It is with wildly improbable expectations that I land at Koh Samui airport from Hong Kong, a day ahead of Mrs Smith. In North America, Koh Samui retains an aura of paradise: imagine empty beaches tended by charming but earthy locals. Everything about landing in Koh Samui reinforces this scenario. The airport has a sweet, laid-back vibe and the drive through the island at night suggests a gently rollicking string of towns with only a few signs of ill-chosen bikini tops. Soon we are on the hillside approach to KC Resort & Over Water Villas, anticipation building.
A dramatic entry pavilion contains several endearing staff members eager to part me from my bags. Their narrative about the place is mercifully short and I am soon scooted up the facing hill to one of the property’s signature Over Water Pool Villas.
Honeycombed into the side of the hill, two abreast, these chic cottages and their attractively lit dipping pools speak of opulence and seclusion. Minimalist bamboo plantings and the sound of gently falling water on the way add to the effect. Once in the room I’m surprised at the size. It feels a bit small, though not vexingly so, despite Mrs Smith’s messiness. I quickly realise that the tight main space with its dominant king-size bed and sitting area is just a prelude for the cavernous bathroom – who knew tubs could have 10 features? – and our charming private deck and pool area. Clearly one was not encouraged to be far from water for any length of time.
Emerging the next morning onto what I thought was my isolated deck, I get my first look at the KC Resort in daylight. The villas are exposed on the right-hand side to an ordinary-looking hotel. Fortunately, we are on the far (north, I believe) side, abutting an empty lot. The view of small islets and lovely sheltered bays covered in impossible carpets of green is still among the most magnificent I have encountered. Just face forward.
Mrs Smith, her luggage doubled after an all-night bargaining session for some ghastly Helmut Lang knock-offs, arrives and we begin taking advantage of the hotel’s many services. Lunch and the beach are first on the agenda. We eat three meals – brunch, lunch and dinner – at the hotel’s restaurant, which occupies an attractive pavilion with high ceilings and extensive verandas. All are excellent, with the chef’s spin on Thai food the most interesting. Authentic in its use of the freshest local produce and powerful spice, it also integrates other regional ingredients, such as an exotic Indonesian coffee, into dishes with a surprising originality. The management is justifiably proud of its cuisine, with visiting chefs (Jamie Oliver is rumoured to be coming in a few days) making regular stops.
With our bellies full, we decide to check out the beach. A sweet jitney takes us down the easily walkable hill and we cruise through a friendly beach resort at the bottom. We quickly realise our mistake. Even though the hotel sits above the northern edge of Chaweng Beach, perched above a few other fancy resorts, the beach is a mess of Euro bargain travellers, vying for the most vivid sunburn. We witness a slurred karaoke performance – in the loosest sense of the word – of Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’’ by a (perhaps) Latvian weightlifter. Fearfully, we trek along a grey, sloped beach until some over-eager, local ladies in miniskirts approach us with a rather complex offer of exotic rubdowns. We flee.
Back at the hotel, massages of a different kind are deemed necessary. A vast menu of oils and scrubs and mystical-sounding techniques greets us in a tucked-away spa area within the main hotel. Large but unexceptional treatment rooms soon fade away, as a tiny but freakishly strong lady begins climbing all over me with spider-like ferocity, pummelling me into a trance-like state. After 90 minutes, I’ve forgetten all about the engorged Baltic bods from the beach. Mrs Smith and I pop into our pool for a blissful dip then towel off for our farewell meal. Over a neon cocktail and a toast to our splendid isolation, I recall my now-shaken Koh Samui fantasies with the wisdom of experience. But how could we be cynical in this charming place, contemplating one of the loveliest sunsets imaginable?
Anonymously reviewed by Noah Cowan (Film festival sponge)
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