The Koh Samui Guide
In Thai, “koh” means island—and we’d wager that “samui” means perfect. Okay, not really, but you wouldn’t be far off in thinking that Koh Samui, off the coast of eastern Thailand, is the perfect island. From above, Samui looks like concentric circles of color: The center, dense with lush, green jungle, is surrounded by a ring of white, powdery sand, which is surrounded by an endless sea of sapphire-colored water. It’s a screensaver of a landscape. Colossal mountains jut out of the ocean, and quaint bamboo huts line the shores. Samui is a feast of natural beauty, but there are also restaurants that serve the freshest ceviche and juiciest island fruits, and the locals treat you like family.
“Samui has everything you need for a wellness getaway—massages, healthy food, healthy drinks, Ayurvedic wellness, essential oils…everything,” says Briohny Smyth, a global wellness leader and yoga instructor. Smyth, whose mother is Thai, has a deep connection to Samui. Every year, she and her children spend the summer on the island. “You feel taken care of in the most luxurious way,” she says.
To dive into all that luxury, we zeroed in on the best places to stay, eat, explore, and rejuvenate, so you leave the island feeling like yourself—only, let’s say, more “samui.”
Vikasa Yoga Retreat211 Bontji Moo 4, Koh Samui | +66.77.422.232
The idea of a yoga retreat can be intimidating, especially for the uninitiated. But Vikasa somehow makes its all-inclusive wellness hotel inviting. The team is friendly, welcoming, and incredibly knowledgeable about yoga. A trip here really lets you focus on, well, yourself. There are personalized vacation packages, where you can practice daily yoga and meditation, as well as more structured one-on-one training for those looking to become instructors. But yoga aside, its vegetarian restaurant, Life Café, is reason enough to visit. Order the Vikasa dumplings (carrots and walnuts minced and wrapped in rice paper and served with plum sauce) and mushroom ceviche with a probiotic honey and coconut milk colada.
Tamarind Springs Spa205/7 Thong Takian, Koh Samui | +66.80.569.6654
A great massage isn't an anomaly in Samui. But it takes a little more searching to find one that will transform you, one where the clinician seems to understand every knot in your body. That's what you get at Tamarind. The staff here is trained in traditional Thai, Eastern, and Western therapeutic techniques and will knead, Rolf, rub, and press your muscles until they seem to melt. Go for the Steam and Dream treatment. You'll sit in an herbal steam cave in the jungle before indulging in a two-and-a-half-hour massage. By the time you leave, you’ll be so euphoric, you won't remember your own name.
Superpro Samui48/10 Moo 3 Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui | +66.77.414.393
For one goop editor, Muay Thai was the workout she didn't know she was looking for. It changed her entire perspective on exercising and mindfulness. The thing about traditional Thai boxing is that you can't focus on anything else but what's happening in front of you. When your master yells "kick," you kick (or "jab" or "uppercut"). It's a practice of being present. And one of the most fun, intense workouts you'll ever do. This particular gym is known for some of the best instructors in the country.
Kamalaya102/9 Laem-Set Rd, Na Mueang, Koh Samui Di
This is Briohny Smyth's favorite place on the island. Part hotel, part holistic wellness sanctuary, part yoga retreat, Kamalaya echoes Thailand's sentiment of wellness: To feel good, you must take care of your mind, body, and spirit. Which is why Kamalaya surpasses a traditional spa-like resort. The staff here focuses on those who feel worn out, depleted, tired. Going through a divorce? Head here. Tired of your job? Ditto. Restorative yoga classes, lengthy massages, acupuncture, guided meditation—it’s all here to cure what ails you. You'll eat organic meals free of any refined sugars and dairy (and meat and gluten, if requested). And eventually, you'll head back to your life feeling happier, lighter, and completely rejuvenated.
Dipabhavan Meditation Center101/18 Moo 3 Tambon Maret, Amphoe Ko Samui
"Dipabhavan" essentially means "a private place to learn the teachings of the Buddha," which is what locals and tourists have been doing here since it opened in 2005. The center is based on Vipassana, an ancient form of meditation that involves a minimum of ten days of silent, self-observing mental training. You come here with two goals: to free your consciousness of misery, and to strengthen your mind-body connection. The practice is rigorous, daunting, and sometimes uncomfortable, but it's worth the mindfulness and peace you gain. The retreat is completely free of charge (they welcome donations at the end) and pared back (you won't get a full-service spa here), but the team looks after your every need.