Tongsai Bay Articles
Great Outdoor Living
One of Koh Samui's true delights just has to be The Tongsai Bay Cottages and Hotel - or just The Tongsai Bay, as it is better known. Spread out over 25 acres of hillside above Tongsai Bay, on the island's north-eastern tip, are 83 suites and villas of the grandest appointment, accompanied, of course, by all the trappings one would expect from a five-star development.
As developments on Koh Samui go, The Tongsai Bay has a relatively long, and certainly interesting, history. Back in 1985, the hills above the bay sported just a few basic shacks that were a haven for the few backpackers able to locate them. At that time, the late Akorn Hoontrakul, then Chairman of The Imperial Family of Hotels, spotted the bay from the sea and immediately fell in love with it. Just seven days later he had bought the land and spent three months living and sleeping on the beach, dreaming up his special resort. From the very beginning, the philosophy of The Tongsai Bay was always one of living with nature and being outdoors as much as possible. Khun Akorn ran the hotel along with his wife Khun Chompunute, until his untimely death three years ago. Management of the hotel has now passed to his son, Khun Thanakorn "Gob" Hoontrakul, and daughter-in-law Khun Saisiri "Goya" Hoontrakul, both of whom are keen to maintain Khun Akorn's philosophy of Great Outdoor Living whilst injecting a certain youthful exuberance and great charm.
Since its opening in 1987, when it became Koh Samui's first five-star hotel, the 24 Beachfront Suites and 44 Cottage Suites, nestled among the trees on the northern hillside, have been extensively renovated. 12 Grand Villas and three other Special Villas were opened in late 1998. All suites and villas are magnificently appointed and all have sea views. Many of the Beachfront Suites and all of the Cottage Suites and Villas have a secluded bathtub on the balcony, with four of the Cottage Suites boasting an additional bathtub in their private gardens. Now THAT'S outdoor living! And in considerable style, too. The smallest of the Cottage Suites has an area of 60 Sq.M., while the wooden-floored terraces of the Grand Villas alone occupy 81 Sq.M. of a total 135 Sq.M. The largest of the Special Villas has an astonishing 194 Sq.M. living area.
Just prior to my arrival, a hectic three-day schedule of appointments and frustrations had worn me to a frazzle. By four in the afternoon, with the tropical sun bearing down on me from above, thoughts of "Never again!" and "This is the LAST time" were rushing through my head. Well, no one told me writing in Asia would be easy. I had only myself to blame. As I entered the reception area and introduced myself, I was warmly welcomed and immediately offered a cold towel and "refreshing drink". Closely resembling a Cabernet Sauvignon in colour, but containing no alcohol, this wonderful drink made from rosella flowers, pandanas leaf, lemon juice, lemon grass and brown sugar - and called "Tongsai Absolutely" - absolutely did the trick. A session on a hypnotist's couch could not have done a better job.
After a brief tour of the site, I was driven by buggy to my villa; the buggies are an essential part of life at The Tongsai Bay, not only because of the hills, but also the sheer distances to be covered in getting from place to place. As I settled in to my new surroundings, in a certain amount of awe and wonder, I read the extensive information package and my "welcome letter". "Dear Mr. Peter Bream and Party", it began. Oh. Was this yet another case of terrible mismanagement on my part? I was evidently supposed to have had "a Party" with me. Should this have been one female, or perhaps two or three?, I wondered. Well, whatever: I had arrived on this mission solo. I knew I should have brought the car over from Phuket, instead of flying. Maybe I could have packed five of us in it. There was certainly enough room in this splendid villa to accommodate six or more, even though the usual maximum is three adults or two adults and two children per villa.
As I ruminated on this mini-tragedy, I spotted what looked like a suspiciously complimentary bottle of Semillon Chardonnay 2001, sitting in an ice bucket with rapidly melting ice. There was only one course of action to be taken. Run that bath, fill it with foam, open the bottle and soak. I did. I soaked and sipped until darkness fell. I soaked some more and watched the moon rise above the horizon and the stars light up a crystalline sky. I began to think I might be dreaming, and then realised I was still alone. No; I was very much awake. Had there been six of us I might well have been dreaming.
By around 8 p.m. it was time to check out one of the three restaurants on site. Would it be Chef Chom's Thai Restaurant, the very romantic Butler's Restaurant, or Floyd's Beach Bistro (named after the BBC's Galloping Gourmet Keith Floyd, who filmed some of his Far Flung Floyd series here around ten years ago, when Tongsai was still part of the Imperial Group). I decided I might best melt into the crowd down at Floyd's; and anyway, I like the beach. I found a delicious seafood barbecue in full swing, with groups and couples gathered around candle-lit tables on the sand. The food, it goes without saying, was succulent and mouth-watering and served up with great interest and gaiety by the smiling chefs and their assistants. To complete the scene, a Filipino trio expertly serenaded diners, and I remember thinking how pleasant it was to hear real instruments unadulterated by pesky and often unnecessary amplification.
I later drifted - well, almost mountaineered - my way back up to my villa, and after a quick shower it was bedtime. "Air-con tonight", I thought. "It's been a hot day." But at 3 a.m. I'd had enough of the "air" and switched locations to the gazebo on the terrace, where a huge wooden four-poster enables respiratory cripples like myself to enjoy breathing as we were intended to - in the open air. As dawn broke, the gentle breeze rustled the coconut fronds all around, while a different sort of breeze rustled the remaining neurons in my head. It was breakfast time.
At The Tongsai Bay, breakfast is taken in the covered section of Chef Chom's Thai Restaurant, a very spacious affair with a large open terrace for evening dining. The covered area, as with the terrace, has a wooden floor, a bamboo roof and rattan furniture, all of which enhances the feeling of living with nature. Huge windows open onto the coconut-covered slopes and sea views beyond. Breakfast is done buffet style, and the aroma of freshly baked bread helps kick-start the brain. A vast selection of cold cuts, fruits, cereals and yoghurts accompany the usual assortment of cooked food. My choice, modest by any standards, was to set me up for a relaxing two hours at The Prana Spa.
The Prana Spa, the Tongsai Bay's own, sits nestled among the Cottage Suites, halfway up the northern hillside. It is expertly run by Khun "Peung" and her team of nine therapists. It offers a daunting selection of massages, facial and foot treatments, and body scrubs in very private surroundings. There are three separate spa cottages at Prana. Each consists of individual treatment areas for a maximum of two people. The steam sauna room, exhilarating waterfall-type shower and mineral bath are in a secluded, lush, tropical garden. Off the garden is a wooden terrace on which foot and leg treatments are undertaken, then moving indoors where wonderful aromas awaken the senses, are massage areas and treatment couches set on different levels. The decor is very relaxing, as also is the soothing music played at respectably low volume in order to lull one into that sense of total internal peace and balance which the spa aims to induce into its customers. The ability to treat just six people at any one time (two per cottage) means that the spa is normally well booked-up, especially during the afternoon and pre-dinner periods.
Other facilities at the hotel include a large freeform seawater pool and a semi-circular freshwater pool, Internet room and library, tennis court, exercise room and snooker room, in addition to other facilities expected from a five-star location. The privacy and hospitality of this rather special hotel make it an ideal romantic getaway. Indeed, several of the world's rich and famous have enjoyed a stay here, and I have no doubt that many more will.