Thursday, 14 January 2010


Driving down the goat track through coconut palms in the almost deserted Laem Yai beach area on Samui's west coast, you've almost got to rub your eyes to believe what you're suddenly seeing: a massive orange-walled behemoth that heralds a world within its own world. Mai Samui.

The entrance is a grand circular door in a courtyard, stairs leading away up to reception. Bell boys smile and snap off salutes that make me think they've mistaken me for some visiting dignitary arriving on the same day. A bevy of front office beauties in earthy-toned silk complete the royal reception. But, no, it seems everyone gets this treatment.

Mai is calm and cool, all about palms and pools. Each of its 97 rooms look onto at least one pool (there are three) and, at very least, generous glimpses of the beach. A forest of frangipani trees leaves you in no doubt you are in some kind of tropical paradise.

Although the resort is just six months old, it exudes an established charm, with weathered wooden walkways, big brass bolts, and wooden shingled roofs. A modern Thai fusion feel. All the in-room amenities however, are thoroughly modern with all the latest toys in place, including an electronic tennis racquet with which to whack mosquitoes, and in-room wi-fi (although most only work on the balcony -- such hardships are sent to try us.)

As for the room itself, choice of deluxe rooms or pool villas. The deluxe rooms feature a stone bath so big you can swim laps in it. And really cool folded towel tricks: I've never seen a gibbon before, lounging on the day bed like it was so human. Well done, housekeeping!

Deluxe rooms come in around the 11,000 baht mark, pool villas around 24,000 baht per night.

Mai comfortably accommodates two groups: it's absolutely family friendly, with a kids club and a ton of land- and water-based activities to enjoy. Yet, it's also a highly romantic getaway that would suit honeymooners. (Or, listen up marketing department, newly weds with kids! How's that for a niche?)

The big advantage of being on the west coast is sunsets. BIG orange ones. And the pool bar (one of two bars, two restaurants and one bar and resturant the hotel boasts) puts you in pole position for those each evening. The disadvantage of being on the west coast is distance. You're a good 30 minutes from Chaweng here, meaning an 800 baht (one way) taxi ride or 1000 baht (one way) hotel car ride away. But this would suit a lot of people who have no interest in the gaudy gallivanting of Chaweng.

For Mai is very self-contained: a library. A squash court and fitness centre. Samunprai spa. Cooking school. Water sports centre. Mountain bikes. And peace and quiet.

With all of this here, who needs Chaweng?

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