Renaissance Koh Samui
Thailand is a great budget friendly destination, which is particularly well seen in its islands. Located off of both Thai coasts, there are hundreds of little mounds of paradise where you may find a calm respite from the hectic and sometimes overwhelming din of the capital city. We found our own perfect getaway at the Renaissance Koh Samui.
When we were in Thailand, it was the ultimate budget trip. We purchased our airfare using miles and all of our hotel stays using points, with one exception. We decided to splurge a bit when staying on the island of Koh Samui.
On an impossibly hot morning in August, we boarded the twin-turboprop operated by Bangkok Airways for the short one-hour flight to Samui. Still not used to hospitality in Southeast Asia, I was shocked when we were given a meal on the budget airline. It was a nice touch and a great way to start a long weekend in paradise.
When I stepped off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the airport, and I use this term loosely. Koh Samui Airport is a small, open-air facility that looks more like a Club Med than your typical airport. After retrieving our bags from the baggage hut, yes baggage hut, we met the hotel van, a complimentary service of the Renaissance Koh Samui.
Whoa – hold up, you may say. What is this budget traveler doing going to some posh resort in the Gulf of Thailand? Well, dear reader, I am definitely all about saving a few bucks when I travel, but I also travel comfortably. Luckily, the Renaissance is a great example of how you can travel both comfortably AND affordably.
This newish resort is a thirty minute ride from the airport but when you arrive you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. I had by this time become accustomed to the Thai hotel check-in ritual. It’s a very slow, calm affair that is never to be rushed, lest you appear rude. (and yes, I learned this the hard way when I freaked out the check-in clerk at the Bangkok Marriott after a LONG flight from Paris) It begins with a lovely, cold wash cloth to provide at least a few moments of relief from the ever-present heat and humidity. Then, after a sip of some tea, you begin to discuss your reservation. After a few minutes, some more tea and perhaps a sweet, you are then escorted to your abode.
The Renaissance is great in that it provides a wide array of accommodation options for the guests. You can choose from a variety of standard hotel rooms, or you may opt for one of their private villas. We, ahem, opted for the villas. In my defense, the cost of these villas is comparable to what you would pay for a decent hotel anywhere in the U.S. and half the cost of a 3 or 4 star hotel in Europe.
The hotel property is marvelous, to put it mildly. Situated directly on the water, you may choose to spend your day on the beach or in a chair beside their elegant pool. If you’re looking for a lot of activity, this isn’t the place for you. Time spent at the resort is all about rest, relaxation and communion with your surroundings. Of course it doesn’t hurt that they have a kick-ass spa too.
I have to say though, there is one serious drawback to the property that isn’t mentioned anywhere. While the beach may appear idyllic in photos, and it is, when the tide is out there is absolutely no water. The resort must sit just beyond some artificial breakers because for half of the day the ocean is very far away. The result is sitting on a beach chair next to gorgeous, um, sandy mud.
The villa itself though was spectacular and very reasonable for what you actually get. The entire resort was designed in what is described as a modern Thai style, which carries through to the rooms. The villa was basically a small house with a living room, bedroom and spacious bath. The patio had lounge chairs and a splash pool, which was a great touch since the villa was a little hard to keep cool. These little residences have high walls and gates that enable you and your significant other to completely block out the rest of the world.
In the off chance you get the desire to abandon your swim suit and flip flops and venture into town, the hotel has complimentary van service to both Chaweng and Lamai Beach where you can find a wide variety of restaurants, bars and stores. In fact, it was on the main strip in Chaweng that we discovered the best Indian restaurant anywhere in the world.
The great thing about spending an evening in town though is that you’re still in Thailand and so your wallet won’t suffer from the experience. I certainly wouldn’t make a habit of venturing into town all that often though, after all, Koh Samui is all about mastering the art of relaxation.
Ok, so how much does this really cost? I picked a random long weekend, Nov. 4-8, 2010 and priced it out. Just so you think it isn’t a fluke, I also checked out the prices for several other times of the year, and while there is some variance, it’s not great.
Round trip Airfare for Two from Bangkok – $200 each (there are cheaper ways of getting there, but they aren’t easy and take MUCH longer than an hour – think days)
Renaissance Koh Samui Standard Room – $127 a night (base rate)
Food – However much you want to spend. The resort is of course more expensive, but I think $100 or less a day for two people is being very generous.
So while it’s not a budget for a backpacker or long-term traveler, it’s a great budget option for someone on vacation who wants to relax a little and see a different side of Thailand. I would recommend though not making Koh Samui your entire vacation. If you are traveling from North America or Europe, it is too far just for a beach chair. Rather, I would combine it with time spent in Bangkok and/or Chiang Mai. For us, it was a great way to end a long trip.
The Renaissance is just one hotel option on Koh Samui. There are many other places to stay which are much cheaper as well as much more expensive. Regardless of your budget though, a stay on this paradise island should absolutely be in your travel plans.