Samui Wining & Dining
Why The Tongsai Bay is one of the island’s most outgoing resorts.


It’s something that mostly we just don’t do. Why should we? There’s not a lot of reason, really. We check on the internet for holiday bookings and good value. Then we research a bit more. And all the time our eyes are looking for a bargain of some sort – a special offer or a great deal. But we just don’t bother to go into the history of these resorts. And, for the majority of cases, that’s because we just don’t expect the resort to have any history; most of them don’t! But if we pause to consider for a moment, then it’s a completely different story with The Tongsai Bay.

      The first thing here is to make a distinction. Looking at a map of Samui and running your eye up the east coast, right at the top, in the most northern part, you’ll see Tongsai Bay – it’s just about the last big bay before the coastline jumbles up around the most north-easterly tip of the island. This is the bay itself. But, set into the shoreline, there’s also The Tongsai Bay.

         This is a most remarkable resort for several reasons, not the least being that it was originally built in 1987, enabling it to take on the distinction of being Samui’s first-ever 5-star hotel. But there’s much more to it than that. In the late 1980s one of Thailand’s leading hotel chains, The Imperial Group, was

under the ownership and management of Khun Akorn Hoontrakul. He already operated ten prestige hotels in Thailand and Khun Akorn, well-traveled and cosmopolitan, also went on to open numerous Thai restaurants in Europe, including reportedly the first Thai restaurant in London, appropriately named Akorn’s.

        While he was on Samui for business, in 1985, he had occasion to be surveying the east coast of the island and caught sight of Tongsai Bay from the sea. He was immediately excited by its beauty and serenity and, with characteristic energy, seven days later had bought the land. For the next three months he lived rough, camping out in a focussed burst of mapping and planning. Not only was this to be his ‘ideal’ resort, but he had fallen in love with the area to the extent that he also planned to build a holiday residence for his family – this still exists today, tucked discreetly away in a private corner of the estate.

          His challenge was both simple and engaging. Khun Akorn was a sensitive man, with an appreciation of natural beauty and also of European architectural style. He vowed to develop the huge plot – all 25 acres of it – without disturbing any of the unique features of the landscape. And so it came about that not one mature tree was felled. Nor were any of the big outcropping boulders even disturbed. (Which also explains the feeling of seclusion, and also why very few of the 83 villas and cottages there today are visible at any one time – they all lie at different angles and elevations to each other.)

          A further departure from the norm came with the actual layout and styling of the resort. Even today there is a strong urge for Thai architects to cling on to traditional elements of cultural style. But the well-travelled Khun Akorn had developed a soft spot for things Italian. This explains why the upper level is laid-out around an open square that descends in elegant terraces towards the lily ponds and sea, reminiscent of an Italian piazza. And also why the walls are plastered in white stucco, floors are mosaic-tiled, and windows and doors are frequently arched in the Roman style. Altogether most unusual for a period of time in the island’s history when the accepted approach was to totally strip and flatten the land before erecting new buildings with accepted Thai embellishments.

          Khun Akorn passed away in 2000 and his family continued to manage the estate with the same spirit of love and conservation as he would have wished; it has been only in more-recent times that sympathetic general managers came to be appointed in this role. But, in the meantime, something quite unexpected had happened. Over the last 20 years Samui has experienced an unprecedented amount of speculative development. All over the island woodland has been cleared, land has been stripped, and more and more resorts and investment properties have appeared in their place. The result being that many of Samui’s natural species of flora and fauna have begun to die out, with several species (frogs and birds in particular) having vanished completely. But Tongsai Bay has become a haven. The unspoiled sweep of the bay in general, and the sanctuary of The Tongsai Bay resort in particular, means that its natural inhabitants have flourished undisturbed, and also that many other newcomers have appeared to supplement their number.

          Today the resort’s General Manager is Leisa Kenny-Protsat. And she was keen to expand on the philosophy and approach that drives the resort. “Everything here is centred on environmental aspects and issues,” she explained, “and it always has been. But today things have become more scientific, with terms appearing like ‘sustainability’ and ‘low carbon footprint’, although this isn’t new to us; we’ve always recycled our waste products and moved to cut down the resources we use. Our rooms are all fitted with a master cut-out switch, for example, so that on the way out each room becomes isolated from the electrical grid. And we work hard at maintaining a high level of staff awareness and involvement in these matters. Even our two restaurants waste very little – everything is recycled.”

          Much of the credit here goes to the experienced Executive Chef, Mark Krueger. He oversees the huge organic herb and vegetable garden (itself larger than many entire resorts on Samui), maintains the kitchen recycling and composting programs, and helps develop staff training schemes. The cooking class that he’s established is remarkable in that a large part of it takes place in this kitchen garden and fully explains the way that conservation is integrated into the resort, and the way that all of us can play our daily part in the overall scheme of things.

          The title of this story is an attempt to play around with words, but, really, there’s very little that’s ‘reserved’ here. In fact it could realistically be said that this resort was the leader in the field and that the others are just catching up. Except that might sound a little boastful – and that’s one thing you definitely won’t come across at The Tongsai Bay!


 Rob De Wet


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