- Planning the trip
- US Airways Shuttle to New York and the Sheraton JFK
- Cathay Pacific First Class, New York – Hong Kong
- The Pier Lounge and Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong – Bangkok
- Conrad Bangkok Deluxe Suite
- Bangkok Airways Business Class, Bangkok – Koh Samui
- Conrad Koh Samui, 2 Bedroom Ocean Pool Villa
- Conrad Koh Samui, Resort
- Bangkok Airways Business Class, Koh Samui – Bangkok
- Cathay Pacific Business Class, Bangkok – Hong Kong and Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong – Chicago
- United Airlines Back Home
The Conrad Koh Samui was a long-anticipated property. At one point I think it was supposed to open in 2010. That kept getting pushed back, to June 2011… to July and then to October even, and it opened somewhat unexpectedly at the beginning of September.
I booked it originally in April when it was listed as a Category 6 hotel, which meant 40,000 HHonors points per night though elite members get discounts on multi-night stays and thus I was charged 32,000 points per night for my 5 night stay.
As the hotel got close to opening, and actually opened, three things happened.
- The property was increased from category 6 to 7, meaning 50,000 points per night. It’s the first time I remember an HHonors property going up in category before it even opened. An elite 5-night stay would run 40,000 points per night.
- It went on Point Stretcher for the month of November, meaning a 40% discount. So instead of 50,000 points per night, anyone could book it in November for just 30,000 points per night.
- The Conrad Koh Samui Residences came up as a separate property with award availability and at the same category 7 pricing (though not on Point Stretcher), a 2-bedroom villa was available for the same 40,000 points per night for a 5-night stay as an elite member.
I definitely wanted the 2-story 2-bedroom 2000 square foot ocean villa with pool for 40,000 points per night instead of just the 1-bedroom at 30,000 points. Only I needed to cancel my existing booking in order to have sufficient points.
It took a phone call to Hilton HHonors, I didn’t want to just cancel and rebook for fear that something would go wrong. I explained what I wanted to do — swap the bookings from the 1-bedroom villa at the Conrad Koh Samui for the 2-bedrrom on the Residences side. They assured me there would be no problem in doing this. They set up the new reservation, cancelled the old one, and… the new one wouldn’t book properly with points.
I now had no points reservation at all! Even though we had discussed that this was the one thing I didn’t want to have happen, and I was assured that it would not. And they couldn’t make a new points reservation, they said there were no rooms available to restore my original booking.
It took a bit of escalation and a few days for the hotel to confirm arrangements, I’m pretty sure they weren’t actually intending to offer rooms at the residences on points and I haven’t heard of any more recent successful two-bedroom award bookings. But Hilton set up a paid reservation which they worked with the hotel to convert to points. I was all set, 40,000 points per night for a 5-night stay in a 2-bedroom villa. It was touch and go there for a day or two, but in the end I was confident that Hilton would make good and they did.
The ride from the Koh Samui airport was about 45 minutes. We arranged for the hotel to meet us with their lowest-price option, a BMW X3, which was 2500 baht each way. I separately understand that if requested they’ll make a Toyota Camry available for less.
We pulled up to the front of the hotel, and they were just breaking down the set of their official grand opening ceremonies with executives from Hilton and members of the Thai government. The ceremony was over, we didn’t get to see it.
The car stopped at the front of the resort and staff members were waiting for us with a golf cart. One cart took our luggage, and another one took us to our villa for in-room check-in. The woman who drove us introduced herself as our butler. She took care of paperwork, and explained the entertainment system and other features of the room.
There’s a flat screen television in the living room, in each of the two bedrooms, in the master bath above the tub. I actually don’t recall whether there was a TV in the second bedroom’s bathroom or not.
The living room TV has an Apple TV and a computer keyboard for surfing the web. Wireless internet was free and an excellent signal throughout the villa. The television contained the room service menu. We were told we could order room service through the TV and though apparently that’s a feature they plan to implement it isn’t actually live, the menus are just .pdf files that display, nothing interactive about them (so you have to call).
