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I never thought I’d use the words “exhausting” and “Ritz-Carlton” in the same sentence, but lo and behold: The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui was exhausting, which was the exact opposite we’d hoped for when visiting the beautiful island of Koh Samui for a relaxing beach vacation.
Read on to find out about why I wasn’t a fan of this newly (pre)opened hotel.
I booked our three-night stay here with points, transferring SPG points to Marriott at a 3:1 ratio. Rates for the Terrace King One-Bedroom Suite With Resort View were 60,000 Marriott points per night or 21,875 Thai baht, around $680. TPG valued Marriott Reward points at 0.9 cents per point, and I got a value of 1.1, a solid deal since I didn’t feel like paying over $2,000 for a three-night stay. (Since I’ve returned, the terrace suite no longer seems to be listed on the website.)
As an SPG/Marriott Platinum member, I was hoping for a complimentary upgrade. While I didn’t end up getting it at check-in, we were eventually upgraded to a pool villa, which normally costs 31,000 THB per night (about $960, which upped my valuation to about 1.6 cents per point — hooray!), but we got this kicking and screaming.
In the end, our entire stay was comped anyway, and I’m still waiting for my refund of 180,000 Marriott points.
The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui was a 15-minute drive from the airport, and I should have done my homework, because we were charged 2,000 THB (almost $62) for the short ride in the hotel’s S-Class Mercedes, which I’d booked before our trip. I was later told you could get the same ride in taxi for about 600 THB (under $20). Oops. Lesson learned!
The resort, though not too far driving from the town of Bo Phut, was secluded, and we felt trapped there. We ended up renting a car (Budget delivered it to the hotel for us) to explore the island for about 2,000 THB per day, or the same price as our 15-minute airport jaunt. #travelfail.
Keep in mind that driving is not for the faint of heart on this island. The roads were choppy with narrow lanes, hills and sharp curves. Thais drive on the left side of the road, and I had to be aware of motorcycles zooming past us on both sides and stray dogs running out into the street.
Still, I felt good knowing that I was covered on collision insurance thanks to my trusty Chase Sapphire Reserve card (plus I got 3x per dollar on the car rental). Once we had the car (it is possible to rent motorcycles for about 250 THB, or $8, per day), things seemed much closer because it was impossible to get around the island on foot from the hotel.
No one greeted us as we exited my car to the hotel, which was disappointing. I’ve stayed at several Ritz properties, and they’ve welcomed me with open arms by name the moment I arrived, especially when arriving in a hotel-provided car. But not at the Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui.
We walked up a long staircase (I’d later realize that excessive amounts of stairs would be the theme of my stay) and were finally greeted and offered coconut water at reception. The lobby was beautiful and had views overlooking an infinity pond and the ocean beyond.
As we were checking in, I inquired about the complimentary upgrade. We hadn’t been upgraded, though, and it seemed like the hotel didn’t even realize I had platinum status until I mentioned it to them. When I saw there was both basic and premium internet, I had to specifically ask if we could get the premium at no charge — again, the hotel didn’t seem to realize it was one of the platinum benefits and didn’t seem to care in general about elite status, which was frustrating.
After checking in, a golf cart drove us up steep hills to an area close to our building, which took about five minutes.
We then had to proceed up and down several mazes of staircases and past a construction site to get to our building itself.
It took us several minutes of strenuous walking up and down in intense heat. This was not a place for those with mobility challenges, injuries or disabilities, a point that, of course, was not mentioned on the Ritz website.
There were no ramps and no elevators. I was thankful I hadn’t taken my parents on this trip — they wouldn’t have made it to the room. In order to leave our room, we had to call for a golf cart and then take a different route both up and downhill, waiting in the hot sun until a golf cart came to meet us. We couldn’t wait in the room because there weren’t any roads that led directly to our building. On a positive note, I more than got in my 10,000 steps each day I was there — bring your Fitbit.
Terrace King One-Bedroom Suite
The terrace suite (1,001 square feet) was large and came with all the amenities you’d expect of a room at the Ritz, starting with a comfortable king bed.
