September 22, 2014
Ignore those purists telling you Samui is getting too crowded. The new Panacea Retreat offers plenty of privacy, and way too much fun for any one person… so Jeninne Lee-St. John brought along five friends. They all suggest you swallow this happy pill.
Published on Sep 22, 2014
I love the beach, but give me a comfortable, kitted-out villa with a view of the sea, and I’m plenty happy to cocoon in it. And yet… “comfortable” and “kitted-out” are dramatic understatements for Panacea Retreat’s enormous, cliff-side, 24-hour-staffed villas. And come to think of it, “cocoon” isn’t quite the right word for how to fully appreciate them. Sure, there’s some cocooning to be done in the downy beds facing floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows and in the round, wicker-wrapped marshmallows at pool’s edge. But there’s also languid breakfasting and sala barbecuing and private dance-partying to be done. And those are just the relatively standard indulgences available in this cluster of five residences on a northeastern-facing point of Koh Samui.
Praana Great Room
Roll in from the airport at night. That maintains the air of mystery for longer. On arrival, you enter a softly illuminated grand salon with what you can just tell will be a sweeping view by the light of day. It seems like a homey reception area until you spy the espresso machine in the full kitchen off to your right and realize it’s actually home. Your home. The top half, anyway. Make your way downstairs for horizon-facing bedrooms and the garden and the 25-meter infinity pool boasting both an in-water bar and an above-water cheeky sculpture by Bill Bensley, who also did the landscaping throughout the property.
Sunrise over Kalya pool
The morning brings all manners of purple (my favorite color) haze—eggplants and violets and magentas detonating from the east. More revelations follow: In the main house, there’s a muay Thai ring, a tennis court, a red-velvet-seated movie theater, a baby-blue billiards-and-cards room, and the karaoke club lounge ostentatiously dominated by a giant fish tank. (This is both decorative and practical: Friends not in the mood for show tunes? Just sing for the sea life!) And if the recreation of your heart’s desire isn’t already on-site, arrangements shall be made. Delivery yoga instruction? Check. Ditto for in-villa massages.
Muay Thai lessons in the full-size ring
We felt like carving up the waves, so activities director Sunny Matklang reserved some Jet Skis and delivered us to the bay. He didn’t have the power to deliver us from the torrential sheets of rain into which we rather thick-headedly drove way out in the middle of the ocean—but Koh Phangan… looked… so… close… We returned drenched and laughingly exhilarated, conquerors of the perfect storm. We also felt like hooting and hollering and getting muddy, so Sunny booked us a quad bike expedition. Rivers were forded, clothing was mucked, gravity was defied. We felt, as anyone naturally would after such effervescent group bonding, like retiring in solitude then reconvening for relaxing drinks and dinner. So our agreeable, mellow residence host and staff asked the chefs for delicious, deceptively simple, fortifying, multi-course, wine-paired meals that they served at our leisure and with only the merest hint of their presence, leaving us free to insta-reminisce about how awesome everything had been and was in the process of being.
Casinos, with their Broadway shows and glittering lights and buffet of resto-clubs and ching-ching-ching of slots, like to call themselves adult playgrounds. But shouldn’t a real playground be about running around with your friends, expending energy outside, not chips indoors? Luckily, if you’ve got some brio to burn, there’s a cure-all for that. Or, I should say, a Panacea.
Panacea Retreat: 51/25 Moo, 1 Bophut Koh Samui, Thailand; +66 77 430 074; panacea-retreats.com. Residences are available from US$1,900 per night for up to eight people, with three-night minimum stay, including a la carte breakfast; premium mini bar; laundry; babysitting; airport and intra-island transfers; and one massage, yoga class and Thai cooking class per person per day, upon request.
Photographed by Richard Mcleish