Tag Archives: Southeast Asia

Koh Samui: Part 4 – The Arrival (aka Yeah, we’re not leaving…)

This is the fourth post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand.  Finally, I made it to the resort review.  Trust me, it was worth the wait.  The place is incredible.    

Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World
Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day
Koh Samui: Part 3 – Exploring Koh Samui
Koh Samui: Part 4 – The Arrival (aka Yeah, we’re not leaving…)

There had been quite a bit of discussion between Dawn and I before coming to Koh Samui about how much down time we’d actually be spending at the resort vs. out exploring the island.  With me working six days a week and having many other obligations on weeknights and on Fridays, there’s not too much down time for me in Doha.  Dawn saw this 5 day, 4 night trip as a great opportunity for us to completely unplug and relax.  I, on the other hand, was slightly concerned about all of this sitting around doing nothing.  It’s not really how I learned how to vacation growing up.  My dad was always up early, and was always trying to get us to see and do as much as we could each day.  While I’m not the early riser the idea of not doing much besides laying out at on the beach or by the pool didn’t appeal to me too much.  The Conrad Koh Samui changed that very quickly.  In fact, it may have altered my vacation philosophy from here on out.  As soon as we arrived at reception, Dawn, goes, “Yeah, we’re not leaving.”  And with less than 30 seconds spent at the resort I was already very much inclined to agree.

Conrad Koh Samui

Welcome to Paradise

Driving up to the Conrad Koh Samui is quite the experience.  As the resort is built on the side of a small mountain the drive to the top is switchback after switchback on a tiny one lane road.  Luckily, there are guards at both the bottom and the top that monitor cars going up and down.  If someone is driving down, they’ll shut the gate at the bottom to help avoid any head on crashes.

When you finally make it to the top where reception is located, you can see the drive was well worth it.  The reception area is hanging over the edge of the mountain and waist high walls made of glass surround the reception area, so it feels a bit as if you’re floating on the top of the world.  Looking down you see the villas, restaurants, and other resort buildings protruding out from the side of the mountain.  The view out over the Gulf of Thailand is of islands in the distance rising out of the sea.  If you just so happen to arrive in the early evening you might just be welcomed by what the resort seems to be famous for – their beautiful sunsets.

View from reception

View from reception

The view from above

The resort from above

While we arrived well before sunset, the view was no less stunning.  Upon pulling up to the circle driveway, there were attendants immediately ready to help us with our bags and to valet the car.  They usher you into the open air reception location, seat you on a couch or chairs overlooking your paradise for the next few days, and serve you a tropical drink while they check you in.  I had read quite a bit about the resort on FlyerTalk prior to arrival, and it said no matter how many pictures you’ve seen or what you’ve read, it will most certainly exceed your expectations.  I couldn’t agree more.

Conrad Koh Samui Entrance

Conrad Koh Samui Entrance

It’s extremely hard to do this place justice in words or pictures, and  to be honest, I was actually so impressed with my first impression of the place that I was so busy enjoying the view I did a fairly poor job of documenting it with my camera (which is a bit of a first for me).

The check in service was great, and our room was ready for us immediately.  As the villas are jutting out from the side of the mountain, and they’re somewhat stacked on top of each other, it’s not the easiest resort to walk.  Luckily, the Conrad Koh Samui has quite a fleet of golf carts willing to drive you wherever you want to go.  We hopped in a golf cart and were escorted to our villa.

Golf Cart

Resort Transportation

This property consists of one, two, and three bedroom villas.  The villas are numbered like hotel rooms with the 100s being the lowest level (closest to sea level and the small beach) and the 700s being the highest (and closest to the reception at the top of the resort).  The one bedroom villas are located in the 100s through the 300s while the two and three bedroom villas are located in the 400s through 700s.  With our free night certificates we were limited to a one bedroom villa.  I believe the two and three bedroom villas are available with points as well, but if I recall correctly the redemption rates were astronomical.

Koh Samui Property Map

Koh Samui Property Map

You’re welcome to request a particular villa prior to arrival, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get the one you request due to occupancy levels, etc.  There’s plenty of advice on Flyertalk on choosing the villa that’s right for you depending on what you’re looking for.  The one bedroom villa layouts are all the exact same, but the view differs slightly and the walk/ride time to the beach, restaurants, etc. is different depending on where you’re located on property.  You can’t really go wrong with any villa you get, but I did request a villa in the low 300s as we wanted the highest view possible, and as far as I could tell the low 300s were the most private.  We weren’t concerned with being farther away from the restaurants, the beach or the pool than most of the other villas.   All of that was just a golf cart ride away.

Villa 302

Our home for the next 4 nights.

As we stepped into the villa, again our expectations were surpassed.  Our host gave us a quick tour and left us to enjoy the place.  The room was beautifully decorated to fit the secluded, forested, island atmosphere.  I loved the dark wood floors and furniture.  While the room felt large, it didn’t feel ridiculous like I think some rooms can.  It was the perfect size for the two of us.

