Testament to the diversity of the country, Thailand’s islands offer an entirely different experience from the landlocked North of the mainland. Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are must-visits for a slice of exotic, palm-fringed island life. Here’s our Hip & Healthy guide to Thailand, part 2!
Where Four Seasons Chiang Mai is tropical, leafy paradise, (read here in Part 1) Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui is resplendent in honouring its ocean-side setting.
The panoramic vistas over Laem Yai Bay, Koh Phangan and the Gulf of Thailand from the resort are phenomenal, offering the sort of views that instigate humbling perspective and put you in a simultaneous state of awe at Mother Nature’s astonishing talent.
As a guest at Four Seasons Koh Samui, you will be treated to nothing short of utter idyllic luxury. Each guest villa at Four Seasons Koh Samui is complete with its own private mini infinity pool and with its ocean inspired turquoise and aqua accented interiors, contemporary teak and tropical rosewood furnishings, outdoor living area and moving glass walls which bring the outside in – it is the epitome of calm.
Breakfast is enjoyed overlooking the sea – from a height that makes you feel privy to a landscape view unavailable to most – and affords the opportunity for both healthy and indulgent belly-filling. Prepare to spend a generous portion of your morning dining on the vast breakfast spread which incorporates continental style breads, pastries, eggs, meat and cereals, freshly pressed fruit juices and nut milks, fresh honey, teas and coffees, hot options including traditional Thai dishes, rice, vegetables and potatoes and the obligatory array of fresh local fruits. Stars of the breakfast show, though, are the Spirulina Pancakes with Pandan Cream and the Banana Waffles with Caramelised Banana and Coconut, which can be made gluten free and vegan on request.
For dinner, visit Cocorum restaurant facing out across the resort’s private beach to sea, where hand-crafted rum cocktails are paired with Latin-American inspired fine dining. Take the opportunity to chat to head chef Chris, if you catch him. He has some incredible views on animal production and farming methods, and makes an exquisite vegan and gluten free birthday cake!
Don’t leave without having sampled the afternoon tea – aptly dubbed Afternoon T-ree by Four Seasons as the mini dishes are served exhibition-like atop the branches of driftwood borrowed from the surrounding landscape.
The resort maintains a local and personal feel where staff, almost inexplicably, know guests by name and room number, yet possesses an air of intrigue where there is always something new to discover, a new restaurant or dining experience to be sampled, another pool to dip your toes in, and a wealth of activities to fill your days with, if chilling on the private beach or overlooking the infinity pool, cocktail in hand, isn’t your thing.
Highly recommended activities include the private cinema, which comes with a choice of hundreds of films, blankets, refreshments, popcorn and your own personal usher, Movies Under the Stars nights, yoga, meditation and Tai Chi, fruit carving, table tennis and watersports, and hair braiding workshops. For particularly active guests, a group or private Muay Thai class is an essential start to the day. Classes take place in the dedicated boxing ring with unrivalled, expansive ocean views to witness your technique. Ask for Aan as your instructor when booking.
DO & EAT
Venturing out of the resort and a short drive to downtown Koh Samui, a Friday evening visit to the Island’s bustling and vibrant Fisherman’s Village beach side night market is essential for shopping for souvenirs whilst munching on Thai street food and taking in live music and street side entertainment. The stretch of restaurants and bars that frame the run of market stalls is comprised of local-style eateries serving traditional Thai dishes and more international fare. It is here you’ll find the Greenlight Cafe, a gem of a healthy restaurant hidden modestly at the far end of the market strip. Visit for organic plant milk lattes and order sweet potato fries, falafel, rice paper rolls and acai bowls.
Koh Pha Ngan
A short ferry crossing from Koh Samui brings you to Thailand’s other must-visit and now infamous island, Koh Pha Ngan. It may lie just a few hours from it’s neighbour, Koh Samui but the two islands are markedly different from one another when it comes to ambience and impression and a stay on both is a brilliant way to get a taste for Thailand’s cultural medley.
