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As much as I loved showing my family around Koh Tao, to me that island is home… and I wanted a vacation! So we planned on rounding out my parents’ visit with a few days in Koh Samui, the big sister of the Gulf Coast Thai islands.

Koh Samui is the largest and most developed of the island group, and also conveniently houses the airport my parents would be flying out of (incidentally the most beautiful and trendy airport I’ve ever been to). Samui is packed with gorgeous resorts that I was dying to stay at. Unfortunately, so was ever other person vacationing over the Christmas.

My go-to website for booking hotels in Asia, , showed an extremely limited selection thanks to our late booking. So I was kind of suspicious of the seemingly nice , which still had available rooms. What was wrong with this place that it wasn’t no vacancy!?

via The Outrigger

via The Outrigger

As soon as we arrived, my concerns melted away. Outrigger Koh Samui is located North of Bophut, Samui’s trendy boutique beach town. Outrigger is indeed a chain, but the hotel felt far from corporate. The rooms were huge and trendily decorated. There were four of us in my room, and we all fit very comfortably. Together our entire group had three rooms, each of which opened onto a balcony with steps leading into a pool (see below right photo!) For me, this was the major selling point. Steps! From my room! To the pool!

This is a hotel that is all about the pools rather than the beach. While there is a stretch of sand and beach chairs to boot, the nearby marina doesn’t exactly inspire ocean-frolicking fantasies. Luckily the Outrigger recognized this and built an infinity pool in front of the beach, allowing you to enjoy the view from friendlier waters.

While we spent 90% of our time lounging pool-side, it was nice to feel the sand in our toes and stare out to the Gulf of Thailand.

via Steffi

It was a pretty tough few days, deciding which pool I should nap beside.

Other bonuses included a kitchenette in each room, great for storing and re-heating leftovers, and a massive soak tub in addition to the rain head shower. Drawback? The horrible bath products. Trust me, bring your own shampoo!

via Steffi

via Steffi

Due to the mediocre beach and out-of-the-way location, I can see why this resort still had availability over high season. But for us traveling as a family, we were happy to avoid Chaweng, Samui’s most beautiful and popular beach and one that is lined with resorts and backed by noisy bars and nightclubs. We were forced to take taxis whenever we wanted a good meal or some entertainment, but the trade-off was worth it for a quiet and beautiful resort property at a very reasonable rate. Thanks to an Agoda sale we paid less than $130 a night per room, which I think is pretty reasonable considering the location and hotel class. Did I mention that they had an included breakfast buffet that I dreamed about for weeks afterward?

And while we were far from Samui’s restaurants and nightlife (we were still a cab ride away from even Bophut) we were within walking distance of Samui’s two most popular temples, Wat Phra Yai (commonly referred to as the Big Buddha temple) and Wat Plai Laem. Mark and I visited these temples during our last visit to Koh Samui, and I think they are pretty darn impressive.

In fact, we could see the Big Buddha jutting out over the beach from our resort (see below right photo).

As we were walking to the Wats, we found another hidden jem of the area. Tucked into a tony roadside shopfront was an artist’s workshop filled with intricate leather carvings of all shapes and sizes.

We were quickly and enthusiastically greeted by the family of artists who practiced this ancient craft. It’s a bit of a family tradition to buy a piece of local art whenever we travel, so this was hitting the jackpot.

We went back twice to the studio, where you can see the pieces in various stages of progression and hear all about the hours and hours it takes to create these meticulous pieces of art. The family shows their work in swank hotels like the The W Koh Samui, where prices are 2-3 times the prices that our group paid for the four pieces we ended up taking home.

The brother who had the best English was a character. He was thrilled with our major purchases and insisted we sign a guestbook and take a photo to paste next to it. He ran back behind the studio to put on a button down shirt and smiled proudly next to my parents. He was pretty distraught by our preference for the natural rawhide and simple black colors, insisting that they would be infinitely more beautiful if he were allowed to unleash some rainbow colors on them. He practically chased us out with a paintbrush in hand. It’s one of my favorite vacation memories.

If you want to find the studio yourself, here is the info I copied from their business card: Mystical Leather Carvings, Artist Mr. Choawalit Champatip, 79/4 M.5, Bophut, Koh Samui, Tel. 083-173-0911.

Next stop, Koh Phangan!

Note: I was in no way paid or perked by Outrigger or Agoda for this post. Just sharing some resources I’ve loved along the way!

  • Dad
    March 14 2012

    The circular carving I am holding in my hand is now hanging in the widow of my home office in Cambridge

    • Meihoukai
      March 14 2012

      It’s nice to have a little reminder of vacation to look at everyday, isn’t it?

  • Dana de Brito
    March 14 2012

    Great Review! Goes to show that an amazing beach isn’t required for every vacation!

    • Meihoukai
      March 14 2012

      Thanks Dana, I agree! Luckily we got a bit of beach earlier in the week.