Hotel Review: An Ocean Front Haven Room at the W Retreat Koh Samui in Thailand
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I'd been hoping to visit the diving there was amazing. So when a good friend of mine decided to celebrate his birthday in Thailand — and I already had a business trip to China planned —I knew it was the perfect time to tack on a couple of extra days in the island paradise of Koh Samui, located about an hour by air from Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand. I stayed at the W Retreat Koh Samui for two nights and, ultimately, I have mixed feelings about the place.
Booking and Check In
Since the Thailand portion of my trip was arranged on short notice, a lot of places were fully booked when I started looking for Starwood properties near the villa my friends had rented; the island is pretty large and I didn't want to be more than a 30-minute drive from all the fun. My first choice was The Library, a recently acquired SPG property famous for its red swimming pool, but it was completely booked. I'd heard from many people that the W Retreat Koh Samui was gorgeous, so I bit the (pricey) bullet and booked a room there instead.
I was ambivalent at first about booking the W Retreat Koh Samui because it had limited SPG participation and rates were sky-high. I had originally booked a Jungle Wow Oasis suite for $1,025 before taxes, fees and service charges, which I knew was crazy, but I had a bunch of friends in town and wanted to be able to host a gathering while I was there — I mean, what's the point of having a private plunge pool all to yourself anyway?
When I first saw the room, I was prepared to be wowed (as per the title), but was disappointed in what I found. The website said the room was supposed to be 3,767 square feet, but it seemed really small. I then realized that this measurement included both the indoor and outdoor areas of the room, and since I had some garden and patio space as well as a 50-meter (538 square-foot) plunge pool, that all counted toward the total square footage. There was also no view whatsoever and it wasn't very close to the water. For a beachfront hotel — especially at the price I was paying — I felt a view of the water should have been a given, or at least a short walk away, not a trek.
When I complained, the hotel agent tried to up-sell me to the almost-10,000 square-foot Extreme Wow Haven, which was absolutely amazing, but I couldn't justify spending even more money — especially in a country as cheap as Thailand — on a giant hotel suite. Some TPG readers have said they were automatically upgraded to this suite by having SPG Platinum status, but unfortunately I was not, and would have had to shell out more than $2,000 per night or 200,000 Starpoints, which I politely declined.
Instead, I chose to downgrade to an Ocean Front Haven room for about $748 per night before taxes, fees and service charges, which I was happy with. Of course, I asked about paying with points and it would have cost me 90,000 Starpoints per night, which is obscene. According to my most recent monthly valuations, SPG points are valued at 2.7 cents per dollar. Had I redeemed the 90,000 points per night for this property, I would have gotten a value of less than one cent per point, which is clearly not a good use of my hard-earned Starpoints.
The best way to book this would be with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which gives you 25,000 Starpoints when you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening your account — it also lets you earn up to 5x points on eligible purchases made by SPG members. Of course, you could also use another top travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gives you 3x points on all travel and dining expenses worldwide or the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which lets you earn 2x points on travel purchases.
The Location and Lobby
The W Koh Samui is located about a 15-minute drive from Samui International Airport (USM). You can reserve a hotel pick-up ahead of time, catch a taxi at the airport or even take a motorcycle taxi to the hotel if you're feeling adventurous and are traveling light. While the property is located in the quiet Mae Nam Beach area on the northern side of the island — away from the chaotic backpacker zone of Chaweng Beach — there's still plenty to do outside the resort and there are plenty of fun restaurants, bars and night markets to check out. Note that the hotel is a short drive away from the main road that's home to all the action, though, so it's just a bit a too far to leave the hotel on foot and better to rent a motorcycle or take taxis if you want to visit the surrounding area.
The property itself is enormous. So large, in fact, that there are small electric golf carts to drive you from the lobby to your room or villa. The lobby itself is pretty impressive — half-indoor and half-outdoor — with high ceilings and eclectic pop art decor on full display. Although the hotel didn't have traditional Thai-style decorations, I really enjoyed the whimsical-yet-trendy design elements I saw here. As you walk in, you'll see the lobby bar and wading pool, which actually isn't for wading, but for sitting in stylish sunken-down sofas and drinking, which I did plenty of during my visit (more on that later). In any case, it's impressive to see a pool with giant circular sofas overlooking the ocean when you first enter the hotel.
In the end, I was happy with my Ocean Front Haven room. It was a detached villa featuring a king-size bed with 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, LCD TVs, a W Pillow menu (which allows you to change your type of pillow to a hypo-allergenic one or a body pillow), slippers, a robe, a sound system allowing you to play music from your own devices, a safe and a mini-bar. I was also provided with two free water bottles per day, which is common at hotels in Thailand.
