When I arrived in Koh Samui, I was a little bit of a mess. I was coming off of a stressful school year (is there any other kind in the life of a teacher?), finishing a thesis, preparing for a three week trip in a country out of my comfort zone, jet lag of the most extreme variety, and about a three month lack of sleep. And then… I arrived at the Mantra Samui Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand. The second I arrived on site, I knew I had found the perfect antidote for about $90 USD per night. If you’re familiar with Thailand hotel prices, you might think this is pricy. But compared to what you’d get for $90 in the states, or even another resort on Koh Samui (tourist capital of Thailand), this place was a goldmine of the paradise variety. The amount of luxury we got for our buck exceeded my greatest expectations and soothed my tired soul the entire time I was there.
Let’s rewind a bit… I mentioned that the second I arrived ON SITE I recognized perfection. However, the 30 minutes prior to that moment were a little scary. Arriving in Koh Samui, the most picturesque airport I’ve ever set foot in, my friend and I looked for our complementary airport shuttle from Mantra. There was a handwritten sign in the hands of a driver that read “Mantra.” He said that he wasn’t our driver, and passed us off to another guy who didn’t show us an ID, or even our names on a list. We entered a big white van with no Mantra sign, and took off into the black night. Now yes, it might have been our paranoia, but we both got a little scared when he turned onto a very steep hill (felt like a mountain) with no lights, that seemed to twist and turn up, up, up into oblivion. We looked at each other nervously. “Are we being… stolen?” I whispered. And just like that, we arrived in Utoptia. Utopia looks like infinity pool melting into the ocean with a swim up bar and platters of food everywhere, buggies at your beck and that drive you up and down the hill from your perfect, enormous room to the reception, pool, restaurant or yoga studio, and a most beautiful view from my room’s large balcony made for lounging.
I still fantasize about what it felt like to relax into my vacation at Mantra, and I hope I make it back there someday. Here are some tips for you to enjoy your stay, and possibly a few recommendations to the Mantra folks!
1. You will be happy every morning because you’ll head straight to a most amazing brunch. Think unlimited lattes (the iced lattes were to die for!), platters of Thailand’s best fruit (which is pretty much all of Thailand’s fruit, since it was just plucked from the tree), croissants that rival and possibly surpass Paris served with fresh jams, made to order egg and pancake dishes, and an Asian chicken noodle soup bar. Oh, and a pretty amazing salad bar too. Since ‘chicken noodle soup’ doesn’t quite capture it, let me tell you why it’s a big deal. Walk up to the station and someone will meet you there. Choose a noodle from the three types and DO add every vegetable that’s offered. They cook to order with deliciously flavored broth and add fresh, tender chicken drums and/ or pork. And if you’re me, you liberally add red pepper flakes to spice it up. My advice? Go slightly later in the morning to stuff yourself as much as you can in order to skip lunch. If I could experience one aspect of Mantra at home, it would be this breakfast in my house.
2. Breakfast is free, the other meals are NOT. And the good stuff on the menu is pretty expensive. If you want a coffee in the room, it’s around $2 USD. If you want a coke, it’s about the same. There are a few cheap and lackluster options, and the buffets which sound amazing and probably are, will run you about $25-30 a person without drinks. We figured out pretty quickly that when you visit town on one of their shuttle busses, you buy snacks and cheap beverages, and then when you have a hunger pang back at the ranch you don’t have to spend ten bucks minimum to satisfy it. And also: Bring instant coffee, preferably of the Starbucks variety. My other advice is to order what Thailand makes best- THAI FOOD. We were pretty sad about our cheap hotdog and chicken burger. However: We had a fantastic meal from the Thai room service menu (same price to order in room or eat in the restaurant). Spicy king prawns and a glass of red wine for me, tender and flavorful fall off the bone ribs for my friend. The Thai flavors are what made it, and they know their business with their regional cuisine.
3. Transport: Call the main office any time you want a buggy to bring you anywhere, and then be ready within 60 seconds. It’s the easy way to navigate the hill, which is easy enough to walk down but quite a steep climb. The other advice is to book their shuttle to and from Chaweng Beach and Bophut ahead of time. I read reviews about their service being late or unreliable, but we had no problems. Maybe it was because we were there in low tourist season, but the deal is- if you’re on the list and there on time, you’re good to go. Otherwise it will take you a minimum of $10 USD to go the shortest distance from the resort, and MUCH more to go to a beach such as Chaweng. Even better to book a cheap tour such as Tours Koh Samui ($65 a person) which includes transport and a great day out. Otherwise it’s hard to go anywhere from Mantra. But if you’re there for the same reason we were (RELAXATION!!!!) then you won’t mind too much. We were perfectly happy by the pool and in our gorgeous room watching their included movies. Which brings me to #4….
4. Pool: Go- it’s wonderful. It was pretty small, which I saw in other reviews. However, we never had a problem in July during the Thai coup. Maybe in high season it would be different, but they did have their fair share of guests and we always got a spot. We did go early though- it may fill up later in the day or on busy days. You can buy lunch by the pool, but one MUST do is to be there between 11:00 and 12:00 to drink their complimentary virgin fruit juices. Our favorite was the freshly scooped and blended passion fruit mixed with sparkling water. It began an obsession actually. This same drink cost $5 when we bought it ourselves, so the ‘free pool version’ was the way to go. I also remember a delicious strawberry drink. We floated around until we had prune fingers and sunburns.
If we had a little advice for Mantra, first I’d say keep it up! We were sublimely content and rested by the end of the week, which we celebrated at their free cocktail hour. (Saturday from 5:30-6:30pm). The drinks kept on coming and it felt like a goodbye celebration for us. A few other things though: They could definitely benefit from either a bigger pool or a second pool. It also would have been nice for them to have more shuttles to different locations so any trip out wouldn’t cost so much (other than their two provided locations). Third, don’t make it so hard to get affordable food other than free breakfast time. It made me feel like I had no choice but to order expensive food, and while the price of the room was right, I booked this hotel because I’m on a tight budget. Other than that, I can’t give it less than five stars. It was the perfect first week to my favorite vacation, and I wouldn’t have chosen any other place to spend my time.
Thank you, Mantra, for a wonderful week.