16 May, 2013

Intercontinental Koh Samui – a long weekend of pure escapism

16 May, 2013

There is something utterly unmissable about sunsets. Unfortunately, catching a breath-taking one can prove difficult in muggy Hong Kong… but not so at The Intercontinental Koh Samui. Perched on the hillside of an isolated stretch of coastline, the glorious sunset plays out daily, showcasing a rainbow of colours descending into the sea beyond. Even better – this magnificent spectacle can be viewed, uninterrupted, from almost every point in the hotel.

We escaped to Koh Samui seeking rest and relaxation. A short three-hour flight with Bangkok Air transports you directly to this tropical paradise, whilst a 45-minute taxi whisks you to the isolated West coast. No crowded beaches, no pumping nightclubs, no cheesy tourist shops – this is the sort of place to head to for a long weekend of pure escapism.

The hotel covers the whole hillside, providing a wonderful choice of places to do nothing. We started off spending most of our time down by the beach pool, thanks to its proximity to the sea, the hotel’s beach restaurant Flames, and the range of water sports and other fun pursuits. However, as we were staying over Easter, the sun loungers soon started to feel cramped and a bit too busy, whilst the pool quickly filled with splash-happy kids.

To find some quiet, we wandered down the jetty; kayaking proved a mildly energetic activity but the almost fish-free snorkelling disappointed, as did the slightly rocky beaches that looked deceptively more appealing than they actually were. That said, Koh Samui isn’t famed for great beaches and this is definitely one of the best; despite one neighbouring small hotel, it is pretty much deserted and unspoilt, perfect for holiday seclusion. We treated ourselves to daily homemade ice creams from the charming ice cream shack and lingered over shady lunches in Flames. The food, a selection of Western and Thai dishes, was perfect poolside fare, although the service struggled with the weight of guests.

Unfortunately, Amber, the hotel’s main restaurant, was less impressive. We ate dinner here twice and whilst the setting is serene, the Thai cuisine catered more for a Western palate and lacked the flair and excitement we were looking for. Service was again slow and overstretched, becoming frustrating at times.

However, this was all redeemed by our impossibly perfect daily pre-dinner sundowners at Air Bar. High up on the hillside near the lobby, Air blasts hip music to guests as they recline on day beds, sip fantastic cocktails, munch on sushi dishes and delight in those majestic sunsets. It became clear why watching the sunset from here has made it onto the New York Times’ ‘1000 Things to do Before You Die’ list.

Our days were otherwise spent in a medley of lethargic activities. We borrowed the complimentary bicycles for a burst of peddling energy, dabbled with playing tennis on the hotels’ private courts, dawdled in the gym watching the tide roll in and watched other guests bravely taking out the sailing boat. The spa, even higher up the hillside and located amongst the private villas, offered an oasis of calm and wonderful treatments.

For the latter half of our escape, we spent the days bedded down at the lobby’s infinity pool. The lobby itself offers panoramic views over the sea and into the mountains, whilst the infinity pool faces over the hills and their rolling greenery – offering a more peaceful and tranquil place to spend the day lounging than by the beach pool.

The sheer size of the hotel (golf buggies drive you around!) mean that once you’ve settled by a pool, you tend to stay put. The hotel boasts a further five pools sprinkled amongst the private villas but they’re not really worth heading to unless you’re staying in a villa. We, however, were in a wonderful Ocean View Room; nestled under the main building, it was spacious, cooling and relaxing with tranquil colours, deep giant baths, engulfing beds and best of all, large terraces providing an alternate space to watch the glorious sunsets from the privacy of your own room. There were some beach villas with appealing private mini pools but due to the crowds at the beach area, they felt somewhat lacking in privacy.

The Intercontinental definitely has the most unique location in the whole of Koh Samui and boasts unparalleled views. Having only been open for a year, the hotel also offers five-star luxury at far lower prices than their competitors. I would advise going for a long weekend, not in peak season; not only will you avoid the crowds and the resulting poor service we experienced, but you’ll also get access to the best rates, meaning you can have your own ocean view room from just $2000 per night.

The problems with crowding and service seemed like seasonal blunders that need ironing out, but if you’re looking for an isolated beach break, with breath-taking daily sunsets at fantastic prices all a stone’s throw from the 852 – look no further. And if you can’t make it to stay there, just be sure to pop over for a drink at Air at least.

The Intercontinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort, 295 Moo 3, Taling Ngam Beach, Suratthani, Koh Samui, 84140, Thailand, +66 77429 100


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