We’re in the throes of a weird Covid third wave, raging full-throttle in Bangkok. WFH is back in place, schools are closed, and pink Food Panda deliveries are the main sign of traffic on empty city streets.
But let’s rewind to a few short weeks ago, so I can cling to the memories of my island escape at the Four Seasons Koh Samui. It’s one of the most luxe resorts on the island, and looking back now through glum lockdown lens, it’s even more glorious in dreamy flashbacks sparkling with fairy dust and angel music.
I’d been thinking of Samui for an island holiday and when I heard that uber- resort designer Bill Bensley had designed the eco-friendly Four Seasons Koh Samui without cutting down a single tree, I wanted to see his vision of sustainable luxury resort design.
I’ve always been a fan of the Geoffrey Bawa school of tropical architecture, in which trees grow out of swimming pools and architecture is tailored to fit nature, not the other way around. In recent years, though, I’d visited some glitzy new resorts who boasted of their idyllic locations on coconut plantations, only to find all the original trees cut down to make way for construction and new shrubs plugged in to replace the native trees. One place even had a cement “coral reef”. To find construction mimicking nature is tragic.
Nature is well preserved at the Four Seasons Koh Samui, where buildings are almost hidden under a canopy of thick foliage. Here, the natural landscape informs the resort design; a majestic old tree grows in the middle of a restaurant, coconut trunks shoot from the ground through the roof in the middle of a room, or sprout from pool decks. There’s a dense tropical jungle feel, landscaped to look natural without being wild.
When hillsides are stripped of trees it weakens the earth, causing immense landslides without tree roots to hold it in place. Bill Bensley’s design concept was to keep nature as intact as possible. “I’ve learnt that when we are given a beautiful natural site, minimal intervention on our part as architects always works best.
“The Four Seasons Koh Samui was an environmental triumph for us. 856 coconut trees presented themselves the first time I went to the location, and 856 coconut trees still stood some five years later when we opened the hotel!”
A wow-factor seascape and chi-chi welcome drinks greet you upon arrival at the hilltop reception lounge. The resort covers a steep hillside stretching from the hilltop down to a private beach cove, surrounded by coral reef.
At check-in we learned about the Four Seasons app, a handy personal concierge tool we could use to call a buggy, book a table, book a spa appointment, organize transportation, ask about resort activities or about the island, or whatever we needed. You can continue to use the app at any Four Seasons property around the world. Over the course of our stay, we found the app to be really convenient and efficient, with instant responses to our queries.
A thrilling, roller coaster buggy ride around the curvy (whee!), alarmingly steep paths (whoaa!) with some crazy angles (eeek!) took us to our glamourous pool villa, featuring a private infinity pool that’s the longest one I’ve seen in a standard pool villa. I could easily do laps in this luxuriously long pool instead of paddling around in circles in the average square tub.
I love it when the bathroom is bigger than the bedroom, and the space here is brilliantly designed, featuring separate vanities and dressing rooms for two people, with the toilet and shower neatly tucked behind doors in their own cubicles, giving its occupants ample personal space, along with the airy floor to ceiling sea view.
We wanted to explore the massive coral reef surrounding the resort, and booked a snorkeling excursion led by the resort’s resident marine biologist, Benji, a cheerful lady who gave us a short talk on coral and fish, and led us on a snorkel around the reef, pointing out the new coral growth, planted by the Four Seasons reef regeneration project.
Our goal was to swim to the resort’s platform, a gleaming white square that beckoned like a magnet in the turquoise sea. You can see this enticing platform from almost every angle on the hilltop and every swimmer in the sea is strangely drawn to this mesmerizing white square.
It turned out to be a longer swim than it looked from the shore, the platform bobbed up and down in the current, and my out-of-shape body was exhausted and slightly sea sick by the time we got back to shore. We collapsed on one the enormous beach beds sheltered by coconut trees, and Benji kindly brought a tray of lime slices and hot ginger tea, a natural sea sickness remedy.
We were still lazing on the beach around sunset when Benji came by to check if I was feeling better. “You have in-villa dining tonight don’t you”, she politely suggested, “would you like me to call a buggy for you to get back to your villa on time?”
We’d just been talking about going into town for dinner as I’d completely forgotten that we had scheduled a dinner in the villa that night. Amazingly, through some sort of Four Seasons internal control system, our lovely marine biologist Benji at her beach station seemed to magically know this, and made sure we were back on our schedule. (I always say the service at Four Seasons is amazing. It really is. They can read your mind even when your mind is totally blank).
Even our buggy driver knew we had in-villa dining to get to, though that might have been because the room service buggy was already outside the villa gate. We arrived to find the outdoor dining table set up for our Moo Kratah, or “pork pan” dinner, a popular Thai dish that’s a combination of Korean barbecue and Chinese hotpot.
The steward showed us how to cook the slices of beef, shrimp, pork chicken and bacon on the tray, pour the soup stock and add vegetables into the pan, and then left us to enjoy grilling our feast of Moo Kratah, somtam papaya salad and Thai beef salad while the sunset sank behind the coconut trees and cicadas chirped in the background.
Next morning was what I’d been waiting for – a 90-minute signature spa treatment at The Secret Garden Spa, aptly named because the treatment starts with a walk down a spiral staircase and through thickly wooded paths to reach the spa pavilions.
My deeply relaxing lavender jasmine aromatherapy massage ended with a heavenly head massage that melted all the stress from my body. I only wished it lasted longer.
We loved hanging out in the air-conditioned spa lobby, as it was the coolest, most relaxing place to escape from the boiling heat outside. The gentle spa receptionist offered us chilled drinks and let us enjoy the space as long as we wanted.
Nights are very quiet at the resort, so we went to check out the island night life at the popular Fisherman’s Village in Bophut Beach, about twenty minutes by car from the resort. The Four Seasons app was especially handy when arranging our transport into town and the return trip to pick us up from the restaurant after dinner was seamlessly efficient.
The normally buzzing night market was sadly empty of its pre-Covid bustle, but the action was still in full force at famous Coco Tam’s, where everyone queued up (no bookings, first come, first served) for Italian cuisine, bean bags on the sand, beachside DJ and the spectacular, fabulous fire show.
We got back Bangkok to hear that a new outbreak had appeared over the weekend. A few weeks on and we’re still in the thick of it, so luckily, I’d made this trip just in time, and I’ll have to feed off my shiny, happy memories of the Four Seasons Koh Samui until it’s safe to travel again.
Have you been the Four Seasons Koh Samui? How was your visit? What’s your favorite experience in Koh Samui?