As I’ve mentioned before, word of mouth is a powerful thing. At lunch recently a friend mentioned her stay at the Ritz Carlton Samui, and what I remember from her enthusiastic convo was Big! Big! Big! and New! New! New! Oooooh. Words that stuck like hooks and reeled me in. All this bigness and newness needed attention! Soon after that, I was arriving in the laid-back Thai island of Koh Samui, to check it out for myself.
My friend wasn’t exaggerating. The property is huge, especially compared to other offerings on the island that tend to fall in the ‘boutique’ and ‘cozy’ categories. The Ritz Carlton Samui is so huge that its vastness reaches up an entire hillside and all the way down to a secluded private beach cove, on land that used to be a coconut plantation.
So huge that it has separate buildings for the arrival and departure lounges (!), 11 food and beverage outlets (!), so huge that you need buggies to get all around the resort (!). So huge that the spa has its own full size swimming pool (!). I may even be missing some other facilities (like the curious white dome in a corner of the beach), but that’s because I didn’t have time to get around to it.
The resort’s pool villas spread all the way up the hillside, and all face the sea, though the actual sea view depends on how high or low your villa is positioned in relation to other villas. Mine was set lower on the hill, offering a completely unobstructed, panoramic sea view. From my balcony I could also see the one and only “ocean swimming pool” in Asia (!).
All the pool villas are in the same design, and are luxurious and spacious. A cozy living room opens out to the pool, outdoor living and dining areas, and the view. The bright and airy bathroom also comes with a sea view. The separate bedroom is supremely comfortable to sleep in. I had such a good night’s sleep I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
For a former coconut plantation, there oddly aren’t many trees on the property. The new shrubbery was young, so there wasn’t much shade or foliage to shield the view of other people’s villas. The walk to breakfast featured some generous views of bulgy middle-aged men, contentedly sunning their bellies by their pools. From somewhere in the sky I heard the posh voice of Sir David Attenborough, gently narrating, “As the walrus tires from its labours, it seeks the warmth of the sun, taking a break from the chillier climes of its natural habitat …” (Where was that voice coming from?).
Speaking of breakfast, the first meal of the day is so enjoyable here. All the food at Ritz Carlton Samui was of the highest standard, and my favourite meal was the breakfast buffet, located in a beautiful, lofty, open air space, with generous sofa seating and birds flying through the open room.
Mr. Barefoot happened to be on a healthy vegan clean regime that week, abstaining from meat, alcohol and fatty foods. But he quickly fell off the wagon when faced with the temptations of the breakfast buffet.
I normally avoid bread but when faced with a gleaming pastry cabinet of the size and selection you find in French pastry shops, I fell off the wagon too. After that it was full-frontal pastry the rest of the stay. The pastries here were the freshest I’ve ever tasted and I really had to restrain myself from going back for more. I was excited to find piping fresh corn dogs at the waffle station (!) and after excitedly showing Mr. Barefoot this rare treat (omg!), I was about to lunge at them when Mr. Barefoot gasped in horror.
“Are you kidding? They are Deep Fried! My triglycerides are shooting up just looking at them!”
“Um…but they’re so yummy,” I protested, faintly.
But I was talking to nobody, as Mr. Barefoot had already run away, as far as possible. (I later found him getting a spinach smoothie).
Oh … alright then. I sadly shook my head at the helpful chef and said a silent farewell to the guilty items. (Bye bye, corn dogs, wish I couldda known you better). Then I skulked over to the bacon. Bacon was not verboten.
With 11 F&B outlets (!), you don’t even need to leave the resort to find different cuisines. It rained on our first night, so the plan for al fresco dining on the hilltop was moved to the indoor steak restaurant, where the finest imported meat came with very fresh giant doughy pretzels (hello bread, I love you) and various delicious rich sauces.
Saturday night is Thai Street Food Night. The outdoor courtyard comes to life with food stations, live Thai country music and dance, and flags aflutter in the breeze.
The colourful night market mood creates a fun meal, especially for families with kids of all ages.
We had an appointment to snorkel with the fish in the in-house coral reef, an artificial reef filled with over 50 species and thousands of fish. We couldn’t see much from above the pool, but once inside the water, the pool became a magical place teeming with schools of brilliant, beautiful fish swimming all around us, coming up to our faces and even nibbling at us. The coral reef session lasts 30 minutes and time passes quickly. There’s also a 4 p.m. fish feeding experience which sounded fun, though I didn’t have time for it.
The Spa Village is a world of its own with spa suites encircling a massive enclosed bamboo garden, and its own full length pool.
We had a private stretch class in the lovely open air yoga pavilion. You could spend hours here and the tranquil spa pool is a secret sanctuary to escape from the noisy family action at the main pool.
My signature Tok Sen massage was a two-hour treatment starting with a body scrub and jungle rain shower followed by a ritual splash of water symbolizing the Thai water festival.
Tok Sen massage is an ancient northern Thai therapy using a wooden mallet and peg to tap along the body’s energy lines to release blocked energy. The knocking was an unusual experience and the cracking sound of hammering was slightly nerve wracking. The results were relaxing, as I fell fast asleep during the oil massage afterwards. The treatment ended with a refreshment in the spa café pavilion in the bamboo garden. I chatted with the café attendants and told them the spa cookies were as delicious as the ones at breakfast.
I had a great time in the spa but for Mr. Barefoot it seemed to be a place of unlucky phone karma. Day One, he left his phone in the spa and had to rush back from the restaurant to look for it. Day Two, he dropped his phone in the spa swimming pool and despite the manager’s helpful suggestion to dry it with a hair dryer, the phone did not survive the dunking.
After dinner that night I returned to my villa to find a surprise gift hanging on my door. The spa had sent over a bag of cookies and an adorable note with cute hand-drawn cartoons of me (“where are my cookies?”) and Mr. Barefoot (“where’s my phone?”), signed by Milk and Juice – pronounced “Miw?” and “Juwiss?” in Thai – which were the names of the spa girls, not ingredients in the cookies. How sweet! (their kindness, not the cookies).
Between activities, we took time to chill on the beach and do nothing. The beach was completely deserted. Everyone was in the pool, so I had an entire little cove to myself. I sat there letting the stress of the city dissolve into the ocean and tried to absorb as much natural clean energy from the sea as I could.
By the time we checked out, we were in happy moods and feeling rejuvenated. I can easily say the best experiences at the Ritz Carlton Samui were the warmth and friendly care from all the resort staff. At lunch at the poolside ceviche bar we watched the bartender carefully cutting watermelon into little pieces and asked what he was making.
“It’s for our little guest there” he said. A cute little blonde toddler was coming towards the bar with his mother. “He loves watermelon! He comes here every day and has to have watermelon, so I always have it ready for him.”
Whether your favourite food is cookies or watermelon, the lovely, caring resort staff will remember and give the extra effort to make you happy. This huge resort has an equally huge heart.
Have you stayed at a Ritz Carlton property? How was your experience?