This may have been my quickest airport transfer, ever. In just 10 minutes, I’ve been chauffeured from Koh Samui International airport to Samujana, a cluster of luxury resorts on a hilltop. One sharp left turn later, I’m dropped off at an unmarked villa that I’ll come to know as Villa 24.
Villa 24 greets me with sand-coloured steps, perfectly manicured grass, and a soft mix of house music that slowly increases as I venture further in. The steps take me straight from the first to the third floor, where the swimming pool and lounging terrace are. It’s a slightly disconcerting thought, but the first thing that comes to mind is, “This could very well be the set of The Bachelorette or America’s Next Top Model.”
I shrug that thought off. It’s funny, yet unsettling how reality television can shape your perception, especially when you’re spending the next few days with a handful of strangers in an eight-bedroom villa.
A few of my travelling companions have arrived before me. Some are taking a dip in the salt-water infinity pool, others, lounging in the sheltered open-air living room. DJ, our villa host for the trip, offers me a welcome drink and takes me on a short tour of the three-storey residence. It takes a while for me to regain my bearings as I turn from corner to corner. Villa 24 is proving to be a maze. And I don’t expect any less. After all, its tetris-like silhouette was birthed from two adjoining plots of land.
With its impressive land size and seclusion emphasised by shrubbery and the steep terrain, it’s hard to remember that Villa 24 is in fact, surrounded by 26 other villas. Prior to the building of the estate, Samujana was merely an untouched hill spotted with rock formations. The first villa, built more than 12 years ago, was privately owned and simply called Villa 7, named after the owner’s favourite number. The owner ended up convincing his friends to build their own villas beside his so that they could be neighbours while on holiday. They roped in the help of Gary Fell of Gfab Architects, and soon enough, a 18 other villas soon joined Villa 7.
That was Phase 1. Samujana soon took over the management of the villas, and constructed another eight to complete the estate. Most of the villas are owned, with less than 10 available for sale. Owners are allowed to occupy their villa as and when they please, but when it’s empty, Samujana takes over the running and maintenance of the property. Guests renting the villas can decide which best caters to their needs, or leave it to Samujana for recommendations.
I get to know my ‘housemates’ over the course of dinner, courtesy of Samujana’s Bring Us Food option that serves both Thai and Western flavours. The rest of the night is spent lounging by the pool under a blanket of stars. Given the estate’s hilly location where light pollution is insignificant, you may be lucky enough to catch the twinkle of a shooting star.
My room is on the second floor, tucked into a corner. The cupboards are covered in light wooden laminates, with a cartoonised painting of a pug hanging on the right wall. I search for the light switches, and funnily enough, find that they’re located outside the room. It’s an odd location, but that doesn’t particularly bother me.
The bathroom is as large as the bedroom, with twin sinks and separate toilet and shower cubicles. In the day, sunlight streams through the frosted glass and concrete panels. I’m thankful for the small essential oil burner that sits beneath the sinks. The faint scent of lemongrass to wafts through the room, keeping the occasional mosquitoes and flies at bay.
I wake up an hour earlier to explore Villa 24. Sunlight pours through my balcony, seeps through the curtains and gives my room a glow. I distinctly remember the cinema being hidden in an obscure corner of the first storey, but alas, my efforts are in vain. I retrace my steps and do a mental count. The villa boasts three entrances including a discreet helper’s pathway, four staircases, 10 bathrooms, one living room and two entertainment rooms. I pass the gym, and while neatly-set towels on the equipment catch my eye, I hear the tinkling of glasses and cutlery above. Cardio and I are not meant to be today.
DJ, along with his team, has whipped up a feast, and I waste no time tucking in. There are freshly squeezed juices, an assortment of cereals, platters of bread and muffins, and martini glasses filled with berry compote, muesli and yoghurt. My ‘have-it-your-way’ cheese omelette comes with sides of grilled tomatoes, potatoes and bacon.
A few of us make a feeble attempt at walking off our breakfast by embarking on a ‘room-raiders’ tour. The bedrooms offer seaside and hill views, and are roughly around the same size, save for the master bedroom that comes with an added hot tub.
The next few days see us exploring Koh Samui, soaking in Tamarind Springs Forest Spa, boarding Samujana’s Catamaran to sail around the island, and stopping by Central Festival. The supermarket stocks up on barbecue essentials, which can be prepared and enjoyed by the outdoor dining sala, but we opt for Samujana’s Grill For Us package. Apart from the freshly grilled seafood, the eggplant dish is absolutely to die for, its slightly-charred slices accompanied by succulent chunks of crab meat.
Make no mistake, the lavish meals are no more than a mere incentive to healthy living in Samujana. Each villa comes with a gym, swimming pool, and a large terrace for activities. In particular, Villa 24’s extensive built-in area makes it perfect for sunrise yoga, pilates and Muay Thai classes. Nearby beaches also offer watersport activities. During low tide, you can take a short walk from the estate to a nearby island — one that is currently unnamed — to explore the untouched mass, or have a picnic. Cheong Mon beach is also a leisurely 15-minute walk from Samujana, and its lack of rocks and moss make it perfect for those with kids.
A walk around Samujana’s estate to pick my favourite villa proves futile, given that each villa has been designed to offer the best views and accommodate the untouched mature trees and rock formations. Villa 30 is the vantage point for sea views, Villa 11a tones it down a notch with darker flooring and furniture, Villa 12 has the largest cinema, and Villa 24 is an architectural stunner, so to say the least. I’m not alone with this sentiment. Resort manager, Fabio Marigliano too, has trouble deciding between his favourites, villas 16 and 20.
While the views and experiences differ from villa to villa, service remains constant and is top notch across the board. Each villa comes with an assigned host, and you can choose between two types of services: discreet, where the host is available on demand, and dedicated, where the host is always around.
With an extensive list of in-villa amenities, an ever-attentive villa host to tend to your whim, coupled with shared lawns and a tennis court that is open round the clock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason to leave the estate.
And if you’re wondering, I did manage to find the movie theatre in the end. In fact, the room is all too well hidden. All I’ll reveal is that you have to have to enter a room on the first floor, then walk through a short secret passage. Happy hunting!