Hi, it’s Eva again, Fleewinter’s Thailand Travel Specialist. I have just come back from another trip to Thailand and I have found so many new amazing boutique hotels, beaches and experiences that I want to share, I don’t even know where to start. Since the summer holidays are coming up in a few months and the islands in the Gulf of Thailand are excellent destinations during that time of the year, I wanted to write a review about the best boutique hotels for all budgets on Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island and the largest of the Samui – Phangan – Tao trio.
Before becoming a popular tourist destination in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui, surrounded by palm-fringed beaches and turquoise water, used to be a Thai fishing community. It is easy to get there as the island has an airport (actually the most beautiful airport I have ever seen, it is a semi-open space surrounded by flowers and plants). Flights from Bangkok take 1 hour, unfortunately, flights to Koh Samui are a bit more expensive than flights to other beach destinations such as Krabi or Phuket. There are low cost carriers also flying to Surat Thani on the mainland, from where it is a 2 hour bus ride followed by a ferry ride to Koh Samui. The latter is definitely the cheaper but also more time consuming and definitely less comfortable option to get to the island.
From waterfalls, jungle treks, national marine parks, snorkelling, kayaking to bar hopping, there are loads of options for those who don’t like to laze at the beach the whole day. The beaches are just gorgeous, and so are the colours of the ocean. When it comes to hotels, one finds all the branded hotels, from Le Meridien to Ibis on the island.
As you might know, here at Fleewinter we are trying to avoid the impersonal big international hotel chains and are rather always on the hunt for unique and authentic boutique accommodation with personalized service and local charm. We rented a motorbike to explore the island and to find exactly this. And I am happy to report that I am very pleased with the results:
- Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa, Bophut Bay
No filter here, the colours really are this gorgeous, and this was taken with my iPhone… The Zazen Resort & Spa easily is our no. 1 hotel option on the island. It embraces the magic of South East Asia in its design, concept and service, while offering excellent value for money at the same time. No need to fight for the best spot at the beach with 100 other guests right after having been fed at the impersonal loveless buffet breakfast where a horrible thin machine coffee was served and oily fried eggs, that had been kept warm in sterile shaving dishes for hours, were thrown onto your plate. Quite the contrary, every detail here was a surprising delight. Service is attentive and personal, yet discrete. The intimate hotel has only 26 individual and spacious bungalows which are decorated with hand-picked antiques and warm colours. As they are separated from each other and surrounded by verdant tropical gardens, the rooms feel very private. We adored our semi open air bathroom from where we could hear the sound of the ocean.
It is obvious that the owners take great pride in delivering a great experience to the hotel guests, as every detail along the service chain has been looked at. As an example, no one really enjoys the bread hotels serve for breakfast, right? Zazen has its own bakery where fresh pastries, rolls and breads are being baked for guests each day.
I am not that kind of person who enjoys lazing around the beach the whole day, so I jumped onto one of the stand up paddle boards which are free to use for guests (as well as sea kayaks), and paddled around the area to get a first impression of my surroundings. The hotel is perfectly located right at the end of Bophut Bay, a charming area which is so much nicer than the over developed Chaweng area. Due to its location, its is really quiet around the hotel, but the charming fisherman village of Bophut with its beautiful shops, little cafes and restaurants is just a 5 minutes beach walk away. On Friday nights, Bophut celebrates its Thai culture and the small one-way road closes for a festive street fair. Local street vendors offer delicious food and drinks, crafts are on display for purchase and music can be heard all over the village. Unfortunately, we missed that one, but I will surely be back.
The hotel puts a great focus on wellbeing (Zazen draws inspiration from the Japanese word meaning “to find inner peace”) and as such, it has an exceptional spa area. In fact, even though the cheap massages at the beaches in Thailand feel so good, I sometimes wonder if the masseuses actually know what they are doing. Not at the Zazen Spa – We were asked to fill out a questionnaire before our treatments (where we even had to indicate the colour of the mood we were feeling, I felt green), and also during the massage it was obvious that the staff has been well trained and knows exactly what to do.
Isn’t this just the prettiest spa room you have ever seen?
The hotel also has a fitness centre and a yoga sala which is located in the back of the resort where it is peaceful and quiet.
Dinner was exceptionally good: Food, ambiance, service – everything was on point. The staff told me that the restaurant is famous on the island but I thought “well yeah, they sort of have to say that…”, but then, in fact, I was recommended the restaurant of Zazen at another hotel… I took around 1000 pictures of the view from our dining table (who wouldn’t have, except for my husband who doesn’t seem to understand the value of taking 100 pictures of the same thing?) because I just loved the romantic candle-lit set up so much. It was a bit magical…
And then, of course, the breakfast was amazing – and I am a hotel breakfast snob (as my husband likes to mention). There were lots of a-la-carte options (I love a-la-carte breakfasts), as well as a lovely small buffet serving high quality add-ons such as smoked salmon, pastries from the in-house bakery and freshly squeezed juices. The coffee came in a French press and I sat for a few seconds in awe as I thoroughly enjoyed this delicious fresh coffee right next to the ocean while the sun was rising.
