What’s black and white and red all over?’ I ask Mr Smith in our taxi on the 10-minute ride from Koh Samui airport to our beachside retreat. He groans. ‘I’m referring to the decor,’ I tell him. ‘Bet you can read me like a book…’ Mr Smith is bored with my puns and we’re not even at the Library yet.
Blood-red pool, sleek Macs and monochrome suites referred to as ‘pages’ are just some of our destined den’s design headlines. I’m a sucker for the witty literature theme, but will too many book-related gimmicks relegate the hotel to Mr Smith’s form-over-function folder? I suggest a round of word association. ‘When I say “library”, you think…?’ ‘Hushed,’ mutters Mr Smith looking out the window at Chaweng’s main drag, a scrum of DVD, Hello Kitty T-shirt and knock-off Havaianas stalls. ‘Full of bookish types…’ he says ogling bar girls and good-time seekers. Another sigh.
Seasoned seen-it-done-it travellers might sniff at the mention of Chaweng Beach; as someone who stayed here in a few-bahts-a-night beach hut two decades ago it is undeniably developed. Ducking signs for Häagen-Dazs and Starbucks, we swerve around a couple of parked mopeds and into a discreet grey driveway. Spying the pin-drop-peaceful lobby and one of the beachside sanctuary’s white reading figurines, it’s as though we’ve been teleported to a modern art gallery. At the risk of facing a travel writers’ tribunal under cliché charges, I declare it an oasis.
‘Sawadee,’ chorus three gentlefolk at reception before handing us refreshing chilled facecloths and tiny bowls of orange sorbet. Given our ‘page’ key (with its pencil-like attachment – nothing humdrum here), we head past the tall grey wall and follow the discreet decking through bright green grass to our quarters in the lower half of one of the shuttered white cubes. Beyond, a ruby pool glistens, backdropped only by sparkling sapphire sea.
Pausing in our sleek black-floored suite just long enough to fling on swimwear, we manage to transform it from minimalist to ransacked. Yelps of delight are elicited by the huge sexy white computer, a shiny espresso machine and a giant flatscreen TV, and we concur it’s more American Psycho film set than the ensuite-less shack we last bunked in on this beach. Mr Smith wonders what director Mary Harron would make of that blood-coloured pool. Bret Easton Ellis–inspired serial-killer scenes may sound a tad jarring when celebrating a boutique paradise in a Buddhist country, but that crimson tide is pretty bonkers.
Our next debate is less controversial. Should we beanbag it poolside or on white powdery sand? Sun-creamed and flopped on a Fatboy, another perk to our Chaweng location is revealed: the people-watching. Mr Smith is distracted by a pert, well-endowed Signora Smith – wow. She’s oblivious to the notion that it’s not terribly Thai to bust out naturist tendencies in flagrante. Meanwhile, I’m ogling a sunburnt couple – ouch! Frolicking in the crystal-clear sea a few hotels down, they’re redder than our pool. A few two-for-one glasses of happy-hour rosé later and we’re still glued to our big black beanbags, but by now it’s the pastel-hued sunset that has our eyes on stalks.
Now, what’s not an obvious complement to this grown-up library-themed playground? Try adding a boisterous toddler. Nervous that we’re busting the relaxing vibe for the pairs of Mr and Mrs Smiths either side of us, instead of irritated glances, we are treated to an excellent kids’ menu and sandcastle-building pool boys. We succumb to our giant poolside cushions and paperbacks while Junior Smith splashes in the shallow end. The purchase of fresh coconuts from beach sellers is the only activity to winch us from our prone state.
Sure we came to Koh Samui with great plans to visit the Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai, Bophut fishing village and take elephant rides in Lamai, but with the Library’s sleek gym and book- and DVD-lined relaxation rooms, we’re spoiled for distractions. Simply finding all the inspired touches in our bedroom keeps one afternoon occupied. (Top of the attention-to-detail league table are magnetic icons as do-not-disturb signs, secret snack jars in the outdoor living room and his ’n’ hers monochrome flip-flops to keep.) Little wonder our fellow guests – a mixture of European arty types and friendly well-to-do Asian families – stray from their parasol-shaded, red-towel-covered beanbags only to pad over to Page restaurant for some of the island’s finest Thai cuisine. (The evening take on tapas is particularly inspired.) Feeling intrepid, on our second night we take those two steps to the beach, turn right and end up at flower-filled Eat Sense for aromatic kaeng (curries) and spicy nams (sauces) all as prettily presented as the restaurant and its gardens.
Believers that the first meal of the day is the most important will especially love the Library. ‘Breakfast culture’ is its official label, but no eye-rolling please – this mighty spread is worthy of a marketing-spiely big-up. A slender tray with creatively cut fruit, a dainty basket of pastries and shot glasses of smoked salmon and artichoke tips and delicately diced fruit salad have me reaching for my camera. With this to look forward to, we don’t even mind our little one waking us up early. All this (plus cooked-to-perfection eggs) is washed down with a first-class cappuccino and a view of that gorgeous blonde beach. So smug are we, that we actually enjoy an occasional plane overhead – it’s a welcome reminder some poor blighters are off home while we’re only a few chapters into our epic boutique break. OK, Mr Smith, I’ll pack the puns in. But you have to admit, this trip’s been a proper page-turner. I’m just not sure I ever want to get to the ending…