parallax background

Destinations: Thailand: the Tongsai Bay

12 October 2021
Art: NFT; From 1,000 years to 10 seconds
7 October 2021
Hokusai’s artistic intricacies at the British Museum
13 October 2021

A green paradise under Thai blue skies


A chic, eco-friendly five-star resort on Koh Samui, with its own private stretch of beach and jungle is the tranquil haven we all need


D istance makes the heart grow fonder they say. Distance in this case is a matter not only of mileage but of time. As I sit shivering here in the late November gloom of a UK winter 6,000 miles and eight months are measurable concepts but really don’t do justice to how far away Thailand really feels since my visit in March of 2020, before the coronavirus changed all our lives.

Thailand is a Buddhist nation and, within this religion lies the central truth of Karma. Karma is the law that every cause has an effect – meaning, essentially, that all our actions, whether conscious or not, have results.

Karma – a word that always makes me smile as it evokes an old friend who is deeply into mysticism and the healing power of chakras – underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions.

On all my travels I have never seen this philosophy put into clearer and more holistic practice than at the Tongsai Bay hotel – an idyllic destination on the very north-eastern tip of the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.

Imagine the scene. You’re sailing around said gulf, with nary a care in the world, when you suddenly spy what you deem to be paradise – a virgin beach with surrounding forestry.

Then imagine you’re the owner and chairman of the Imperial Hotel Group with the vision and the wallet to do something with this Edenic location.


You’re sailing around the gulf, with nary a care in the world, when you suddenly spy what you deem to be paradise – a virgin beach with surrounding forestry


Thus it was for the late Akorn Hoontrakul in 1985 who, within seven days of his maritime outing, was the proud owner of his little slice of heaven. For three months Khun Akorn slept on his newly purchased beach all the while allowing the dreams of his ideal resort to coalesce with his vision of a Buddhist-principled building programme.

Not only did he want to ensure the perfect accommodations and offerings in the perfect location but his challenge was an uncompromising desire to accomplish everything without cutting down a single tree or causing any damage to the beautiful natural surroundings.

Two years later and Tongsai Bay hotel opened as the first five-star resort on the island of Koh Samui. Previously something of a backpackers’ hidden nirvana, the island now had an airport and incoming wealth.

Tongsai Bay hotel and its surroundings remain to this day a hidden verdant gem however secluded within their own private cove and beach. While the rest of Koh Samui has become somewhat mainstream, Tongsai Bay retains the impression that it is yet to be ‘discovered’.

All hotels have on-going development to keep them up to snuff and Tongsai is no different. Khun Akorn sold his hotel group in 1993 but retained ownership of his favourite destination.

He oversaw the building of villas and cottages within the grounds but retained the ethos of sustainability. Living under the tagline of ‘where mother nature is the architect’ accommodations were built over rock formations rather than using dynamite and around trees rather than digging them out.


Meandering back to his bed he came across a nocturnal mammal with the fantastically evocative name of Slow Loris


Tongsai Bay hotel remains family-owned with Gob Thanakorn continuing the principles put into place by his father all those years ago. While the hotel remains very much a luxury destination with all that might entail, it truly has an air of familiarity that doesn’t come in the bigger cookie-cutter hotel chains. So many of the guests are repeat visitors coming back for the feeling of welcoming that goes along with family.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with one particular cottage, nestled comfortably into a recess in the rock face with a balcony casting its paternalistic eye over the beach and the frolics, yet with a caressing screen of trees for a touch of privacy. The late Gordon McGuigan and his wife Doris chanced upon Tongsai Bay in 1990 and immediately fell in love with its gentility, serenity and beauty.

The McGuigans thereafter returned every year for up to five months, staying in the same 120sqm cottage with the hotel’s signature ‘bath with a view’ each time. When Gordon passed away the hotel named the cottage in his memory.

We were honoured to be invited to a drinks reception on the balcony of McGuigan’s Cottage and it is a spectacular, commanding position from which to see the sea, sand and sky and to stimulate the senses.