There was also a small sofa and a table and chair area. Along the sides of the room that didn't feature floor-to-ceiling windows or sliding glass doors, there was plenty of shelving and a combination storage space/wardrobe area. A small but functional work space offered a desk with plenty of outlets and a chair. I especially loved the fancy espresso coffee maker, which came with several capsules.
The bathroom was large and had a huge soaking tub with a TV above it, his and her sinks and a separate, small room for the toilet. As usual, the bathroom came with SPG's signature Bliss amenities. There was also a gorgeous combo indoor/outdoor shower, which I loved.
Sliding doors led to a private patio with sun loungers and the plunge pool. Although the villa was located on the beach, the whole outdoor area was shrouded for privacy, which would have been great for honeymooners, but I was disappointed that I didn't have that ocean view I'd been craving. However, since the beach is public, the outdoor area is likely shrouded not only for privacy, but also for safety reasons.
I tested out the spa right off the bat with a 90-minute massage treatment (for about $130), which I loved — my room wasn't ready so this was the perfect way to kill some time. It helped relax me enough to get into "island mode." Full disclosure, though — I got a beach massage the next day for $12 and even though I was on an outdoor bed next to my friends, the massage itself was better, ending with a cracking of my neck that reverberated across the beach and made me feel like a new person. If you want one of these, just walk along many of the beaches and you can see the outdoor huts of people getting massages. Usually, there are signs out front stating the type, length and price of each massage. I chose the Deep Thai Massage for 400 THB which is about $12, but there are various options to choose from.
The W Retreat Koh Samui also has a large swimming pool with sun loungers, but since I had my own plunge pool I didn't use it. There's also a fitness center and a W beach area where you can enjoy food service while relaxing in sun loungers or cabanas.
The concierge and staff at the hotel were extremely helpful. One day they organized a boat rental for me and even provided some extras that the boat didn't cover, like towels. They also set up a beach barbecue one evening for my friends and me — we had a group of 10 but they also do beach dinners upon request for smaller groups and couples (more on the epic dinner party later).
Food and Beverage
The breakfast spread was amazing. I loved that there was a combo of Thai and Western food. The fresh fruit was absolutely fantastic and they also served me an, um, interesting fried donut type thing you can see in the photo, below — it was delicious!
The buffet was large and filled with all sorts of breakfast food, an omelette station and some lunch items.
There was even a small Bloody Mary bar (filled with different spices and vegetables, plus tomato juice and vodka so you could make your own) as well as some delicious (and fresh!) juices to choose from.
Evening drinks on the lobby couches were a blast and the setting outside — complete with the sunken sofa in a wading pool overlooking the ocean at sunset — was picture-perfect.
The cocktail menu concept at this hotel was really unique — you can see photos of all the drinks via the Woo Bar Koh Samui Instagram account.
The waitstaff were patient as we pondered what to choose and the pictures definitely helped. Note that you do have to use small steps to move on and off the couches, so anyone with mobility issues may have to miss out on this experience. When we asked the waitress if anyone had ever fallen in, she giggled and responded "all night looong" in her best Lionel Richie voice. Luckily, no one from our group fell in that night.
After sampling a variety of different drinks, which were all refreshing and flavorful, we headed to the Jungle Club, which quickly became a favorite nightlife spot of the group, offering a blend of sweet and dry martinis with hints of lavender, Chardonnay and a bamboo mist.
After cocktails, we headed down to the beach for our seafood barbecue.
The grill and chefs were ready and waiting on the beach for us, and the setup was detailed to perfection. Asian parasols were set up surrounding our table with colorful lights and in case we forgot where we were, a giant glowing white W was set between our table and the lapping ocean waves.
Dinner was excellent. The seafood — which included appetizers like mussels and oysters and main courses like lobster and salmon — was fresh and delicious.
White wine was served in abundance and there were plenty of vegetables to accompany the seafood like broccoli, yellow bell peppers and asparagus. Dessert came in the form of fresh fruit.
The beach dinner was a really wonderful way to celebrate my friend's birthday. I highly recommend it if you stay at the W Retreat Koh Samui, especially if there's a special occasion to celebrate.
While I really enjoyed my stay here, I would be much more apt to stay again if the hotel increased its affiliation with SPG and got its point values and pricing more in line. Staying at the Conrad Koh Samui would be a better use of points — especially since you'll get plunge pools and a view — and there are several other SPG properties on the island where you can get better value, too. The W also lacks beautiful beach views, unless you're staying in the Extreme Wow Haven room. I thought it was crazy that my friends rented a six-bedroom villa with stunning ocean views and a full-time staff for just $650 a night — that's about $100 less than I paid for my room with no views at the W!
While I did enjoy my stay at the W Retreat Koh Samui — mostly because of the great service and amenities — I may switch it up a little and consider staying at the Conrad or an Airbnb for my next trip to Thailand.
Have you ever stayed at the W Retreat Koh Samui? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos courtesy of TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino except where noted otherwise.