Koh Samui: Thailand’s Next Great Tourism Star
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle). All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you.
We’ve reached the mid-way point of this 7th annual 30-day trip around the world! I’m still joined in this year’s journey by my good friend Susan who met up with me in Paris a week ago.
After a fabulous stay in the Maldives, we spent a whirlwind 24 hours in Sri Lanka before making our way to Thailand.
Our overnight flight from Sri Lanka arrived in Bangkok and after a quick change of planes, Susan and I landed on the lovely Thai isle of Koh Samui teetering on the edge of exhaustion.
Arrival on Koh Samui
We step off the airplane to a colorful trolley car (not a bus, for once) and are shuttled right to the arrivals hall of the charming and seemingly brand-new Koh Samui airport.
Rumor has it Koh Samui is on track to be the next big destination for Thai tourism. And the island’s beautiful airport is one big pristinely landscaped, engraved invitation to visitors.
With the recent opening of several properties by international hotel chains (like the two resorts we will be calling home during our stay) it seems Koh Samui is well-positioned to compete with perennial Andaman tourist powerhouse, Phuket.
Once upon a time on Koh Samui…
Before tourism dollars began to trickle into Samui in the late 70’s, the economy of this island in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand mostly revolved around coconuts. With ideal weather and good soil, Samui is home to more coconut-palm varieties than any other place in the world.
While the island’s interior is still largely devoted to agriculture, the coast is now lined with high-end resorts and beachfront bungalows with more on the way.
The W Retreat Koh Samui
As we exit the arrivals area, my fatigue begins to fade when I spot our smiling representative from the W Retreat Koh Samui holding a glittering “W” on a stick.
Let the W experience begin!
Within moments we are ushered into the back seat of a plush, air-conditioned sedan. Our ride is fully stocked with cold towels, apples, and bottles of water, for the comfy ride to the resort.
Yes, my consciousness was beginning to return when we got in the car. But by the time we take our first steps into the gob-stopping, open-air lobby of the W Retreat I am wide awake.
The lobby is literally a vast infinity pool of blue that seems to melt right into the Gulf of Thailand. Talk about WOW-factor.
It simply isn’t possible to process this stunningly beautiful scene featuring so many hues of blue on only an hour of sleep.
A warm welcome
Several of the management team of the W have gathered to greet us including my PR representative, Apple, who flew in from Bangkok to give me a tour of the hotel tomorrow.
Like the W Maldives, the regular rates at this retreat are pretty steep for a budget-minded RTW traveler like me. But thankfully, the hotel has been gracious enough to offer me a reduced media rate.
We sit down for check-in and Apple explains that they have arranged for complimentary spa appointments for both of us for later this afternoon. All thoughts of a nap immediately evaporate, replaced with visions of luxurious spa treatments dancing in our heads.
Retreats at the W Koh Samui
Next, we’re escorted to a golf cart for the ride to our hillside, Ocean-View Escape retreat.
Again, just like in the Maldives, I’m rendered speechless when I get my first look at our spacious digs. Deep shades of reds and charcoals blend with well-placed bursts of sparkle and shine (which carry throughout the hotel’s design) to create a homey, yet über-luxurious villa.
The expansive deck with its dramatic infinity pool, lounge chairs, and daybed beckon with panoramic views of the turquoise sea.
It is absolutely awe-inspiring. From the large bathroom, sliding glass doors lead directly into the infinity pool. I immediately decide I never want to leave.
But then I remember I have a spa appointment. OK, after that I’m never leaving.
Susan and I settle into the room and then change to head down to the spa. After an hour’s worth of jetlag-evaporating Thai massage by expertly-trained hands (which I have a lot of trouble staying awake through) we reconnect and head back to the retreat.
Susan has a dive planned for tomorrow so she heads off for a pre-dive meeting with her divemaster. I shower, change, and head back to the incredible lobby to watch the sunset from one of the awesome seating areas inside the pool.
After sunset, we get a recommendation from the hotel and venture out for some local Thai food for dinner. It’s a terrific meal (as Thai food always is) and miraculously we both make it until around 10pm before crashing.
Day 2 in Koh Samui
The next morning, Susan departs bright and early for her dive and I head downstairs for my meeting with Apple to tour the hotel.
Again, I luck out and am able to see the hotel’s Extreme WOW suite (it just happens to be vacant today). Every W hotel has only one and it’s always one of a kind.
The Extreme WOW Suite
The Extreme WOW suite at the W Koh Samui is the best one I’ve ever seen.
At more than 9,600 square feet (you read that right) it is much larger than the Extreme WOW suite in the Maldives, more like a mansion than a suite. One of the best features of the room is a certain corner of the pool deck – the only spot in the resort where you can enjoy views of both sunrise and sunset.
Next, I get a look at the Ocean Front Haven retreats located just steps from the beach. Though they are also lovely, I immediately decide that I prefer my hillside retreat. Mostly because it has the same view of the sea as the stunning lobby.
With my tour complete, I retire back to the retreat to enjoy my last few hours in W luxury.
Tomorrow, it’s time to say goodbye to my new friends at the W and make the short trip over to the Lamai Samui Resort & Spa, where we’ll be staying for our last two nights on the island.
I’m sad to leave the beautiful W but excited to get a look at the Lemai Samui on the other side of the island.
Lemai Samui Resort
At check-in, we’re greeted by the General Manager, Tina, and we arrange a time that afternoon for a tour. While the Lemai Samui has approximately the same number of rooms as the W, it’s on a much more compact slice of oceanfront with more restaurants and shops surrounding it.
Despite the limited real estate, the property still has a very relaxed and spacious vibe. Constructed with consideration for feng shui design elements to enhance balance and harmony, the style of the resort was distinctly Chinese in honor of the island’s earliest settlers.
While Susan heads off for another dive, Tina and I wind our way through the property to see a few of the other villas, most with private pools and some directly facing the sea. After seeing the rooms, we visit the spa and she offers to arrange for a spa treatment if I have time (Sidebar: I always have time for a spa treatment).
Though I typically do get a massage every day when I’m in Thailand, it’s always of the under $10 variety in the more ubiquitous massage places. This trip is the first time I’ve ever had a Thai massage in a fancy hotel spa – and two days in a row, no less!
A Thai lantern ceremony
Later that evening, after Susan returns from her dive, we head to the lobby for the hotel’s nightly Thai lantern ceremony.
Tina mentioned the ceremony to me during our tour and since I’ve never seen one I’m dying to check it out.
As sunset turns to dusk, the ceremony begins. I take pictures as Susan and the other guests participate under the careful direction of the hotel staff.
One by one the lanterns are lit and then gently released into the sky. Also known as wish lanterns, it is considered good luck to release the lanterns – the belief is that misfortune will float away with the lantern.
It is a beautiful spiritual ceremony and – glamorous villas and decadent spa treatments forgotten for the moment – it is the highlight of my stay on Koh Samui.
After the ceremony, we head into town for another terrific Thai meal.
The next day it’s time to leave Koh Samui and head on to Bangkok. Though our stay was brief, it was also fabulous.
I thoroughly enjoyed exploring both amazing hotels, each with its own unique vibe. If these two beautiful resorts are any indication, this island has a very bright future, indeed.
And if you’re searching for more incredible destinations in Thailand, start here:
5 Dreamy Day Trips from Krabi that Prove Thailand is Drop Dead Gorgeous
Paradise Found on Koh Lanta – Thailand’s Best Island to Unwind
3 Reasons Koh Lipe is the Best Thai Island You’ve Never Heard Of