REENA KARIM heads to Koh Samui for the first time and where better to stay than at the memorable Intercontinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam.
My plane was preparing for landing and slowly descended towards the island. In a dramatic fashion, curtains of clouds parted ways and revealed lush tropical vegetation, emerald peaks of varied elevations, and crystal clear waters with specs of floating vessels. This was the postcard image I had heard about, and now, witnessed it on my very first trip to Koh Samui.
A Stellar Sanctuary
After landing, a silver-coloured SUV drove me up narrow, winding roads, some as steep as 35 degrees. From the main road the hotel is hardly visible; cloaked in trees and hidden within the curves of the mountains. After making two sharp turns around the bend, I finally arrive at my destination, the magnificent Intercontinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam, where a bellhop greets me and leads me to the reception. I only made it up one step and I was already snapping away photos of the sight in front of me – the infinity glass balcony seemed to run off the edge of the hotel and meet the horizon giving me an unobstructed, panoramic view of the gulf. It was only when I went closer to it that I realised we were perched hundreds of metres above the beach below.
The resort is set up like a lodge in the mountains with steeply pitched, chocolate brown gabled roofs contrasted by white trimmings and white exterior walls. Different areas of the resort, such as the reception, the Baan Thai Spa, the villas, and seven pools are spread across the cliff side. The reception area, located in the main building, is sprawling with daybeds that face the ocean. This is where I could imagine myself stretched out and reading or just watching as the chandeliers on the traditional, Thai-style high ceilings sway harmoniously each time the wind blows. Also in the vicinity is the resort’s luxury boutique and gift shop, as well as the Inspiration Space, a recreational area offering guests a wide choice of literature and DVD collections.
A quick check-in process and a refreshing roselle drink later I was led to my Premier Ocean View Room. As soon as the bellhop put down my bags and left, I threw myself on the king-sized bed and sunk right into its soft, 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. My suite, with its white high vaulted ceilings, bare beams, and louvered doors had an enchanting visual flair. Being located on the topmost floor of the hotel had its own advantages too – a wide balcony with complete privacy. The spacious 67 sq. m suite had a sophisticated, colonial-style design aesthetic with dark wood four-poster bed, couch and coffee table, and a long working desk offset by ocean-coloured throw pillows, colourful paintings, mirror panels, and oversized lamps. The bathroom featured a double vanity lined with exclusive bath products by Harnn, a deep soak bathtub, a rain shower, and a separate lavatory. Outside, the spacious balcony had two large daybeds and a dining area where one could sit back and enjoy the majestic sunsets.
The resort offers 79 guest rooms, suites and one, two, and three bedroom villas that are equipped with private balconies and modern comforts. Guests residing in the villas are pampered with Club Continental benefits such as 24-hour personal butler service, complimentary beverages, and treatments at the Baan Thai Spa.
Later that afternoon, I met with Onta Taengkieng, the assistant marketing and communications manager, who offered to give me a tour of the hillside property. We started at the main building which houses Amber all day dining restaurant, Air Bar, and Serene, the lobby cafe, as well as the main infinity pool. We then walked on a wooden suspension bridge, the first-of its kind in Koh Samui, and made our way down to the beach area to see the pool and visit the resort’s beachfront Flames Restaurant and Grill.
My friend Martha, who was set to join me, was on the ferry from Surat Thani and an hour away, so I decided to wait for her by the pool. I packed a beach bag and headed to the reception, down a flight of stairs and to the pool area. Now this was a sight for sore eyes; the infinity pool was set against a spectacular backdrop of coconut plantations lining the grounds below, towering mountains on the sides, and the endless ocean. I took turns swimming and then relaxing against the powerful water jets under the thatched Thai sala. The weather wasn’t particularly great – a storm was heading our way, but I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed watching it form in the far distance. The staff, well aware of this temperamental weather, systematically covered up the daybeds while white billowy clouds huddled at the foothills across from me and strong winds swayed the ornamental birdcages that hung near the pool. A brief drizzle later, we were back to a partial sunny day. I hung out by the poolside, reading my book and occasionally looking up to remind myself of my luxurious surroundings while munching on fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.
Later that afternoon, after Martha arrived, we wandered off and went all the way down to the beach. By now I was at ease with changing elevations frequently. We sat under the canopies on a daybed, ordered fresh fruit juices, and watched the waves breaking on shore. We had the option of indulging in many of the resort’s recreational activities, such as sailing on board a hobie cat catamaran, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, beach volleyball, kayaking, and snorkelling, but decided instead to just laze around the pool and work on our tans. But all too soon the relentless storm was at it again and we headed back to our suite.
