Meliá Miles Away
Some 25 years ago, I used to visit Koh Samui three or four times a year, staying on average a week or more. For more than five years, Samui was my favourite Thai island paradise, a home-away-from-home more or less. I would stay at family-run resorts, eat freshly cooked meals from the resort’s restaurant, swim in the clear blue waters and sunbathe on pristine beaches all around the island. This idyllic lifestyle came crashing to an end when the Asian financial crisis hit Thailand and much of Southeast Asia in 1997.
I did venture to the island once or twice in the 2000s but something was different, the island did not resonate with me any more; I felt disconnected from the paradise I once loved. Many of the treasured family resorts had sold up and moved out only to be replaced by disco-type resorts that blasted dance music at all times of the day and night. But these resorts – globally famous for their beach parties – attracted guests by the millions and established Koh Samui on the worldwide party map.
Today, the international tourist market to Koh Samui is no more; all but destroyed by the coronavirus global pandemic. During the initial outbreak, the Thai government not only closed all national borders but also heavily restricted domestic travel for several months to stop the spread of Covid-19. Since August, attention has been turned to the domestic market to fill the void and slowly hotels and resorts on Koh Samui are returning to their roots and hosting Thai and long-stay foreign tourists.
When an invitation to escape Bangkok for a few days to review Meliá Koh Samui arrived, I began envisioning bygone days when Koh Samui was a much more peaceful and relaxing place. Would I rediscover my nirvana, could coronavirus have turned the clocks back a quarter of a century? There was only one way to find out. Bags packed, a taxi ride, short hop plane journey and a chauffeured drive and four hours later I was standing at the entrance to Meliá Koh Samui, a 159-room and 41-suite resort on the north-eastern tip of Koh Samui.
A sea-farer’s dream come true, Meliá Koh Samui’s colour palette varies from the deep blue ocean and white tips to the aqua-marine and clear blue waters of the beach. The majestic entrance is that of an upside down ship’s hull and dotted around the lobby are artistic interpretations of ships and boats. The main building that houses reception is also home to Koko Kitchen where breakfast is served from 6.30am each day and Boat’s Bar, where guests can imbibe in their favourite drink or enjoy afternoon tea, while on the floor above guests can find YHI Spa, the fitness centre and meeting rooms.
It was a short walk to our room through manicured gardens lined by mature trees in which birds were chirping and across a bridge spanning the 700-metre lagoon pool. Having taken a peek at the resort’s website before leaving Bangkok, I was hoping we’d be staying in one of the beautiful Boat Suites but alas we were shown to a Premium Pool Access room. However, we were far from disappointed as our abode was stylishly decorated and comfort-minded with a lush king-size bed, an adorable chaise longue, large worktable, a private balcony with twin day beds. The marine inspired bathroom was heavenly with a huge standalone bathtub and separate dual rain and power shower.
The entire resort takes you on a journey through lush tropical gardens, passed the children’s play centre, weaving in and out of the Boat Suites before popping you out on to the foot massage pebble stream. This small path finally leads to the huge split-level swimming pool that’s dotted with sun loungers and chic cabanas. As we reached the final stages of man-made luxury, the pristine golden sands of Choeng Mon Beach lay before us. Standing overlooking the glistening Gulf of Thailand vivid memories came flooding back. As I slipped off my shoes and felt the soft sand underfoot, I was once again reunited with that old Samui aura: peace and quiet in Mother Nature’s lap.
For families thinking about holidaying at Meliá Koh Samui there are so many activities for the kids to do parents can enjoy some ‘me’ time by the pool, in the spa or at the gym. Kids under 12 years of age can indulge in all-day fun at the Kidsdom play centre under the close supervision of a professional member of staff. Youngsters can enrich their intellect and social skills with an extensive collection of entertaining and educational activities from painting and games to arts and crafts in a vibrant and inspiring atmosphere.
Returning to our homey guest room, I switched from comfortable travelling attire to a more suitable pair of shorts and cotton shirt. Having one or two important emails to deal with, I grabbed a cold drink and relaxed on the comfy day bed on our private balcony. I thought it a little ironic that here I was craving for Koh Samui of the early 1990s and yet I was answering emails on my mobile phone. It didn’t take long to shut the phone down, have a splash in the shower and jump into the lagoon pool. Some forty-five minutes later I arrived back at our balcony having stopped at the Pool Bar for a beer and a chat with a somewhat lonely barman.
