Hotel Review: Conrad Koh Samui (Oceanview Pool Villa)

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle:
Touring the Thai Conrads

Thai Airways Business Class SIN-BKK (A350)
Conrad Bangkok (Executive Corner)
Thai Airways Business Class BKK-USM
Conrad Koh Samui (Oceanview Pool Villa)
Thai Airways Business Class USM-BKK-SIN


Our flight was scheduled to land at 8.30am and so we anticipated arriving at the property around 10am. I had indicated this when doing online check-in the night before and requested they email me if able to accommodate an early check-in. Thankfully they were, so we were able to check in about 5h early – definitely a win for us!

After clearing immigration, we picked up our rental car from Hertz and started heading over to the hotel, about an hour’s drive away. There were a number of small roads, especially towards the end, but if you’re an experienced driver I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough – we really appreciated having the freedom to explore the island (and nearby eateries – more on that later).

So, about an hour of driving later, we had arrived at Conrad Koh Samui.

Checking in

The arrivals area is essentially an open air lounge where you’re served some iced drinks while waiting for logistics to be settled. It also features a stunning bird’s-eye view of the grounds. It’s beautiful. I spent minutes just looking at it.

(There’s also not that much else to do while waiting for stuff to be settled, but really, it’s beautiful.)

We were issued some vouchers (I only redeemed the four complimentary drinks; the others required a certain levels of spending that I wasn’t quite prepared for) as well as (for the Diamond member) the chance to win something in a lucky draw.

Prizes apparently range from ice cream to complimentary spa treatments. We won for ourselves… a complimentary piece of soap.

Some (other) people just have all the luck.

Another check-in gift (actually delivered later to the room) – an amenities gift set. Given that it’s the exact same stuff they have lying around the bathroom, I was not particularly enthused about getting a complete set like this. It could make a nice gift for some people, I suppose.

Diamond members usually get upgraded, but unfortunately for us the property was fully booked. Having effectively received an extra 5h on the property though we weren’t too fussed, especially since the villas are essentially identical other than proximity to the beach (for one-level upgrades) or additional electronics in the room (for two-level upgrades).

We stayed in Villa 217, which ended up being a pretty good location due to its (relative) proximity to the breakfast restaurant and unobstructed view from the villa (as listed on FlyerTalk).

The room

It’s a villa. It’s large. It’s roomy. It’s nice.

The fruit bowl is more substantial than most hotels I’ve been in. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a mango. I suppose that actually makes me rather easy to impress – just throw in a mango and I’m good.

Also, free macarons.

There’s also a rather large walk-in closet space…

A rather large bathroom…

A rather large bowl-shaped bathtub (you feel kinda like a wonton in soup, soaking in this thing)…

A shower, and the commode.

Essentially, everything’s large. There’s a great sense of space, especially for the average Singaporean used to living in apartments.

There’s also your private outdoor area (well, as private as it can be – the row of villas above us probably could see us quite clearly if they’d wanted to) with deck chairs and that awesome private pool.

It’s actually a pretty standard (small) private pool, actually – what really made it awesome was the view. There is an almost indescribable sense of wonder that comes upon you when staring out into the vast, boundless ocean. Very calming; almost therapeutic. The fact that you could do so while dipping in your own private strip of water is pretty amazing.

I also made the mistake of not bringing a float to the property – lounging in the pool would probably have been even more enjoyable with one of these things.

Aaron’s post described catching the sunset as the highlight of his trip, so I was somewhat bummed that I wasn’t able to catch an awesome sunset while on the property (it was rather cloudy the evening I attempted to do so), but c’est la vie!

The grounds

So a large roomy villa is all very well and good, but at some point you are likely to want to go out and explore the rest of the property. In case you want to get into a larger pool, the communal one does offer the same breathtaking oceanic view.

There’s also the gym, which we used primarily as a bypass to get to the beach deck level.

You can probably tell that we are sporty types.

At the beach deck you get access to some hammocks. Fun stuff.

There’s also an area with umbrella-like shelters and outdoor seating furniture. Also, hammock-like webbing suspended over rocks. I was too chicken to stay on those for long (visions of falling to my death danced in my head), but if you are confident enough of the structural integrity of those things it is rather comfortable to just lie there.

There’re also the floating platforms and hammocks suspended over the sea, but we didn’t really want to get wet at that point in time, so this is as close as we got to them:

Breakfast

Breakfast is served at Zest, the restaurant pretty much at the centre of the property (marked #4 on this map). Happily enough, it was a short walk away from my villa.

