Thailand is one of those countries that we can go back to again and again. It is clean, safe, fun, great food, sunshine, so much to do and so much to see. Visiting Koh Samui earlier this year (in March 2020 when life was relatively normal) really showed off the best of Thai island life.
The actual name of the island is Samui – The second largest island in Thailand, our Koh Samui adventure starts at the airport. Although it’s small, it’s pretty cute and is like a little outdoor resort with plenty of shops and beaches on either side. Try to get a window seat on the left-hand side of your plane for dramatic views of Koh Samui as you approach.
What about the weather? Koh Samui is a year-round destination. The hottest time is between March and April (avg. 30°c plus) and September-November sees the heaviest rainfall although even during this monsoon season, the sunshine is still plentiful and last year there wasn’t much rain. The best time to go is December- February for sunshine, little rain, calm warm seas and light winds.
WHERE TO STAY – THE TONGSAI BAY
After asking some Thai friends, the best areas to stay in Samui are: Chaweng Beach (touristic, lots of places to eat and a fun party scene), Lamai (like Chaweng but less crowded), Chaoeng Mon (close to Chaweng but more laid back, quiet beach, no traffic and no party scene) Maenam Beach (luxury resorts and dramatic sunsets but far from the action) and Bophut (a fishing village that became a luxury hotel mecca).
We decided to stay in Bophut and wanted a traditional Thai resort which has 5 star luxury, stunning ocean views, easy beach access AND a hillside location. We found paradise. Welcome to The Tongsai Bay.
It all started in the 1980s when the late founder Akorn Hoontrakul set eyes on this bay, bought it and spent three months sleeping on the beach planning the resort. His premise was simple – to build a paradise and respecting the environment and surroundings. This is true today where not even a tree can be cut without permission of the owners.
THE HOTEL – Set in a private bay in 27.5 acres of nature, take in the 67 species of birds and calming greenery. Just 15 minutes away from the airport are 72 luxury rooms and villas set out spaciously so that your privacy is always assured and the resort rarely feels busy. If walking isn’t your thing (you’re on holiday after all), there are fun electric buggies available 24/7 to take you around too.
Thai through and through from the décor in reception to the bed linen, this is the only Thai family run 5 star hotel in Samui with many staff that have worked there for more than 20 years. You can’t leave without meeting hotel manager Mark from Manchester who fell in love with Tongsai Bay 18 years ago and Pu, who has been making fresh juice at breakfast for 32 years. What struck us the most was the number of repeat visitors, some of which have been coming to Tongsai Bay for 30 years.
THE ROOMS – With 11 room types, every single one has a sea view and an outdoor bath (apart from the ground floor beachfront suites where the warm sea is your bath!) Every room has a story to tell like the McGuigan Cottage, named after the McGuigans from the UK who were regulars at Tongsai Bay for many years.
Our room was a new Tongsai Pool Villa (512) – a massive 180 square metres of luxury with our own private pool, huge terrace with outdoor dining, bath, four poster gazebo (with a mosquito net if you fancy sleeping outside) and sun loungers.
Inside, a queen size bed, all the mod cons and a proper home from home. This is the kind of hotel room you want to camp out in and order room service for a week – our own little castle.
THINGS TO DO – Tongsai Bay is all about relaxation. The main 50 metre fresh water pool near the beach and adults only pool are great for spending the day hanging out.
Another highlight was the Prana Spa (which means life force) where you can enjoy a treatment at the spa, in your room or at the beach. The Return to Prana couples treatment is a 2.5 hour journey designed to enhance the life-force and love between two people with a herbal steam, scrub, milk bath and oil massage.
THE BEACH – First of all, no beach in Thailand is private but the location of Tongsai Bay is private as the beach is only accessed by boat. The secluded 200-metre beach is a haven for swimming as the waters are clear and warm. There are also non-motorised water sports to ensure tranquillity and relaxation like kayaks, windsurfs, stand up paddle boards and snorkelling.
