Arriving at W Escape Koh Samui you look through the open reception to this vision (the only competition, says this seasoned traveller, is the arrival at Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg – soon to be Taj Exotica – where the welcome takes place beside a giant decorative pool cantilevered high over India’s rainforest valley below). Here in Thailand the effect is, if anything, even more awe-inspiring. Koh Samui’s W Escape, formerly W Retreat, boasts WOObar, at the rear of the reception, a 30-metre circular decorative pool that stretches out, five floors above the flat beach-set land of this northern part of the island, at Maenam Beach. The WOObar is such an attraction that they not surprisingly charge THB800 to outsiders wanting to come in.
But this sum, cleverly, is redeemable against drinks or food. The hotel, owned by Sunny Bajaj, whose portfolio also includes InterContinental Pattaya, has many sensational ‘eatertainment’ ideas, including 24 bespoke cocktails, half designed by Choti and Debby Leenutaphong’s Vesper Bar in Bangkok and half conceived by Amsterdam’s anonymous Cocktail Professor. It was he, apparently, who designed my drink, ‘Born to the purple’, a blend of Tanqueray, apricot liqueur, crème de violet and lemon juice. We sat in the most desirable of the inset sitting pods, the one nearest WOObar’s signature W sign, and watched nonstop selfies being taken as the sun set.
Every one of the 74 villas here has its own pool and some guests, particularly honeymooners, never leave their compound, especially since most villas are completely surrounded by high walls. I was in the 350-square-metre WOW Ocean Heaven, one of two, and the only one beach-set, to have a larger pool, 50 square metres in all, plus a private beach. I had a separate building as my living room, and as soon as I arrived a mixologist-butler emerged from my kitchen to make, in front of me, a welcome raspberry Daiquiri. In the bedroom building, 10 metres across a deck from the living room, the bathroom’s outdoor shower was large enough for a cocktail party for a dozen. On the bed, looking straight through all-glass walls to the beach, was a metre-high DayGlo green bear, with his own night yukata.
I was spending the evening with my good friend Daniel Simon, a Swede whom I had met earlier when he worked in several Four Seasons. Now, tie-less and with a small goatee, he has evolved into a creative and laid-back W GM. After our WOObar cocktails that evening we headed down to Namu, the beach-set dinner restaurant that serves modern Japanese. Close by is the best lunch venue, the Beach Grill, which does equally fabulous guacamole. Simon says in the past this amazing resort tried staging expensive annual F&B promotions, flying in a Michelin-starred chef, but locals would not pay US$100 a head. He switched, highly successfully, to investing in a pop-up Mexican restaurant on a nearby beach, and fortunately some of its highly successful dishes have been retained. As I said, this is a highly creative hotelier. Back up in the reception area (167 concrete steps if, like me, you want to avoid buggies or taking lifts) he has added, near the WOObar, a barrel room, with hundreds of beers available for tastings, including two specially brewed in Denmark.
My recommendation for ageless travellers? Yes, W Escape Koh Samui is definitely for you. Make sure you get a beach-set villa, do private-dining breakfasts, Beach Grill lunches, WOObar cocktails, Namu dinners, and use the 24/7 gym as much as you can to warrant all that outstanding dining.