As soon as the wheels touched down on the Thai island of Koh Samui, we knew that the frantic city life was far behind us.
Having departed from the lively, bustling streets of Bangkok just an hour and a half earlier, we landed at an airport that’s quite unlike any we’d experienced before.
Once you step off the plane, you’re given an instant taste of a typical Thai resort. Instead of the familiar grey walls and blue-tinted glass panels of the average airport, on Koh Samui you land amid grand wooden huts adorned with lush plant life - a fitting warmup to our final destination - Santiburi.
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The resort, one of the first retreats to launch on the island in 1992, is situated just a stone’s throw away from the quiet village of Bo Phut on the blissfully sandy shores of Maenam beach. Around 30 minutes away from the buzzing beach town of Chaweng, Santiburi is a popular destination for those looking to experience the quieter, more relaxing side of the island.
After a 15 minute drive from the airport to the resort, we parked up, had our bags promptly collected and were escorted past the vast swimming pool in the centre of the resort and towards the secluded villas.
Peace in paradise
Our home for the next two nights would be one of Santiburi’s grand deluxe pool villas, which comes complete with - as the name suggests - a vast private pool, perfect for those wanting to get 100 lengths in before breakfast, or to simply relax while watching the sun set.
Open the double doors to the lounge area and you’ll find a massive room, with a dining area in case you fancy ordering room service for a more intimate dinner. As our stay occurred during the rainy season, which usually starts in July and fades out in October, such a spacious roof over our heads certainly came in handy when waiting for a quick shower to pass.
You’ll will notice just how open plan the villa is, with the back of the bathroom - fitted with stylish his-and-hers sinks - visible through the bedroom from the sofa in the lounge. The effect makes the rooms feel bright and spacious, as if you had an entire hotel to yourself. You can, of course, close each section for more privacy.
A particular highlight was the Santiburi app, which can be downloaded onto your smartphone for direct access to the front desk and updates on the resort’s upcoming events. It’s a small touch, but one that’s surprisingly convenient. Santiburi’s helpful staff are happy to walk you through the installation process.
A massage with a view
A night in our blissfully secluded villa was enough to put the bustle of Bangkok behind us, but to shed any lingering tensions, we pay a visit to the resort’s beachfront spa.
As you’d expect, there were plenty of treatments to choose from - we chose an hour’s full-body Thai massage. It turns out “medium” pressure is, in fact, quite firm for a person experiencing a Thai massage for the first time. But the session is all the better for giving guests an spared an authentic experience, rather than one watered-down for tourists.
So expect to have your fingers pulled, legs stretched and back walked over during your pursuit of relaxation. But if that sounds like your worst nightmare, you can always ask for a gentler pressure - or skip certain parts of the therapy altogether.
Food that’s waiting to be discovered
One of the many wonders of Thailand is its food, arguably among the best in the world. But even on a paradise island, you don’t have to pay through the nose for authentic Thai cuisine. In fact, some of the cheaper meals are among the best you’ll find on the island.
Within a stone’s thrown from Santiburi is a small restaurant called Kanomjeen Pa Maitree. Don’t be fooled by the eatery’s somewhat basic appearance; local restaurants are all about the food, with decor taking a backseat.
Rice noodle dishes are the restaurant’s speciality, and there are only a few options on the menu. Even though the food is freshly made, you’ll find yourself tucking into a beautifully-crafted curry mere minutes after placing your order. The dishes are so delicious, it’s no wonder, then, that the restaurant is a popular stop for Thai celebrities and government officials, whose visits are memorialised in photos tacked all over the walls.
Of course, there’s plenty of food on offer within the resort itself. Having sampled Santiburi’s take on the local cuisine during one of resort’s special dining events, as well as tucking into a Thai breakfast the following morning, it’s clear that the retreat’s chefs know their pad thais from their pad ka prao.
While the flavours on offer are not quite as dramatic as those you’ll find at Koh Samui’s local restaurants, it’s arguably the best way for those unfamiliar with Thai food to ease themselves into the country’s stunning cuisine.
And that appears to be the theme of Santiburi. It’s a superb home from home during your stay on Koh Samui and the ideal place for guests looking for a vibrant setting to switch off from the outside world.
Price start from around 9,360 Thai baht (£247) per night for a regular villa, while the reviewed grand deluxe pool villas are priced from 16,959 Thai baht (£448) per night. Visit: santiburisamui.com
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