words and images by Kristen Kellogg
Easily accessible to off the beaten path, there are so many islands to choose from when you head off to explore for the first time among the sandy shores of the Land of Smiles. My second time around in Thailand, there were two islands where I found the best of both local and luxury: KOH SAMUI + KOH YAO NOI.
For the traveler who has limited time to explore, I would suggest Koh Samui located in the Gulf of Thailand as a great introductory island. Easily accessible with some buzz, it’s a one hour direct flight from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways.
Stay and escape high above the water on the more remote west side of the island with impressive views at Conrad Koh Samui. A variety of room to residence options, the one bedroom villas we stayed in stacked on the cliffside transform into an open air oasis with the entire fourth window wall facing your private infinity pool. I also adored the oversized bowl shaped bathtub, local fruit on arrival, and golf cart pickup/drop-off service from your door to destination.
This property is designed for kicking back after a long day exploring the island entering instant relaxation mode from the overall mood. I suggest taking full advantage by experiencing a spa treatment or three around just before sunset. My detoxifying facial brought my skin back to life after my fifteen hour flight and long days travel throughout Bangkok and Chiang Mai (click for our guides to each).
With many tastes to indulge in, one I was most excited to try was a coffee I’d been hearing about since I was invited on this adventure. The worlds rarest and most expensive coffee, and naturally refined by elephants, Black Ivory Coffee was the perfect pour to cap off our seven course traditional thai tasting menu at Jahn (Do this!).
Around the island there are so many places to taste. All about atmosphere, Dining On The Rocks at Six Senses Samui is another engaging sensory experience. Zen out while tasting courses prepared with organic greens and veggies grown from the garden on their property.
For a casual but equally delicious lunch option, head over to Bophut in the southeast are of the island for a meal at Sa Bieng Lae. Beach views, fresh coconuts, and packed with traditional Samui flavor this place will shock your palate in an excellent way.
Dining On The Rocks at Six Senses Samui
Casual Dining In Town
Temple touring was also on our island list. One of my favorite more local stops was on the water at Laem Sor Pagoda. Locals were lighting incense while presenting offerings, families gathered for afternoon picnics, and kids played in the grass. Since I also enjoy seeking out handmade things in destinations, I loved our next stop. In Thailand, not only can you drink the local coconuts, but head off and tour one of the production facilities and how other coconut products we use are made. We toured Samui Renong Co. a small family run business that makes the brand Spaco.
Family Owned and Run Coconut Product Producer
Over water, hop on a speed boat and island hop around some of the smaller islands. If you’re into hiking, make a stop over to Koh Nang for a short but steep climb up and be rewarded with a noteworthy photo opp, but be sure to head up in the early morning before it gets too warm. This little island has many visitors, so instead of staying here for the day, I’d recommend getting your guide to take you and anchor off somewhere for a snorkel.
View from the Top of Koh Nang
KOH YAO NOI
For the seasoned luxury traveler who likes getting off the beaten path, you’ll want to stay a while on Koh Yao Noi.
Four days on this island that I never wanted to end, it all began as we arrived by private boat from Krabi the warm staff waving back to us as we approached the shore. Of the eight suites on property incorporating modern design and local details, my favorite were the four in the middle, each with a private pool set between bed and bath.
Being hosted at this mind-blowing property and having it all to ourselves, we couldn’t help but take up the pampering and play (waterslides aren’t just for kids!) our entire first day. With such incredible design and service it was easy to get wrapped up in the luxury and never want to leave, but the Ani staff (incredible personality among a personalized experience) led us out to explore the local side of the island.
One of my favorite days was riding in a sidecar with Ani Villas Chef Yao visiting his home and riding around the local villages, leading me to one of the things I loved most about staying with ANI: an adventure with ease of leaving the planning up to them.
Ani created a custom itinerary for us based upon our interests.
Active adventures included traditional Muy Thai kickboxing and partner yoga.
Foodie and cultural included visits to local markets and farmers where ingredients were sourced for our traditional thai cooking class.
Laid back days included exploring the islands by boat and on demand massages on property.
All else aside, what makes Ani (with villas in Thailand, Anguilla, Dominican Republic, and Sri Lanka) the most unique luxury property I’ve stayed at is the way they give back through Ani Art Academies, an art school is 100% free tuition to students who are accepted into this intensive program which we visited one afternoon watching the students work away at honing in on their craft.
A fine balance between luxury and local experiences, staying with Ani Villas and you may just want to check in indefinitely.