Inside The New, Beautiful, And Sometimes Surprising Kimpton Kitalay Samui

Visitors will rave about the offerings here—if the views of Choeng Mon Beach don’t leave them speechless.

Is there a more sublime pleasure than reclining on a beachfront beanbag chair, your skin warmed by the sun, your spirit soothed by the gentle whoosh of the surf as waves unfurl toward a sandy shore? I pondered this question recently during my first trip to Koh Samui, Thailand's second largest island. 

While the 88-sq. mi. outpost was new to me, it's been a hit with beach-seeking overseas and Thai visitors for more than a decade, attracting about three million of them each year (pre-pandemic). Arriving primarily by air (Bangkok Airways operates several hour-long daily flights from the capital), they're drawn to the broad sandy scallops that border its laidback beach towns, and a casual, friendly, and cosmopolitan vibe reminiscent of its Caribbean counterparts such as Playa Del Carmen and Tulum on Mexico's Riviera Maya, and Negril in Jamaica. What drew me? The chance to check out the newest in the island's lineup of luxury resorts, Kimpton Kitalay Samui

fish house
Guests can wander to the beach and listen for the "song of the sea," for which this resort is named. | Kimpton Kitalay Samui

Open since January, the getaway presides over one end of Choeng Mon Beach, on Samui's northernmost tip. Mere steps from the sand, it comes by its name (translated from Thai, Kitalay loosely means "song of the sea") honestly. Listen closely and you can hear the waves from almost anywhere on the grounds. Lushly landscaped with carpet-like lawns, palm trees, and bushes of glossy Elephant Ears punctuated with flame-like blossoms of Red Ginger, the resort feels appropriately romantic for traveling twosomes. 

But it appeals equally to families, who are accommodated in suites on the resort's southern side, close to Junio kids club, an outdoor playground, and mini water park. It's testament to Kitalay's thoughtful design and activity programing that neither families nor those traveling sans children feel impinged upon by the other. Sure, I was aware that there were children in house. But did their presence disturb my afternoon nap at the beachfront pool or morning Thai coffee at Boho Lifestyle Café? Thankfully, no.

water park
Younger visitors will be thrilled by the resort's water park. | Kimpton Kitalay Samui

Truth be told, it would take a lot to spoil a stay here—or even to motivate you to leave. Housed in six buildings, Kitalay's 138 rooms (including 20 family-friendly villas) comfortably combine sleek modernity (think freestanding bathtubs and oversize marble showers) and elements of Thai design, such as louvered wooden doors and woven lamp shades that recall fisherman's baskets. Some on the ground floor (as mine was) have patios that open directly out to a large communal pool, so when you tire of, say, reading on the chaise, you can literally roll off it and into the water. 

There's a wide of range of complimentary activities available on property, everything from poolside yoga to kayak and paddleboard rental, to the daily social hour featuring complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres that's offered at all Kimpton resorts across the world. I was particularly impressed, however, with the comp offerings particular to Kitalay, such as the opportunity to join the chef to make croissants at HOM Baking Company, the hotel's patisserie and deli. 

Oceanfront Pool Villa
With accommodations as luxurious as the Oceanfront Pool Villa, guests will find it challenging to leave and explore. | Kimpton Kitalay Samui

But the undisputed—and completely unexpected—highlight of these site-specific lagniappes was participating in the giving of alms to local Buddhist monks, which Kitalay will facilitate for any guest upon request. On the beach, bathed in the golden light of morning, I felt honored and privileged to be among a small group presenting a trio of orange robe-clad monks with tiffins of food prepared by the hotel. The ceremony was, to me, as unfamiliar as the language. Yet I felt part of something sacred, palpably moved as I observed the fresh marigolds used in the offering, each petal illuminated by the rising sun. 

Despite the array of things to do at the resort (or the temptation to do nothing at all), it would be a shame for any visitor not to venture beyond the gates to explore. As relatively small as Koh Samui is, there's still much to do. Don't leave without seeing the island's star attraction, Phra Yai (Big Buddha), a 40-foot-tall golden deity that you reach by climbing 76 steps (and may have glimpsed shimmering on the skyline from the plane). 

Elephant Sanctuary
Visitors can get up close with the residents of the sanctuary and learn what's being done for conservation efforts. | Samui Elephant Sanctuary

I've never had much of an interest in elephants but my curiosity was piqued at Samui Elephant Sanctuary, where you can feed, pet, and observe a small herd of the gentle giants, most rescued from grueling working conditions in the logging industry. In the town of Bophut, Coco Tams is the place to be every night at 7:30 pm and 9 pm, when fire dancers light up the night in front of a rapt audience seated in bean bag chairs on the sand.

Which conveniently brings me back to my original question: Is there anything better than relaxing on a beachfront bean bag chair, your real-life cares seemingly carried away with every rolling wave? The answer: Absolutely not.