There are few places in Asia-Pacific more suited to a long, lazy weekend of indulgence than Thailand, and in particular its outlying islands like Koh Samui. Koh Samui has been covered to within an inch of its life; we all know about the Namuang Waterfall, the, uh, memorable rock formations at Lamai Beach, the low key yet somehow chaotic seafood stalls and the dazzling golden Buddha at Buddha Beach. But the island is home to some of the region’s most lush and decadent resorts and no matter what your tastes or where your product loyalties lie, there’s a hideaway on Koh Samui for you — the best of which are on the north coast.
In the northwestern corner on Laem Yai Bay sits the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, the kind of hotel that makes it seem as if you’re in another world from the minute you step into the welcome lobby — which is down the hill from the actual villa rooms. The hillside villas replete with traditional southern Thai thatched roofs are nestled among hundreds of coconut trees and shield the hotel from the outside world. The hotel can arrange almost any kind of excursion but you’ll be hard pressed to leave once you check in. And besides, climbing the hills from your room to the spa to the restaurant and back is plenty of exercise. Assuming you don’t call a taxi, aka an electric golf cart.
Farther east on the north side is the Belmond Napasai, perhaps one of the most fragrant of the island’s resorts, surrounded as it is by cashew and coconut trees, hibiscus and bougainvillea flowers. One of the most exclusive of Koh Samui’s resorts, it’s ideal for couples, though there are plenty of supervised children’s activities (like the ones featuring the hotel’s resident animals) if you can’t find a sitter.
Farther down the road, sitting on the white sands of Bophut Beach is Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort, a little more crowded (it’s got roughly 100 rooms and villas) but perfect for a bit more exploring; Anantara is striking distance from the airport, Big Buddha Beach, and Bang Rak and Chaweng. As a local brand, Anantara feels like the original Koh Samui resort (the hotel’s first property was actually Hua Hin) with a focus on ecotourism and local crafts and culture.
You would be hard pressed to find a hotel that didn’t offer trekking, biking, fishing, golfing, a plethora of water sports and scores of other activities on- and off-site, so doing “nothing” may be harder than it seems. Koh Samui’s hotels ring the island and so the vast swath in the middle is jungle. Elephant trekking is an eternally popular way to see it, but if you have ethical issues with the elephants, an off-road drive starting at Chaweng will provide the same jungle experience without inspiring you to join PETA.
A spa treatment is a must a some point during a weekend getaway, and though the punishing Thai massage is the most well known of local treatments, there are plenty of relaxing rituals that could easily put you to sleep on the table. The hotel spas take advantage of Thailand’s long spa history and natural resources in treatments: kaffir lime, coconut, jasmine, lemongrass, prai (in the ginger family) and camphor as just a few common ingredients. A good place to start an extravagant spa weekend is at Six Senses Samui, on the northeastern side of the island, whose resorts have become synonymous with spa-ing. The signature Thai Ancient combines Boran massage with Thai herbal compress balls for the ultimate relaxation experience.
To make a trip a little less slothlike venturing out to the local markets and town centres is a good idea for first time visitors and a great way to stock up on pricey (in Hong Kong) spices for regulars. The bustling markets at Chaweng are an option, but to keep a weekend low-key, Bang Rak and Mae Nam are better choices. They’re smaller and operate for more limited hours, but the locals that do their own shopping give them a more grounded, authentic feel regardless of vendors’ keen awareness of tourists. Better still is Nathon market on the west coast, whose night market at the old ferry pier is a foodies’ dream and will overload the senses. It’s worth stepping beyond the luxurious gates of your hotel — if only to justify another spa treatment.