This description of the Zazen is getting quite long, but there are really lots of things worth mentioning that this hotel does so amazingly right… So one last thing that I found remarkable was the hotel’s wine cellar, containing 350 wines from 17 different countries. This is especially great as wine options in Thailand tend to be quite limited.
And one last recommendation: This is one of the few hotels where I actually really recommend the entry-level room category. The Garden Deluxe Bungalows are located only steps away from the beach, yet offer a more private experience than the beachfront rooms. I especially recommend rooms 7, 8 and 9. If you want to find out more about the hotel, please click here.
2. The Waterfront, Bophut Bay
The Waterfront Boutique Hotel is a wonderful option for travellers that really enjoy personal interaction and an authentic experience. Robin and Sue, a lovely couple from the UK, have been running The Waterfront for over a decade and built it from being a few bungalows at the beach to what it is today: A charming and quiet spot that feels like home. Rooms are simple but have everything one needs and with the view from the hotel, you won’t spend much time in the room anyway, I promise.
The hotel is located at the other end of Bophut Bay, so location wise it is as perfect as the Zazen: Peaceful and quiet, but if guests want to have some evening entertainment, they just need to walk five minutes to the bars and restaurants of the fisherman village in Bophut.
Sue showed me around and we just kept chatting and chatting. At one point my husband, who was sitting outside drinking a beer, came in to see what I was doing as I had never taken this long for a hotel inspection. This bubbly person is just someone I instantly wanted to have a glass of wine with. She told us why they ended up moving from the UK to Koh Samui, how they gradually added more rooms and stories of loyal guests coming over and over again. I remember when we were walking through the gardens when she suddenly turned around and looked at us as someone in the pool was laughing, saying “I love to listen to the laughter of our guests”. It is remarkable how Robin and Sue genuinely care for their guests and want everyone to have a great time. They actually sit down with every single guest and serve them a drink (“But not one of these rubbish sweet drinks no one likes, we serve them a glass of decent wine or whatever they feel like.”), and introduce them to other guests. They also invite all guests to join the free tour of the Bophut area when they arrive.
The whole vibe of this hotel was great, everyone was smiling at us. In fact, she told us that some of the staff they had started with are still working at the hotel – No better way to explain why you will instantly feel like a family member when you book a room at The Waterfront.
All rooms are next to the beach and have a private terrace. The hotel rate includes breakfast, however the hotel restaurant closes at 6pm, as there are plenty of superb restaurants around the hotel and guests tend to eat out anyway.
I really enjoyed the Bophut area where both the Zazen and The Waterfront are located. There are plenty of charming little bars, cafes and shops. We walked from one end of the bay to the other and probably wouldn’t have ever arrived if my husband would have let me have a drink in every bar I wanted to have a look at… The sunset was just lovely and created this magical ambiance that I enjoy so much (why I choose holiday destination for the positioning for sunset).
If you would like to know more about The Waterfront, please click here.
Probably fair to say that this gorgeous hillside residence called Panacea is more on the expensive side of things, but if you just have a few thousand pounds to spare and you are wondering what to do with that, there you go. In fact, it is so stunning you have to see it to believe it. The photos I am going to use for the Panacea are their marketing ones as when I was there it was already dark and the lighting was rubbish.
Panacea Retreat is an exclusive retreat, providing its guests with bespoke intuitive service. The five spacious residences are nestled in a setting of natural beauty, boasting panoramic views from its hill top location. This also means that it is not located at the beach like the Zazen or the Waterfront, however, anytime guests want to go to the beach, they just let one of their ten villa staff know and a transfer complete with beach chairs and towels etc. will be arranged. And, a view like this is well worth the extra effort, I assure you.
The 5 residences range in size to offer a choice of four, five, or six bedrooms. Each comes with their private gardens, landscaped grounds designed by Bill Bensley (aka. my hero) and their own luxurious infinity pools, as well as day sala facilities where guests can luxuriate in their own private lush tropical living.
All residences come with an abundance of complimentary services such as airport transfers, a la carte breakfast prepared in the privacy of your own residence, daily baked cookies and fresh smoothies, daily laundry, massages, yoga sessions, cooking classes etc.
The most remarkable is the main residence, Praana, which comes complete with a floodlit private tennis court, custom-made pavilion housing a Muay Thai boxing ring in which to practice the ancient art of Thailand’s most famous martial art, 25m and 10m infinity pools, fully equipped gym, plus dedicated massage, sauna, and steam room. Entertainment is covered with the in-house cinema, games room, nightclub, and well-stocked wine cellar.
Gorgeous right? If you want to find out more about the residences, click here.
Koh Samui really has so much on offer, one can easily spend two weeks here without getting bored. If you want to know more about the island, plan a holiday or book one of the boutique accommodation options we offer, just send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (UK) 0207 112 0019, I would be more than happy to have a chat.