Authentic Luxury: Garrya Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui, Thailand – Hotel Review

By Charlotte Flach

12 months ago

From bustling Bangkok to relaxing Koh Samui


Often renowned for excess and hedonism, tourism in Thailand adopts a people- and planet-friendly ethos at the recently revamped Garrya Tongsai Bay. Charlotte Flach jets off to Koh Samui to check out how the property’s facelift and eco-conscious mission statement are wowing a multitude of repeat guests.

Read the C&TH Guide to Responsible Tourism

But First…

It would be hugely amiss to fly all the way to Thailand without experiencing one of Asia’s megacities – the vibrant and hectic capital, Bangkok – before jetting off to calmer climes on one of its many islands. A quick stopover at the iconic Banyan Tree Bangkok, located in prime position in the Sathorn/Silom area, is an ideal way to shake off the jetlag and squeeze in some sightseeing.

First impressions are promising. Entering the expansive marble lobby, a woman kneels on a plinth, engrossed in her task of crafting traditional flower bracelets for new arrivals. Huge windows overlook a rocky koi pond, fringed with vegetation, a leafy respite from the concrete jungle outside.

The hotel’s rooms are spacious considering every square metre is prime real estate in this metropolis, with incredible views across the cityscape from the floor to ceiling windows. A plush sofa, cloud-like bed, and scented incense – which changes each day – create a relaxed vibe away from the hustle and bustle below. Although Bangkok beckons, there’s also plenty to pique your interest at the hotel.

Start off in the tranquillity of the spa to experience a famous Thai massage: all Banyan Tree’s therapists are trained at the brand’s dedicated school, so its wellness experiences are top notch. I opt for the Balinese massage, 60 minutes of pure bliss during which the masseuse applies deep palm and thumb pressure with rhythmic strokes. A visit to the outdoor pool on level 21 is a must to experience a swim and sunbathing in the sky while sipping on a cold cocktail to combat the city’s infamous humidity.

The hotel’s standout feature is the rooftop bar, aptly named Vertigo, which sits citadel-like up among the clouds on the 62nd floor. Guests and members of the public flock to experience its chic dining, chilled vibes, and the resplendence of the sunset over the sea of skyscrapers and the Chao Phraya river. This is a great people watching spot as the city’s young and beautiful queue to take snaps of their death-defying backbends over the building edge, enough to induce envy from any Instagram influencer.

Jet-lag tackled, it’s time for a change of scene…

Hotel Review: Garrya Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui, Thailand

aerial shot of Garrya Tongsai Bay

STAY

Touching down in Koh Samui, a change of vibe takes you from city slicker to island girl in just one hour’s flight. The Garrya Tongsai Bay is the island’s first five-star property, but what it offers is so much more than mere luxury.

The resort’s founder, Akorn, discovered the beautiful Tongsai Bay back in the 1980s, immediately falling in love with the verdant hillside and turquoise waters of the bay. Over the next three months, he slept on the beach, dreaming big and fantasising about how he could realise his vision. Early sketches of the resort show villas dotted among the trees amid the natural surroundings of the bay, and that is exactly how you can still find it today.

Rather than nature being compromised to make space for the resort, Tongsai Bay has been designed to exist harmoniously alongside it. Winding stone paths snake gently through the thick foliage and up into the hills, connecting the villas artery-like to each other and the beach below.

The integration and blending of the villas into the undergrowth makes the resort feel like an undiscovered secret, and that’s certainly how many visitors seem to feel. A video plays on the in-room TV with gushing testimonials from loyal repeat guests, many of whom are now in double figures for their stay count.

Garrya Tongsai Bay Koh Samui Beachfront Suites

Beachfront Suites

There’s even a villa which, until recently, was reserved for a couple who would stay at the resort for six months every year. Both have now passed away, but the staff still speak fondly of them – a testament to the special (and personal) relationships formed between staff and guests here.

In my Seaview Hillside Suite, a roomy bathroom, sunken lounge area, and outdoor patio with its own bath offer a home away from home bolthole. Although luxurious and comfortable, the villa I’m staying in has clearly been given a minimalist design to encourage guests to get out and about.

DO

Tongsai Bay’s ethos is based around protecting the natural environment, so it makes sense that the owners want guests to experience the great outdoors right on its doorstep. A brisk hike uphill along the resort’s nature trail is led by the in-house naturalist and culminates in a panoramic view of the entire bay, with all its resplendent colours on show in the sunlight.

Beach at Garrya Tongsai Bay Koh Samui

Guests can also visit the nearby organic garden to see where much of the fresh produce that ends up on their plates is grown, and find out about how waste is recycled to make everything from toilet cleaner to bug spray. It’s the small touches that make all the difference here; for example, all drinks are served with straws made from lemongrass, something I’ve never seen elsewhere. 

Although Tongsai Bay does not offer any motorised water sports to protect the wildlife who call the bay home, paddleboarding, swimming and snorkelling are all encouraged. Anyone who loves to be out on the water can take a day or half-day boat trip, hopping around the numerous small islands and iconic limestone rocks that thrust majestically out of the emerald depths.

As darkness falls, travellers can head out to sample some of Koh Samui’s vibrant nightlife. The famous Coco Tam’s on Bophut Beach has a relaxed vibe by day but, every night at 9.30pm, the skies are set alight during its spectacular fire show.

As performers stage health and safety-defying feats, spinning, twirling and throwing burning batons, the pumping music reverberates in time. There are also brilliant pizzas plus a fabulous selection of cocktails, including an unsubtle CBD-inspired drink complete with marijuana leaf decoration on top. 

Aerial shot of a private beach

EAT

Thailand is renowned for its food scene. The waters around Koh Samui offer up a plethora of the freshest seafood, from oysters to lobster, mussels to king prawns. The resort also offers traditional eats, such as Miang Kham (a selection of herbs, spices and nuts wrapped in banana leaf), panang curry, and mango sticky rice.

Take a trip to the Fisherman’s Market after sundown to browse local crafts, jewellery, clothes and weird and wonderful food. A whole stall is dedicated to cooked bugs, from cricket skewers to crispy mealworms. Those who feel brave enough to sample these local snacks will gain some serious credit with onlookers. Or try Thai rolled ice cream, where ingredients like gummy bears, fruit and skittles are added to liquidised ice cream, before being carved into rolls on a frozen stainless steel – a delicious treat.

The Final Word

Although Thailand often gets an unfair reputation for being the land of backpackers, full moon parties and seedy bars, this is a destination that truly understands luxury. Nowhere is this reflected better than at Garrya Tongsai Bay, which blends its highly-personal five-star experience with an authentic respect for the natural world. This is the thought that will lull you to sleep, as you lie in bed in your villa at night, listening to the cicadas.

BOOK IT

A 10 night-stay at Garrya Tongsai bay is priced from £1,839pp including flights, a Sea view Hillside Suite with breakfast and private transfers (based on an April 2024 stay). Visit trailfinders.com or call 020 7368 1317 to save over £700 per couple.


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