Sunday, December 14, 2014

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Vana Belle

Koh Samui. Coconut island. We start our return visit with a stay at Vana Belle, new to the classy Select Collection portfolio in 2014 

Vana Belle is an immaculate, rather new Starwood property where you can enjoy your own private pool and a real beach holiday with pleasant bathing in warm turquoise sea. The beach is called Chaweng Noi – not to be confused with Chaweng beach proper.

Chaweng Noi is not a private beach (beaches cannot be declared private in Thailand) but it is quiet and clean, cut off from the longer and more popular Chaweng beaches by a headland. It is undeniably one of the hotel’s greatest assets. Chaweng Noi has a long stretch of sand, and is great for bathing.



Down at beach level the hotel has a restaurant, bar and swimming pool, and this is where you cannot resist spending your time, even though you have your private pool. Along the fringe of the beach the hotel has immaculate sunbed service – offered the moment the attendant sees your Vana Belle beach basket. 

The hotel's beach restaurant  facing the quiet beach with sunbeds, parasols and good beach service

The air temperature at the end of October was over 30 degrees, so a lot of swimming was called for …. And very pleasant indeed though you don’t cool down much as the water is up at 28 degrees C.

Adding colour and authenticity the occasional hawker passes by – non intrusively offering cotton dresses and sarongs. And a couple of massage platforms can be found some 100 m up the beach, apparently run independently by Thai women at Thai prices (starting from 300 baht per hour).

We dined at the hotel beach restaurant for nice food at quite reasonable prices by Swedish standards. But particularly memorable was the Vana Belle breakfast.


Breakfast starts with a fresh tropical zest

As in all luxury resorts we stayed at on this visit to Thailand, the buffet started with delectable papaya, golden and juicy ripe, crimson watermelon slices, bitter sweet pomelo. Then of course frothy cappuccino with croissants and that sort of temptation laid out on the buffet. 

You can also enjoy Asian dinner-type food at breakfast, or eggs and bacon, and other typically European a la carte breakfast items along with the buffet. Finally the contemporary touch – smoothies. We recommend a magical concoction of tasty fluffiness – the soya, vanilla and litchi smoothie. It was so nice that every morning we awoke thinking of the next breakfast and the next delectable smoothie.

We carried it out of the air-conditioned breakfast room onto the terrace to sit in the warm shade, closer to the intense aquamarine sea view.

Views are one of the great charms of Vana Belle, as the hotel is stepped down a steep slope amid greenery, facing beach and sea.

The lobby is splendidly open with pillars and arches, and a glass house perched next to lovely ponds with lilies, elephant sculptures and the blue sea beyond. It all gives a sense of place. This is Thailand as you want it to be – gracious and graceful, open and relaxing.


The lobby with its Thai details

...and view

Rooms with a view - and a pool

The first two nights we had a deluxe pool suite. Our infinity edge pool was on a terrace with an open front – and a view over greenery to the sea.

Comfortable. Sleek, contemporary, well designed. Everything you need in that deluxe pool suite’s 86 square metres. Your dressing room and suitcases happily hidden away, and the rest of the suite delightfully open plan with the long double vanities and the cream marble bath given a view out over the two queensize beds.

From bed a lovely view of the sunrise over the sea.

But then we moved to an Ocean View Pool Suite, and there was something more than contemporary charm. There was Wow!

A combination of a bigger pool, with sunbeds embedded in the water, along with a wider and more open view, a bathtub on the terrace where we just had to bath in the darkness, listening to the sea. The bathroom moreover had a dressing table where you could blow dry your hair by the mirror – sitting, and there were his and hers cupboards with places for his and hers suitcases. While his and hers vanities looked out at the sea. 

A pool with a sea view

A bed with a sea view

A bath with a sea view . Sunken sunbeds with a view...
It was all so delightful that when I awoke at 5am, instead of floating off back to sleep in the very comfortable five star bed I made myself some (complimentary) tea and took it out to the coffee table embedded in the pool beside the sunbeds. Early morning tea is an enjoyable ritual. But now it was truly magnificent. Sitting over the glittering water as the sun rose, viewing a big tropical tree with big rubbery leaves, a glimpse of the creamy sandy beach, and then the sea…

After that – to wonderful breakfast.

Another highly desirable accommodation is the Tropical Pool Villa with access to the sandy beach, and a spacious 211 sqm. Altogether there are 80 pool suites and villas.

Facilities


Spa, gym, two restaurnats, Lobby Lounge.

Things to do


Well if you need some summer clothes to deal with the heat of Thailand. The endless shops of Chaweng are only a 400 baht taxi ride away.

The Chaweng shopping centre is a little basic when it comes to the design of its concrete structures, but does house some designer shops a stone’s throw away from the market and all its noise and cut price wares.

The long one way shopping street feels more authentic, even if a little noisy at times with moving adverts as vans drive down with music loud and voices announcing about a disco or other delights.

Plenty of restaurants and bars here, offering traditional dishes from as little as 80 baht. Stalls offering crepes with bananas and cinnamon offer another delicious absurdly low priced snack.

I discovered an excellent hairdresser (adjacent to McDonalds) who offered a lie flat chair for the hair wash. Not surprising in the country of massage, she also gives your head a massage while washing. She could speak English, used nice products, and was an expert in shaping with a blow dry.

Meanwhile you could be shopping for attractive long dresses that can be worn night and day – from a mere 500 baht. Or Israelii designer clothes with plenty of attitude.

Getting home to the hotel is not a problem as taxis glide down the shopping street all evening. Prepped by the hotel to say 400 baht we found no opposition from the taxi drivers, rather an enthusiastic yes. Obviously many people haggle with them for lower.

For the active: The Lad Koh Viewpoint, a 3-minute drive from Vana Belle, offers breathtaking sunrise and panoramic views. Hin Lad Waterfall is reached by 2-km jungle path from the main road to the waterfall. You can also book boat cruises out to nice snorkeling reefs, elephant trekking, temple tours. The 12m tall golden statue Big Buddha is the most famous of the sights.


How to get to Vana Belle

15 minutes by car from Samui International Airport. Our flight with Bangkok Air came from Bangkok, where we landed with Thai.


Who to stay

People who want a beach holiday in an immaculate suite with pool, away from the hub, yet within reach of shopping and local dining. There are many steps up and down. Though it seems you can reach everything by buggy, including the beach restaurant, it does seem better suited to those who enjoy exercise.

Panpuri amenities

In a nutshell


New, serene and smoothly contemporary Starwood hotel with friendly staff, and a lovely public beach where you really feel like spending time on sunbeds, at the pool, the bar or the beachside restaurant.


PS. The beach massage parlour.

We did try them and we did find language barriers in directing the massage. I also found my masseur who doubled up as manicurist needed glasses – never did I have such a shaky manicure. But overall with those low prices it was a fun experience.

Some 100 metres down the beach from Vana Belle, the coconut roofted massage parlour offers a rustic and picturesque setting
Images: Aleah Stanbridge Photography and Select Collection. First beach image by Vana Belle.

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