We opted to be seated outside, with front-row seats to the the ocean view. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of that stuff.

Upon being seated you get to order an egg dish. I have no idea if you’re allowed to get a second – one was sufficient for me. I ordered the Thai Egg Benedict, which was (comparatively) unique and pretty enjoyable.

Aside from that, there’s the buffet spread, which though not earth-shaking did offer more than sufficient food to fill you up. Interestingly enough, they had a dedicated section for Korean (breakfast?) foods, suggesting that they form a significant proportion of guests at the property.

Alternative eats

We did eat at the property a few times, and though decent enough and not priced as extortionately as you might expect, failed to impress. This is where having the car came in really handy – being able to easily access cheaper tastier food around the island was a luxury in itself.

Sabienglae

This was probably my favourite of the places we’d tried. The downside was that it was located pretty much across the island, about half an hour away by car.

Still, the combination of tasty food and scenic view can’t be beat. I suppose it could be cheaper, but it was already very affordable by Singaporean standards.

Green Talay

About a 10min drive from the hotel, also recommended on the FlyerTalk thread for the property, this place was pretty good and affordable. No complaints!

Hemingway’s on the Beach

This place was really near the hotel (about 10min by car) and was ranked in the top 10 of TripAdvisor’s listings for Ko Samui, so we decided to give it a go.

My main impression of the place was that it offered a pretty good view of the sunset.

The food was decent enough, if rather home-style (in a good way). However, the dishes really took rather long to prepare (further accentuating the home-style feel, in a bad way). It was also more expensive than the other restaurants we tried.

After settling our bill the owner asked us to rate them on TripAdvisor, which is probably how they ended up there to begin with. It’s not bad, but probably not my first recommendation!

Activities

The property offered some complimentary recreation activities – the schedule was accessible via TV menu. We tried out yoga, which was attended by a grand total of 4 hotel guests, that day.

Waking up early to contort my body into various unnatural positions was an interesting experience, but I decided it was not something I was really keen on doing more of in the future.

They also offered ‘luxury boat excursions’ to a nearby island, which we tried out on our last day at the property.

Boat Excursion

The boat excursion is essentially a ride to nearby (smaller) island Koh Mat Sum. There are generally mixed reviews on this – the island is not a particularly exciting place, so I can see why some might not like it. For us, we found it the experience a nice enough change from just relaxing at the property.

For the excursion, a buggy picks you up from your villa and brings you to the arrivals area, where you are loaded onto a minivan and brought to a jetty. Then it’s onto the boat and off you go!

Towels and water are provided, so there’s no real need to bring anything. They also sell picnic sets, but if that’s what you’re looking for it’s probably far cheaper to prepare your own.

At some point along the way, they stopped the boat and announced that we would be stopping for about half an hour for some snorkelling. No one in the boat seemed interested, though, so we proceeded towards Koh Mat Sum.

If I was better prepared for the snorkelling option I probably would have liked to do it, although it could be pretty daunting to indicate an interest in doing so and having an entire boatful of uninterested hotel guests wait for you to finish having your fun in the water.

I think the snorkelling point was near Tean Island – I took the screenshot only a little later, so the location’s not completely accurate.

A little while later, we arrived at Koh Mat Sum.

We didn’t really explore the place very much, but what we had access to was a strip of beach and some shops selling exorbitantly-priced food and drinks.

Also, the chance to get up close and personal with some rather odd-looking chickens.

You’re able to borrow the snorkelling gear and do it off the beach, but there was really nothing much to see near the island, which made us regret not insisting on snorkelling at the earlier stop.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty nice beach to just relax and chill on. Bring a book or some picnic items and it can make for an enjoyable short excursion.

The Souvenir

Many Conrad properties throughout the world offer some sort of stuffed animal and I’ve started becoming a bit of a collector. Conrad Koh Samui’s is a turtle, which they present to you when you check out.

All in all I consider this to have been almost a bucket list experience – so much so that I’m already thinking of returning!


Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.

Enhancement to Lifemiles sale with up to 140% bonus

Lifemiles is currently holding a sale with a bonus of up to 125%, depending on how many miles you buy. I said that this is a decent price, all things considered, but if you can I’d hold off because I consider 140% to be the minimum bonus I’d consider.

