While I continue to recap the remainder of my endless summer, I’ve decided to jump out of chronological order and start sharing snippets of what I’ve been up to since I reached Southeast Asia this fall. Thanks for coming along on this roller coaster ride!
At first glance, the three islands occupying the Gulf of Thailand have a lot in common — a thick coating of palm trees, an abundance of fresh coconuts, and a surrounding ring of turquoise waters.
But dig a little deeper and the differences feel more significant than the similarities. Tiny Koh Tao is a diver and backpacker paradise. Mid-sized Koh Phangan has a split personality, hosting both a rave-hungry party crowd and a nirvana-seeking yogic one. And big ‘ol Koh Samui is a bustling tourism powerhouse, with outposts of many of the world’s top travel brands. Each island has its loyalists. It’s no secret that my home-away-from-home of Koh Tao is my personal favorite.
Koh Tao people tend to go to Samui for three reasons: immigration, airport, and fast food; luxuries we don’t have on our smaller and more remote island. I recall distinctly that the highlight of my first trip there while living on Koh Tao in 2011 was shopping at Tesco Lotus and reveling in a McFlurry. But as the years have gone on and my travel budget has slowly increased, I’ve been able to take advantage of some of the finer things that Koh Samui offers.
When it came time for Ian and I to extend our visas after our first sixty days in Thailand, we decided to turn what can be an exhausting administrative day trip to Samui into a relaxing three-day vacation.
Originally, we’d planned to stay at Lanna Samui in Bophut, but at the last minute changed to their sister hotel in Mae Nam, Code. Both hotels are among the island’s top rated on Tripadvisor, a ranking I attribute at least in part to their fantastic value. We took this trip in mid-November, which is the heart of low season, and the perfect time to nab great deals in the Gulf.
Can you believe this room was just $50 per night during our stay? (The same room is $162 for a random night next week, still a pretty tempting offer.)
The best thing about Code’s spacious rooms is the views. On a clear day, we could see all the way to not just Koh Phangan but also Koh Tao! Every single room enjoys a panorama of the ocean, with many of them overlooking the beautiful pool as well. Each unit is also stocked with a full kitchen, a nice amenity for those planning longer stays.
The included breakfast at onsite Vanilla Restaurant was a nice combination of a lá carte options and a well-done buffet, and was the perfect way to start the day each morning. While the restaurant was bustling for breakfast, it was near deserted for lunch and dinner, though we assumed that was due to a combination of low season and guests taking advantage of ordering room service to their amazing rooms.
We had a great indulgent dinner sent up to our suite one night, and enjoyed a beautiful healthy lunch poolside one afternoon. We weren’t crazy about the small poolside menu, but the staff was more than happy to deliver food from the regular menu at Vanilla straight to our loungers.
What would a relaxing holiday be without some scheduled pool time? Again, we mostly had the pool — and all those delicious views — to ourselves.
Other amenities included a sweet gym where we snuck in a sunset workout, a tennis court, a pool-side steam room, and Cinnamon, an in-house spa.
Be sure to book ahead if you’re excited about the spa — it’s a small one, and thus reservations are limited. We were all about the amazing package special happening while we were there, but the staff couldn’t find a time when there was room for them to sneak us in for the whole thing. We settled for one-hour Thai massages, which set us back about $30 each.
Other than enjoying all the amenities Code had to offer, we also planned a few more far-flung adventures. One of them was a class at Yogarden, one of Koh Samui’s few truly independent yoga studios. I fell in love with this peaceful space as soon as we entered the courtyard — I have a feeling I’d be a regular here had I taken a different path and ended up on this island instead of its neighbor.
I was excited when I realized that our vinyasa flow would be led by a Thai yogi, Kom. Though I’ve been practicing yoga in Thailand for years, I’ve yet to take a class with a local Thai instructor. I enjoyed the acro elements he added towards the end of the group session, and Ian reckoned that a class with this hyper-flexible man once a week for a few months would leave us bendier than ever.
