As introductions to tropical islands go, this one is pretty special.
I’m half expecting James Bond to appear from the open-air designer kitchen in his black tuxedo, martini in hand. And from my vantage point in the deep turquoise infinity pool, there’s a gorgeous view of a crystal clear bay and gently rolling hills covered in dense tropical forest. I’m on Koh Samui, Thailand, and the kitchen belongs to a luxury villa at Samujana, one of 25 privately owned villas in the north east of the island, just a 10-minute drive from the airport.
Each individually designed villa is available to rent and has a landscaped garden and sea view. The 360-degree view from villa number five, at the top of the hill, is awesome.
If you’ve got a cool £1million or so to spare you can buy one, but I’m here just for a treat for a few days.
Arranged from top to bottom on a wooded hillside, a couple of miles north of the beautiful beaches of Chaweng Bay, the villas range in size from three to eight bedrooms and blend seamlessly into the landscape. They come with 50in flat screen TVs, a barbecue area and minibar, a sound system and iPod docks, and some even have private cinemas, a gym, a games room and underwater speakers.
Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, lies in the Gulf of Thailand off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus, the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsular. Renowned for its palm-fringed beaches, rainforests and laid-back atmosphere, it was once popular with backpackers, who flocked here for the plentiful cheap and cheerful accommodation. Nowadays, it caters to the other end of the market, too, and there are just as many luxury resorts and spas to choose from.
At just 25km long and 20km wide, it’s small enough to drive around in an hour but big enough to appeal to a range of interests, whether you’re looking for vibrant nightlife, jungle trekking or just chilling out on the beach or around the pool.
The W Retreat on the island’s northern tip is one of Koh Samui’s ritziest nightspots, with Waltzer-like seating pods floating on an infinity pool. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s a great place to get dressed up for on a Saturday night out, and the teppan grill at the Korean/Japanese inspired restaurant Namu serves wonderful sushi.
Even though you might not want to leave the cocoon of your villa, you can’t go to a tropical island and not take to the sea. Grand Sea Tours is one of the island’s most established boating companies and offers tours to Angthong National Marine Park as well as Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan, two islands which have some of the best dive and snorkelling sites in the Gulf of Thailand.
The coral reefs (many of which are now under conservation) and crystal clear waters here are teeming with marine life, from angelfish to whale sharks.
It takes around two hours by speedboat to reach Koh Tau, 68km north of Koh Samui, and after speeding northwards into the Chumphon Archipelago – the northern part of the Gulf of Thailand – we eventually pull into Mango Bay at Koh Tao’s northern tip. Here, we enjoy an hour of snorkelling, followed by a tasty lunch of Thai spiced watermelon soup, fried chicken and vegetable rice at Buddy Restaurant.
Our next stop is Koh Nang Yuan, a small archipelago of three tiny islands connected by a long white sandbar, and even though it’s full of tourists it’s still beautiful, with more fascinating coral reefs to explore.
The next day, back on Koh Samui, I headed to one of the island’s best-kept secrets, the Jungle Club, reached via a hill that is so steep you’ll have to call ahead for one of their drivers to come and pick you up in a company Land Rover.
Clinging on to the bars in the back of the vehicle as it makes its way to the top is part of the fun.
Owned by a Thai-French family, the hillside getaway started life as a small bar in a coconut plantation. It’s now a laid-back luxury hotel with a restaurant serving Thai and French cuisine and a decking area with low-slung seating artfully arranged under curtained canopies. With a phenomenal view over Chaweng Bay, it was a wonderful spot to fully appreciate the beauty of this paradise island.
Way to go
Prices at Samujana (samujana.com) start at around £500 a night for a three double-bed villa, on a bed and breakfast basis, including transfers. A boat trip to Koh Tau and Koh Nang Yuan with Grand Sea Tours (grandseatours.com) costs 2,200 Thai Baht (£50) per person and includes snorkels, life jackets, lunch and soft drinks. Return Emirates flights (emirates.com) from London Gatwick to Bangkok start from £635. A return from Bangkok to Koh Samui with Bangkok Airways (bangkokair.com) starts from £140. Overnight accommodation at a Crowne Plaza airport hotel with airport parking and hotels (aph.com) starts at £60 room only.
Ten things you must do in Koh Samui
1 Take a boat trip to Angthong National Marine Park, a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand, with towering limestone mountains, thick jungle and white sand beaches.
2 Browse the market stalls in Fisherman’s Village in Bophut.
3 Visit Big Buddha temple, presided over by a 12-metre high golden statue.
4 Catch a fire show at Coco Tam’s bar, located on the beach at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fisherman’s Village.
5 Watch a Muay Thai boxing match at Chaweng Stadium, which hosts some of the island’s biggest events.
6 Try your hand at making Thai cuisine at a Thai cookery lesson.
7 Spend a day at Silver Beach, one of the island’s loveliest tropical beaches set in a bay on the north east corner of the island.
8 Visit the strange – and very rude – rock formations Ta (grandpa) and Yai (grandma) on Koh Samui’s southern coastline.
9 Take the kids to Lipa Noi Beach. Free of rocks and coral, with fine white sand, it’s the most child friendly beach on the island.
10 Shop for gold jewellery and souvenirs at prices geared towards locals in Nathon Town, Koh Samui’s capital.