We were given a welcome letter which explained that as a Diamond member I wasn’t going to be able to be upgraded, every room at the resort is a villa and so they don’t upgrade. Which was fine, I was actually already in a two-bedroom villa, and I’m not even sure that the three-bedroom is finished yet! (I really didn’t need an upgrade, this room was perfect.) However, since there was no upgrade possibility they offer a complimentary massage and 20% discount in the spa.
The spa benefit was a bit confusing, actually. Our butler explained that we could each have a complimentary massage at the spa. The letter actually said that we were entitled to one hour-long traditional Thai massage. So when I wanted a different hour-long massage I was told the free offer didn’t apply (though, without me pushing, they proactively removed the massage from my bill on their own … more details in my next post on the property).
I think my butler was a bit confused, or perhaps the benefit had been explained to her differently. But then there was a little bit of service confusion at the resort. Despite being introduced as our butler we saw her only twice more during our stay, she was just one person providing service at the resort rather than being someone dedicated to us or with primary responsibility for us.
Everyone was uniformly extremely friendly and helpful. But there’s still some work to be done to reach stellar service levels. The hotel is not really walkable, built into the side of a cliff with steep pathways and a need for a map to figure out how to get between any two spots. There aren’t any stairways up and down the resort, you have to meander up and down those steep paths in order to get anywhere. Which means that if you’re staying anywhere but right by the all-day restaurant and concierge, you’re going to be taking a golf cart everywhere.
Most resorts that offer golf cart service I actually feel bad or uncomfortable calling for the cart, and it usually takes longer than I want to wait. Not here. Everyone really is expected to use the cart for every trip, carts usually arrive within 2-4 minutes, and no one ever seems inconvenienced when you ask for a ride. In fact, there’s often a lineup of carts during peak times at popular places like the breakfast restaurant.
But I can count on one hand the number of times I was referred to by name. Instead of “Mr. Leff” everyone did seem to know me, but by villa number. After a day or so on property we would walk up to a cart and the driver would confirm, “403?” I had become a number! Everyone knew me but mostly they just knew where to take me. It’s a small distinction but it matters.
Back to check-in, our butler took our passports to copy and also my credit card.
As at the Conrad Bangkok, and even though I have a Hilton Surpass American Express card that earns 9 points per dollar at Hilton properties, I gave her my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Sapphire Preferred has no foreign currency conversion fee, and earns double points on hotel, so is a better option outside the United States at a Hilton property than even the Hilton card.
Something strange happened, though. Passports and credit card were supposed to be returned quickly but they weren’t. After an hour I called and was told it would be returned promptly, but it wasn’t. I called about an hour later and they were brought back to me in about 5 minutes. I never got an explanation of what took so long. It seemed shady that it would take two hours to get my passport and credit card back, if I were staying anywhere else I would have been concerned. Instead I just have to assume that they either forgot or got distracted, the woman responsible was of course our butler who we only saw two other times during our stay, she wasn’t one of the better or more on-the-ball employees we encountered.
Because of the way the resort is constructed, the focus of the stay really is on the villa. You’ll see other guests at breakfast, possibly over other meals, but mostly you’ll stay in your villa and enjoy the views and pool, and the extensive entertainment system if you wish.
That’s different than most properties, where you might meander about or enjoy walking. Not here. That’s fine, though, because the views from the resort are dramatic and the villas are outstanding. I’ve had some amazing hotel rooms — Presidential Suite at the Intercontinental Manila, Diplomatic Suite at the Intercontinental Bangkok, Ambassador Suite at the Intercontinental Singapore, overwater bungalow at Bora Bora Nui, Jimbaran Bay suite at the Intercontinental Bali for instance — but the this was the best room I’ve ever had.