The bed was large, comfortable, and located beneath a large vaulted ceiling.  One of the more ridiculous services offered was a pillow menu, all complimentary.  There were about ten or twelve different types of pillows you could choose from, and housekeeping would deliver them.  You could request anything from a hypoallergenic pillow to a down feather pillow to different kinds of chiropractic pillows.  

The Bed

The bed, prior to the pillow order

Beside the bed there was a small desk, complete with a complementary iPad for use during the stay.  Dawn loved that they also provided a few board games to keep us entertained.  The resort was really set up for you to spend the majority of your time in the villa if you so chose.

The Desk

Very little work was done here

Beyond the foot of the bed there was a small loveseat and coffee table complete with a fruit plate and a bag of macaroons as a welcome gift.  If I recall correctly, the fruit plate was replenished daily which was quite appreciated as we were doing our best to avoid frequenting the restaurants at the resort.  If only they provided unlimited macaroons.  Across from the loveseat was a big screen TV which could be adjusted to be viewed from either the loveseat or the bed.  Below the TV was a full mini bar.  We called and asked reception to have someone remove the contents so we could stock it with our Tesco purchases, but no one ever did.  We just packed the fridge full anyway.

Welcome Gift

The macaroons went fast. The fruit, even as good as it was, did not.

Loveseat and coffee table

Loveseats inside and out

Big screen TV

Perfect for Movie Night

As it seems with most high end resorts, they went over the top when designing the bathroom.  It was roughly the same size as the bedroom, maybe a tad smaller.  It had an enormous half spherical tub, a walk in shower with enough room for 3-4 people inside, a dual sink vanity, and a separate toilet room.  The closet was just off the bathroom and seems to be quite standard for the Conrad brand, complete with robes and slippers.

Bathtub

Rub a dub dub, it’s sized for three men in a tub

Amenities

More amenities for my stockpile

Shower

A shower with a view

Toilet room

Will high end hotels ever get rid of phones next to the toilet?

The focus of the entire room is the spectacular view.  The bed is arranged so that as you’re lying there you’re looking directly out over the sea.  The bathtub and vanity are set up in the same way, so whether your brushing your teeth or taking a bubble bath you won’t miss that sunset.  About the only places you can’t enjoy the view from are the closet and toilet room (well, maybe if you left the door open).

The View

The star of the show, the view.

The View

I could sit here for weeks

With the view being the focus, of course, the highlight of the villa is the patio and private infinity plunge pool.  The patio runs the entire length of the villa and is accessible via floor to ceiling sliding glass doors from both the bedroom and bathroom.  As you walk out from the bedroom there’s a small table with an outdoor couch on one side and a chair on the other.  On the other side of the patio there are 2 lounge chairs covered by an umbrella.  We’ve never stayed in a villa with our own personal pool before, and so that was the feature of the villa we were most excited about.  The infinity pool appears to drop right off into the Gulf of Thailand, and being that we were up so high, enjoying the view from the pool was the highlight of the villa for me.  

View from the patio

View from the patio

View from the pool

View from the pool

The Pool and Patio

It doesn’t get much more luxurious than this.

While you’re not really that far away from the neighboring villas on each side of you, the place felt quite private, especially while inside the villa.  With the shades completely open, no one would be able to see in as it was only the sea out in front of you.  While out on the patio you might hear noises or voices coming from next door, the villas were separated by walls at the edge of the patio and pool.  Looking down, however, you could see into some of the patios and pools of the villas beneath you.

As I said, the place had me rethinking my entire vacationing philosophy almost immediately up on arrival, so you know it had to be special.  It really was the perfect place to keep busy doing nothing all day long.

Beautiful sunsets

The sunset on our first night there welcoming us to Koh Samui

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Koh Samui: Part 3 – Exploring Koh Samui

This is the third post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand.  Trust me, I’m getting to the Conrad Koh Samui.  Just be patient.  

Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World
Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day
Koh Samui: Part 3 – Exploring Koh Samui

We arrived at the Koh Samui airport around 7:30 in the morning and headed straight for the Avis rental car counter.  Not surprisingly, no one was to be found there that early in the morning.  Soon enough though, someone noticed a few of us hanging around and made a phone call.  An agent showed up, and we quickly got the rental process started.  We were soon taken to our ride and started to check out the car.  As I started to survey for dents and scratches I took a look inside.  Turns out it was a manual.  I don’t do manuals.  I never learned how to drive a manual, and I was about to try to learn while driving in a foreign country on the opposite side of the road.  Eventually they brought out an automatic and we were on our way.

Koh Samui Airport

The entire airport is pretty much outdoors.

They'd know we were high rollers when we arrived in style.

