Koh Samui: Thailand’s Next Great Tourism Star

Asia | RTW #7: Lounges, Retreats & Business Class Seats | Thailand
W Retreat Koh Samui Thailand

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After an overnighter from Sri Lanka and a quick change of planes in Bangkok, Susan and I landed on the lovely Thai isle of Koh Samui teetering on the edge of exhaustion.

We stepped off the airplane to a colorful trolley car (not a bus, for once) and were 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 airport might as well be one big pristinely-landscaped, engraved invitation to visitors.

With the recent opening of several properties by international hotel chains (like the two resorts we would be calling home during our stay) it seems Koh Samui is well-positioned to compete with perennial Andaman tourist powerhouse, Phuket.

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 exited the arrivals area, my fatigue began to fade when I saw our smiling representative from the W Retreat Koh Samui holding a glittering “W” on a stick. Let the W experience begin!

Within moments we were ushered into the back seat of a plush, air-conditioned sedan stocked with cold towels, apples and bottles of water and on our way to the resort.

If my consciousness was beginning to return when we got in the car, by the time we took our first steps into the gob stopping open-air lobby of the W Retreat I was wide awake. The lobby was literally a vast infinity pool of blue that seemed to melt right into the Gulf of Thailand. Talk about WOW-factor.

It simply wasn’t possible to process this stunningly beautiful scene with so many hues of blue on only an hour of sleep. Several of the management team of the W had gathered to greet us including my PR representative, Apple, who had flown in from Bangkok to give me a tour of the hotel the next day.

Like the W Maldives, the regular rates at this retreat were pretty steep for a budget-minded RTW traveler like me. But thankfully, the hotel had been gracious enough to offer me a reduced media rate.

Lobby W Koh Samui Thailand
A photo shoot at the W Retreat Koh Samui

As we sat down for check-in, Apple told me that they had already arranged for complimentary spa appointments for both of us for later that afternoon. All thoughts of a nap immediately evaporated, replaced with visions of luxurious spa treatments dancing in our heads.

Next, we were escorted to a golf cart for the ride to our hillside, Ocean-View Escape retreat. Again, just like the Maldives, I was rendered speechless when I got my first look at our spacious digs. Deep shades of reds and charcoals blended with well-placed bursts of sparkle and shine (which carry throughout the hotel’s design) to create a homey, yet über-luxurious villa.

W Retreat Koh Samui Thailand
The view from our villa W Retreat Koh Samui Thailand

The expansive deck with its dramatic infinity pool, lounge chairs and daybed beckoned with panoramic views of the turquoise sea. It was absolutely awe-inspiring. From the large bathroom, sliding glass doors led directly into the infinity pool. I immediately decided I never wanted to leave.

But then I remembered I had a spa appointment. OK, after that I’m never leaving.

W Retreat Koh Samui Thailand
The private pool in our villa

We settled in to the room and then changed to head down to the spa. After an hour’s worth of jetlag-evaporating Thai massage by expertly-trained hands (which I had a lot of trouble staying awake through) we reconnected and headed back to the retreat.

Susan had a dive planned for the next day so she headed off for a pre-dive meeting with her dive master and I showered, changed and headed back to the incredible lobby to watch the sunset from one of the awesome seating areas inside the pool.

After sunset, we got a recommendation from the hotel and headed out for some local Thai food for dinner. It was a terrific meal (as Thai food always is) and miraculously we both made it until around 10pm before crashing.

Extreme WOW Suite W Koh Samui
Inside the Extreme WOW Suite

The next day Susan left bright and early for her dive and I had my meeting with Apple to tour the hotel. Again, I lucked out and was able to see the hotel’s Extreme WOW suite. Every W has only one and it’s always one of a kind.

The Extreme WOW suite at the W Koh Samui was the best one I’ve ever seen. At more than 9,600 square feet (you read that right) it was 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. Spectacular.

Next, I got a look at the Ocean Front Haven retreats located just steps from the beach. Though they were also lovely, I immediately decided that I preferred my hillside retreat because it had the same view of the sea as the stunning lobby.

My tour complete, I headed back to the retreat to enjoy my last few hours before saying goodbye to my new friends at the W and hopping in the hotel car for the ride over to the Le Meridien Koh Samui Resort & Spa.

I’d decided that I wanted to try out both new Starwood properties while on Koh Samui and since my schedule only allowed for two nights on the island that meant one night each. I was sad to leave the beautiful W but excited to get a look at the Meridien on the other side of the island.

Le Meridien Koh Samui

At check-in, I was greeted by the General Manager, Tina, and we arranged a time that afternoon for a tour. While the Le Meridien 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 had 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.

Le Meridien Koh Samui Thailand
VIew from the pool at Le Meridien Koh Samui

Tina and I wound our way through the property and she showed me a few of the other villas, most with private pools and some directly facing the sea. After seeing the rooms we visited the spa and she said that they would be happy to host me for a spa treatment if I had time (Sidebar: I always have time for a spa treatment).

After our tour was complete, I called the spa and scheduled a massage for later that afternoon. Though I 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 was the first time I’d ever had a Thai massage in a fancy hotel spa – and two days in a row, no less!

My massage at the Meridien was equally as wonderful as the one I’d had the day before at the W and I left extremely impressed with the quality of their spa and the service.

Le Meridien Koh Samui Thailand
Le Meridien Koh Samui, Thailand

Later that evening after Susan had returned from her dive (which she said was awesome!), we headed to the lobby for the hotel’s nightly Thai lantern ceremony. Tina had mentioned the ceremony to me during our tour and since I’d never seen one I was dying to check it out.

Thai lanten ceremony Le Meridien Koh Samui Thailand
The Meridien’s beautiful Thai lantern ceremony

As sunset turned to dusk, the ceremony began and I took pictures as Susan and other guests participated under the careful direction of hotel staff. One by one the lanterns were 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 was a beautifully spiritual ceremony and – glamorous villas and decadent spa treatments forgotten for the moment – it was the highlight of my two days on Koh Samui. Amazingly, the Meridien does this ceremony for their guests every night at 7:19pm. After the ceremony we headed into town for another terrific Thai meal.

The next day it was time to leave Koh Samui and head on to Bangkok. Though my stay was brief, it was also fabulous. I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to both the W Retreat Koh Samui and the Le Meridien Koh Samui for their hospitality.

I thoroughly enjoyed both properties, each with their own unique vibe, and it was such a pleasure meeting all of the staff. If these two beautiful resorts are any indication, this island has a very bright future, indeed.