiences: a 30-seat pop-up Beach House dinner on Tuesdays and Saturdays, a Monday night beach barbecue, and poolside paella on Friday nights.
Weddings, honeymoons, or romantic couples can select from ten private dining experiences, most notably Once in a Blue Moon Dinner ($362 per couple), a chef’s menu experience served in a hidden-away beachside cove overlooking the water, accompanied by Champagne and traditional Khim music. Incidentally, the property is extremely welcoming to LGBT couples, and has hosted same-sex wedding ceremonies.
At KOH, dinner is served buffet style, and features an ever-changing lineup of Thai dishes plus a self-cooked barbecue. Upon hearing that I am obsessed with sataw, Southern Thailand’s beloved/loathed stinky beans (as pungent as garlic and imparting an asparagus-like effect on your urine after the fact), Thai chef Jeab made me a dish with them, and another Southern specialty or two.
KOH is also where Four Seasons’ excellent breakfast is served, which includes some tasty gluten-free pastry. Michiganborn pastry chef Dustin Baxter had worked at The Peninsula Chicago and Ritz-Carlton Dubai Jumeirah before Koh Samui.
While I did get in an afternoon at Chaweng Beach and the town, poking around the mini gay strip, where the bars and shops include Pride Bar, Thaiboy Men Bar & Spa, and Starz Cabaret, and checking out the upscale beachfront bar/restaurant The Library, I was more than happy getting back to the Four Seasons for a last night of its excellent food, views, and relaxation.