They’d know we were high rollers when we arrived in style.

We knew our villa at the Conrad wouldn’t be ready for us at 8:30 in the morning, so we decided to explore the island a little bit.  It was probably a good thing that it was a lazy Friday morning as it took me a little bit of time to get used to driving on the right side of the road again.  I think the last time I had driven on the opposite side of the road was on our honeymoon to Ireland in May 2010.  As we knew the resort was somewhat remote and the restaurant prices would be quite high there we wanted to stock up on snack foods and drinks before arriving.  I had done a fair bit of reading on the Conrad Koh Samui on Flyertalk and learned that Tesco is basically Thailand’s version of Wal-Mart.  We soon found one, and stocked up on crazy flavored chips, exotic fruits, and root beer.  I’m not a fan of grocery shopping in general, but shopping in a foreign country always makes for a good time.  It’s always interesting to see what kinds of interesting things are on the shelf.

We passed on the fried seaweed.

We passed on the fried seaweed.

After killing a decent amount of time at Tesco we headed out to see what there was to explore on the island.  There honestly wasn’t too much that I thought looked interesting, but there were a couple of waterfalls and a giant Buddha to see.  I really enjoy waterfalls, and Dawn loves being around water in general, so we decided to head to the Na Muang Waterfall.  The place was a bit of a tourist trap with offers of elephant rides and jungle treks.  We originally passed on all of that, and started walking towards the hiking path to the waterfall.  As we were about to begin our hike, the option of a ride up to the waterfall on the top of a truck was offered.  The hike looked fairly steep, and as we had just arrived on an overnight flight we were pretty worn out.  We decided to take them up on their 100 Baht roundtrip offer (about $3/person).  It turns out that it was probably worth about $3, but not much more.  They drove us up a pretty steep hill, but we still had quite a hike to go to get to the waterfall. Being buckled into a seat on the roof of a truck was quite an interesting experience.

The ride up to the waterfall

The safe way to ride on the roof of a truck. Buckled in.

The hike was hot, but the waterfall was quite nice when we finally reached the top.  It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was certainly a worthy detour on our way to the resort.   I really enjoy climbing around as much possible in these types of places, so I had a pretty good time.  The waterfall was busy with tourists, but it wasn’t overly crowded.

The trail was marked with clear signage so we wouldn't get lost.

The trail was marked with clear signage so we wouldn’t get lost.

Bridge to waterfall

Sure, that looks safe…

Danger

Apparently, they realize its not safe…

Na Muang Waterfall

The view was worth the ‘dangerous’ hike.

Na Muang Waterfall

I’m a bit more of a climber than Dawn is.

We spent maybe 30 minutes near the waterfall, and then headed back down.At this point we were pretty hungry and were looking forward to finding some of that great, authentic Thai street food.  We found a street market not too far from the waterfall entrance and stopped.  There were plenty of options of what appeared to be mostly take home type food, but there was at least one ‘restaurant’ type place.  I ordered the red pork fried rice and Dawn had the chicken Pad Thai.  Both were excellent, and I almost went back for a second serving.  After lunch we spent some time shopping at the clothes and food stalls.  While the quality of the stuff was quite good, the prices were not as ridiculously low as I had hoped.  It was cheap, but not quite as cheap as I had expected in Thailand.  I’m sure better deals are to be had in Bangkok instead of a tourist island.

Pork Fried Rice

My meal of pork fried rice.

Chicken Pad Thai

Dawn’s chicken Pad Thai.

The Market

All kinds of fruits and vegetables for sale at the market

The Market

Plenty of fish and many other unrecognizable foods for sale as well

After shopping we figured that it was late enough that there was a good possibility that our room would be ready for us.  We were also pretty worn out, so we were hoping that the resort was close by.  Even with only one main road around the island we managed to have some slight difficulties in finding our way around.  While I had printed out Google maps of directions to the Conrad, they weren’t the most detailed, and we struggled a bit to find it.  Actually, we struggled a lot.  We ended up driving the entire loop of the island only to discover that the road leading to the resort was less than a mile from where we had stopped for lunch.  The loop around the island was only about 45 minutes, but the combination of jet lag from the overnight flight and thinking that we’d find the place any minute the 45 minutes was torture for me.  I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the wheel at any moment.  Eventually we found the correct turn off and made it to the Conrad Koh Samui.

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Cambodia and Vietnam in Style

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the miles and points world, it’s if you can’t get what you want, hang up and call back.  If I’ve learned two things, the second would be jump on a deal quickly when it comes up because it may not last long.  I’ve read quite a few stories about dirt cheap mistake fares and incredible mileage redemptions, but I was never able to take advantage of any of them.  That was until a couple of days ago.  I read about a deal that might actually work out quite well for Dawn and me.  It certainly wasn’t as lucrative as some of deals I’ve read about previously, but I also felt more confident that this particular deal would be honored and the tickets wouldn’t be cancelled.  

