If you are seeking lovely beaches, scenic viewpoints, great hotels, extraordinary dining, with some temples thrown in for good measure, head to Koh Samui, Thailand’s third largest island. Located in an archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand containing 80 islands, there is plenty to see and do on Samui. It also makes a great starting point to exploring other islands in the region.
With over 20 flights a day from Bangkok, taking just over an hour, getting to Samui is a cinch.
The Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort has a two-fold enviable location. First, it takes under 10-minutes from the airport to get to this lovely beachfront property, so guests can start their holidays quickly; yet its outside the flight path, so it’s as quiet as one would expect for an island destination. Second, situated on North Chewang Beach, it’s on a great stretch of sand bordering popular Chaweng, with its beach, restaurants, and bars. This provides the best of both worlds: a peaceful quiet beachfront location when desired, with all manner of vibrant nightlife just a stone’s throw away.
Hundreds of years ago, fisherman from southern China’s Hainan Island settled in Samui and still present are some old wooden shophouses and narrow alleyways reminiscent of early settlers’ architecture and initial presence. Once called Coconut Island, Anantara Lawana has embraced that Sino-Thai heritage, visible in its architecture and interior design with touches like fisherman lamps and bed nettings in its 122 rooms and suites. Anantara Lawana also pays homage to Samui's former name at its comedic beach weather station, where if a coconut is wet, it means it’s raining.
We stayed in a Pool Access Suite, sharing an enormous pool with six other suites. (There are two others sets of pool access suite clusters on the property, one with four suites and one with five.) As there’s also an infinity pool a few feet away fronting the beautiful, sandy beach, we had the suite pool to ourselves during our stay.
Our suite was an eye-popping 980 square feet. A four-poster teak bed with luscious high-count cotton sheets made nights dreamy, while the espresso machine ensured morning happiness. There was also a stocked minibar, comfortable working desk, a hotpot for afternoon tea and a 60-inch flat screen television.
The suite opened to two large teak decks. One with two sun loungers that led directly to our pool, and the other a shady, pool front pavilion with a fabulous daybed and coffee table. The bathroom boasted an enormous two-person stone tub, granite vanity, and a massive indoor/outdoor shower. The roomy, walk-in closet also had a waist-level safe.
Anantara also has a 24-hour fitness center next to the lobby with LifeFitness treadmills and elliptical, free weights, and machines. Also offered: Muay Thai Boxing – Thailand’s national sport – rooftop classes, Thai cooking classes, and for those really into their morning meals but can’t get out of the water, in-pool breakfast trays.
Breakfasts at Lawana's Ocean Kiss were a beautiful beachfront affair, with all manner of fresh fruits, salads, and carbs, including house made pastries, waffles, and specialty pancakes. For those who are indecisive, there were also separate sushi, Chinese, Thai, and Indian stations, as well as a made-to-order menu for those who simply must have avocado toast or eggs Benedict.
A pleasant stroll through Fisherman’s Village brought us to Emerald Irish Bar for a draft Guinness, then to the small, family-owned, Hut Café for a great meal of traditional shrimp stir fry served on a patio overhanging the ocean that felt like dining in suspended animation.
At the beachfront Crab Shack, we dove right in starting with fresh, thick-cut sashimi, and apropos for every long marriage, the ‘Lovers Bucket,’ comprised of a delightful mélange of Rock lobster, blue crab, tiger prawns, mussels, clams, squid, scallop, corn, and garlic bread. Though I was stuffed literally to the gills, my husband twisted by arm into ordering both the coconut and chocolate ice creams. Spoiler alert, it was not a tough call. Best decision ever, second only perhaps to husband selection.
The culinary pièce de resistance on Samui and perhaps the entirety of this nearly three-week sojourn in Thailand was Tree Tops Signature Dining. An extremely romantic locale, eight private A-frame pavilions – salas – are strategically hidden within a 120-year-old tree top canopy. Imagine an elegant treehouse with a dedicated server, who brings you – up many, many stairs – some of the finest creations that wunderkind Executive Chef Joao Acosta prepares.
Guests choose one of two six-course, set menus: the ‘Tow Than’ menu, named after the traditional Thai clay charcoal stoves used in the meal’s preparation, which we selected, or a vegetarian set menu.
The raw squid sorbet on rice crackers awakened taste buds while the coconut pancake topped with Osetra caviar nearly made me weep with joy.
It quickly became clear I’d need to ration my tears as the Surat Thani oysters with pomegranate and squid ink was divine. The white snapper with pumpkin purée, dry-aged duck with charred Samui greens and Buriram beef with coffee, sea salt, and baked beet root, all were beautifully presented, cooked to perfection, and utterly delicious. Truly one of most remarkable meals in a uniquely gorgeous setting.
If looking to purchase an oil painting by one of the island’s many talented artists, head over to Modern Thai Art Gallery in Bophut, not far from Hut Café. The gallery has a great collection of modern pieces that can be removed from frames, rolled into tubes and taken along, as we did, or shipped directly home via FedEx. They also produce outstanding, large-scale canvas reproductions, e.g. 30 x 36 or 36 x 48, from pocket size personal photographs.
In an idyllically tranquil setting, the waiting areas and nine private salas of Anantara Lawana Spa elicits calm even before any treatments begin. Sampling its Signature Lawana Coconut Paradise 200-minute treatment, this included a deliriously intoxicating coconut scrub, coconut detox wrap, and deep tissue coconut massage. This heavenly experience concluded with tea and rice crackers. I'm fairly certain I forgot my name following this 200-minute experience. However, I have little doubt that blissful, healing experiences like this result not only in a sense of physical and mental well-being, but also add years to one’s life.
If you can tear yourself away from Anantara Lawana, head to the island’s northwestern tip and Samui’s most known landmark, the Big Buddha. You’ll want to wake and arrive early when the monks are chanting. Near Lamai Beach is Hin Ta Hin Yai – grandfather and grandmother rocks – caused by erosion resulting in human-like formations. At Wat Khunaram, a revered local monk who died in 1973, is on display preserved in an upright glass case. He’s in remarkably good shape considering he’s been gone 50 years. Also worth seeing, the scenic Na Muang Waterfall, an impressive cascade dropping nearly 60 feet into a natural pool.
The Lesson Learned
Whether it is your first or 10th visit to Samui, the ease in getting there from Bangkok, its lovely beaches, luxury accommodations, great dining, nightlife, and proximity to other islands with their own charms, will no doubt have you returning again and again. Happy travels!
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” Her work has appeared in several major publications around the world, including The LA Times, The SF Examiner, The Asia Times, The Jerusalem Post, and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among many others. She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com.
Written by Julie L. Kessler
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