Apr 27, 2022
A SHORT HOP FROM BANGKOK into one of the world’s most adorable airports, 10 minutes’ drive and emerge from the car in front of a chocolate-slatted beach house where a friendly white lab wags up to nuzzle me. This is Emma, the official guest relations director at Kimpton Kitalay Samui, and, as I’m soon to learn, her greeting on arrival sets the tone – i.e., easy, breezy and bonhomous – for my entire stay at the resort. The on-brand version of convivial luxury they’ve achieved feels extra impressive when you know that this new property on the northeast tip of one of Thailand’s most famous islands wasn’t purpose-built as a Kimpton. Rather, it was a soon-to-be grande dame awaiting the perfect spirit to bring it to life.
The second Kimpton hotel in Thailand achieves the same community living room vibe as its slightly older, city-dwelling sister, Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok, but repositions it shorefront and thus wisely spread out among its various outlets. Guestrooms are divided among low-rise hotel-style buildings, all of which have lagoon pools at ground level and stunning sea views on the top floors, and beachfront private-pool villas that give high priority to personal space and feng shui. The recent opening of Kimpton Kitalay, along with a handful of other resorts both luxury and boutique on the island, paired with the Covid-influenced influx of former urbanites and their tastemaking sensibilities all roll up into a very big reason to get excited about Koh Samui again.
Proceed through the lobby to the main hotel building, which has its arms open in a wide embrace of the perfect IG grid pic: umbrella-ed breakfast tables below, a sexily lengthy pool straight ahead leading to the ocean horizon. On one flank is Lanai Bar, where I took a shaker-intensive cocktail class (yes, glasses were broken); on the other is a pet-friendly lounge, in keeping with the Kimpton brand’s furry-loving ethos (and perhaps also at Emma’s directive – she’s the dog of general manager Michael Janssen, so she probably has some sway).
The resort occupies the northern end of its bay on Choeng Mon beach (the opposite tip of the crescent moon houses Cape Fahn, and you can clock the tides by noting whether that property seems attached to the mainland or is a private island). This means that not only does the Kimpton Kitalay feel tucked away in plain sight but also that – T+L Tip! – the prime picks among the dozen Oceanfront Pool Villas are Nos. 801-804 (plus of course No. 900, the 628-square-meter two-bedder) because they enjoy what amounts to a private stretch of that sweet Samui shore. Oversize doors reveal an open-sky, airy courtyard centered by a tree. Turn one direction and you wind up in the massive bathroom-slash-dressing area, a space as big as many Hong Kong or Manhattan apartments.
Back out down the vestibule and past your personal tree is the bedroom (with, importantly, its own powder room for middle-of-the-night convenience), whose glass doors reveal a completely reasonably sized private pool – I’m looking at you baby “plunges” that are so en vogue these days – and a patch of grass abutting a treeline that offers subtle but defined separation from the beach below.
The private lawn here is a sleeper hit because the resort does a truly fantastic moonlit, beachfront, private dining experience, and we all know the worst parts about beachfront private dining experiences are sandy toes and interminable walks to the bathroom. Instead of such annoyances, you have clean feet and convenient access to your villa, and so can focus on the pleasures of uni, foie gras, Maine lobster, and truffle risotto with jamon Iberico. And hopefully the company.
Sitting in this spot during the day, towel-draped lounge chairs in place of the sweetheart table, face oiled up and soaking in the sun, I had the sound of the waves at my back, birds tweeting above my head, my pool stretching before me and zero desire to ever move again. But in-room dining every meal should not be an option in a place with such a strong focus on F&B. They didn’t poach Justin Dunne, the director of restaurants and bars, from Kimpton Bangkok for no reason – he’s got years of experience figuring out the sweet spot within the Thailand market of what’s cool and what just tastes damn good. Two outstanding things to order at least twice: Burmese tea-leaf duck salad and bacon krapow.
Come Sunday, get in line for the extensive DIY bloody Mary bar, the UFO-sized pan of paella, and the fresh taco stand that supplement the seafood-focused a la carte, beachside brunch at Fish House. If the place is still hopping when the food is done, Dunne will ask the live musicians to stay longer while everyone transitions their food comas to the bean bags in the sand, the pool just next door, and the foosball and pool tables anchored in the shallow waters next to the bar. The spirit of this happening community gets you, even if you don’t really know anyone else here.
If there were any doubt this is a welcoming spot for families, be on the lookout for Janssen and his wife casually walking around with their infant. There’s a children’s water-play zone, and an inviting, nautical-themed, edutainment-centered kids’ club where they’ll be more than happy to await their parents relaxing at Pimaanda by HARNN, where exclusive treatments and scents have been developed in partnership with this famed Thai wellness brand. If the 14-step spa ritual dubbed ‘Paradise of Wondrous Sea’ doesn’t drift you away into the pampered beach vacation spirit, I don’t know what will.
kimptonkitalaysamui.com; doubles from Bt8,400; Red Hot Sunday brunch Bt995 for all-you-can-eat food and bloody Marys.
All photos courtesy of Kimpton Kitalay Samui.