Looking forward to flying in one of these seats again soon.

Looking forward to flying in one of these seats again soon.

The basic summary of the deal is that you can get a one way ticket from Phnom Penh (PNH), Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), Vietnam for only $245.  The two cities only require a 40 minute flight to travel from one to the other, and so it appears that flights between the two cities are typically fairly inexpensive.  The kicker for this particular deal is that for $245 you can fly through Doha (DOH) to get there, which just so happens to be about 3600 miles away.  And it’s in Business Class.  I found the deal from reading View From the Wing, and Gary does an excellent job explaining the details of it here from the perspective of mileage running.  As I’m not really into mileage running, I’m much more interested in the fact that this deal allows us to visit a couple of places that are quite high on our travel list – Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The fare doesn’t get me to Cambodia; it only gets me home from Cambodia and onto Vietnam.  Also, it only allows you to book that one way flight from PNH-DOH-SGN for $245 if you have less than a 24 hour layover in DOH.  The price bumps up to $430 if you take a stopover (anything longer than 24 hrs) in DOH.  Being based in Doha and not really feeling like back to back 11 hr and 7 hr flights I opted for the ‘pricey’ option of a 2 month stopover in DOH.  This allows us to spread out our 2 trips and not just hang out on planes all day (although I might enjoy that – Dawn, not so much, even in business class).  We’re headed to Cambodia in mid-November and Vietnam in mid-January.

So after I booked our flight from PNH-DOH (November) and our flight from DOH-SGN (January), it was time to figure out how to get to Cambodia, and how to get home from Vietnam.  Originally, I thought I’d be able to book SGN-DOH-PNH (the opposite of the first flight I booked) for the ‘deal’ price, but I couldn’t get it to work out.  Eventually, I gave up and just booked PNH-DOH-SGN again to return from Vietnam in January.  Since PNH is in Cambodia and not Vietnam we’ll have to book ourselves a separate, cheap flight from wherever we are in Vietnam at the time back to PNH before our long haul business class flight home to DOH.  Once we arrive in DOH, we can either hop on the next segment of the flight to SGN or we can just conveniently miss that segment of the flight… and then head back to our apartment in Doha.  As that last segment from DOH-SGN isn’t as important to us, I was able to book the ticket for the lower, non-stopover price of $245.

So, now that our return from Vietnam is taken care of, I just need to figure out our ticket to Cambodia.  Since the main focus of the trip is to visit the ruins of Angkor near Siem Reap (REP) I’ll probably book our flights from DOH-REP.  That ticket is looking like it’ll cost around $700.  We’ll spend a few days there, and then fly the 45 mins to PNH (about $130).  There will be plenty to see and do to fill up a 4-5 day trip between both places.

For the Vietnam trip, with both the long haul flights there and back booked, all we have left to figure out is what to do with our 10 days there.  We’ll certainly spend a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, and since Halong Bay is on Dawn’s list, we’ll most likely head north for a few days as well.  With the time left over we may visit a beach town or maybe we’ll take a quick flight over to Bangkok or somewhere else in Thailand.  The possibilities are almost endless, and that’s what I really love about planning these trips.  So many options.

Here’s what the Cambodia trip looks like:

Cambodia - DOH-REP-PNH-DOH

Cambodia in November: DOH-REP-PNH-DOH

And here’s what the Vietnam trip looks like for now:

Vietnam:  DOH-SGN-PNH-DOH

Vietnam in January: DOH-SGN-PNH-DOH

They look the pretty much the same, don’t they?

In the end, this is what the end cost of the two trips will most likely look like without any additional SE Asia flights for the Vietnam trip:

Cambodia
DOH-REP     Economy     $700
REP-PNH     Economy     $130
PNH-DOH    Business       $215 (split between the two segments)

Vietnam
DOH-SGN     Business     $215 (split between the two segments)
SGN-PNH     Economy   $150
PNH-DOH    Business     $245 (including the ‘unused’ portion back to SGN)

Total flight costs for 2 vacations:  $1655/person

The price will probably jump a bit as we start to add intra-Southeast Asia flights for the Vietnam trip, but not significantly.  It’s was a little bit of work to figure out all of the right flights that were needed, but it was worth the time and effort.  It may seem like a lot of money to some, but when you consider we’re flying long haul business class on one of the top airlines in the world, it’s a pretty good deal.  It’s nothing earth shattering, but I’m pretty excited about it.  Booking similar trips in economy without the ‘deal’ flights would cost about $2400/person.  The normal cost of flying Business class on those same trips would be about $5400/person.

It seems like our list of places we want to visit while living here in Doha is constantly changing (as my mind has a tendency to change quite a bit), but I’m pretty excited that I was able to jump on a deal for a couple of places that were on our travel list from the very beginning.

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