Santiburi Resort & Spa, Phuket, Thailand

Romantic Resorts
The Peaceful Village: Santiburi Resort & Spa

By Kit C.Cauw

For the better part of the Santiburi’s 12 years on Samui, the resort has been the only truly upmarket property on the island. Today it remains the standard of paradise to which others aspire. Few, if any Samui hotels can truly boast the combination five-star international standards, quaint island intimacy and a beach front setting. None of the others has its own golf course.

No matter how lavish the room or panoramic the view, a beach holiday just isn’t the same without a beach. Mae Nam beach stretches for about 3 miles. You can walk in each direction for an hour, longer if you take time out to dip in the placid azure waters. Unlike Chaweng, Samui’s most famous beach, Mae Nam is good for swimming all year round, enjoying protection from heavy surf. It’s a tame beach, virtually devoid of obnoxious motor sports. Hotel Manager Florian Hallermann explained that, "The jet ski mafia tries for our customers, but no one goes on them. Our guests are well-travelled enough to avoid the nuisance. Still, once every few months the jet skis return to try again. They always leave when they can’t find a buyer."

The supreme rooms at Santiburi, not surprisingly, are the beach villas. Waves at high tide break mere metres from your patio, salt spray is in the air. The outdoor jaccuzzi is more like a plunge pool, fed by a waterfall pouring over hand-glazed blue/green tiles. The bedroom is light and airy with blond hardwood floors and the bed has a billowing canopy, heightening the sensation of romantic bliss. Fruit baskets come with notepads for guests to write their preferences so no one has to look at the same old oranges for three days. Outside, a wooden deck can be used for private bar-be-ques. One such menu, the Har-Daow Delight, includes sea bass wrapped in banana leaf, veal medallions wrapped in bacon, lamb rump with rosemary, Phuket lobster, scallops and king prawn. Pop some champagne and top off the evening with a flaming platter of crepes suzette.

Along the beach front, hammocks fashioned of splayed, woven bamboo and lined with foam mattresses hang between coconut palms. Here is the epitome of Samui, evoking both the village life and the backpackers who spread the heralded the island’s beauty to the world. You won’t see anyone rolling Santiburi’s hammocks up into a weathered backpack, however and you’ll note that the villas are roofed not in yesteryear’s thatch, but with terra cotta tiles.

From the beach to the local road through Mae Nam Town, Santiburi occupies 23 acres (53 rai). With this amount of space, one could have easily constructed a 400 room Grand Hyatt, but the owner had the foresight to create something unique. The resort is more like a grown village, albeit one of immense wealth and meticulous landscaping. Even the beach villas are surrounded by gardens. 59 of the 71 units are villas; many are set along klongs, or canals, which circulate through the property. Flowers and fountains line these waterways and in the evening musicians play traditional Thai music from their banks.

Some prominent villa hotels in Thailand isolate guests with high walls so guests can hide away and never see another soul. Santiburi has taken a more neighbourly approach. Because there is so much land for each room, villas are set relatively far apart. As Hallermann puts it, "We give privacy, yes, but within the villa. For someone coming from a large city, it is more valuable to have an open space, where you can take in the gardens, the birds and the view. You can sit on your verandah and you are not walled off from the world."

Santiburi has seen a number of significant changes over the past few years. In 2002, major renovations took place to keep the resort at the top of its game. The golf course opened on 23 October, 2003. Just last year, management terminated its contract with the Dusit Group. A second property, the Bo Phut Resort & Spa, opened in January of 2005.

Hallermann says, "A big difference is that Dusit left and we are now self-managed. We’re a group of young, very target-oriented people. We can use our newfound freedom to create a very special experience for every single guest."

The management team has been repositioning the money formerly spent on fees to Dusit and getting the most out of it. For example, Santiburi may be the only resort on Samui with a full-time quality control manager. The resort also has a revenue manager, a position one usually sees only in the largest five-star hotels. It’s a highly specialized job, one which requires constant monitoring of markets, almost like being a stock broker.

"There is still room to make the Santiburi more creative, a more individualized hotel," Hallermann says. "That’s what we, as a team, are here for and I mean everyone. The gardens’ manager is just as important as anyone else. What’s the use of a revenue manager if the grounds are not really spiffy?"

Santiburi has three restaurants with an overall capture rate of 75%. That shows how infrequently people go out; guests just don’t want to be bothered by the commotion of Chaweng Centre. We dined at Rim Talay, the beach restaurant. One thing that sets Samui apart from Phuket is that so many dinner tables are situated directly in the sand. Common to every beach are tikki torches, barbeques and guests with their bare feet. Saturday night was the "Islands of the World" theme, so we enjoyed a lavish buffet of offerings from all over Asia: Indonesian chicken curry, seafood rice Palau, Vietnamese "Pho" and Thai red snapper with chili sauce, along with grilled lobster and shrimp. Dancers performed numbers from Hawaii, Tahiti, and other Polynesian cultures.

Santiburi means "peaceful village" in Thai. Tranquility abounds throughout the garden and along the beach. Guests can take advantage of the Tangoroa, a classic junk that sails to neighbouring islands. At the 16th hole of the mountainside golf course, caddies instruct players to "aim for the sails" when teeing off. To complete your expedition to serenity, don’t miss the Santiburi Spa, the perfect cooling oasis from the heat of early afternoon. You are sure to leave your worries far behind in this lavish garden village on the sea.



  From Benjarong Magazine – March 2005, Volume 8 Issue 3

This month features
 Thailand and Asia
 phuket travel info
Phuket Travel and Tours
  Tropical Living Magazine
  Koh Samui
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 Benjarong Magazine - October 2005, Volume 8 Issue 10


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