There was a small living area with a work desk, chair and sofa.
The typical amenities like a minibar, coffee maker, safe, robe and slippers were also in the room.
The bathroom was large and inviting, with two vanities, an inviting bathtub and Asprey bath amenities. There was a separate shower area and a closet with enough hangers, an iron and ironing board, shelving and a safe.
Right away, we noticed that both Wi-Fi and cell service were spotty. As both my husband and I were working this trip (and on EST hours), I knew this would become an issue, and it did.
I requested a room change because there was service available in other parts of the property (including a five-bar signal directly outside my door and zero bars inside). When that didn’t happen, I got even more frustrated, so staff showed me two more rooms around 11:30pm. One had no service and the other had decent reception but no privacy, as it was overlooking a common area. When I got back to our room, my husband was asleep, so we didn’t end up switching rooms. As this was a new property, I was really surprised that the Wi-Fi was so spotty — the newest technology should be there!
I had set both thermostats, living room and bedroom, to 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), but our bedroom was sweltering — clearly something wasn’t right. The living room seemed to cool down quite a bit, but the bedroom was hot and I couldn’t sleep. The next morning, I grabbed my trusty travel thermometer (yes, I travel with a thermometer, so what?) to take measurements. The air blowing out of the vents in the living room was 52 degrees F and 73 degrees in the bedroom, which clearly showed the A/C wasn’t working properly.
As I’d already asked to meet the general manager at 8:30 the next morning to voice my concerns about the room location and the lack of Wi-Fi and cell reception, I just added the broken A/C to the list.
The next morning, I called housekeeping at 8:00am, and they said they would come right away. I headed to breakfast and to meet the GM, who was running late. When I met him, the GM promised to make amends, but made sure to point out that the property, which had been open since October, was only “pre-open.”
Apparently, the grand opening would be in March, which made sense, because several parts of the property were unfinished and there were construction zones everywhere. But this hardly minor detail wasn’t stated anywhere on the website. Had I been aware of it, I might not have booked. I thought that $680 per night (or 60,000 points) was a steep price in a generally inexpensive country like Thailand when the hotel is only “pre-open” and still under construction.
I went back to the room about 10:00am, and housekeeping had not yet serviced the room. I complained again to the front desk (I texted the GM and my texts went ignored). Housekeeping finally showed up to clean the room (which by that time was scorching) at 11:45am.
Ocean View Pool Villa
After complaining yet again to the front desk (and still no response from the GM), we were moved to a pool villa — one that had both a solid Wi-Fi connection and cell service.
And, icing on the cake, we didn’t feel like we had to climb Mount Everest every time we went to the room. But the hair in the icing? The room view was terrible, overlooking food deliveries. Still, beggars can’t be choosers.
We hiked (literally) back up to our room to pack our things, but we were told to leave them and they would be moved shortly to our villa (it was about 1:00pm). We headed out to lunch off the property and arrived back at the pool villa at 4:15pm. But the bags were not yet in the villa. I called the front desk to have them moved. Clearly, service was not up to Ritz-Carlton standards here.
Thank goodness the room was beautiful, featuring many of the same amenities of the last plus our own private plunge pool and lounge chairs.
The bathroom was spacious and airy, even more so than the original room.
Though the website advertised it as having incredible ocean views, our room looked over the back of the restaurant, so we could lounge in our private pool, savoring the memorable views of … an industrial building and delivery trucks.
I was happier in the pool villa, but there were details that still reminded me I was basically in a work zone, like poorly constructed beams on our patio.
Food and Beverage
One positive about the hotel was the breakfast. It may be one of the best hotel breakfasts I’d ever had. It was priced at 1,500 THB per person (almost $50), which wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it.
The buffet was massive, with many delicious hot foods (both Western and Asian) and many varieties of fruit.
My French husband even pointed out that the croissants were some of the best he’d ever had — and he didn’t exclude France! I savored my made-to-order pancakes both mornings. Breakfast was definitely the best part of this hotel.
I especially enjoyed the fresh coconuts.
Now, if they could only match the quality of the service to the quality of the breakfast!