Well, thanks to Lucky at OMAAT (he does this for a living, you know), you can get a maximum of a 140% bonus on the current Lifemiles sale. All you need to do is register on this page between May 17 and May 29, and buy your miles between May 18 and May 30.

This is how your bonus structure looks like with the additional 15% that OMAAT readers get.

As you can see, your bonus now maxes out at 140%, or 1.375 cents per mile, if you buy 101,000 miles or more. You need to wait 24 hours after you register for your enhanced bonus to be reflected.

Another interesting development is that if you buy at least 15,000 miles during this promotion, you’ll receive a follow up email offering to let you buy up to 5,000 miles with a 200% bonus. That means you get 15,000 miles for US$165, or 1.1 cents per mile. I’d definitely jump on that.

Usual caveats about Lifemiles apply, see any of my previous Lifemiles articles for the FAQs.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: JAL Sakura Lounge Narita Review

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After landing in Narita, we had about a 9 hour layover until our JAL flight to Los Angeles.

The first order of business was going to the JAL check-in desks to make sure our luggage was transferred properly from MH88 to JL62. The counter staff checked our documentation, confirmed the transfer would be done and issued new boarding passes for the onwards journey.

With that done, the most logical thing next, of course, was to go Japanese fruit hunting.

There are numerous options to get to downtown Tokyo from Narita, but the most economical still remains the Tokyo Shuttle. Our round trip tickets cost JPY 1,900 each (S$23), about half of what it would have cost to take the Airport Limousine or Narita Express. Travel time is almost identical too at slightly over an hour.

I had read a lot about Sembikiya, which is supposed to be the Louis Vuitton of fruits. They have a flagship store near Tokyo station, about a 5-10 minute walk away.

I have to admit the place was smaller than I expected. For some reason, when I read “fruit emporium”, I sort of expected multiple levels of fruity goodness. But in reality the fruit section itself is a compact corner on the ground floor.

The fruits were beautiful, though, and the prices were eyewatering.

I finally settled on a bunch of $20 grapes. I mean, those who had tasted Japanese grapes told me fantastical things about them: about their texture, how they tasted like jelly in your mouth and carried you like Valkyries to Valhalla.

My mum will attest that I am something of a self-proclaimed grape connoisseur. I can tell by looking at grapes whether they will be crunchy or soft or sweet or sour. And my first impressions of these babies wasn’t great.

Then again, I told myself, I am but a philistine when it comes to Japanese fruits. Surely these transcend some other level such that my existing senses are ill-equipped to render pre-judgement.

So I popped one in my mouth and chewed. My colleague did likewise. We sat there chewing. And staring at the grapes. And chewing. Both of us glanced at each other.

I was the first to admit the emperor had no clothes,

She concurred.

By the time we polished off the batch, I had the feeling that either it wasn’t grape season or I’d just picked the wrong thing. Ah well.

The two of us really wanted to try another Japanese musk melon, but with the starting price at Sembikiya upwards of US$100 decided there was no way we were going to pay that. Fortunately, later on that day we went to a Takashimaya and found much more reasonably priced melons, as low as US$30

For lunch we stopped by Sushi Tsubaki.

You won’t find it on a lot of tourist lists but it’s up there with the best, and the lunch set is only JPY 5,400. Really, there’s no need to seek out “the best” sushi or the top rated things on Tripadvisor. You’re just setting yourself up for a lot of queues and disappointments. The baseline standard of sushi in Tokyo is so high it’s hard to go wrong.

Here’s our lunch. The courses are probably not in order.

 

Don’t feel obliged to “upsize” your set to one of the more pricey options- there was plenty of food and we were very satisfied.

It was just our luck that it started pouring and we didn’t have an umbrella. But the owner at Sushi Tsubaki was incredibly nice, he fished out one that someone else left behind and gave it to us. I shall return one day and give him back an umbrella. It would be more symbolic had I given him back the same umbrella, but as I write this AA has lost said umbrella. Sad.

We took the Tokyo Shuttle bus back to Narita and went directly to immigration.

If you’re looking for the JAL Business Class lounge you might be a bit confused when you see the exterior.

The signage outside says FIRST CLASS LOUNGE / SAKURA LOUNGE. It’s only if you know that JAL calls its business class lounge the Sakura lounge that you’ll know this is the right place. We eventually figured that out with some help from the information desk.

The lounge is divided into two segments. Business Class passengers turn to the right and head down the escalator to access Level 2, where the majority of the Sakura lounge is.

