The National - Stylish retreat in Thailand's backpacker paradise
October 15, 2011

The welcome
It was raining as I landed on the island of Koh Samui, but in spite of the unseasonal weather the driver who fetched me was so enthusiastic about the new hotel and the island where he lived I barely noticed the thunderous clouds looming on the horizon. On arriving at Banyan Tree, Chutima, my "personal villa host", fast-tracked my check-in and sped me to my villa in a golf buggy. Overnight, the storm worsened. I was scheduled to leave the following day but roads were closed and flights cancelled. Fredrick Arul, the general manager, gently insisted I stay until the weather improved - the hospitality here, in typical Thai style, is near faultless. (For the record, the rain was unusual for the time of year - there is generally unbroken sunshine between March and August).

The neighbourhood
The aim of many guests staying here is to get away from it all, and anyone who wants to venture outside the property will only find a few roadside restaurants nearby. For a night out, guests must leave the sleepy southeastern shore and take a taxi to Chaweng. This hub of bars and eateries has been rather spoiled over the years by mass tourism but it still has one of the loveliest stretches of sand in Thailand.

The service
This is the Banyan Tree's third property in Thailand (after Bangkok and Phuket) and service is all-round excellent. This resort is especially tailored to the demands of the individual, and personal hosts (one per villa), are responsible for chauffeuring guests around the resort. They can also organise activities such as Batik painting and Thai language lessons.

The room
The 78 stilted villas cling to a steep hillside in a feat of engineering, and many have sensational views of Lamai Bay. I loved the generous terraces and sizeable private infinity pools, some of the biggest on the island. Muted, contemporary interiors were offset by local art and traditional textures, including coconut palm and coconut shell. Perched highest on the hill are the royal Banyan pool villas, which have some of the most dramatic views, while the spa pool villas boast en-suite rooms for customised treatments.

The scene
The resort is already a favourite with honeymooners tempted here by thoughtful touches such as the private candlelit dégustation dinner on the beach (exclusively reserved for one couple each night). But this property is not only for die-hard romantics. The Rainforest, a hydrotherapy wellness spa offers jungle-themed aquatic experiences that include an artificial-rain walkway, a crushed-ice fountain and scented steam chambers. There also are pummelling waterfalls, thumping water jets and a "bucket drench" shower. Classes offered include indoor aqua, yoga and Thai boxing.

The food
Saffron, the signature Thai restaurant, serves excellent classics such as tom yum koong (spicy lemon grass soup with tiger prawns; 480 Thai baht [Dh57] ), and khao neauw mamuang (fresh mango with coconut sauce and sticky rice; 320 baht; Dh38). At times, the effort to romanticise the moment can be cloying, with a band playing love songs and waiters taking souvenir photos of guests (even solo diners) too polite to decline. Other dining spots include The Edge, which is best at breakfast time with its array of fresh fruit, breads and pastries. For lunch, head to Sands on the beachfront for chargrilled and wood-fired seafood, steak and pizza.

The dramatic clifftop location. The spa with its army of well-trained masseurs. Treat yourself to the Royal Banyan spa treatment - it includes a herbal pouch massage with sesame oil and a vigorous face massage.

Having to call a buggy every time I wanted to move out of my villa; the property is not vast but the lanes are not pedestrian-friendly. Also, the gorgeous-looking beach is marred by a rocky shoreline, although the hotel supplies protective water shoes. It is looking into ways for guests to bypass the shoreline and directly enter deeper water.

The verdict
Koh Samui has come of age. With the opening of several high-end hotels such as Banyan Tree Samui, the island - once known for budget backpackers and full-moon parties - is now appealing to the well-heeled traveller looking to cosset themselves in a beautiful villa with butler service and world-class spa treatments.