When it comes to accommodation on Koh Pha Ngan there is no question that for the chill-seeking, spiritually-inclined, health-conscious yogi travellers, a stay at The Sanctuary should dominate the itinerary. As a spa and yoga retreat with no particular target audience when it comes to its guests, The Sanctuary is perfectly positioned both geographically and culturally to quench the expectations of the super social who seek vibrancy and the island’s infamous full moon parties, those who visit Thailand to retreat into mental and physical calm to invest in their wellness, and those who fancy a hybrid holiday that blends a little of both.
A small fishing boat is the primary mode of transport for getting to the bay of Haad Tien where The Sanctuary is located and is run not by The Sanctuary, but by locals who will gladly attempt to get you to your destination whatever state the weather is in without much thought to safety, and will raise their prices to meet the level of risk. If it is threatening wind, rain or full-blown storms, it’s advisable to avoid the journey completely until you can be sure of a calm crossing. The slight difficulty in reaching the resort only adds to its allure and the feeling of absolute peace that envelops you like the subtle scent of incense that characterises The Sanctuary when you do eventually arrive.
The resort began with a story that seems fit for film adaptation: its husband and wife founders happened upon the unspoiled Haad Tien whilst backpacking, decided it was prime for a retreat, built one themselves, and never left the island. Their little bed and breakfast style retreat has bloomed into The Sanctuary today, a flourishing microcosm nestled within its rocky bay home as if it was grown there organically by Nature herself. Populated by the kinds of characters written into classic literature and with novels-worth of stories to tell and ideas to share of their own. It’s the perfect conduit for making life-long friendships and memories you’ll struggle to articulate to friends back home.
image: The Sanctuary
Cleanse and fasting programmes are a popular way for guests to structure their stay whilst investing in some long-term practices for improving health and making the most of the resort’s detox facilities, including workshops, menus, opportunity for solitude and guidance and support from fellow-cleansers. Otherwise, create your own schedule for enjoying the resort’s yoga classes, which offer a huge variety of different styles and derivatives of practice in the jungle-set studio, in combination with a spa treatment or two and some meditation time. By far the greatest investment in time is with a visit to one of the in-house healers, each of whom is an unrivalled expert in their field of massage, bodywork, energy work, psychotherapy, guidance or coaching. For a unique and truly transformative treatment, book an abdominal massage with the intuitive, kind, calming and knowing Daisy to release stored emotions and aid digestion. There is also tarot, NLP, life coaching, reiki, Ayurveda consultation, chakra balancing, reflexology, past life regression and acupuncture to choose from to ensure you leave feeling completely at one with your body and mind, positively charged, emotionally balanced and free of tension and anxiety.
Accommodation is varied and ranges from dorms to private guest bungalows with ocean views. Most options are thatched and cabin-style and are both reflective and respectful of the natural landscape setting with natural and rustic interiors, balconies and hammocks. Many accommodations are reached via mini scrambling excursions up the rolling hillside, past tiny waterfalls, off windy pathways, through little rivers and by ducking under branches, it’s not unusual to meet frogs and other wildlife on route, which only adds to the resort’s charm and truly authentic harmony with nature. Respectively, bare feet are best and shoes seem almost silly only a few hours after arriving.
When it comes to food, The Sanctuary delivers to the preferences of its whole spectrum of guests and does so with food baby-inducing success. Nourishing and fresh food is taken seriously here and the menu at the restaurant – which is the social heart of the resort and bans the use of phones in the evenings – is as delicious and creative as it is broad, catering to those on detox programmes with a dedicated cleanse menu full of fresh juices and light and raw nutrient-dense meals that immediately put paid to any talk of cleanses being miserable processes. Portions are of giant proportions and the majority of the menu is refreshingly filled with gluten free, dairy free and vegan options including varieties of Thai curry, rice paper rolls, rice dishes, soups and veggie burgers yet is also careful to be inclusive of guests who fancy a dirty burger, big bowl of ice cream or a cheeky alcoholic beverage to enjoy whilst watching the waves and taking in the ambience on a starry night. Try the coconut fruit salad for breakfast and request a pot of the thick and creamy cashew milk to pour over it – sounds odd but is an unrivalled way to fuel a day of yoga, massage, napping and exchanging stories with fellow guests.
When it comes time to leave The Sanctuary, departure is bittersweet as you’ll board the boat back to Hat Rin already planning your next visit, knowing you’ll be back. The place has that kind of extraordinary, magical stickiness to it.
words by Rachel Bednarski