I say majority, because confusingly enough, the lounge has a completely separate dining area on Level 3 with a staircase and lift leading up. I said in my review of the MAS Golden Lounge in KUL that there didn’t seem to be any sort of segmentation within that lounge. Well, JAL had gone to the other extreme- the only food available in the lounge was on Level 3, with big signs asking people not to take food out of the dining area. The rest of the lounge on Level 2 was for seating, and although there were drink bars, there wasn’t any food areas.

Before I explored the dining area, however, I wanted to get a shower first.

The shower rooms are on the 2nd floor with the main lounge in the very minimalist “Relaxation Corner”

This area also had a spa, but the complimentary appointments were fully booked for the next 2 hours and we wouldn’t be able to get one before flying.

As was the case in the EVA Air lounge, the JAL showers work on a card basis. You’re issued a keycard that serves to open the door to a particular shower suite.

The suites are nice enough, nothing fancy but clean and dry. Note that you have to request items like a toothbrush and razor (unlike the ANA showers where everything you could possibly need is already waiting for you in the shower)

The bathroom amenities weren’t anything special, sadly. Or even if they were, they didn’t get any branding justice.

It was at this point I realised my waterproof shoes weren’t that waterproof, and my socks were soaking wet. I managed to dry them out somewhat by leaving them facing the hairdryer blowing full blast. I was quite proud of how domestic I was.

After my shower I went to explore the dining area. As mentioned, the dining enclave is separate from the rest of the lounge on the 3rd level.

This is a large-ish area (maybe 100+ seats) with both individual and communal tables.

All tables have power outlets and USB charging ports.

The ambiance of the dining area is nice enough, with full length windows overlooking the tarmac.

In one corner of the dining area was the buffet section, which had a solid selection of hot and cold items.

Hot items included Japanese hamburger patties

Dumplings of the pork and prawn variety

Simmered beef and onions

And amazing, amazing Japanese rice. I cannot emphasize enough how obsessive Japanese are about rice, and I for one am glad. Rice is at the heart of any dish, and I’m the kind who boycotts restaurants because they can’t get the rice to water ratio right. No worries here, as the rice was fluffy and spot on.

There were a few garnish stations as well

And one Japanese and one Western soup.

There was the usual assortment of European pastries that the Japanese seem to love

And the ubiquitous salad bar

Where drinks are concerned, there were juices, milk, isotonic drinks (for whatever reason), sodas

And a selection of white, red and sparkling wines. No champagne.

I got myself a seat at one of the communal tables.

The food was very high quality. However, the internet was not. It was even slower than the MAS lounge. For a country like Japan, this was totally unacceptable.

I wasn’t sure about what the policy in the States would be towards fresh fruit, so I decided it was better to split the melon we bought from Takashimaya now.

I approached the staff and asked if they could help us cut the melon, only to be politely rebuffed. I was confused at first, then realised that the lounge was probably subject to some sort of food hygiene licensing standard, and couldn’t serve any food they didn’t themselves prepare or source. Or maybe they just didn’t want everyone seeing it and wanting some.

So I got a butter knife from the buffet and did it myself. Sure enough, as soon as I sliced it, a Japanese man approached me and inquired where he could get a melon.

The melon itself, however, was disappointing. I suspect it wasn’t ripe enough, because the flesh wasn’t soft and sweet like the previous few melons I had.

Melon finished, I headed back down to explore the rest of the 2nd floor. It wasn’t unduly exciting- there was a lot of seating, some drinks counters and nothing much else.

If you need to get some work done, there’s a fully-equipped business centre with printing and fax facilities. Apparently faxes are still a thing in Japan. Who knew.

As mentioned, there isn’t any food on the 2nd floor, but there’s a good selection of drinks including everyone’s favourite automatic beer pouring machines.

I think the biggest question for me would be: how does this lounge measure up to the ANA lounge?

ANA has a slight edge over JAL in that it has a counter that does freshly prepared udon and rice bowls (I guess freshly-prepared might not be the right term to use insofar as all the food is probably already cooked, the chefs just portion it out for you), has fully-equipped shower rooms (vs JAL’s arrangement where you have to request for items) and much faster wifi.

However, JAL has complimentary spa treatments (if you can get a slot), and call me crazy, but I think their rice is better than ANA. And as we know, that’s all that matters.

I left the lounge and headed to the boarding gate early, eager to see JAL’s Skysuite product.

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