After a tiring snorkelling session in the clear waters of Koh Phangan, instructors Captain Pumpui and Captain Poo are shepherding me and five others on a private speedboat to nearby Bottle Beach for a picnic lunch of sandwiches, macarons and fruit juices. I am about 10-12 kilometres from Belmond Napasai’s lush tropical resort in Koh Samui, my home for the last day-and-a-half, and the sun is blindingly bright overhead. This is ideal snorkelling weather; we have had a field day gasping at eels and corals underwater. But the heat has stymied chatter on our boat.
However, the aquamen on board won’t have any lull. Blasting dance numbers from the speakers, Pumpui swivels his hips throughout the ride, Shakira-style, exhorting us to join in. We muster a few, muted rhythmic claps. Sometimes he pulls faces through a snorkel mask and, in another instant, casually hangs from outside the boat window like an impertinent daredevil. When Pumpui tires, he steers the boat and Poo takes over as cheerleader. I crack a bemused smile at their relentlessly sunny Laurel & Hardy routine. Perhaps every resort should have a slapstick comedy pairing on hand to liven up spirits.
In Koh Samui, you can count as many luxury stays as the island’s ubiquitous coconut trees. I imagine a satellite map of its coastline would only show streams of beach umbrellas, striped towels and slope-roofed villas. Belmond Napasai, a 17-acre landscaped stretch situated in the north, has two things to recommend itself—a tasteful Thai countryside-inspired architecture that carves up enough spaces for repose, and a wonderfully unobtrusive atmosphere that allows every guest to be an island unto themselves.
My room, a four-bedroom waterfront villa furnished in bamboo and sturdy wood with a central courtyard and an inviting pool, is utterly quiet; upon my arrival I pull back the balcony doors to let the sea’s gentle rumblings sneak in from time to time. For a moment, the set-up feels dauntingly sweeping—if I broke into an impromptu yell here, nary a leaf would flutter.
A quick nap later, I saunter into Infinity, the resort’s lounge overlooking a freshwater zero-edge pool, which appears to be a favourite corner to commune for many guests. It’s dusk and the bar, right behind me, is open. I settle into a sofa with that resort cocktail staple, a pina colada. This is the best view in the house, with the water’s emerald green depths glinting at my eye, breeze rifling through open white tents on the lit-up beachfront below and tall balletic palm trees in the distance watching over the darkness. During my stay, I return to claim my seat here as often as possible.
Mornings are opportune to set off on an ambling walk about the resort’s stunning and expansive grounds, embraced by tropical coconut and cashew groves, or schedule an appointment by the spa centre. On my third day, I emerge from a refreshing Thai massage, my limbs suitably twisted but so grateful. That night, my travel group meets the resort’s general manager, Jeroen Nettekoven, for an elaborate dinner at Lal Thai Restaurant. As the staff rolls in a scrumptious spread of spring rolls, satays and salads, Jeroen helpfully decodes what’s in front of us. I can’t get enough of the southern-style lamb gravy in shallots, peanuts and dark sauce and the sautéed morning glory, all served with fragrant, light rice, for the main course. Desserts present an even more delightfully difficult conundrum: we have a choice of Thai coconut layer cake, water chestnuts in coconut syrup and mango with sticky rice. By the time we conclude our meal, only the crumbs of the saccharine cake remain.
Driving off from the resort, I rewind to my conversation with Jeroen, one afternoon, about the magnetic pull of Samui’s translucent sea. “Whenever I want a break from the resort, I take a boat and head off,” he had revealed, belying the tremendous strain of managing something that had the outward markers of serenity. “I am happy with those captains. They are colourful characters, no?” The mere thought of Pumpui and Poo unleashing their antics on a mild-mannered Jeroen is a perfect bookend to my blissed-out Samui adventure.
Thailand offers a visa on arrival to tourists from India, not visiting the country for more than 15 days (2,000 baht/Rs4,700). Major airlines, including Bangkok Airways, fly regularly from Mumbai to Samui international airport, with usually a stop at Bangkok. From Samui international airport, Belmond Napasai is a 30-minute journey by road. The property has 55 private pool residences and waterfront villas. Guests can also sign up for experiences such as Muay Thai boxing sessions, yoga at the resort deck and Thai cooking classes. (www.belmond.com/hotels/asia/thailand/koh-samui/belmond-napasai; villas from $700//Rs50,000.)
Lakshmi Sankaran fantasizes about a bucket-list journey to witness the aurora borealis someday. Editor in Chief at National Geographic Traveller India, she will also gladly follow a captivating tune to the end of this world.
Supriya Kantak poses as a photographer so she can travel. She is happiest at altitudes of 1,000 metres above sea level. She posts on Instagram as @routes_and_shoots.