Trust friends to know your true loves. My friends know I can dip my feet in the sea and completely forget the world. They have seen me stick my toe into silken sand and sink into raptures. And yes, I love the champa flower. Ko Samui is replete with white champas, and I would trek to the end of the world for the waxy white flower with its canary yellow bracts. Go back home? Even I had doubts.
I had plenty of reasons to vacation in Ko Samui, and my friends had nailed many of them. But I slyly kept the biggest temptation tucked in my heart; I was booked to stay at Six Senses Hideaway, a spa and resort that really knows how to pamper. The Six Senses brochure featured a wooden pier languidly stretching its arms into the jade-hued waters of the Gulf of Thailand. I had heard about the jasmine tea and scrumptious sun-dried banana wafers, and their wine cellar that is often rated the best on the island. The Hideway had also been featured in the British society magazine Tatler’s list of World’s Best Spas for Pampering. As I packed my Billabongs and flip-flops, I daydreamed about urlis filled with milk and rose petals.
There were no Bangkok-Ko Samui commercial flights until recently, when an enterprising Thai opened a private airport in Ko Samui that is so beautiful it looks like the extended lawn of a moneyed zamindar. The airport itself is laced with flowerbeds and trellises and lined with tuk-tuks that drive you around. Yes, at the Ko Samui airport you do not hop into an air-conditioned bus and hold on to the leather rails. Beautifully painted open tuk-tuks with wooden slats drive you from the tarmac to the log gazebo where you wait for the luggage.
Little did I realize when I landed in Ko Samui that I would be made to feel like a princess. A man at the airport greeted me with a gracious namaskar, held my bags, and offered me a chilled towel to wipe off the grime from the 50-minute flight. He then opened the door of a coach that had orchids by the glove box and cold beverages in the icebox.
As the car meandered through the island’s 50-km loop road, I saw countless two-wheelers for hire, laundry signboards tempting tourists with 35 baht per kilogram deals, the aroma of streetside fare, palm fronds swaying in the breeze, and miles of luxuriant patches flanked by the unending sea. Ko Samui is not crowded; you do not bump into raucous neighbors here. The island is serene—its calm only broken by the waves lashing the buff boulders and birds twittering gaily.
As I drove into Six Senses Hideaway, which is spread over 22 acres, I thought about the ingenuity of the man who had conceived of it all. Sonu Shivdasani, an Indian-born Eton and Oxford educated entrepreneur, has created a niche in hospitality in Oman, Maldives, Thailand, Vietnam, and Fiji. At the Ko Samui resort, there are 66 villas nestled amidst verdant plots, each so far away from the other that you almost feel as if you have a squat little town to yourself. The split-level villas are wood-paneled, the bathroom airy, and the bed a four-poster with yards of batiste hanging from the high ceiling. Large glass windows open onto the sea, and you can curl up in bed to watch the sun rise. Private butlers take care of everything. When I arrived, a teddy-bear sat on the impeccably made bed, dragon apples and passion fruit had been set out in a wicker platter, and a bottle of wine waited in an ice-filled bucket. If that’s not pampering, what is?
Shivadasani presented just one of a few Indian connections during my journey. Just outside a Buddhist temple, where a colossal laughing Buddha stared into the sky, there was a Lord Shiva with countless arms and his consort, Parvati, standing by him. Pashminas hung in the windows of Chaweng shopping strip, and the aroma of tandoori roti and kebab wafted near the “The Island’s Most Famous Cabaret Show.” I was keen on meeting Khun Chaiwat Swanahing, a tattoo legend who, after stint in Bangkok’s Art College, traveled to India to hone his skills. His canvas is the flesh,his favorite motif the dragon.
In Ko Samui, there is a Buddha at every bend, but nothing matches the glory of the Big Buddha who lords over the island. Wherever you go, you can see the island’s most famous landmark, the 12-metre high golden Buddha gleaming in the sun. Another temple boasts the footprints of the Buddha, where you can stand to make a wish. They say the Buddha never disappoints anyone. I also came across a rather tall tree before which Thai women kneel and say their prayers. If the offerings to the tree, which include brocades, silk, and sweets, are any indication, the tree certainly has many devotees.
The benevolent tree was intriguing, but even more so were the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks at the southern end of Hat Lamai. The unusual rock formation looks like the male sexual organ on a permanent dose of Viagra. Is it any surprise that The Rock is the most photographed feature of the island? As I stood there listening to the oohs and the aahs and giggles of tourists, I marveled at Nature’s sense of humor.
The more I saw of Ko Samui, the more I fell in love with the island. I saved the best for last: a spa treatment at Six Senses and a meal to die for at Dinner on the Rocks restaurant. The cuisine was fusion, the chef German, the choice of wine eclectic, and as the moon stood stupefied over the small island, waves crashing against the stilts of the wharf, the evening breeze flirting with my hair, I wondered if I could take my friends up on their challenge and just not go home.
• Dinner at Dinner on the Rocks in Six Senses Hideaway. Visit www.sixsenses.com
• Lunch at Five Islands Restaurant; try their soup in a coconut shell.
• Monkey training schools where monkeys learn to climb trees and pluck coconuts
• Tropical fruits, especially passion fruit and dragon apples
• A cruise on the Gulf of Thailand
• Shop for carved leather, caramelized coconut, hand-carved and painted soaps.
Ko Samui is a 50-min. flight from Bangkok.
Preeti Verma Lal has worked as a journalist in India and the United States. She now lives in New Delhi, freelances for several publications, and runs her website: www.deepblueink.com