Have you watched the hit American streaming show, The White Lotus? Season one, filmed and released during the pandemic, focused on a group of wealthy guests and staff at a luxury hotel in Hawaii. It was a big hit because it showed the wealthy their sense of entitlement and the way they treated the staff at the hotel, known as the White Lotus. (It actually had four seasons in Maui.)
I enjoyed the show but I thought the rave reviews and Emmy nominations were a little over the top.
I only changed my mind about White Lotus after watching the second season, one of the best streaming shows ever made in my opinion. It took the basic idea of focusing on upmarket resorts. But instead of a one-dimensional theme about rights, the story had many layers, from family dynamics to marital infidelity to crime.
It helped that it was set in the Four Seasons Taormina, a much nicer hotel than the airy property featured in the first season. Even if you don’t like the plot you can feast your eyes on the location and enjoy the beauty of Sicily.
It could be (though I don’t think it’s actually the case) that I’m biased because I stayed at the Four Seasons in Taormina before the show came out and enjoyed recognizing the locations. It is truly one of the most visually stunning hotels and grandeur in Sicily.
There will be a third season of The White Lotus and although the producers have not announced (as I write this) where it will be set, we do know that show business bible Variety has announced that it will be set in Thailand. According to a spokesman for the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the White Lotus team, quoted in the world’s press, visited Chiang Mai, the Golden Triangle (the land on the border of Burma and Laos), Bangkok and Koh Samui.
These places have only one thing in common: they are all four season hotels. And since the first two seasons were set in Four Seasons hotels, it seems reasonable to assume that Season 3 will also take place at one of the chain’s luxury properties.
My money is on the Four Seasons Koh Samui.
Why do I think so? Well, because it, like Taormina, (the location for season two), is one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever been to. And while the other Four Seasons properties mentioned are all good (with the exception of the Golden Triangle Hotel, a tented camp, which is horrible), there’s nothing that compares to Koh Samui.
I should know. I just got back from there last week.
As readers of this column may recall, Thailand is one of my favorite countries. I first went there as a school kid and since then, over the past three decades or so, I’ve been to Thailand over a hundred times. (Over a hundred actually.) I also did a TV series about my travels through Thailand, going from the mountainous north to the more touristy south (Phuket, etc.).
But, for some reason, I had never been to Samui. And even when I went, I left more out of friendship than any sense of adventure. Jasjit Assi (‘JJ’), who I have known for years since the opening of the Mumbai Four Seasons a decade and a half ago, is now the General Manager of the Four Seasons in Samui and he asked me to come.
The hotel is not new; It was opened 17 years ago. It’s owned by Bill Heinecke, who I know (but it’s not run by Bill’s own excellent Anantara Group), and was designed by Bill Bensley, who is responsible for the wonderful estates and gardens all over Asia (including Udayavilas and Amarvilas in India). ).
But I love Thai beach resorts (Phuket, of all places, is the only hotel I’ve actually stayed at that isn’t a beach resort) and Samui is an island (‘Koh’ means island in Thai). I assumed it would be just another beach destination and refused to go there.
I was wrong. Set in over 50 acres of hills and gardens, overlooking the beach, the hotel is not your average seaside resort. It is an all-villa property (including large residences such as private houses) with a ratio of approximately two villas to one acre of greenery. As you’d expect from Bensley, it’s superbly designed.
Samui is a coconut island in Thailand. Long before it was more developed, locals made a living selling coconuts (which have the sweetest, tastiest coconut water) to the rest of Thailand. Since it was difficult to climb trees to find coconuts, they trained monkeys to do it. Monkeys climb to the top of each coconut palm, pull the coconuts and throw them down. (Apparently not a place Keith would want to send Richard on vacation!).
Bensley made monkeys the symbol of the hotel and you will find stylized monkey motifs throughout the property. However, this being Thailand, you’ll also find a statue of Brahma at the entrance of spirit houses and hotels, which Buddhist Thais also worship in a local incarnation.
What would you do with five days (which is how long I went) on this type of property? Well, you can go out and see Samui. You can also take a boat ride to nearby islands. There are many water-sports. Or you can laze in the sun. The resort is largely an Indian-free zone (except for a few lodges) and you can see rich Americans (like those at White Lotus, I imagine) working on their tans, while the odd Indian like me seeks shade. (And, let’s be honest: for air conditioning.)
Or you can go out to eat. The Four Seasons specializes in Thai cuisine but also features world-class European cuisine cooked by chef Ruslan Shipanov. We went to the boutique Cape Phan Hotel, on a small island within the larger island of Samui, to dine at a restaurant run by Australian chef David Thompson, who brought Thai cuisine to global attention. Thompson is not a Pad Thai-green curry kind of guy; His food comes from old family recipes and includes dishes many Thais have never tried. I enjoyed it and if you are adventurous about your food you should go.
Like all Thai resort towns, Samui has a nightlife scene (though I haven’t been to that area, so can’t recommend it) and a fun pedestrian street full of stalls selling banana pancakes (don’t know why they have to be such a big deal) and. Cannabis, which is now legal in Thailand, is sold openly in shops that look like ice cream parlors. (This is a family publication so I can’t recommend it either.) But unlike Pattaya, Phuket and other resort towns, Samui is still reasonably uncluttered and sleaze-free.
But obviously, if you stay somewhere like the Four Seasons with its vast grounds, you can enjoy the resort and not venture too far into town. It is so beautiful and peaceful that I spent a large part of my time just looking at the mountains, the sea, the leaves and watching the unusual birds that come to the trees near my villa.
I don’t know if they actually shoot the White Lotus in Samui so they won’t be mad. If this happens, it will be impossible to get bookings and the rates will be off (as has happened in Taormina).
So, in the immortal words of the Moody Blues: If you gotta go, go now!
i did And I loved it.
From HT Brunch, May 06, 2023
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