RESTAURANTS – Start with breakfast which is an all buffet affair with an egg station. Every pastry is created and baked on site and be sure to visit Chef Pu at her fresh juice station where you can also pick up some fresh mango. The Happy Juice is her special with carrot, beetroot, ginger, mango and lime. Yum.
For lunch, Po-lad by the beach is open all day for a snack, Wagyu burgers, salads and of course Thai food. They also offer a fully plant based menu like the courgette spaghetti above.
Before dinner, an Iron Balls vesper martini followed by a feast at Chef Chom’s for regional Thai cuisine in the courtyard under the stars.
Try the Tongsai platter followed by the larb – a classic meat, chilli, lime, onion and herb salad from Northern Thailand. To really impress everyone with your chilli prowess, ask for Prik Nam Pla which is used on everything and is a dressing made from fish sauce, soy and chillies.
If you’re celebrating, here is simply no better way to dine than a candle lit beach dinner with a bespoke menu.
EXPERIENCES – No trip to Thailand is complete without a cookery class led by a Thai chef. The Tongsai cooking class is conducted by our Senior Thai Chefs. After collecting fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices from the organic garden, you will then create a 5 course feast including making your own curry paste, soup, spring rolls, larb minced pork (or tofu), Phad Thai and even a dessert.
A new experience is a fruit carving class with Tongsai’s very own fruit sommelier who guided us through the different exotic fruits, the best way to cut them and of course eating them. My highlight was the dreaded Durian. Just be careful with Durian if you are drinking alcohol later in the day as this stinky fruit can react in your tummy when mixed with booze.
GREEN CREDENTIALS – Tongsai Bay’s eco credentials are staggering. Their policy covers 6 major areas from eco certified tiles in pools, recycled wood, drinking straws made from lemongrass, home-made toiletries, citrus peels that become floor cleaner and even fish bones become compost for their extensive organic fruit and vegetable garden. Nothing is ever just chucked away with old sun loungers even given away to local dog charities.
Tongsai Bay is somewhere to go for an authentic Thai getaway in 5 star luxury. We will be back soon.
To discover more and book, visit: www.tongsaibay.co.th
All imagery courtesy of The Tongsai Bay.
5 things to do in Koh Samui near Tongsai Bay
Koh Samui Elephant Haven – This ethical elephant sanctuary is rather special and is also supported by Tongsai Bay. Elephants are rescued from their life of abuse and the sanctuary can pay up to 2 million Baht to rescue just one elephant. These incredible beasts eat 18 hours a day in this safe house and founder Maew Suriya ensures that the rescued elephants are now free to roam through the haven and can express their natural instincts by playing, swimming and interacting with each other.
Your two hour experience will include feeding the elephants and a walk with the gentle giants through the park at the elephants’ pace to ensure that you have as much time with them as possible. You can then watch the elephants taking a bath. Near the pool, accommodation is being built where you will soon be able to stay and volunteer at the sanctuary. At the end of the tour, also included is a vegetarian Thai meal where you can have a go at making a Som Tum papaya salad.
Sunset at The Social – A very cool bar with proper cocktails which is the place to be for Koh Samui’s dramatic sunsets. Settle down on a beanbag and enjoy a Pina Colada. It is also a good spot for a bit of plane watching too.
Big Buddha – 10 minutes from Tongsai Bay is Koh Samui’s most famous landmark, a 12 metre high golden Buddha. Inside the temple are also many different shrines and other smaller Buddhas. There is also a small market selling a wide range of lucky charms and other souvenirs.
Ang Thong National Park – Arrive by speedboat for a half day tour of Ang Thong National Marine Park, a pristine 100 sq km archipelago of 42 islands with towering limestone mountains, jungle, white-sand beaches, waterfalls and hidden coves and lakes.
The Wharf – A cross between a shopping mall and a market, this 5,000-square-metre space has over 100 shops with a cool open air feel. You can also walk along the beach as The Wharf stretches from Beach Road to the main Koh Samui ring road and check out restaurants and cute bars.