While drop-in classes are quite pricey at 500 baht or $14, I can’t wait to return to Yogarden — and next time, I’m staying for lunch!
Speaking of food. Our biggest goal for our three days on the island — aside from that pure zen relaxation I mentioned — was to eat and drink as well as humanely possible. A bartender by trade and a chef by passion, traveling with Ian has definitely given me a greater appreciation for planning what restaurants and bars we visit when we travel. We even took a full on booze tour of the island, but more on that in my next post. We had a pretty well-researched list of where we wanted to hit up long before arrival, and it didn’t disappoint.
Our big lunch stop? Stacked in Chaweng Beach a craft burger and cocktail joint with what might just be the best and most consistent service I’ve ever received in Thailand, from the entire staff. I’ll absolutely return for dinner next time. A lunch of two burgers, two cocktails and a bonus bucket of popcorn set us back a fairly reasonable $32 (there was daytime discount on food at the time to celebrate the launch of the lunch menu).
Another of our big dining destinations was The Larder, also in Chaweng. This spot came highly recommended to us by friends on the island who warned that we should make a reservation. We did, which was entertaining in light of the fact that we arrived to a totally empty restaurant. Personally I prefer eating in a bustling eatery, but I suppose another benefit of low season is you don’t ever have to worry about snagging a table even at one of the most popular restaurants on the island.
I was a tad concerned that the menu was a little too out-there for this still relatively picky eater. But though my food options as a non-seafood eater were somewhat limited, the creativity of the cocktail menu more than made up for it. Dinner here was a serious indulgence compared to our usual meals on Koh Tao (how indulgent I’m not sure, since Ian treated us to this one) but it was a great date night experience.
Our final meal in Samui brought us back to — you guessed it — Chaweng, again. This time, we headed to Drink Gallery, the chic cocktail bar of The Library, a sleek hotel that has long topped my Thailand bucket list.
Drink Gallery is almost overwhelming, visually. The modern bar wouldn’t be out of place on a trendy thoroughfare in Bangkok, making it quite a sight on the main beach road in Samui. The small food menu was perfectly sized to match our small appetites for the evening, while the drink menu left us endlessly debating which of the dozens of signature cocktails to try next. The presentation was flawless, with each concoction we ordered delivered in a different, equally flair-adorned vessel. While we weren’t overly impressed with the food, the drinks were fantastic and I look forward to sampling more of the menu on a future trip.
After, we unwound with a cheap massage at one of the endless spas lining Chaweng Road — always a treat in Koh Samui.
The only downside to our getaway was time spent on the back of our rental bike and money thrown away on really expensive cabs. We’re pretty spoiled with non-existent commutes on the tiny island of Koh Tao, and so the long drives back and forth between Mae Nam, where Code was located, and Bophut and Chaweng, where we did most of our eating and drinking, was a long one — the drive home from Drinks Gallery was forty-five minutes! In retrospect, we probably should have adjusted our itinerary when we changed hotels rather than stubbornly sticking to our original plan — but we were so excited about all the places we’d picked to eat, drink, and play that we just decided to go with it.
However, the location of Code is great if you need to near immigration — it’s just a twelve minute drive — or are looking for a more quiet and remote corner of the island to enjoy. After all, any annoyance I had at our back-and-forth on the bike melted away when stumbled upon this sunset at Bang Por beach, just down the hill from Code. While the hotel provides free shuttles a couple times per day, we just happened to catch the perfect timing when returning back to the hotel one evening by motorbike.
For divers and backpackers, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan are where it’s at. But for families and luxury aficionados, Samui has got it going in. This trip was my fifth overnight journey to the island, and I found myself enjoying and understanding its magnetism more than ever before.
Looking to snag luxury for a song in the low season? Hungry for a fix of cosmopolitan dining options? Need a little taste of the big city on a beautiful island? You’ll find it here.
Stay tuned for one more post from Koh Samui!
Do you like your islands laid-back or luxury-filled?
Many thanks to Code for hosting me on Samui. As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.