Why Koh Samui Is Just The Spot For A Luxurious Wellness Reset
In search of a wellness reset? Discover the platinum sands and swaying palms of Koh Samui’s Plai Laem Beach
It’s around 10pm at night and pitch black when we arrive in Koh Samui after a punishing 12-hour flight from Sydney, via Bangkok. My husband and I are collected at the airport by a driver proffering the obligatory resort accessories, a cold lemongrass-scented towel and a bottle of water to assuage the extreme humidity (even at this late hour), before we are whisked through the inky darkness past bustling roadside food stalls, abundant night markets and locals zipping home on scooters.
From the imposing gates of the Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui, torchlights guide our way to what is billed as one of its Ultimate Pool Villas, though we will not understand exactly what that means until sunrise the following morning. As a travel writer I’m used to arriving at far-flung locations at all hours, but I’m not accustomed to being asked whether I am hungry.
Why yes, I say, as I’m actually famished. When the vegetarian chilli basil stir fry arrives just 15 minutes later it is fragrant and delicious, and we devour it by candlelight on the expansive outdoor deck with views over the Gulf of Thailand.
We wake to discover an oceanfront panorama of platinum sands, swaying palm trees and endless ocean that comprise Plai Laem Beach, of which the resort occupies the entire bay. The tropical vista is the whole cliche, but coming from a hectic week in Sydney, the space and serenity is wonderful.
As a weary, burnt out city slicker, I’ve come to the Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui for a wellness reset, hoping to reconnect my mind with my underused body, so it’s fitting I ease my way into the new me with a gentle morning Aquasana class in one of the property’s three pools.
Combining yoga with karate and tai chi moves for balance, strength and flexibility the 45-minute class is surprisingly harder than it appears due to the water resistance. My husband and I bumble our way through, sharing laughs with a young American couple and an older Indian woman enjoying some me-time apart from her husband and children.
Unlike some other Thai resorts, there is no 24-hour Party People vibe; rather our workout companions reflect the more relaxed family atmosphere that accommodates people of all ages chasing a little rest and relaxation — and perhaps a more healthful outlook on life at the end of their stay. That’s certainly my intention, so it’s very welcome that the nurturing continues with lunch at the poolside restaurant Tides, where I sip on a refreshing post-workout mocktail as the chef whips up citrus-cured specialties from the cevicheria behind the bar.
We spend the best part of the afternoon lazing by the main pool (the resort has three), then return to our private 18 metre plunge pool for another dip before cracking the first of many, many coconuts on the sun loungers of our clifftop outdoor terrace.
The villa has Thai-inspired decor and a large and airy bathroom (why don’t more resorts understand that tropical holidays necessitate many showers and swimwear changes, making a big bathroom with plenty of natural light a much-appreciated luxury?)
We head out for rooftop cocktails on the upper deck of Tides, one of nine dining options on the property. The tropical sunset is spectacular, but just as we take our first sips, dark stormclouds roll in and the heavens open to put on a spectacular thunder and lightning storm that has us running for cover. We find respite in Pak Thai, which serves Southern Thai dishes to diners in private candlelit pavilions, screened by discreet bamboo blinds, overlooking the resort’s house reef, where more than 50 species of marine life swim silently below us. After tom yum followed by a wild prawn, fern and seaweed salad, massaman beef and vegetable curries we return to our villa to find sweet and chewy coconut candies on our pillows.
When it comes to wellness, the connection between nature and mental and physical health cannot be under-rated. The morning after the storm we take two of the resort’s canoes (there are numerous on-property activities available, from tennis, sailing and boogie-boarding to stand-up paddling, snorkelling and surfing) and set off from the sheltered cove into the open ocean.
Paddling around the rocky headland, the only sound is the splash of water against our hulls and the plop of our paddles in the ocean: we feel like the only inhabitants of the island, modern-day Robinson Crusoes exploring the high seas with nothing but blue skies above and a horizon line that melts seamlessly into the sea.
