When Singaporeans think of a Thailand getaway, a shopping and eating extravaganza in Bangkok or a beach bonanza at a large resort in Phuket comes to mind. But those who wish to holiday a little further from the madding crowd have plenty of options in the land of smiles.
For starters, consider the lush island paradise of Koh Samui, which is a breezy two-hour direct flight from Singapore via boutique airline Bangkok Airways, so you can skip the hassle of connecting flights. (Pro tip: Pony up the additional fee for forward zone seats so you can disembark first upon arrival and clear customs within a shorter time.)
(Related: A slice of paradise at Pimalai)
- LAID-BACK KOH SAMUI
- RESTORATIVE HUA HIN
Laid-back Koh Samui
In post-pandemic Samui, the island oozes a quieter charm with the mass tourists still not quite back in full force. For a comforting cocoon, book yourself a luxury villa at Samujana, a sprawling private estate just ten minutes from the airport. Designed by Gary Fell of GFAB Architects, there are 23 sleek villas ranging from one to eight bedroom configurations to suit different group sizes.
When we arrived at our newly renovated seven-bedroom Villa 12 late at night, there was already a sumptuous welcome supper of homestyle Thai delights awaiting us – from piquant mango salad to marvellously smokey pan fried squid.
The next morning, we woke up to panoramic views of the turquoise blue Gulf of Thailand from the villa. Right on cue, we whipped out our cellphones, but to be honest, no amount of Instagram posts can quite capture the balmy sea breeze that kept us cool in the tropical heat and the scent of sea salt in the air.
The stylish villa is probably more accurately described as a complex with its own private infinity pool, rooftop recreation space, games room, screening room, and gym. On top of that, villa manager Khun Ball and his team are ever ready to arrange for a wide variety of activities from poolside yoga sessions and seafood barbecue meals to spa services. There is even a private catamaran, the Kindred Spirit, available for charters for those who cannot get enough vitamin sea.
It is all so indulgent that it is difficult to find the willpower to venture beyond the villa grounds. But with fewer crowds, explorations are actually very pleasant. At the iconic Big Buddha temple, which features a 12m tall gold buddha, there were just a smattering of locals, hence giving us travellers the opportunity to partake in the ritual of circumambulating the temple while ringing its vintage brass bells for good luck.
Traversing the island – via comfortable Samujana-organized private transport, complete with ice cold water and fresh wet wipes, of course – is also a good opportunity to indulge in a spot of cafe culture, Koh Samui style. For instance, the Cafe Amazon Koh Samui serves up a mean iced tea and even has a dreamy beachside seating area to shoot the breeze on a lazy afternoon.
- LAID-BACK KOH SAMUI
- RESTORATIVE HUA HIN
Restorative Hua Hin
Another destination to escape to is the seaside town of Hua Hin, which has long been a retreat for harried Bangkok dwellers as it is a relatively easy three-hour drive from the capital. Do like the clued-in locals and check into the Chiva-Som Hua Hin wellness retreat for a bout of much needed rejuvenation after two years of pandemic-induced stress.
Widely regarded as one of the pioneering wellness destinations in the world, the 27-year-old resort still looks as fresh and contemporary as ever with its blend of elegant Thai design meets state-of-the-art wellness facilities following a 2019 renovation project in partnership with renowned architect Ed Tuttle.
All stays start with a consultation to help guests make sense of the extensive range of treatments, fitness classes, and activities all in the service of achieving mind and body balance. Plus, there is an abundance of facilities ranging from water therapy suites, jet showers and cold plunge pools, an indoor bathing pavilion, and a re-functional studio for exercise and physiotherapy sessions.
(Related: The evolution of the experience — Chiva-Som, Hua Hin)
While there are familiar spa treatments like deep tissue or aromatherapy massages, it is worth trying out some of the more unique offerings. I loved the super stretch session, where a specialist helps to manipulate the limbs into ultra-deep yoga-like stretches to release deeply held tension. Consider this an upgraded version of the Thai massage.
The food, too, is designed to be restorative without compromising on taste, with much of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables sourced from Chiva-Som’s lush organic gardens. Do not miss the array of fresh shots of the healthy sort, such as wheatgrass and apple cider vinegar, available at every meal. On Saturdays, otherwise known as “cheat day”, a seafood barbecue on the patio offers up the freshest local catch.
Lovers of Thai food should not miss the cooking class conducted by the resorts’ chefs. We learned smart tricks to create healthy Thai dishes bursting with flavors, such as oil-free fried cauliflower rice (add small amounts of vegetable stock regularly to keep ingredients from burning) and Tom Yum soup (bruise the spices to extract maximum flavor).
I was so impressed with my newfound skills that within a day of returning to Singapore, I whipped up a Tom Yum soup that was almost as good as what the chef made. Now that is a “souvenir” I can keep with me forever.