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In a nutshell
Le Méridien Koh Samui is a ‘luxury spa’. That means it’s about relaxation and refinement – but also cocktails and terrific food.
The resort is on Lamai Beach, on the south-west of the Thai island of Samui and 20 minutes from the airport. It was built under instruction from a feng shui master and there are little rituals incorporated into its design. Entering involves crossing a stone causeway over a pool and, as you pass, motion-sensitive lights embedded in the surrounding walls burst into life – it’s like being greeted by paparazzi flashbulbs.
You ascend and descend as you move into the resort – and all this is about maintaining the correct the flow of energy and welcoming good fortune. There’s an illuminated Chinese blessing at the entrance, referencing the island’s Chinese past. It all immediately feels very calm and gentle.
Why we like it
The bar and pool face the Gulf of Thailand and, to compensate for its slender portion of beach (there isn’t really enough of it for sunbathing), the hotel has its own pier – which looks gorgeous when viewed from the pool. On the night my party arrives, there are some slightly raucous Indian bankers enjoying it.
I stay in one of the Verandah Suites, which comes with a decked terrace and faces a small swimming pool.
Three other suites also face the pool, which gives the space a nice communal feel while keeping a measure of privacy – this must be what textbook feng shui feels like. A nice arrangement if you’re in a wedding party – sociable but with hiding places.
My virginal towels are shaped with clever little origami elephant heads, which I guiltily decapitate before I can dry myself. Since it’s a spa, there are various treatments available, such as chakra crystal therapy and a coffee scrub. I try the Thai massage. The massage rooms are entered by descending a flight of stairs, taking you into a realm of semidarkness.
My masseur gives me a relaxing variety of herbal tea and, after gesturing to a bowl of water, scrubs my feet. (One of my fellow English travellers is embarrassed by this act of supplication but I am all for it.) I’m given a skimpy black nothing to wear, which is so small that I almost panic while working out which part of my body it covers. The massage itself is quite something compared with the namby-pamby Western variety. It’s weirdly intense and intimate – as if I’m folded and reshaped like human origami.
Why we don’t
It’s impeccably manicured at all times, which feels a bit much. The lawns are immaculate and the staff always greet you with a smile and a bow. There are little blossomy flowers scattered over the pathways and on the surface of the pools – I half assume they’d been placed using a protractor rather than having fallen from the trees.
Every evening at 7.19pm (or 19.19, to be more neatly numerological), the hotel marks the Celebration of the Day: ‘A time to give thanks for all the elements that have made the day that was, and to look forward to the day coming.’ This means lighting a lantern and making a wish as it ascends – while the sound system plays Enya.
Samui has a reputation as one of Thailand’s party islands but there’s more to do here than get drunk on a beach. The Five Islands tour (which begins and ends at the Five Islands restaurant in south-west Samui) is a good way of seeing something of the coast and exploring the lovely white beaches.
Our tour begins with lunch – clear soup with king prawns, lime and lemongrass; and deep-fried crab with garlic – at the Five Islands restaurant owned by Colin Burgess, a friendly and entertaining south London expat who works with a team of local chefs. The quality is similar to that at Le Méridien – in other words, exceptionally high.
Small motor-powered long-tail boats take us round the islands, which are home to some unusually valuable bird’s nests (used for food and cosmetics). We’re told there are security guards with Kalashnikovs protecting them from poachers, though we don’t see any.
There’s a brief stop at one of the largest islands, where there’s the chance to hand-feed tropical fish. This is quite something, getting close to shoals of glittery, Nemo-like fish in bright blue water.
For something less edifying, there’s Samui nightlife – a kind of Bangkok-lite. There are cocktails sold from tiny street stalls (I had the best mojito of my life from one of these, for the equivalent of around 50p). There are the shops selling ‘Louis Vuitton’ bags. And then there are the ladyboys.
We spend an entertaining evening at Starz Cabaret on Chaweng Beach Road, though there’s a broad range of talent on display. A rather dumpy Diana Ross struggles to lip-sync to Baby Love but a Cher is superb – complete with between-songs banter.