When my husband stops to snorkel, I sit in my canoe drinking it all in, enjoying the silence and the warm, gentle breezes that feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of life back home.
Breakfast in the resort’s indoor-outdoor style restaurant, Shook, is a generous affair running from traditional Thai dishes to Western, Chinese, Indian and Japanese offerings. It's then time for yoga in an alfresco pavilion tucked amid lush tropical foliage. The class is taught by a genial Australian yoga instructor who says he came to Koh Samui to do his teacher training, and liked it so much that he never left.
As I rise from a blissful savasana, enjoying the gentle breeze and views of swaying palm trees as far as the eye can see, it’s easy for me to understand why, but we are keen to explore beyond the resort, so head out to explore cultural highlights of the island.
Our first stop is the Big Buddha Temple, which is so large it can be seen from the air.
Despite the mesmerising appeal of the 12m golden seated Buddha, built in 1972, It’s surprisingly un-touristy with none of the usual touts peddling for our business, so we take our time exploring then rehydrate with another of the countless coconuts we will consume during our stay.
Then it’s on to the Secret Buddha Garden, hidden high in the hills, where fruit farmer Nim Thongsuk created an eccentric park in the 70s filled with statues of animals, deities and humans that he continued to work on until he passed away at the age of 91.
The best birds-eye view of the island is at Lamai View Point, where we catch a cable car to the peak of the mountain and enjoy 180-degree views of the island with local beer and soft drinks served in the quirky jungle-decor style cafe at the summit. Our final stop is Fisherman’s Village Walking Street, a strip of heritage architecture that brings the sleepy town of Bophut Beach to life every evening with its bustling night markets filled with stalls selling everything from handicrafts, jewellery and textiles to street food — from Pad Thai and seafood tempura to deliciously moreish banana pancakes.
We spend several hours wandering the charming laneways buying gifts for family and friends before returning to the resort for dinner at The View Dining at The Peak, which, as its somewhat convoluted name suggests, sits atop a steep hill at the highest point of the resort, with endless vistas of The Gulf of Thailand. But as the sun dips below the horizon, it really is difficult to take our eyes,from the degustation, somehow fusing Thai, Spanish and Japanese elements.
The Spanish chef, newly arrived at the property, creates a new menu from scratch every single day. From grilled tiger prawns with macadamia ajo blanco to black cod with kalamata olive miso and roasted Japanese pumpkin and wagyu beef cheek with Kerala masala followed by refreshing coconut pannacotta, the feast has us rolling back down the hill to sleep off the indulgence ahead of our final day before farewelling paradise.
Given the tropical heat, it's perhaps unwise I choose a 3pm slot for my lesson in Muay Thai, referred to as “the art of eight limbs” for its use of eight points of contact in the combat sport of Thailand. Held in a dedicated outdoor boxing ring, my lesson has me sweating even before I begin a workout that challenges me mentally and physically in the best possible way, all the more surprising as I box regularly at home.
After kicking and punching out the previous evening’s indulgence, a spa treatment is the perfect way to end our stay before boarding the plane back home. Mine begins with a Songkran Shower, a pre-spa ritual inspired by Thailand’s annual Songkran festival involving the joyful throwing of water.
Once splashed and sluiced, I submit to the Coconut Heritage treatment, which celebrates the much-touted health and beauty benefits of the fruit that is synonymous with the island.
A coconut body scrub is followed by a decadent 90-minute coconut massage topped off with a nourishing coconut hair mask, and I’m not sure if it’s the soothing properties of the fruit or the fine fingers of my masseuse but I’m surprised to find a single tear rolling down my cheek as she finishes. It’s an emotional and uplifting experience and the perfect way to end my time on Koh Samui.
• Singapore Airlines flies from Auckland to Singapore and Silk Air then flies from Singapore to Koh Samui. Room rates at The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui start at 23,740 Thai Baht inclusive of tax. For the best prices and to book visit Singaporeair.com and Ritzcarlton.com