Here’s how the room is described on the Conrad Koh Samui Residences website:
This 186 sqm, 2-storey two bedroom pool villa is designed in contemporary-Thai style. The upper level entry opens into lawn with sala for spectacular vistas. Foyer space encompasses living room, powder room, kitchenette, and dining room for gatherings. Lower level houses double bedroom suites with king bathrooms that lead to a 12 meter long infinity pool. Master bedroom suites feature marble bathroom, quality fittings and spa-quality amenities for a luxurious bathroom experience. Both suites feature living areas, work desks to keep in touch. It also includes a 42 sqm outdoor wooden deck with lounge chairs and dining table which faces unobstructed ocean views and privacy.
The villa is sleek looking both outside and in. The front door opens to a garden with chairs looking out over the ocean. Then there’s another door to the villa itself.
Once inside is a large room living room/dining room area. The dining table is large with four chairs, places set. Behind the dining room is the kitchen with refrigerator, stove, cabinets, etc. There’s a back entrance to the villa that opens into the kitchen.
The living room has two sofas in an L shape that face the flat screen television. The living room is basically all glass on two sides, one looking out over the garden and the other looking straight out at the water. Directly below you can see your deck and pool.
Upstairs there’s a half bath, near the kitchen and just off the stairs which take you down to the two bedrooms.
The master bedroom and the guest bedroom open onto the deck and look out at the water.
Most impressive is the master bath, which has dual sinks and a separate toilet room, soaking tub and a shower cabin with dual nozzles and rainshowers. Two people can easily use it at the same time, or a single person could use both a traditional shower spray and rainshower simultaneously.
Bath amenities are refreshed daily in both the master and guest bathroom. Shampoo, conditioner, and mouthwash appear unbranded. Handsoap by the sink is from a dispenser. But the bar soap is Acca Kappa.
Water is in glass bottles, four bottles are left upstairs by the kitchen, two bottles apiece in each of the two bathrooms. I asked for more water and they were happy to provide, they refresh at turndown as well. Turndown service also brings different treats each evening, such as biscotti or lollipops. Turndown is also when they brought little stuffed Conrad turtles.
The room has power outlets to fit a variety of international plugs, I didn’t need my converters. I did feel there weren’t enough outlets, though, and was glad for my travel power strip.
One night we lost power in the villa, probably around 2am. There’s emergency lighting so I didn’t have any problem seeing. I assumed the outage, during a storm, was resort-wide but it turned out to be my villa only. Without power I had no working phone in the villa, and the property isn’t conducive to walking. I used my cell phone to call the hotel, they sent an engineer right away when I rang just after 7am and he had things fixed in minutes.
The deck area is large, three separate seating areas and a large pool.
The chairs are comfortable, and with the large umbrella provided we were able to sit out on the deck even during the rain. Weather wasn’t great while we were there, I knew we were visiting during rainy season but in past visits to the region that’s meant a short period of heavy storms and most of the rest of the time strong sun. On this trip it meant cloudy days and mists. I actually didn’t mind a bit, it moderated the temperature which was still quite comfortable and not oppressive, views were still impressive, and we spent time outside and got tans even without consistent scorching sun.
Naturally built into the side of a hill and in Thailand there are bugs. Some got into the room, whether the occasional ant or large spider. They did visit the deck. I wouldn’t leave food out. But it also wasn’t as bad as at some other resorts I’ve been to, in fact probably fewer bugs than at any resort in Thailand that I’ve been to, and a quick call they’ll happily come spray which takes care of it for awhile.
In the next post I’ll outline details of food and spa and some other things about the resort beyond the villa itself. Ultimately this was a great though expensive hotel, very much focused on staying in the villa rather than meandering out, not especially conducive to going off property, a property I would definitely return to. And in my idiosyncratic opinion, since even the base-level room is a standalone villa with private pool, it’s probably the single best aspirational redemption value in all of Hilton HHonors.