We also sampled the Thai restaurant, Pak Tai, which overlooked the swimming reef. The restaurant cabanas were private and romantic, and in the evenings the resort put on a Thai dance show, which introduced a bit of culture to our visit. The curry I had was spicy but delicious.
In general, I was not impressed with the hotel and grounds being under construction. And not just a little bit: The entire property was pretty much unfinished, and many of the areas such as the spa and some pools were not fully open. If you wanted to get an outdoor massage, you’d be looking at a construction zone. I’d have preferred to get a beach hut overlooking the ocean for $9.
It wasn’t the serene and calm experience you’d expect from a Ritz-Carlton located on a beautiful island. I felt stressed and tired the entire time — if I wasn’t trying to get the staff to do their job, I was hiking up stairs or listening to the sounds of construction. It wasn’t the island bliss we were expecting.
Now, my expectations were high because the photos on the website were beautiful. The problem was that they were mock-ups and looked nothing like the real resort. I took my own photos to compare:
One thing I was really excited to check out was the swim reef, a special habitat within the resort that was supposedly full of marine life. From reading the description, I excitedly pictured a roped-off expanse of ocean, full of colorful fish and ideal for snorkeling.
“Discover the largest, one-of-a-kind swim reef in Southeast Asia within a resort at The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui,” the website read. “Teeming with over 50 species of marine fish by the thousands, our unique feature will delight and engage all ages through immersive snorkeling discoveries and scheduled supervised fish feeding.”
Here’s my photo of the reef, which you couldn’t pay me to enter. I felt bad for the marine life that had to reside in this dirty, disgusting water. Again, just another misrepresentation by the hotel.
The private beach was beautiful, and at least no one was trying to sell me trinkets.
I didn’t spend much time at the main pool, but was happy to see at least one of the pools wasn’t under construction.
The fitness center had a muay Thai boxing ring (they offered classes), though after all the hiking I did walking up the stairs, I felt I had burned enough calories.
My stay culminated in a careless staff member driving the golf cart from my room to the lobby so recklessly that my brand new Rimowa suitcase flew off the golf cart and was badly scratched (luckily, nothing inside had broken).
While I knew my bag would eventually get scratched, that kind of treatment was unacceptable. As I was checking out, I asked to speak again to the GM, who was conveniently unavailable (he never actually responded to any of my queries despite his promises the day before). I told the front-desk staff I had had a terrible stay, listing all the reasons why, and demanded a full refund of my points. They agreed to refund me fully, including what I spent on food and incidentals, but I’ve yet to see the points in my account. I emailed and was told it would be several weeks until I would see the points.
To the Point
The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui should not be open for guests. The property was unfinished, the staff members weren’t properly trained and the management was a disaster, from top to bottom. I’ve never been so disappointed with a hotel stay, and even though my stay will eventually be refunded, it still wasn’t worth it — I felt as if I had lost three days of my much-needed vacation. If you happen to be in Koh Samui, you may want to pop over to the Ritz for breakfast, but plan to stay elsewhere, like the W Koh Samui or even a rented Airbnb villa.
Response From the Hotel
TPG reached out to the resort to get their perspective on what happened during Adam Kotkin’s stay. Duty manager Aey Phongchaisri said there have been recurring issues that management was aware of ahead of the grand opening, including with service and the air-conditioning units, among other things. The staff has undergone retraining, and the malfunctioning A/C units have been fixed or replaced. The Wi-Fi was spotty because of problems with the power supply, which have since been rectified, he said.
Construction has been a trickier issue, since the whole property has been affected by flooding that has required additional work. The flooding is the reason the pool in Kotkin’s photos had to be drained during his stay, Phongchaisri said. As for the snorkeling reef, he said, “the water will be a little dense depending on the weather, and the point of view of the guest.” All guest buildings will be connected to the main road by the end of January, Phongchaisri promised.
He said all the problems our reviewer experienced would be resolved by the grand opening in March, and that Kotkin would see his points refunded soon. — Editors
All photos are by author unless otherwise specified.
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