Travel review: Thailand's romantic Koh Samui island
It's billed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for jet-setters, thrillseekers and, of course, humble sunbathers. Joseph Keith visits Koh Samui.
Surrounded by the clear – and blissfully warm – waters of the Gulf of Thailand and bordered by golden sandy beaches, the quaint island of Koh Samui has earned its reputation as a tropical paradise.
We arrive on its shores after 13 hours in the air, the bulk of which is covered from London to Bangkok, before a short connection to Samui. The hot, dry, and inescapably busy atmosphere that almost serves to suffocate your every breath in Bangkok is instantly banished.
Palm trees, warm breezes and the faint twinkle of the sea in the sunshine make for stunning first impressions and, despite measuring just 88 square miles, the island boasts a beautiful airport, too.
After touching down, passengers are politely shuffled into carts – not British-style runway minibuses. No, this is almost like a miniature open-air railway that ferries you to the terminal.
We’re staying at the luxurious Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort, at the island’s Choeng Mon Beach, just a short journey from the airport. The resort’s driver whisks us towards our destination, after offering complimentary water, warm flannels and a customary Thai lychee-style welcome drink.
As we pull up, the beauty and attention to detail of the resort are readily apparent. There is an authentic feel even inside the reception area, adorned with bamboo and thatch, and there’s a natural enthusiasm and pleasant manner with all the staff – from managers to porters.
Outrigger is a well-established, luxury hotel brand founded in Hawaii in 1947, and it has since gone on to open a portfolio of dozens of resorts. And it did not disappoint in Samui.
We have our first breakfast – Thai-style scrambled eggs cooked to perfection – underneath an almond tree, overlooking the resort’s private mini-beach.
Wooden walkways wind through its pristine maze of villas, complete with their own small plunge pools and locked behind tall gates for privacy.
There’s an emphasis on romance and couples here, and we see several blissfully celebrating their honeymoons or milestones during our five-night stay.
The resort boasts two pools, separated by a swim-up poolside bar, where you can order snacks or cocktails as you soak up the sun.
There is also an extensive dining area, starting inside and spilling out towards the beachfront, for those who prefer to dine in the open air.
All the villas are beautifully presented, and we were taken aback by the quality of furnishing. First and foremost, air conditioning. Thailand top tip: you need this.
We stayed in a handful of other hotels during our two-week trip, and Outrigger’s was second to none. From towels and linen to bathrobes and slippers, the resort ensures you want for nothing in your room. It has paid attention to the smallest details, down to umbrellas outside the door and universal electrical sockets.
We were enrolled into Outrigger’s Blue Fire Cooking School on one of the days, where its own Thai chef passes on his mastery of the culinary arts.
Our session featured a starter and main, which we later ate together for lunch. There are a range of dishes to try, from Thai favourites to delicacies.
We went with sweet and sour chicken satay skewers to start and a chicken panang curry for the main – staples of any Samui menu.
The chef took us through every stage, and gave a brief explanation as he went, from preparing vegetables to frying chicken and adding, as is customary with Thai cuisine, several helpings of coconut milk.
When the dishes were cooked and arranged, staff presented us with our own Outrigger Samui aprons, certificates and detailed recipes for us to repeat at home.
The resort’s restaurant has plenty to offer, from continental classics to ever-present local dishes like Phad Thai, which was the best I’ve had.
There are also specially-themed rotating nights throughout the week.
For those in search of a romantic meal, staff will arrange, at an extra cost, for a table with lanterns on the beach after sunset. We did this and it was lovely.
Outrigger also has its own spa building which offers a romantic, comfortable setting for treatments. Couples can have separate sessions with their masseuse, or side by side.
It’s probably worth noting that throughout Thailand, you will run into the mosquito dilemma.
But having stayed at several resorts on Samui and neighbouring Koh Phangan, it became clear that the mosquito control at Outrigger is among the best, as staff consistently spray walkways to keep pests under control and skin bite-free.
The resort has its own small gym, open 24 hours a day, and also runs complimentary shuttle buses to nearby Chaweng, with its bars and restaurants, or Bophut, which holds night markets.
If you prefer to stay on the resort’s own beach, it offers kayaks for guests to venture around the bay.
4*+ Boutique Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort & Spa – seven nights from £1,099 per person, including return flights from London, accommodation in a Plunge Pool Suite, breakfast and private transfers.*
Based on select departures in May 2019 – deal must be booked by October 31, 2018. Includes an early booking offer – saving over £350 per couple.
Call Trailfinders on 020 7368 1200 to book or visit www.trailfinders.com.
* Prices are per person based on twin share including flights and are subject to availability.