Tongsai Bay’s philosophy of sustainability and eco-credentials continue to this day. Khun Gob had lived and worked at the hotel for a few years before his father’s passing in 2002.

It was when coming home from a night out that the responsibility really inculcated itself though. Meandering back to his bed he came across a nocturnal mammal with the fantastically evocative name of Slow Loris and suddenly he realised that the Tongsai was a safe haven for wild animals living freely.

He has now instigated a company policy whereby staff will be fired if they hurt or kill any animal. So seriously does he take this policy that any dead animal has to be reported and is sent for an autopsy to determine cause of death. If it is deemed that humans have indeed been involved then further investigation will be pursued.


Meandering back to his bed he came across a nocturnal mammal with the fantastically evocative name of Slow Loris


Taking this a stage further and the Tongsai Bay sponsors an elephant sanctuary deeper within Koh Samui. These magnificent creatures have been used as free beasts of burden for generations and are often treated abominably.

Tongsai ‘encourages’ the owners to release them to the sanctuary (often for a sizeable sum of money) after which they can live their years out in peace.

Back at the hotel and the green ethos is underscored by the attention to detail. At every corner of the resort there are recycling bins from the detritus of which the hotel makes fertilisers and cleaning products.

There is a policy in place whereby drinks are only bought from suppliers who use glass bottles and no plastic straws are used – instead lemongrass is used which has the added benefit of injecting a heady citrus note into many a beverage.

This is truly a place to relax and enjoy but, while it is a beach destination, there are no motorised beach pleasures. No motors are allowed within the complex but you can partake of sea kayaking and paddle boarding and snorkelling if you’re feeling energetic.

Alternatively you could just soak up the sun’s warming rays in one of the two pools on site.


Pu has been with the establishment since the very first days and is the acknowledged Queen of Juice


There are 83 rooms, suites and villas on offer at Tongsai Bay. All are contemporary in Thai décor with hardwood floors, vivid paintings and all the usual amenities and are exquisitely comfortable.

These range from the Beachfront Suites up to the exquisite Seafront Villas, the Nang Gong Villa (with the best views on the property) and the Akorn Villa, which is the largest on offer – with a huge terrace, an L-shaped pool and two bedrooms.

The food options are varied, eclectic and entertaining of course. There’s the Po-lad Beach Bistro and Bar serving Thai and international food while Chef Chom, previously a chef to the Thai Royal household, lends his name to a restaurant that allows you to explore regional specialities from across Thailand.

There’s a tapas and wine bar – Butler’s – with limited seating but superb food. As would be expected, there’s also the option of private dining either on the beach, on your terrace or in one of the hotel’s gazebos.


When travel restrictions lift please make an effort to re-patronise these destinations – they’re worth it in spades and the world would be poorer without them


When it comes to breakfast make sure you don’t miss one of the hotel’s institutions. Pu has been with the establishment since the very first days and is the acknowledged Queen of Juice. While providing the most delicious revivifying beverages at dawn’s early light, she also entertains magnificently thus banishing the cobwebs of your previous evening’s festivities.

Then there’s the obligatory Prana Spa, set into the hotel’s natural green surroundings. There are two private spa cottages, each fitted out with two massage beds and two treatment beds as well as the architecture for foot treatments, herbal steam room and an open-air bathtub for floral or milk baths. You’ll already be deeply relaxed from the nature of the welcome to Tongsai Bay but make time for an hour at the spa and you’ll lessen some stresses you didn’t know you had.

The tourism and hospitality industries have been devastated by the coronavirus more than most. When travel restrictions lift please make an effort to re-patronise these destinations – they’re worth it in spades and the world would be poorer without them. Their continuing survival and thriving in the face of such global issues truly would be karma.

It would be easy to get po-faced about a kind of spiritual purity but the world we live in with its current states of conflict, unease and materialism could do with a hefty dollop of, if not necessarily Buddhism, then certainly a greater acceptance of its moral teachings. And those who walk this path, like the Tongsai Bay … I salute you. We could all learn from the Buddha.

tongsaibay.co.th

Words: TG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *