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Why is the Four Seasons Koh Samui such a rage?

What is the best kind of holiday?

It is a good question. But it is also one that is impossible to answer. Firstly, not everyone is the same: All of us have different needs and desires. And secondly, every individual wants to have a different holiday depending on his or her moods at the time.


Last month, I went back to the Four Seasons resort in Koh Samui, which I often regard as my favourite resort in the world. There are many reasons why I like the resort. Partly, because it is in Thailand, a country that I love. But mostly it is because I think it is one of the best designed and best-run resorts I have ever been to. It is, theoretically, a beach resort but the beach is not the primary attraction. It consists of superbly designed villas built into the cliffs overlooking the sea (and yes, the beach). The hills are lushly forested and you can’t really see much human habitation (apart from the hotel) when you look out of your villa. Koh Samui is now a popular resort town but the tourist hotels are not just far away, they are also invisible. The overwhelming sense you get at the hotel is one of peace and quiet. (Okay: The superlative levels of luxury may help as well.)


   Though nobody at the Four Seasons is allowed to confirm it, there is a general agreement within the hotel and tourism business in Thailand that the latest season of The White Lotus has been shot at the Four Seasons in Koh Samui. (Rumour has it that one scene was also filmed at the Oriental in Bangkok and some beach sequences were shot in Phuket.)


   You’ve probably seen The White Lotus, which is a super-hit, Emmy-winning show set in luxury hotels. The first season, set in Hawaii, was fine. But the show really took off and became a global sensation during its second season shot at the Four Seasons San Domenico Hotel in Taormina in Sicily.


   The Taormina Four Seasons is now one of the world’s most acclaimed hotels with stratospheric rates and rooms that are sold out several months in advance. I was lucky enough to go after The White Lotus shooting schedule had ended but before the show was streamed and the madness unleashed. I doubt if I could afford to stay there now even if I could score a booking.


   I imagine the same thing will happen with the Four Seasons in Koh Samui, assuming of course, that the third season of The White Lotus was actually shot there. Certainly, the hotel would not accept bookings for two months earlier this year which suggests, at the least, that something was being shot at the property.  Once again, if this is The White Lotus location, then I will have been lucky enough to have gone after the shoot but before the release, (which is set for next year).


   Why do hotels like the Four Seasons Taormina and the Four Seasons Koh Samui become such rages? Yes, it is The White Lotus fever; people like going to hotels they have seen on the screen, especially those which feature in the plot as being the last word in luxury.


   But it is more than that. Many people –myself included — like to take holidays in beautiful and relaxing hotels. Not only does it calm the soul but it also gives you a chance to pamper yourself, to feel as though you have left the pressures of the world behind.


  "One reason to travel is to broaden the mind. But the other is also to give the mind a rest."

   It was not always like this, I have, admittedly, always loved good hotels. But when I was younger, the hotel was much less important than it is now. I went only for the destinations themselves. And if the hotel was basic, then I just spent more time outside than I did inside the hotel.


   Often, when you first begin travelling the world, you treat hotels just as places to sleep in. What’s outside is far more important than the inside of your room. I travelled through France in my youth staying in the most basic places and didn’t mind at all because everything I saw outside was so stunning. In America (which, in the old days, offered great value when it came to hotels), I stayed in Holiday Inn-type places (which were often cheaper and much better than the small hotels I frequented in Europe) and went out and explored the destinations.


   In India, I paid less attention to luxury, than I did to cleanliness (especially the bathrooms). If that was not an issue, then it did not really matter where I stayed. (I drew the line at dormitories and youth hostels, I concede.)


   Even now, I still divide my holidays into two categories. There are those where the destination is so important that I am willing to stay in a not-so-wonderful hotel. (In Paris, for instance, where hotel rates are crazy.) And there are those like the Far East, where the destination is still important but hotel rates are not so absurdly high so you can strike a balance between the two. (The Far East remains the best value in the world. Even India is more expensive.)


  But that’s just me. I know successful people who still regard hotels as being of little consequence. They go on holidays to see wild life, for instance, so a fairly primitive lodge is all they require.  And sometimes, in their minds, adventure and luxury do not go together. Just as I like to go on holiday to relax, they go to be challenged, to push their minds and bodies to the next level, to come back energised.


   I know how that feels. I have done five wild life sanctuaries in Africa in a row without once even thinking of comfort, let alone luxury. Often the surroundings are so stunning that the accommodation seems irrelevant. When you get kissed by an elephant in the wild, or when there are two lions lounging lazily on the landing strip as you emerge from your tiny single-engine plane. And though the Maldives now has the most luxurious hotels in the world, I used to love going there just as much when the best hotels had no more than three stars because I was mesmerised by the clear water of the lagoons. Even travelling by seaplane seemed like such an adventure.


   I still do the history-culture holiday: the temples and ruins of Angkor Wat for instance or the splendour of the Alhambra in Spain. But yes, the proportion of relaxing holidays is increasing.


   Perhaps the world has changed. Or perhaps I have just grown older. Many years ago, Kurt Wachtveitl, the legendary general manager of the Oriental in Bangkok (he stepped down a decade ago), complained to me about the trend towards luxury resorts. They were full of people who went from private pool to private pool, he said, always staying in the same sorts of villas and learning nothing about the culture of the countries they visited.


   I saw the point. Kurt was talking about an era when the Far East was just opening up: When Burma suddenly welcomed visitors, when Vietnam first became a tourist destination and when Cambodia shed memories of the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge. He saw Bangkok as an entry point into East Asia and the Oriental as a base camp for adventurous travellers. When he opened the hugely influential Oriental spa, he told me he saw it as a place where weary travellers could recover after having explored the Far East.


   There are now so many luxury hotels in Vietnam and Cambodia that the era that Kurt was referring to has long passed. And many of the newer, more luxurious hotels in Vietnam have the deluxe villas and private pools he was complaining about. But I do know what he meant.


   One reason to travel is to broaden the mind. But the other is also to give the mind a rest. Just watch the next season of The White Lotus and feast your eyes on the Four Seasons Koh Samui. And you will see what I mean.



Posted On: 07 May 2024 10:00 AM
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