As Thailand’s second-largest island, Koh Samui has seen an enormous transformation over the past two decades. Some may argue the changes have not been for the best, but the island has undeniably won its place among the world’s top holiday destinations, largely thanks to its beautiful beaches. Many of the world’s top names in beach resorts have opened their doors to the more elite beach lovers on this 228.7 sq km island in the Chumphon Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand.
The latest is The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui, on a sprawling 58-acre piece of land with undulating hills just a short drive from the island’s airport. The coconut plantation turned luxury resort overlooks Tongsai Bay and, to a certain extent, Thongson Bay in the northeast of the island.
While it is flanked by distinguished neighbours, such as Six Senses Samui, the area of Bophut where The Ritz-Carlton is located is a quiet fishing village that has evolved into a small tourist community with offerings typical of any Thai island.
But as we discover during a visit to attend the official launch of the resort by YTL Hotels, which owns The Ritz-Carlton brand here, the resort’s ample offerings may make it difficult to find the motivation to venture very far.
The resort is built like an urban-style village with various complexes and nature is embraced along with a laid-back vibe and the unique Thai experience. At one point during our stay, a hand-painted gift — a sunset scene inscribed with the words, “The Samui Way of Life” — was placed in our rooms. At The Ritz Samui, that mantra is taken to new heights.
The elevated arrival lobby sets the tone for our experience to come. Conceptualised with simplicity in mind, the light and neutral aesthetic is designed to not overshadow the most important thing in any island destination — its natural beauty.
If the balmy air does not immediately remind you of your surroundings (there is no air conditioning in the lobby), the panoramic view of the surrounding bay just beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows would. A water feature running the length of the space adds a touch of Zen for effect.
How does one get around in such a huge resort? By golf buggy. It might not be the resort’s most attractive aspect, but one can always opt to walk around the resort, in which its 175 suites and pool villas are the highlight.
We arrived to a gloomy afternoon that turned into a tropical rainstorm, though it turned out to be the best excuse to remain in our spacious and well-thought-out suites — built apartment-style on stilts. The balcony and its daybed provided a great reading nook, with the sense of solitude enhanced by the sound of the rain and later the music of the cicadas. It was hard to stay focused on my book with the stunning view of the coconut trees swaying in the wind and the distant sea line.
After a while, though, the humidity got to be too much and the living space inside beckoned, though the full glass doors did not impede the view. The rectangular shape of the suite, which connects the living, bedroom and bathroom without interruption, is particularly ingenious — allowing you to indulge in a bath while gazing out at the trees — with sliding panels between each room offering complete darkness and privacy when needed.
The rain cleared in time for the launch party, which was held in a spacious outdoor square that also hosts a weekly Baan Talat, a fun night market that brings the Thai street food experience to the guests, complete with individual food stalls serving oyster omelette, grilled meat skewers, Pad Thai and other rice and noodle dishes, as well as the best of Thai desserts, all made à la minute. In addition, traditional dancing and local crafts are showcased.
Within this complex is Shook!, an all-day dining restaurant where a sizeable buffet breakfast is served every morning, and an adjoining circular bar lounge, One Rai, which offers pre-dinner drinks and appetisers. But you would more likely be at Tides, by the pool, with a perfect view of the beach for that unhindered sunset view while sampling one of its citrus-cured ceviche specialities.
Other dining options are Sea Salt — a great spot for a Western or Asian lunch with sand beneath your feet and the sound of waves as accompaniment — as well as our favourite, Pak Tai, for traditional southern Thai cuisine, which features multiple alcoves for dining in groups and on the level below, tables that overlook the pool and beach.
Rather intriguing, but adding to the atmosphere, is the reef pool in the middle of Pak Tai. A unique offering by The Ritz Samui, the swim reef is a small reef pond with filtered water pumped directly from the sea. In charge for now is Sophie, the Australian conservationist who conceptualised the reef pool’s ecosystem and takes guests on guided tours of the 50 different species of fish within it. A fee is charged, but the plan is for the money to be donated to local conservation organisations.
Another fun activity is the Muay Thai lesson in an actual boxing ring, conducted by a former Thai champion. Beginners need not worry, learning the basics is fun and relatively painless within the 45-minute time frame. If that is not enough of a workout, just head to the gym next to the ring, or straight down to a partially hidden beach corner to get on a paddle board or kayak. The calm waters of the small bay make it ideal for those without experience.
To partake in the ultimate indulgence, visit the 3,800 sq m Spa Village at the heart of the resort, which has its own lap pool. Built with eight separate treatment suites, three massage pavilions, a health bar and a yoga pavilion, the Spa Village’s contemporary design embraces the natural environment.
If you are keen to maximise your visit, take a quick buggy ride up to the highest point of the resort, where the Sala Thai pavilion sits. It may be best suited to a romantic occasion, but a glimpse of the Gulf of Thailand from the top is a satisfying way to complete The Ritz Samui experience.
This article first appeared on Aug 20, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia. See here for reservation details.