When Rachael Wheeler’s best pals from university announced they were heading to Singapore for a reunion, she knew she’d have to pull something pretty special out of the bag. The result? Let’s just say, if Carlsberg did girls’ holidays…
When a friend announces they’re heading out for a visit, my first thought is generally an elated one: “Woohoo!” My second is more selfish: “Ooh, if they love Southeast Asia perhaps they’ll stay.” And my third is one of anxiety: “Must plan best holiday ever.” Thus, when my best gal-pals, Sarah and Helena, announced that they were jetting over from London for a much-needed reunion and their first trip to the area, the pressure was on.
After a blast around Singapore’s sights, I wanted to surprise the ladies with the ultimate girls’ getaway – something lavish and memorable on the Thai island of Koh Samui (both beautiful and oh-so-accessible). A few days lazing at a villa that would blow their minds, followed by a few days doing something authentic and unique.
The holiday that followed, in my modest mind, justified some sort of certificate.
Part One: Decadence
The first part of our trip was at the Samujana villa estate. Imagine one of those mansions that a film director pans across when illustrating the incredible good fortunate of a character, and you get an idea of the luxury here. Poised overlooking the ocean and graduating upwards from the beach, each of Samujana’s 27 villas is more sleek and extravagant than the last, while still managing to blend into Koh Samui’s lush, rocky landscape.
As the double doors to Villa 8 swung open, we fell silent for the first time in three days. Sarah’s mouth settled into an “o” as our house manager sashayed us through the enormous bedroom suites on the upper level – divided into glass cubes around the intertwining greenery and original rock formations.
The real shock, though, was stepping onto the roof terrace and clapping eyes on the lower level: a stunning infinity pool, framed by a large, open-air living space, expansive sundeck, natural boulders and entirely unspoiled ocean views. At this point, Helena attempted a non-ironic three-way high five – the less said about that, the better.
We could have spent endless, blissful days holed-up in Villa 8 – our dedicated staff spoiled us rotten and granted our every wish, whipping up sensational spreads, booking pool-side pedicures, setting up the private cinema and, most importantly, keeping the wine fridge well-stocked. They would have been delighted to arrange more (I even heard the words “bungee jump” mentioned at one point!), but this was the girls’ first Thai experience and there was partying to be done.
Samujana is 15 minutes from Koh Samui Airport, close to the lively town of Chaweng – “lively” being the polite term for “bustling with backpackers, ladyboys and older chaps”. That’s not to say we didn’t view it as an experience and have a hilarious evening of cheap drinks and throwing shapes along the strip, mind.
After another heavenly day of lazing, stuffing and quaffing, our next evening out was a tad different to the first. Samujana lined up the plushest vessel in its fleet of boats just for us – a 43-foot catamaran, stocked with everything we could need (including all-important tunes) for an A-list cruise around the twinkling bay. They even threw in a picture-perfect sunset, which we watched arm-in-arm in the water, like something out of a chick-flick. (It took a slight turn for the worse when Sarah realised that being in the water meant she couldn’t Instagram the red sky, but we got through it together.)
After three incredible days, you can imagine how disappointed we were when our time at Samujana came to an end – particularly when security were able to produce bolt cutters for the chains we’d attached around ourselves and the courtyard Banyan tree.
Part Two: Detox
A 45-minute drive from Samujana, on Koh Samui’s quiet south coast, lies the wellness sanctuary (read: detox paradise) Kamalaya. Settled into a steep hillside, the resort curves downwards in a twist of palm trees, higgledy-piggledy chalets and waterfalls, then opens out into its own white sandy cove.
Kamalaya isn’t just about physical beauty. The spa resort is built around a centuries-old cave used by Buddhist monks for meditation and healing. Owned by John Stewart (a former yogi) and his wife Karina (a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine), this holistic retreat has spiritualism at its core.
I’m as agnostic as they come, but even I couldn’t deny the sense of calm that hit me when I first looked out across Kamalaya’s ethereal grounds. I’m not sure whether it was the monks’ cave, the open sea or elegant interior styling. Or perhaps it was down to the serene guests; everyone’s part of a personalised programme, with recommended activities, therapies and treatments based on individual goals, so there’s an atmosphere of mellowness alongside achievement to soak up.
