Koh figure | Review: W Koh Samui


The budget pad thai and beach shack days of Koh Samui are becoming a thing of the past. The W is one of the flashiest five-star arrivistes on the island. Cillian O’Connor dives in

Koh figure | Review: W Koh Samui

I came to Koh Samui to relax.

After a month travelling through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – and all the haggling, Vespa-dodging and Imodium that inevitably means – I wanted to end what my friends had dubbed an ‘Eat Pray Love’ homage (with more of the ‘Eat’, and none of the ‘Pray’) on a sun-saluting high. I wanted to wrap up several weeks of “finding myself” by looking where I knew I’d find myself along: lying on an inflatable with a cocktail in one hand… and another in the other.

I could try to forget some of the not-so-great memories of a trip to remember, including, but by no means limited to, having my left nipple aggressively tweaked by a masseuse miffed at my rejecting her offer of a “mass-ah”

Where better, then, to unwind than the W Koh Samui? Spread over nine miles of tropical paradise, the fashionable hotel chain’s Thai island outpost bills itself as a hideaway that offers both “relaxation and revelry”. Surely here, nestled within the confines of five-star luxury, I could try to forget some of the not-so-great memories of a trip to remember, including, but by no means limited to, having my left nipple aggressively tweaked by a masseuse miffed at my rejecting her offer of a “mass-ah” on a street corner in Siem Reap and 12 hours of explosive diarrhoea on the island of Koh Lanta?

The answer is yes, mostly, but this paradise isn’t without its trouble. Despite the W’s strengths – the size and design of each of its 74 villas, its distinctive aesthetic and the genuine warmth of its staff – it falls short on a few points integral to the whole “retreat” concept.

Woobar, W Koh Samui

Firstly, the food. With a total of four onsite restaurants ranging in style and price point, you’d think you’d be safe enough staying put on the resort itself, right? Wrong. I ate at three and found none that measured up to comparatively casual (and significantly cheaper) eateries just a stone’s throw away in nearby Fisherman’s Village. (Then again, isn’t most of Southeast Asia’s best cuisine unceremoniously plated up on a pavement?)

The chips, too, were day-ruining. But then when are McCain oven chips ever not?

The W’s problem is that – in an effort to appear modern, global and “with it” – it has largely shunned Thai food in favour of Western-inspired fare – but crucially, fails to do either well. I ordered a phad thai goong from the Kitchen Table menu (the only onsite restaurant to offer anything more than a cursory nod to Thai cuisine) for the princely sum of 590 Thai Baht (just under £14) and was disappointed to find that it was a pale, overcooked and sweet chilli sauce-saturated imitation of the perfectly cooked plate of noodles I’d picked up for just over a tenth of the price at a shack with a “Mr Pad Thai” sign (I’m not even joking) on Koh Lanta just a week before.

The chips, too, were day-ruining. But then when are McCain oven chips ever not?

Tropical Oasis villa at W Koh Samui

Other more minor snags during my stay were the hotel’s beach, a slice of Samui’s northern coast that’s exposed to some brisk winds and surrounded by waters filled with tiny jellyfish whose faintly tingling stings are like a spa treatment you never asked for, and a welcome note from the general manager in which my name was spelt incorrectly (admittedly not butchered, they forgot an ‘l’ in Cillian, but still, if you’re going to the bother of writing a personalised welcome note…).

That said, the W is still a perfectly nice place to get away from it all. Literally. With villas ranging in size from 223 sq m to 2,044 sq m, this place is enormous and – bar the odd obnoxious tourist straying into the beach to take a selfie with the giant white “W” sign in the background – mostly feels like your own private idyll.

The beach at W Koh Samui

It’s possible to get away from it all more figuratively, too. Either by indulging in one of the extensive menu of treatments at the Away spa – I had a cleansing Detox facial, a last-minute switch from a massage on account of having freshly incinerated myself earlier that day – or by making a beeline to Woobar. Easily the resort’s standout feature, the part-indoor, part-outdoor bar and lounge area is an Insta-winning mix of dark wood floors, neon yellow-green soft furnishings and the glittering azure blue of an infinity pool into which several banquette seating areas have been seamlessly sunken in. There is another massive W sign anchored nearby though, so be prepared to jostle with a few snap-happy, terminally basic tourists if you actually want to sit down.

Woobar, W Koh Samui

Here, you can choose from an array of expertly mixed cocktails that are, mercifully, a world apart from the standard set of sickeningly sweet mai tais and pina coladas you’ll find pretty much everywhere else in the Thai islands. ‘A Nightcap in Scotland’ was a refreshingly tart, yet smokily intense twist of Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Talisker, Grand Marnier and orange blossom, while the ‘(Walk Me Out in the) Morning Dew’ was a cringeworthily titled, yet pleasingly original mix of dill-infused vodka, yellow chartreuse, dry vermouth and lime juice – the kind of ‘grown-up’ drink you should sip at a leisurely pace so as to be continually enthralled by the complexity of its flavour, rather than totally overpowered by it.

I necked mine. Not because I’m an alcoholic (just Irish), but because I knew that just a brief, hair-raising electric golf cart ride away* awaited the bliss of a solitary skinny dip in my villa pool, followed by a glorious night’s sleep thanks to the drool-inducing softness of 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton bedding. (Honestly, the highlight of my stay.)

While it’s not perfect, and can at times in its try-hard trendiness feel like the hotel equivalent of Regina George’s mother in Mean Girls (“I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom!”), overall the W is a decent option for the traveller in search of “switching off” without sacrificing buzz, quality service and seemingly endless Instagram opportunities.

Just steer clear of the chips.

*Due to the resort’s size, management have installed a transport system whereby staff ferry you Silverstone-style to and from your villa, the beach etc. Hold on to your head.


W Koh Samui, 4/1 Moo 1, Tambol Maenam, Surat Thani, Koh Samui 84330, Thailand
+66 77 915 999; wkohsamui.com