We step out of limpid, tropical air into the rich, dark-wood, terraced lobby. Several staff take everything from your hands, sit you down and give you a cup of Wonderful Sky. Instantly refreshed, you wonder why you’ve never had it before.
It’s because they invented it: spring water, cinnamon, honey, lime juice and pandenus (Thai herb). Like everything at the Tongsai Bay resort in Thailand’s Koh Samui, it’s unique, exceptional, one of a kind.
With 83 rooms nestled into 28 acres of green hillside, each room, family cottage and villa overlooks Tongsai Bay beneath a sky that alternates between shades of blue, green and flaming amber as the sun does its daily thing.
Haven: The sandy cove at the Tongsai Bay resort in Koh Samui, where there are activites for the whole family
Of nature’s glory my children take no notice, and yours won’t either. What they do immediately see and love are two pools. One for adults and one for kids.
Then there are the family activities for all ages; kayaking, tennis, sailing, paddle-boarding, windsurfing, Thai music, dancing, language and fruit carving – no, not a typo – kids love hacking at nutritious fruit without having to eat it.
You go to your room, or better yet to your villa with an oversized bathtub on a deck overlooking a stunning view. Maybe first you’ll have a massage. No, not maybe. Massage is to Thailand what wine is to France, what snow is to the North Pole, what carbon is to carbon-based life forms.
The interaction between you and the masseuse is a cross between thermodynamics, yoga and the things top chefs do to really good steak.
Outside of Thailand, massage is a shallow charade.
And then there are the wonders produced in the kitchens. Whether it’s Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Italian or European cuisine, they’ve got it all. The kids exclaim ‘This is the best burger, waffle, ice cream etc ever!’ while you’re astounded by the wonder that is Kha Soi Kai (curried chicken with a crown of egg noodles).
The view out across the crystal clear sea from one of the rooms at the Tongsai Bay resort
I had the Tongsai Bay eggs benedict with hash browns and Penang curry and immediately booked a private cooking class. While I learned to whip up a four-course Thai lunch, my husband learned to do nothing and the children played ping-pong and billiards. Then they all devoured the lunch.
Managers Martin Heiniger and Mark Harrison lead an award-winning team who have a deep, eco-responsible respect for the environment, including running their own organic garden. We toured it with Earng from reception and chef Golf (her nickname. Almost everyone has one, including ‘Guitar’ at reception).
They displayed all their herbs, including Morning Glory. Yes… I know what that phrase means and so do the ladies here. They giggled and then showed my husband the organic cucumbers.
The family-owned, family-friendly Tongsai Bay resort may be secluded but it is just a short drive to all manner of adventures
Blooming great: Nine joins in the flower arranging class at Tongsai Bay watched by her daughter
The rainforest Skyhawk zip line turns you into a superhero. A day trip with tour operator 100 Degrees East takes you to a pristine emerald lagoon with snorkelling, kayaking and lunch on the beach seen in the movie The Beach where you end the day feeling far better than Leonardo DiCaprio.
The reclining Buddha, one of the historical attractions in Bangkok
You can go crazy in banging, neon clubs and then return to the calm of the Tongsai Bay, and this exclusive tranquillity is at the heart of its magic. You always feel as if they have all the time in the world for you and that you’re the only ones there. Aha! That’s their secret! The place must be nearly empty.
Except, no. Martin confirmed that during our visit they were sold out or nearly sold out (and this wasn’t even the high season). This is why, having celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2017, they still have employees from when they opened as the first luxury hotel on Koh Samui in 1987. They also have devoted guests who’ve been returning for more than a decade.
So this must be ruinously expensive, right? Wrong. You get the best of everything for less than half the cost of the most expensive place on Koh Samui.
We left Koh Samui via Bangkok Airways and headed for ‘the greatest city in the world’. At least that’s the declaration of Bjorn Richard Richardson, manager of 137 Pillars Suites & Residences located in the heart of Bangkok. A new combination hotel/residence that is inventive, cool and busy, 137 was pre-booking before construction had finished.
Great resorts marry their surroundings. Great city hotels help you forget them or, even better, rise above them. This requires clever design and details such as a check-in lounge complete with massage chair, shower and sleeping pod, and a digital golf facility with a resident pro.
The colours of Chatuchak market in Bangkok, which is the biggest market in the world
The hotel’s London cab runs you to and from all nearby hotspots. Nori and the reception team will take care of all your planning. The 27th-floor pool is a crowning touch.
Nimitr restaurant is elegant and inventive. Tasting menus come with handy wine suggestions by the sommelier and the service is attentive in that pleasingly signature Thai style. Nimitr works especially well for a dinner date or to impress the client.
In Bangkok, you must go to Chatuchak (world’s biggest market), Chinatown (the world’s biggest), the reclining Buddha statue (the world’s biggest), various temples and the M Quartier Mall.
Then, at the end of the day, you can leave everything outside. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences makes this easy. Here you can do business, work out, dine and always feel at home and on holiday. Now that’s inventive.
Flight Centre (flightcentre.co.uk) offers flights from London to Bangkok on Etihad Airways from £455 return, and onward flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui with Bangkok Airways from £195 return.
Beachfront Suites at the Tongsai Bay (tongsaibay.co.th) start from £195 per night including breakfast. A suite at 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok (137pillarsbangkok.com) starts from £498 including breakfast.