The Tongsai Bay is a family-owned resort set on its own stretch of private beach on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. Despite being the oldest resort on the island (it celebrated its 32nd birthday in 2019), it is refreshingly forward-thinking: the entire space was designed around the current landscape – with nature being spared the price of the build where possible – and a complete ban on plastic which was enforced 15 years’ ago.
The result is a wonderfully higgledy-piggeldy, natural place to stay with accommodation built into the hillside, 66 species of birds, and flowers so big they look like they’re on steroids. Watch butterflies chase one another, listen to the high-pitch sound of the jungle and admire the gigantic, ancient tree that sits right in the middle of the Beach Bistro & Bar.
With just 83 villas and cottages spread out over 28 acres, accommodation feels both spacious and exclusive; design is Thai and homely, yet functional and modern.
There is a ban on motorised water-sports on Tongsai Bay’s 200-metre secluded beach, making it safe to swim, try stand-up paddle-boarding, sail, kayak or simply lie on a lounger while waiters serve you drinks and snacks.
There are two pools: a 50-metre freshwater pool with a separate section for children and an adult-only half-moon pool located half way up the hillside. Both pools have loungers, parasols and waiters ready to supply towels, drinks and snacks.
Two restaurants, a spa, a meeting room, a tennis court, a gift shop, and an exercise room with bikes and treadmills complete the list of facilities.
Villas are spacious and well thought-out – our huge Tongsai Pool Villa has the largest deck we have ever seen, with a private five-metre infinity pool, two loungers, a day bed with flowing curtains, a bath big enough for two and a kitchen area with a fridge that’s more bar than a mini-bar. Get into the pool, swim to the edge and marvel at the views from every angle: across to the blue horizon, down to the beach and up to the villas on the hillside.
Inside (yes, that was just the outside), rooms have king-size beds, a lounge area with sofa and large flat-screen, a central dressing area and a stylish bathroom with a walk-in shower.
We tried the Samui Honey Mask (60 minutes, £53) followed by the Tumeric and Thai White Clay Wrap (50 minutes, £43).
My therapist, Hong, met me in the spa reception and invited me to swap my flip-flops for bamboo slip-on shoes. She then led me to a treatment room called Vata and invited me to sit down so that I could place my feet in a bowl of warm water. Hong then scrubbed my feet using brown salt.
She invited me to settle down on the treatment bed, lying face up. The treatment began with a thorough cleanse and tone to prepare my skin for a mask made of local milk and honey, which Hong painted on with a brush. While this set, Hong treated me to a hand and arm massage. Hong then removed the mask with wet cotton pads and applied moisturiser and eye cream. My skin felt clean and soft; any sunburn from the day duly calmed. My second treatment was a wrap using Thai white clay and turmeric. My therapist, Mod, invited me to take a shower on a pretty outdoor terrace and then sit in a steam room for 10 minutes.
Mod then invited me to lie face down on the treatment bed and used a towel to dry me. She then painted the clay paste all over my back, shoulders, arms and legs, asking me to turn over so that she could do the same on my front. When I was entirely covered in the yellow mixture, Mod wrapped the sheet I was lying on around me and covered me in a towel. She then left the room for 15 minutes so the paste could set – I promptly fell asleep.
After a second shower, Mod massaged a body cream into my entire body leaving everywhere as super soft. The Prana Spa offers a range of massages, facials, wraps, scrubs, herbal baths and signature rituals, as well as treatments for men and mothers-to-be.
The Tongsai Bay has two restaurants: the Po-Lad Beach Bistro and Bar for lunch and dinner, and Chef Chom’s Thai Restaurant, where breakfast and a la carte dinners are served, some by candle-light on the outdoor terrace. Dishes are created using produce grown in the resort’s own organic garden, in local waters or on local farms where possible. Spinach, bananas, beetroot, dill, aubergine, lemongrass, turmeric and sweet potato were all in season on our visit.
Breakfast is a buffet with a smoothie bar (tell Puh how you feel and she will create a smoothie to suit); help yourself to pastries, meats, cheeses, breads and cereals. Eggs are to order – our white-egg omelette with spinach and bacon was light and fluffy.
The menu at Po-Lad is a mixture of Thai and English, with some wonderfully imaginative vegetarian dishes (vegans can easily be catered for, too). Our lunch on arrival – crab fishcakes washed down with a cold Chang beer – was the start of several incredible meals.
A highlight was the four-course a la carte dinner served at Chef Chom’s – a Thai culinary journey of light and spicy salad, a comforting hot and sour prawn soup, a classic Pad Thai served with juicy prawns and a dessert of sticky coconut rice with fresh mango.
Our private infinity pool: Turn off the lights, get in and stare at the stars. Heaven doesn’t get much closer.
Our Thai cooking class: Being taught how to make prawn spring rolls, Pad Thai and Pork Green Curry by experts was a real treat.
The staff: From the General Manager to the cleaning staff, everyone at Tongsai Bay is helpful and friendly. Interestingly, 20 members of the team have been here for over 20 years.
The steps: Charming as the layout is, the frequent steps can be a little much in the tropical heat. Ask for a golf buggy if this is likely to be a challenge.
Eco-warriors: The resort’s organic farm turns food waste into cleaning products, fertiliser for plants and butterfly-friendly mosquito spray; straws for drinks are made using slices of lemongrass. Nothing goes to waste.
Couples: From the private infinity pools to the secluded beach, The Tongsai Bay screams romance. The resort also hosts weddings.
Families: We saw several happy children swimming in the sea or the pool and eating in the restaurants.
Weekly cocktails on the beach: Settle down on a bean bag on the beach, gin and tonic in hand, and watch the sun go down.
A visit to the Samui Elephant Haven: A retirement sanctuary for mistreated elephants – a visit here is sure to put life in perspective.
A night in a Tongsai Pool Villa costs £500 per person based on two sharing and includes breakfast.
Economy return flights from London Heathrow to Ko Samui via Bangkok cost £860 per person with Thai Airways
13th May 2019
Minimalist lines; organic products; facial massage; tranquillity; interesting people-watching.
Discarded towels on loungers; steam rooms that aren't steamy; mobile phones.
Behind the scenes