With a real mixed bag of guests, Kamalaya has a total of 59 rooms, suites and villas – all possessing a stylish charm. Our gorgeous two-bedroom villa was perched at the top of a steep hill, with views skimming the canopy and out into the ocean. Naturally, this came with a large meditation rock, which we definitely did not use for photo opportunities…
While we loved our hilltop sanctuary, we didn’t spend lots of time there – when we weren’t paddle-boarding (or simply doing a bit of lying down) at the beach, we were getting stuck into some serious detoxing. This wasn’t a laborious journey – both Soma Restaurant above the trees and Amrita Café by the pool offer an innovative selection of detox, weight-loss and “normal” meals, all prepared with fresher-than-fresh, organic ingredients (many of which I’d never heard of). The food was so delicious that we often found ourselves opting for the ultra-behaved weight-loss meals, washed down with delightful coconut water and less-delightful wheatgrass shots.
Any initial panic that Sarah may have had about the discouragement of technology around Kamalaya was soon forgotten once we’d dipped into the schedule of activities. These ranged from floristry and meditation to temple tours and market shopping, but having possibly overdone the bubbly at Samujana, we decided to go down the fitness route. Aqua aerobics might look funny from the sidelines, but get into the water for a few lunges and you won’t be laughing for long. Power-walking through Koh Samui’s jungle was a good chance to have a look at nature while chuckling at each other’s ridiculously pumping arms. But the highlight for me was clambering up to the yoga pavilion at the resort’s peak and stretching awake as the sun rose above the calm waters and salty air swished by. It’s what I now imagine whenever I’m “om”-ing away at yoga classes on Orchard Road.
Any energy that was exerted during our fitness spree was replenished and then some at Kamalaya’s almighty spa. Encircling the monks’ cave, the striking Wellness Centre sprawls above the retreat like a palatial tree house. Wooden staircases zig-zagging in all directions lead you past plunge pools, waterfalls and steam caves into treatment rooms with, you guessed it, fantastic open views. The 90-minute Thai massage that I experienced in my breezy wooden cabana was otherworldly. I only wish I could have stayed awake for the whole Indian head massage the next day – my relaxation levels had reached unknown territories.
On our final evening, it was almost too good when the sun began to sink into the waves and stain the sky red, pink and orange. We danced around on the beach like loons, happy to have had a wonderful reunion, sad that it was almost over and relieved that Sarah finally had her Instagram sunset shot (even if it did mean bending the rules).
As far as tempting Sarah and Helena to move to Singapore goes, neither of them have started researching EPs just yet. What I have managed to do, however, is massively raise their expectations for the next holiday.
Eating in KS: My top three
9/144 Moo 2, Chaweng
This fabulous yet unpretentious restaurant is one of the best in Chaweng and an expat favourite. The hearty Western meals were a big hit, with Helena declaring the scotch eggs to be the “best in the world” (although she’s only tried them in four countries, at most).
Four Seasons Resort, 219 Moo 5, Angthong
The recently refurbished Koh offers a breathtaking view from the northwest tip of Koh Samui, across the palm jungle and beyond. This sophisticated spot serves up amazing grub, including light, tangy steamed sea bass, awesome peanut sprouts and grilled prawns with a kick. Koh’s trendy terrace also shakes up a mean cocktail – order yourself a piña colada (or three) and enjoy the stars and sea breeze.
Chef in the Jungle
This catering company is helmed by the talented Chef Urs, who will whip up first-class food in the comfort of your villa. He can prepare whatever you need, but I strongly suggest you ask him to recreate the coconut-lime panna cotta. Sarah is allergic to citrus and she still wolfed it down!
Make it happen
Where to stay
“Stunning” villas at Samujana feature three to five bedrooms and start at $626 per villa per night. “Spectacular” villas have four to eight bedrooms and start at $1,252 per night. I stayed at “Stunning” Villa 8, from $1,127 per night. Prices include breakfast, transfers and house staff.
Kamalaya offers a number of wellness programmes, including Stress, Yoga and Emotional Balance, which vary in length and style. I took part in the three-night Detox Introduction, which starts at S$1,740. All programmes include full board, fitness activities, multiple spa treatments, health consultations, airport transfers and more.
How to get there
Bangkok Airways offers the only direct flights from Singapore to Koh Samui. Flying via Bangkok adds heaps of extra options (and time!).
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