I’m sure the definition of “aspirational” differs among people, but I’d definitely consider the Vana Belle to be one of SPG’s aspirational properties. In my book, any property that offers a private pool with any room surely can’t be that bad
The Vana Belle, together with 6 other of SPG’s top properties, has been on sale for points redemptions, cutting the cost of a 1 night stay from 40,000 points to a much more manageable 26,000 points per night. Given that no good can come out of the Starwood-Marriott merger, I figured now was a good time to burn 78,000 SPG points.
Note: I did consider the W Retreat Koh Samui, but 39,000 points a night was a bit beyond my reach, not to mention I’d heard mixed reviews on the experience on FT.
The Vana Belle has a great location if you want to be around the Chaweng area (which is Koh Samui’s equivalent of Kuta in Bali or Patong in Phuket) yet don’t want something too crowded. It’s located at the Southern tip of the Chaweng area, with a very nice, secluded beach (for reference in the diagram above, you can see where the W is located)
We rented a car, which made it super easy to get around (and I’d advise anyone going to Koh Samui to rent a car- the taxi mafia there is no joke. 2 taxi rides can easily equal the cost of a full day car rental. If you’ve driven in Singapore, you can definitely handle Koh Samui’s roads)
The drive from USM airport took only about 15 mins, and that was with moderately-heavy traffic. In Koh Samui, there is apparently only one real major road that runs in a ring around the island, so your navigational options when leaving a place are pretty much “turn left” or “turn right”.
We were greeted at the check-in area by the welcome team. The valet took our car while the porters grabbed the luggage.
We were ushered into the entrance where they perform this hand washing welcome ritual
And then taken down the stairs to the check in area for formalities
As a Platinum member, I was given both 500 points and daily breakfast, as well as 2 drinks vouchers. Furthermore, I was informed that I was upgraded from a Pool Suite to a Grand Pool Suite. What’s the difference?
Size, really. The Pool Suites are 86m2, versus 128m2 for the Grand Pool Suite
Both the Pool Suite and the Grand Pool Suites are housed within one large building- as seen in the diagram below .We were in Vana 2. 221 and 224 here are the Grand Pool Suites, and 223 and 222 are the standard Pool Suites. The difference in size can be seen quite clearly here. It appears every Vana has 2 Grand Pool Suites.
The Grand Pool Suite and the Pool Suite aren’t stand alone villas, like the Tropical Pool Villa category I was sort of silly in hoping we’d get upgraded to.
But still, the room was still plenty spacious and wonderful for lazing around in
In front of the bed was the main attraction of the villa- the private pool
I’d have to say the biggest disappointment was the view (or lack thereof). It’s true you can see the ocean from the room, but it’s blocked by the other villas. In fact, when you look down from the pool, you see not the ocean, but a footpath between the villas. When I do the Conrad Koh Samui report you’ll understand how there are ocean views and ocean views…
Nonetheless, the pool was large enough to do short laps and to float our Pizza in. We got a lot of mileage out of that Pizza…
You could also access the pool from a sliding door in the bathroom. The bathroom was huge with a sunken tub that took forever to fill
And his and hers sinks
If I wanted to nit-pick, I could point out that there’s really no reason a luxury hotel should be using no-name toothpaste or cheap, alcohol-based mouthwash. I’ve stayed in mid-priced hotels which give a sizable tube of Colgate with the toothbrush and Listerine non-alcoholic mouthwash. But anyway, at least the bath toiletries were branded…
The toiletries were Panpuri. I’ve never heard of this brand but apparently it’s a big luxury brand in Thailand.
Outside the bathroom, the amenities offered displayed great attention to detail- like bug spray (side note: can we just accept that the only effective mosquito repellent is anything containing DEET? All these citronella-type sprays simply don’t work)
Also a beach bag with a please don’t steal me tag
A knock on the door and in came our welcome gift- some fruit, chocolates and the most amazing cookies I have ever had
Those who know me personally can attest to the fact that I am one of the fussiest eaters who ever lived. I’ve rejected cookies before just because they’ve had almonds in them. So trust me when I say that this blend of chocolate and cashew cookies was the best I ever had, I don’t say that lightly.
When we returned later in the day, we found this nice gift waiting for us…
We didn’t explore much of the property (there is a spa, with outrageous prices, and a gym), but we visited the main pool which is down a long flight of wooden teak stairs at the base of the resort
There were 3 cabanas which are quickly reserved at the start of each day, but we managed to secure one on the last evening which served as great place to flop and listen to the ocean. One interesting thing is that at night, they turn on small lights at the bottom of the pool so it looks like stars!
The pool was never crowded the whole time we were there, I think we never saw more than 4 other people.
Just further out from the pool is the main beach, which had really nice sand. The water level is surprisingly shallow, so you can wade out really far into the sea. Fortunately, although this is technically part of Chaweng beach, it’s more secluded and we didn’t encounter any touts throughout our entire stay.
On to the F&B. Breakfast is served at Kiree, the all-day dining restaurant in The Vana Belle. Surprisingly for such a frequented hotel, it seems no one has bothered to review it on Tripadvisor…
I was really looking forward to breakfast here given the quality of the property but the end result was a bit hit and miss. There is a buffet section, but most of your food is ordered off this extensive ala carte menu
The buffet section had other items like fruit, bread, juices, cereal
Even though the menu looked really promising, the food didn’t really live up to expectations.
The waffles here look good, but were soggy and not crisp at all
Similarly, the omelet in this otherwise artsy photo was overcooked and dry inside.
I did enjoy this traditional fry-up plate though (apart from the fact they didn’t have crispy hashbrowns)
Fortunately, there were all you can eat oysters and a free flow of Prosecco
And nothing says vacation like chocolate cake and ice cream for breakfast. Although the chocolate cake was served collapsed and cold.
The one thing that really stuck with me throughout the stay was how good the service was. I’ve mentioned it before in my quick review of Koh Samui, but it’s worth repeating again-
- Whenever they brought the car around for us to go out, we’d always find 2 chilled bottles of water in the cupholders
- They were good at attending to misc requests, like pumping our pool pizza float, getting me a takeaway box for the rest of the delicious cookies, getting a stopper for our champagne bottle etc.
- Each evening during turndown service we’d find a new snack on the table, plus a new soap for us to try
- The staff were very good at anticipating requests- when we checked out, the car was brought around and waiting for us when the buggy brought us to reception. On our last day, we were asked whether we’d need help deflating the pool float we brought.
Overall, our stay was fantastic and I’d have no hesitation to come back again. Although there are some issues with breakfast, and I do wish we had a villa with a direct ocean view, The Vana Belle is still a delightful place to stay and should be on your list if you’re able to put together the points.
After 3 nights at the Vana Belle, it was off to the Conrad for a very different experience…