Samui Wining & Dining
THE TOP OF THE TREE
Five-star quality keeps getting better – as evidenced by Banyan Tree Samui!


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It was easier ten years ago, back then, there were only a few. But today, when it comes to 5-star hotels, we’re spoiled for choice. According to TripAdvisor, there are now no fewer than 25 top-of-the-tree 5-star luxury resorts on Samui, with quite a few of them bearing the name of international luxury brands. That’s impressive by anyone’s standards, particularly on an island which is only a 20 kilometre hop from one side to the other!

      But it poses just one small problem. It’s all to do with how you measure and gauge the hotel ratings. Nearly all of this is about physical things, such as room dimensions or having a hairdryer, bathrobe or slippers, a minibar and a safe in the room. Then there’s service: 24-hour room service, valet parking, a concierge, ironing service, or an accessible manager. You can make as many long lists as you want, and all the top hotels will be able to tick them off one at a time. But then there’s just one thing left over. It’s something you can’t actually be specific about, and it varies from one resort to the next in the way it manifests itself. There’s no particular name for it – but for the sake of argument let’s call it ‘guest-care’.

Banyan Tree Samui is exclusive, and very definitely secluded. It’s tucked away in a private cove all of its own on the edge of Lamai. It’s truly idyllic here; as soon as you step out into the lower car park, you can sense an ease and tranquillity. And this is compounded when you emerge into the openended elevated reception area – both the landscape and the seascape are stunning. The buildings are dotted subtly into the sloping wooded hillside that curves around the cove, and with a selection of villas, grouped and graded according to their size, position and outlook.

          Tucked in amongst these are no fewer than three restaurants (one of them ‘fine-dining’), two bars, a fully-kitted library with books and videos, a world-class spa, a gym, and yoga room, a business and conference centre, boardroom and meeting suites, plus a ballroom that’s equipped for wedding groups and parties. But there’s only one pool. Why? Because each of the sumptuously-appointed villas has its own private and spacious infinity pool, of course!

          The villas are superb. Nowadays it is not uncommon to come across a fashionable emphasis on natural materials; fabrics, woods and stone. But this can be incorporated with a greater or lesser degree of flair. Here, the design-sense is elegantly exquisite. The interior décor of the suites is charming beyond words and, needless to say, the quality of the fittings and fixtures is straight out of a glossy magazine. Each villa is cosily private, even to the extent of having bathrooms with a whole sheer wall of glass overlooking the infinite sky and sea below – but with curtains, naturally, should you feel the need. Each has at least one terrace with sit-down tables and chairs, plus a huge, pillowed daybed that’s big enough for lazy games of reclining ping-pong. Oh – and each villa comes with its own personal butler (referred to as a ‘personal host’) attached.

          Guest Care #1 – there’s a ‘pillow and linen menu’ with tiny models and samples for you to choose from. Guest Care #2 – anytime you want you can ask for a chef to pop in to cook breakfast for you on the spot, or any other meal for that matter. Guest Care #3 – Your personal host will issue you with your own cell phone, complete with speed-dials already in place. Any time, anywhere, inside the resort or out, if you have a problem of any sort just call for help and advice.

          The spa here rates a special mention. As with everything else at Banyan Tree it’s almost overwhelmingly tranquil. There are all the usual rejuvenating and well-being treatments on offer, together with an extensive selection of Asian-inspired body and beauty treatments and therapies. But where it scores highly is with its hydrotherapy feature. In a wholly separate walk-through suite, there’s the ‘Rainforest Experience’. This is a complete hydrothermal environment that combines the best of European spa and hydrotherapies with the essential philosophy of Asian wellness. There are now 20 Banyan Tree resorts and hotels, in some of the most beautiful locations on our planet – and the Samui resort has the first and, as yet, the only hydrotherapy environment of them all. I suppose that’s an incidental Guest Care #4!

          Guest Care #5 just has to be the idea of the ‘Romantic Department’. Alongside accounting, engineering and F&B, the resort is now planning an entire section just to cater for the needs and indulgences of newly-weds and honeymooners, or those who are simply in love. From twin massages to candlelight dining on the beach or intimate in-villa catering, to surprise packages on the pillows – plus more – including entire customisable wedding packages.

          Saffron is the resort’s signature fine-dining Thai restaurant, placed halfway up the hill for a superlative outlook – being virtually a cube of glass brings this point home. Khun Jang, the resort’s Public Relations Co-ordinator smilingly describes Saffron as “traditional Thai cuisine in a contemporary setting”. And, believe me, it’s the finest of both! Apart from all that glass, the next thing that’ll impress you is the one long wall that’s covered entirely from top to bottom with black lacquered drawers, some of these peeping open, coyly displaying their contents! The restaurant offers a warm welcome to visitors from outside the resort, and is open each evening between the hours of 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm.

          Guest Care #6 – Unlike just about every other resort known to man, Banyan Tree positively encourages selected street vendors to come inside and sell their wares. It might be a mobile motorbikeand- sidecar roti and pancake stall. Or a similar rig that’s selling cut and chilled fruits. Or a noodle soup stall. “This is a vital aspect of Thai life,” explained Khun Jang. “But we’ve been careful to vet the produce and its quality so that our guests don’t need to worry. We think this expands our guests’ overall Thai experience, and at the same time feeds-back into the local community in some small way.”

          I could continue. There are a lot more ‘numbers’ to go yet, before we run out of points to illustrate the level of thoughtfulness and care shown by this resort to its guests. This entire strata of awareness just isn’t something that the ‘Star-Inspectors’ can itemise. Even so, it exists throughout the resort. Banyan Tree Samui only opened its doors in July 2010. But it hasn’t taken long for this resort to get as close as you can be to the top of the tree!

 

 Rob De Wet


 


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