ritz carlton koh samui

Ritz Carlton Koh Samui: An underrated island paradise in the heart of southern Thailand

14 Jun 2024 | |By Annie Lewis

It was years in the making, and it doesn’t disappoint. Welcome to the Ritz Carlton Koh Samui

Koh Samui is anticipating the ‘White Lotus effect’. Never heard of it? You’re forgiven. But for fans of the HBO American drama – starring Jennifer Coolidge, Theo James and Sydney Sweeney – it’s a very real thing. The term was coined after the first season of the show was shot on Hawaii in 2021, and resulted in a 386 per cent increase in holiday enquiries. Sicily, the sunny setting of the second season, likewise experienced a tourist boom shortly after it aired. 

Foreseeing an unmissable opportunity to boost its tourism industry, the Thai government was quick to hand the White Lotus’ producers $4.4 million in tax incentives to gently entice them to southern Thailand’s sunny climes. Money talks: filming of the third season is currently underway on the leafy island of Koh Samui and set to hit our screens next year. Ta da. 

It would seem, however, that Koh Samui has been poised to receive an abundance of well-heeled travellers for some time now. Scour the island and you’ll find outposts from the Six Senses, Anantara (it actually has two), Four Seasons, Banyan Tree, Kimpton and Conrad – you get the picture. But, for many, there’s only one choice: Ritz Carlton Koh Samui. Priding itself on the hotel group’s world-renowned signature service, this five-star hotel set the standard for luxury on Samui when it opened its doors in 2018 (a torturous ten years after it was announced in 2008) – and, in my honest opinion, it’s your best bet. 

Built on a former coconut plantation (Koh Samui’s nickname is, in fact, ‘coconut island’), the Ritz Carlton bagged a prestigious 58-acre slice of the island’s north-eastern corner to create its 175-key site. This is not so much a hotel as it is a neighbourhood within its own right. Boasting seven dining outlets, a literal spa ‘village’ and a fitness centre with its own Muay Thai boxing school, the neatly-paved roads which interconnect the site – golf buggies will act as your on-call chauffeur throughout your stay – are lined with villa after suite after villa on the southern side of the resort, each with its own porch, pool and walkway. 

It’s no exaggeration to say my suite at the Ritz Carlton Koh Samui is one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. Perched on a cliff-edge to take advantage of the best panoramic views of the Gulf of Thailand, I access my suite via a suspended wooden walkway that feels like walking through the jungle. Inside my Ultimate Pool Villa, interiors aren’t striking but soothing, featuring warm beiges, dark woods and floor-to-ceiling windows allowing the views to be the focal point. Flowing onto the veranda, the infinity plunge pool steals the spotlight, while the sun-lit space features outdoor showers and a designated viewpoint. Head back inside to discover the expansive ensuite, with a bathtub boasting views of the aforementioned veranda and beyond, alongside a rainfall shower and double marble vanity. You’ll never tire of getting ready in the morning with views of the Gulf of Thailand as your backdrop, trust me. 

Food is as essential to the Ritz Carlton’s offering as the seamless service and impeccably-designed suites. You’ll struggle to get bored of the culinary offering here, as the roster of Thai-born chefs cook up something different every night at restaurants across the site. Sample popular street food favourites in a market-style atmosphere, complete with traditional dance performances, at Baan Talat or sample high-end Indian fusion fare at One Rai. Wednesday night, which happened to be the day I arrived, sees the team host weekly beach barbecues where guests can indulge in an endless buffet of mouthwatering meats grilled to order, as well as fresh sushi, fried noodles and fragrant curries – you want it, they have it. While you’re feasting with your toes in the sand and the waves lapping around you, the hotel enlists entertainment in the form of local bands or fire performers to make it a night to remember. 

The foodie highlight of my stay – if not my entire extended Thai holiday – was Pak Thai, which takes its name from the eponymous native dialect that still survives in the south. Centred around the natural swimming pool (where you can literally swim with fishes if you’re prepared to be smothered in algae) are individual pods, separating diners with white walls to create a personalised experience. The menu here is split into five full pages of appetisers, soups, deep-fried, wok-fried, and steamed delicacies and curries. As you can probably decipher, there’s a lot to pick from and I’d recommend asking your waiter for guidance, but unmissable dishes include the deep-fried soft shell crab, panang curry with king lobster and cashew nuts, and green curry with sweet basil and kaffir lime leaves. When people ask where I had my favourite meal in Thailand, I say Pak Thai (although the gyozas from a street stall in Bangkok come a close second). 

Preserving Koh Samui’s culture is taken very seriously here and you won’t have to venture far to try your hand at one of Thailand’s most celebrated sports: Muay Thai. Referred to as ‘the art of eight limbs’ (it focuses on eight points of contact), this ancient martial art sees the body aim to mimic weapons of war. Complimentary lessons are hosted by the young and fun on-site activity team (who also host kayaking sessions in the bay and aqua aerobics at the Spa Village) in the open-air gym, who will wrap you up and hand you boxing gloves to teach you your roundhouse kick from your upper cut. It’s a must during your stay at the Ritz Carlton – just prepare to get a little sweaty. 

Post-workout, I’m chauffeured to the unassuming glass doors of the Spa Village. It’s safe to say the exterior does not prepare for the maze of treatment huts, aquatic therapy pool, yoga pavilion and tea lounge that lies beyond. Coconuts – synonymous with Koh Samui – play an intrinsic role in the spa menu, which taps into the fruit’s nutritional, health, and beauty benefits via a coconut body scrub treatment, coconut flow massage and, to do as the locals do, a nourishing coconut hair masque. Don’t miss the signature Songkran Shower ritual that preludes massages and will see you bathed in water and flowers in a ceremony inspired by the joyful throwing of water at the annual Songkran festival. 

While the isolated coves of Phi Phi and Koh Yao Yai are ideal destinations for the adventurous traveller – and the uber-developed Patong Beach on Phuket is certainly not for everyone – Koh Samui is a natural choice for any well-heeled globetrotter looking to experience luxury and culture in equal measure. Its azure waters, jungle coves and white sandy beaches remain largely untouched by vapid tourism – but that could all change after the ‘White Lotus effect’. Book now, but more to the point, book the Ritz Carlton Koh Samui. You won’t be disappointed. 

From £459 per night, visit ritzcarlton.com

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