Jun 22, 2020
ADMIRING BOAT-FLECKED BOPHUT BAY, cocktail condensing down my arm, there’s space to meditate on how great it is to get intoxicated on the beach. Left of frame the sun completes its westward in a burst of orange and violet, the air fills with mellifluous house tunes from the DJ and my brain bobs gently in a sea of dopamine.
On Samui, already home to many of the fanciest hotels, some chic new beach clubs and bars set down on the shores just before lockdown. Call it a Balification pivot for the cashed-up designer-sandaled travelers who alight to postcard weather here 10 months of the year. And now that the island is open again—with added emphasis on whistle-clean, open-air venues—it’s the perfect time to take a whirl through the newest, coolest, eye-candiest additions.
Beach Scene Stealers
Inhabiting its own kaleidoscopic bubble on Chaweng Beach, Seen Beach Club Samui has strutted into place with a funky retro drive-in look and every square centimeter begging to be Instagrammed. Its centerpiece pool is unparalleled for people-watching as patrons wade and preen in its shallows like exotic birds at the world’s bluest watering hole. Shy types can use the smaller, less visible-from-every-angle pool, or claim a lounger on the sand.
The club’s tagline is “Sin and Be Seen,” but the daytime energy is firmly G-rated. Kids chow down on pizza and ice cream in the open-air diner; cute couples fan out on daybeds, sipping cocktails and making TikToks; and the music hovers at a “chillaxing” level. As afternoons wax golden, things heat up, with live sax, bongos and an up-for-it vibe. Dine à la carte or reserve a daybed with a minimum spend of Bt2,000—check the website for their scheduled events in 2020.
On the more dialed-down end of the spectrum is Chi Beach Bar and Restaurant on Bangrak Beach. It’s smaller than Seen, and minimalist in style, with just a few rows of loungers and sunbeds overlooking its 25-meter topaz-hued infinity pool. Friends chat animatedly around the swim-up bar, breaking off occasionally to stare at the bay. Families drift on bean bags in the pool. Every now and then someone will hop on one of the swings for a photoshoot. It’s an appealing place to plop down for the day, grazing on seafood platters and sipping while swimming.
Turn up on Saturdays for a late, boozy brunch or on Sundays for a roast. Some nights you’ll catch a fire-twirling show, a classic film screened over the pool, or “Oysters & Sax.” Daybeds here come with a Bt1,000 minimum spend. If you like Chi the beach club you might also be a fan of Chi Residence (doubles from Bt8,500, minimum three nights), another newcomer from 2019. The low-rise block of white-and-tan two-bedroom apartments is across Samui’s ring road from the club, a perfect little nest for families or groups, with its own 25-meter saltwater pool.
Swish New Stays With Beachfront Bars
Spanish mega-brand Melia has just launched Melia Koh Samui (doubles from Bt6,200) on Choeng Mon Beach, a 10-minute drive from the airport. While Samui’s not a huge island, getting around it can prove expensive and stressful, so a central location is a significant pro. Another major plus is the resort’s meandering loop pool, which comes with an adult-friendly slide within a straight shot of its swim-up bar—surely no coincidence. A full renovation of the old Imperial Boat Hotel, Melia has retained the original’s adorable suites made of real wooden boats and refurbed them with yacht-style deck hammocks and luxurious downstairs bathrooms. Most are romantically cloistered away in gardens. There’s also a kids’ club in its own converted boat and an additional lagoon pool for them by the beach.
Staying with a Spanish brand, you can expect a reasonable focus on earthly pleasures like all-day wining and dining, which is deftly handled by the indoor/outdoor farm-to-table Breeza Beach Restaurant and Bar. With a magical fairy-lit ambience come nightfall, there’s little reason to peel yourself away— unless it’s to go back to the slide.
Swiftly assuming the title of “it” place on Samui is Sala Chaweng (doubles from Bt6,000). The second Sala on the island, this Chaweng property is, true to brand, a total eye-pleaser. White, curvy architecture gives the place a future-retro look that’s part Santorini, part Space Odyssey, with a “moon pool” on the front lawn that doubles down on the sci-fi feel. If you prefer to socially distance, many of the spacious, sultry dens at Sala have their own private pools—choose the Oceanfront category to be close to the action. If you’re in a group or are the lavish type, book the beachfront 286-square-meter two-bedroom Presidential Pool villa; it’s kind of like having a miniature Sala resort all to yourself.
No hip hotel would be complete without a beachfront diner, and Sala’s marquee-style The Tent is a pleasing semi-posh venue with a mellow, barefoot vibe. Get a table on the sand, kick off your shoes, and let Happy Hour do the rest.
Samui’s Old Faithfuls
You can’t have a conversation about Samui beach soirees without invoking the name Coco Tam’s. Taking up sandy real estate on blissful Bophut Beach, its wide deck and beach chairs give you the best seats in the house. We recommend getting there early in the evening to claim your front-row beanbag to the fire show—check their website for times. If you haven’t eaten on your way through nearby Fisherman’s Village, Coco Tam’s collab with Bangkok-based Peppina gives you Napoli-style wood-fired pizzas to munch on.
For the young/ageless set, Nikki Beach in Lipa Noi on the west coast of the island remains a popular venue for Sunday brunch—a spectacle of dancers, DJ and sax sets, bikini babes and buff bros, and over-the-top service rituals. Too “tired” to go home? Sleep it off at Nikki Beach Resort & Spa (doubles from Bt6,800).