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
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.