Before we made our way to Amber for dinner, we took in the last bit of the clear skies in our balcony. We settled down with glasses of wine and watched as the skies turned from grey to black. The long boardwalk pier at the beach was now lit with blue lights, dramatising the dark waters below. The rain storms were above us now, but we made it to Amber without getting soaked. We chose to be seated by the long French windows and took in the views, although the al-fresco dining would have been our option had the weather been kinder. The dimly-lit restaurant with its melange of modern and traditional decor comprising of graphic tiles, rustic red painted walls, colourful Thai crafts and upholstery of beige and rich gold created an elegant ambience. The interior also included an extended room which leads to an open kitchen and live-cooking stations. On the menu were classic Thai dishes, a selection of Asian favourites, gourmet European, and fresh seafood. Our stewardess informed us about the special Teppanyaki buffet spread and we unanimously opted for it. The spread included salads with spicy Japanese dressings, sushi and sashimi, hand rolls, along with an array of Japanese delicacies. After that hearty meal we did think of getting a nightcap and the outdoor Air Bar with its colour changing bar top was our obvious choice. We tried to wait the storm out, but gave up and retired into the comfort of our suite, which was a great alternative for our tired soles.
Sightseeing in Samui
The next morning we rose to the chattering sounds of birds outside our balcony. We slipped out of bed and pushed back the curtain, hoping for a bright, sunny day, and behold as luck would have it, the gleaming sun stared back at us.
We headed back to Amber for breakfast. The buffet, as expected, was endless and featured impressive selections of cheese, cold cuts, and breads, as well as American, British, and Asian breakfast options – pretty much everything one’s stomach could desire. We didn’t know where to begin so we attempted sampling a little bit of everything. In between our refills of coffee we also indulged in an assortment of baked treats. “What a way to start the day,” Martha exclaimed, and I nodded in agreement reaching out to grab a breakfast muffin.
After breakfast we arranged for an island tour and headed out to explore the charms of Koh Samui. We skirted the coast and stopped by several places, including the Fisherman’s Village in Bophut and the main thoroughfares of touristy Chaweng and Nathorn, before ending up at a local eatery for a late lunch.
It was also our last evening on Samui and we decided to take our party of two to Flames at the beach. The beachfront eatery put us in a swinging mood, with flickering torches and lanterns, and rope and beach wood-styled interior. We sat on a semi-outdoor patio and whet our appetite with a basket of assorted breads. I opted for Black Angus beef tenderloin Carpaccio rolls served with wild rocket, balsamic vinaigrette and crispy cheese crackers, while Martha went for a seared black pepper tuna fillet with yellow pesto and rocket salad. For the mains we each chose to go with their deliciously famous live charcoal seafood grill platter which included a selection of barracuda, white and red snapper, local sea bass, grouper, prawns, blue crabs and rock lobster. Accompanying it all were seven different sauces and dips. Our after-dinner delight was a hot apple tart with pecan and caramel ice-cream. We also hung out by the bonfire at the Fireside lounge, with wine in hand and plenty of conversation.
Final day in paradise
Early next morning, I took the buggy down to the fitness centre for my yoga lesson. The in-house yoga expert Madee along with another guest and myself, greeted the morning sun on a raised outdoor platform. The one-hour session amidst blissful sounds of the ocean, tall trees, and occasionally a light drizzle of rain, was more meditative than exertive.
Martha and I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon lazing around the pool next to the beach. The sun was out and we decided to take a dip. The water was as clear as the skies and also lined with corals, so walking from the shore into the water was not possible in certain spots. But the boardwalk, which led quite far out to the sea, helped with this dilemma. There were also stairs attached to the end of this pier that assist guests who want to swim in the ocean. However, we did what any adult would do; ran and then jumped off the boardwalk. The water was a perfect temperature and the salt in it did wonderful things to our skin. When we had had enough of our shenanigans, we walked back to our sun chairs, ordered lemonade, and stared in silence at the fishing boats and islands that spread across the ocean vista – the thought of our commute back to Bangkok was far and faint.
Places to visit
If you need a break from lounging about on the beach, you can go inland to take in the charms of Koh Samui.
Located on the northern coast of Samui, this 12-metre high golden Buddha is often considered one of the landmarks of the island. The surrounding areas includes smaller temple and shrines.
Hin Ta Hin Yai
These famous all-natural rock formations are bound to make you chuckle as they resemble the male and female genitalia.
Angthong National Marine Park
The Angthong Natural Marine park is an archipelago of 42 islands, and is home to exotic wildlife and sea creatures. The protected area of more than 100 sq.km of land and sea features limestone-covered mountains, white sand beaches, mangroves, and waterfalls and lakes.
Fisherman’s Village, Bophut
This charming village is lined with old wooden Chinese shophouses, and boutiques selling clothing, jewellery and Thai handicrafts. The streets here are a real pleasure to walk along.
Koh Samui has plenty of entertainment come nightfall, and the streets of Chaweng, Lamai, and Bophut are lined with discos, beer bars, lounges, and beach-side shacks.
PDF Sublime in Samui
Published in Masala magazine, October 2014