Posted by Caleb | June 1, 2016
Quite possibly the most interesting part of our trip is the rags to riches, then back down to rags accommodation that we consistently stay at. One night I am waiting in the hotel check-in line behind a Wall Street millionaire spattering on his cell phone about his private plane and ugly slicked back hair (I may be jealous of the hair), the next night I am spending the first 15 minutes in our local guesthouse room shooing and growling at the lizards that are hiding in the bathroom. The epitome of this situation came during our stay on the Thai island of Koh Samui. Long before arriving we had booked two separate reservations for our time on the island, one at the appropriately named guesthouse, By Beach. The other at the cult famous Conrad Koh Samui by Hilton. There are a few similarities and a few differences and who is to say which one is better…it is comparing apples to genetically modified monster oranges that taste like heaven.
By Beach Guesthouse
We arrived there by local taxi after coming in on the Koh Phangan ferry. I wouldn’t call it a scenic entrance but after walking past the three retired cars there was someone at the front desk waiting who greeted us with a big smile and pretty good English. We had used American Express Membership Rewards points to book the reservation and were escorted to bungalow 2, which was about 20 yards away from the beach, hence the name… ‘By Beach.’
Conrad Koh Samui
As we pulled up through the secured hotel gate, even our local taxi driver we had hailed was impressed as he stopped the car unprompted to try to take a cell phone pic of the view from the check in area. Overlooking the nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park, it has to be one of the most impressive entries to any hotel in the world. We were greeted by a host of different people, one grabbing our bags, another taking our passports and the last leading us to a cliffside seat and providing an ice cold welcome drink. We again knew we were a bit out of place as our tattered backpacks and bags of supermarket groceries were placed in the waiting area next to a host of others’ proper luggage. We had read the food was super expensive so we stopped at a store ahead of time to stock up on meals we could make in our room. Overly frugal or savvy…you make the call.
Advertised as a beach bungalow with fan, we were given just that. The room included a queen bed (only box spring with comforter and sheet), a separate sitting area of floor mats and a spacious indoor/outdoor bathroom. There was a very nice sitting porch that on purpose or not had some trendy distressed furniture and a little table. The view looked out over…the yard and a few mangling bushes…even a turtle one day.
Conrad Koh Samui
We were escorted to the room by buggy as walking is deemed “impossible” due to the literal cliffside location of each bungalow. In reality it is very much possible but the on-call buggy service was very helpful. The pictures below are the best way to describe the room. Every person that stays at the hotel is given their own bungalow, complete with their own personal infinity pool, soaking tub, iPad and multiple giant televisions. Our room was on the third level or cliff, thus we couldn’t actually walk to the beach as we could the night before, but the view was nice. Being that we were staying in this hotel for free (on points), Beth and I were both on a relative points high for about the first three hours. These highs usually include elevated levels of celebratory fist pumping or a ensemble of 1990’s rap music, in this case it was both, the latter blaring through the room’s BOSE surround sound system.
By Beach was full of great things to do, though the actual beach next to us was full of seaweed and signs to “Beware of Sea Urchins”. I passed on getting into the water too often as I am not big on things tickling my feet, nor am I a fan of sea urchins. If you wanted to stay fit there were also free kayaks and snorkeling masks to rent, which a few folks utilized. They also had bean bags lining the sand that allowed us to post up for sunset next to the four or five stray dogs.
Conrad Koh Samui
Being there for two full days we didn’t have a ton of time to take everything in but we were able to explore some of the resort. We found the fitness center the first day and were also able to take a free Muay Thai boxing class at the beachside ring the next morning. The actual beach next to the hotel is similar to all the beaches we experienced on Samui, relatively full of seaweed and rocks and not particularly great for swimming. To combat that, they employ a full time beach supervisor to fit you for water shoes and direct you around. They also run a free speed boat to take guests 15 minutes away to a remote island with a nicer swimming beach. For cheapskates such as ourselves, all these free options are welcome add-ons. If you have young children with you there are also of plenty of family friendly activities set up along the pool.
Food and Drink
This is where things start to shift a bit. The attached restaurant was a beach front, affordable eatery with the traditional grub that Thai people think us Western folk like. Fully equipped with big glasses of fresh juices and plates of heaping stir fried vegetables, it was a great to have so close. The waiters and waitresses also moonlighted first as the owners of the resort, second as massage therapists which Beth tried out one evening.
Conrad Koh Samui
Not much to say here as we only tried the breakfast buffet. The prices were as advertised, $20-$30 USD for a dinner meal, compared to the $2-$3 everywhere else on the island, we couldn’t get ourselves to purchase. We did get a killer free breakfast because Beth has Diamond Member status with Hilton. You can imagine the amount of food I attempted to consume at said breakfast as the night before we had only eaten fruit and muesli for dinner.
Sometimes I get bored and play out a scenario in which I am on that house hunters show and I must pick between the Charming beachside bungalow in our price range or the Upscale condo that breaks the budget. Not really applicable in our situation as we are using points for everything but if we had to pay for either we of course would choose By Beach ($19 versus around $1,000 per night) as the room was more than fine, the beach access was relaxing and the staff was a nice bunch of local folk. The stray dogs, drunk neighbors and chirping lizards all make it memorable. However, due to the fact I live with a wizard that magically makes hotel rooms free, we do not have pay and thus I will continue to choose cliffside resorts with private pools and cloud soft fleece robes that make me feel like a I am in a shampoo commercial.