We’d made an appointment to meet with Ernesto Osuna Lopez, Meliá Koh Samui’s charismatic General Manager at The Level, the resort’s premium lounge for guests. The building resembles a traditional Thai boat and from the upper level, guests are granted a picture perfect view of the resort and beach. With a complimentary glass of wine in hand, we joined Ernesto to find out more about the magnificent resort he has to manage each day.
“Ours is an idyllic beachfront retreat that harmoniously blends rich Southern Thai maritime flair with luxurious guest rooms and world class facilities. As you can see we are located on the beautiful Choeng Mon Beach, one of the best beaches on the island. It has been a mixed year for us as we opened on 10th January and enjoyed a number of weeks where we were almost at 100% occupancy. Then came coronavirus and the whole world changed,” said Ernesto.
“In early April, the mayor of Koh Samui announced a ban on travel to the island for April. We had been open just about three months when we had to temporarily close. As the general manager of the resort, I had to remain optimistic and it was crucial that I transmitted that optimism to my team. I was determined to do everything within my power to ensure that we got through the temporary closure together.
“We remained closed until June, when after implementing a raft of stringent health, safety and hygiene measures in the wake of Covid-19, including the appointment of an executive to take charge of the emotional well-being of guests, we were permitted to reopen. We’ve slowly seen our guest numbers increase but not to the levels we had planned for pre-opening.
“Going forward, I’m hopeful we will begin to see some improvement in arrivals in late 2021, but possibly before if a suitable vaccine is available or travel bubbles are created with other safe countries in the region. We’ve hosted several successful events since reopening including our fabulous Sunday brunch that was sold out. We still have plans for this year including our Christmas celebrations that run from 19th December until 3rd January. We invite everyone to come and experience a little festive cheer at Meliá Koh Samui,” said Ernesto.
With obviously another important meeting to attend, Ernesto bade farewell and encouraged us to stay a little longer at The Level and enjoy a few sundowners on the open-air terrace. After a few more glasses of fine red wine, we decided to take a stroll along the beach and enjoy some fresh sea air. The small bay that makes up Choeng Mon Beach is home to mainly small-scale resorts but less than a handful were open. On our return to Meliá Koh Samui, we walked back down the main street and here too you came face to face with the reality of coronavirus. Shop after shop closed and boarded up, restaurants and bars for sale and virtually no foot traffic at all.
Still, the people we did meet on our walkabout were friendly and interested in where we came from, where we were staying and how long would be staying for. After a quick change in to more appropriate clothing, we made our way down the winding path, along the pebble foot massage stream, out into the main swimming pool area and finally to Breeza, the resort’s signature restaurant. Tonight, Executive Chef Azizskandar Awang would be cooking up a special four-course meal for us. I don’t know if we were putting him on the spot or vice-versa.
We started out with burrata cheese served over a medley of local tomatoes, Koh Samui pomelo, kiwi fruit and micro basil, which was followed by grilled salmon, locally sourced baby vegetables and salmon roe. Two interesting dishes to be served at an award-winning bistro in a small town on Koh Samui, but this is the difference Chef Aziz is bringing to Breeza.
Chef Aziz had chatted with us before our meal to find out if either of us had any food allergies or any food preferences. When my wife said she didn’t eat beef, Chez Aziz took it in his stride and offered up New Zealand lamb as a replacement. Deal done. My wife’s main course was slow-cooked New Zealand lamb with baby carrots, broccoli florets, asparagus tips and a red wine reduction, while I stuck with the Wagyu beef, asparagus tips, baby potatoes and red wine reduction.
Although the portions at Breeza are not overly large, we were quickly running out of tummy space: Perhaps too much of the delicious homemade bread? To complete our meal, Chef Aziz and his creative kitchen staff served up an amazing chocolate lava cake with chocolate ice cream, a chocolate stick with vanilla ice cream and a caramelised banana. What a way to finish one of the best meals both of us had tasted in a long time. Even if you are not staying at Meliá Koh Samui, we urge you to give Breeza a try and find out for yourself what this magician of a chef can create for you.
With up to 50% off room rates, free cancellation, round trip airport transfers and much more, there has never been a better time to visit – or revisit – Koh Samui and enjoy a relaxing stay at Meliá Koh Samui.
For more information, call +66 (0) 2566-0154.
Source: Punch Media Digital.