When you wake up to the kind of view you have at Sandalwood villas – you can’t help but feel that you truly are on top of the world.
Propped on top of one of the island’s hills, Sandalwood luxury villas is a collection of villas that stand sentry over Koh Samui and the Gulf of Thailand. Since 2010, Sandalwood has won the Trip Advisor travellers choice award each and every year, and in 2015 was nominated in the world luxury hotel awards. We were very curious to see what it was about this resort, so far removed from the main stretches of beach on the island, that made it such a winner with its clientele.
Sandalwood luxury villas was our first stop after arriving in Koh Samui after a couple of days spent exploring Bangkok. We hadn’t thought to call the hotel in advance to organise a transfer, and instead jumped in a taxi at the airport. Unlike in Bangkok, the taxis on the island didn’t work on the same meter system, and the charge to our hotel – up the mountain – was quite steep in comparison to our expectations based on what taxi rides had cost in the city. We started to think it was going to get quite pricey indeed, getting taxis around the island from the resort.
The driver took us through the winding streets of Koh Samui, out of the central parts of town and then started the ascent up the mountain where Sandalwood was. The road to the hotel is one of the steepest roads I’ve ever been driven up – only losing to the four-wheel-drive expedition we took up the glacier on Iceland’s famed volcano, eyjafjallajökull. The difference was, we weren’t in a four-wheel drive this time, and the winding road up the mountain was long, and quite narrow!
Feeling very grateful that we made it to the top, we found a sign directing us to reception and made our way over. The reception was located in an open, verandah-like space, right by a lounging area which is next to an infinity pool. Suddenly, the drive up the mountain was forgotten as we found ourselves speechlessly gazing out at the view.
Check-in and transfer service
There was one woman in reception that cheerily greeted us and directed us over to the lounges. There were no other guests or people around. Having her full attention, she checked us in. She also explained that Sandalwood have their own small fleet of four-wheel drives and provide guests a private taxi service throughout their stay, with three scheduled, complimentary transfers to two of the main stretches of beach and shopping districts each day, and free transfers down the hill to the small cove at the foot of the mountain.
The drivers, she explained, were also available for transfers outside of the scheduled times, for a set price that would be added to our bill. This charge was half of what we had paid to be driven up the mountain, which was more than reasonable and which we only required to use once during our stay. She then provided us with a complimentary mobile phone which she explained was for calling either reception, or one of the resort’s drivers whenever we needed anything – all names and numbers were helpfully stored in English. They were just little considerations, but these little touches meant that our concerns of being up the mountain and removed from the buzz of the island quickly disappeared.
Sandalwood has 10 individual Thai-style pavilions on offer for guests. These range from the studio villa, up to a three-bedroom villa. Five of the ten villas have their own private infinity pool.
The woman who had checked us in walked us to our villa, the Orchid villa. The path took us through landscaped gardens, with orchids and frangipani trees, and our villa was tucked away and felt very secluded, but surrounded by nature.
Opening the front door, we saw that the space was huge. Minimalist, and very open-plan, the villa featured a large king size bed in a high-ceilinged room with a staircase leading up to a loft level with a second king-sized bed. A sofa and table were situated on the side, and sliding doors revealed our own private balcony with sunbed and the same, incredible view that we had been struck by at reception. Large paintings on the wall added to the very rustic, and authentic atmosphere.
Through the back of the villa we were shown a small and very basic kitchen area with fridge, sink and microwave, and a bathroom with jacuzzi bath and overhead shower.
There were some laminated vouchers on the bed that explained that happy hour ran through the afternoon with buy one, get one free on beers and cocktails, and also a couple of discount vouchers for the spa.
As we weren’t staying in one of the pool villas, we decided to make our way back to the shared infinity pool by reception for a dip, before trying out the Blue Ginger restaurant for lunch.
Because five of the ten villas have their own infinity pool, the main pool by reception was never busy during our stay, only ever having another couple enjoying a swim at the same time as us. I didn’t get sick of swimming out to the edge and propping myself up on my forearms on the infinity edge, gazing out over the spectacular view. While the water wasn’t too cool due to the heat, it was refreshing and very relaxing.
Sandalwood has its own restaurant on site, called the Blue Ginger restaurant. Similar to reception, the restaurant dining area is on a covered verandah, meaning you’re outside, but out of the sun. The restaurant’s atmosphere is very casual and laid back, and staff are exceptionally friendly. After having a look at the menu, I opted for the pineapple fried rice, and Marcus opted for the Pad Thai. We both ordered fruit smoothies too.
We were the only ones in the restaurant, and the food didn’t take long to arrive, and was absolutely huge! For what were very reasonable prices, we were both very impressed with both the portions and quality of the food. My pineapple fried rice was sweet and juicy, and Marcus said that the Pad Thai was actually the best that he enjoyed during our time in Thailand.
Happy hour runs most of the afternoon, from 1pm, and cocktails and beers are two for one. The cocktails were really nice too, which we found was something that could be hit or miss in Thailand. We enjoyed these back by the pool.
Breakfast is also served at the Blue Ginger restaurant. There is a limited self-serve breakfast buffet and a hot breakfast menu with both western and Asian dishes. I opted for eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and spinach, and Marcus opted for the tofu and vegetables. Compared to our experience at lunch our breakfast, unfortunately, was not quite up to scratch. The hollandaise on the eggs Benedict was curdled and poached eggs weren’t soft, and there wasn’t much variety in the buffet as an alternative. There were, however, a lot of other dishes on the menu that did look delicious and which we didn’t get the chance to try. I also have no doubt that if I’d asked for an alternative dish, they would have been more than happy to whip something up for me.
Staff and service
The staff at Sandalwood make you feel as if you’re entering a Thai home, rather than a hotel.
We only stayed at Sandalwood two nights but had multiple instances of the staff going well out of their way to help us and help make our experience as wonderful as possible:
The evening of our first night, we were attending a dinner party, and our transfer couldn’t make it up the hill and instead asked if we could meet them at the bottom of the mountain. We were arriving back at the bottom of the hill late in the evening, which was well past the hours of the complimentary hill transfer, and after reception had closed, but on dropping us down at the pick-up point the driver insisted we call him that evening and that he’d happily drive down the hill to bring us back up, which he did.
It also happened to be Marcus’ birthday on the second day of our stay. We went out to the Lomai walking street markets for food in the evening, during which time the staff decorated the bed with petals and a birthday message, leaving a Pandan jelly cake in the fridge for our return – all I had done was tell them that it was his birthday.
You quickly get the understanding that these are people who love where they work, and love the people who stay at Sandalwood. Always cheery, personable and very helpful, it’s the staff that really create the Sandalwood experience and make it so exceptional.
If you’re looking for high-end luxury, Sandalwood is probably not for you.
For couples, families and friends who don’t want frills or fuss, and just want to escape and relax in an authentic Thai retreat, then you’ve found your perfect fit. Sandalwood luxury villas is a place where you will be made to feel special. You’ll also get to know and have real conversations with staff who call Thailand home.
The transfer service also makes a big difference, making it so much easier to enjoy the buzz and activities of Chaweng and Lamai, and be able to come back to relax in what feels like home; your own private and secluded retreat. And to be honest, you’ll probably not want to leave.