It is impossible to cycle at Conrad Koh Samui, a luxury resort whose layout is more roller-coaster than the biggest ride at any Disney, or even the Yas Island attraction in Abu Dhabi. Some slopes feel like at least 45 degrees (buggy drivers need licences for a particular vehicle). The gal therefore got morning exercise through a hard work-out learning Thai boxing. Wham wham. Amazingly good exercise for the torso, with the balance, the fulcrum, being the hips – legs seem light as air. Weight seems to pour off the upper midriff as one straight hook, one elbow, follows another, and then the legs start kicking, too.
After all that exertion, what a good idea to head for the spa. Khun Pop, who welcomed me, told me about her husband, a London taxi driver, who commutes so that they spend three months there, in the stressful city, and three months here, in the blissful peace that is Thailand’s third biggest island (and here we are, at its south-westerly tip, 45 minutes’ drive from the hubbub of the airport, and thankfully far away from the over-crowded Choeng Mon, Chaweng and Lamai mass-tourism areas). The spa has ten rooms. The three double rooms have their own infinity swimming pools, and plunge pools. Spend all day there – I only had time for a superb Thai massage, wearing a pair of mahout trousers, big enough for an elephant until I wrapped them tightly in a matching belt.
The immediate point about this cutting-edge resort, designed by Eco-id Architecture & Design out of Singapore, is that it does seem vertical. Look how its 80 villas are not so much cantilevered out from the rocky hillside but up out of it. The metal and concrete stilts are each sunk 30 feet into the rock, and rise up to 60 feet above it – those with vertigo might not want to look over an edge. The favourite spot, of many, for memorable photos is the terrace of Aura, the outside lounge-bar, with big real-flare burning fire. Take photos here and remember how you seem to be floating, high above the Indian Ocean far below. By daylight, photos show, in the distant rear, the famous Five Islands, where resident swifts conveniently provide birds’ nests for birds’ nest soups in Hong Kong restaurants (you can take a boat around the islands, but not land).
I found it fascinating, hiking up and down the concrete highways – all of six feet wide, just big enough for two of the 52 buggies to pass – to look down, and up, at the construction, and the lush greenery around that seems to live in harmony with the grey concrete. Maintenance must be a nightmare. But the people who stay here do not think of such things. They remember the main pool, with its 14 in-water loungers and six private cabanas around, and the pool café, Azure, where waiters change from nautical striped polos to evening azure shirts, and where your ice-cold Singha beer comes, in a chilled glass tankard, with a big smile.
Honeymooners, not surprisingly, spend much of the day in their villas – even the smallest, a one-bedroom at 1,800 sq ft, has its own utterly-private pool, at least 20 feet long, fine for a few laps whenever you feel like it. You do see honeymooners at breakfast, inside or outside at Zest, where you choose your own beautifully-labelled bottle of just-squeezed juice, or smoothie, from an ice bucket, and type of fruit compete from framed ‘pictures’ on one wall, and the chef can produce noodles or a Thai eggs Benedict (with dried shredded pork, panaeng – mild, with peanut – curry, and papaya salad) as well as eggs over-easy.
Guests also ‘emerge’ for dinner, say at the new-look Thai restaurant, Jahn. A classic tom yum goong is a highly-spiced soup with river prawns. What happens here is that first you are brought a glass teapot, its central steeping-tunnel holding spiced tomato concentrate. Boiling water is poured through this. A bowl comes, holding two giant prawns, and the contents of the teapot added – you can then make it even more spicy, by adding one or more of three little ‘lozenges’, of jellied chilli. Similarly, a meat curry here becomes a perfect Australian wagyu filet, with peanuts and onion and potato morsels around, a side cocotte of green lemongrass-scented jasmine rice, and a tomato and peanut sauce to pour over. This is new-look Thai cuisine, says Rico Zhang, an aesthete with whom I overlap at this luxury resort. Although his day job is Features Editor of Harper’s Bazaar China, is real passion is authentic travel, with as much Dom Pérignon as he can find along the way. And with that, Simon Bender, the hotel’s resident German – who is, on serious reflection, confident about the World Cup final on July 13th, 2014 – puts me, and a WiFi-gig, in the BMW four-by-four to go back to the airport.