Conrad Koh Samui Amazing Hotel, Less Then Amazing Service
Asiana a380 Seoul to Los Angeles
Visiting Thailand and the island of Koh Samui
As part of our around the world trip we decided to go to Thailand and the island of Koh Samui. Since I’m a sucker for Conrad Hotels, we chose to stay at their property. Over the years we’ve been spoiled at other Conrads in Bali, Maldives, Singapore and Hong Kong to name a few. Basically over the years, I’ve gone to their website looked at the hotels in their portfolio and tailored my vacations around them. That’s how much I love this chain. Granted because it’s a Hilton Hotel Group I like to stay at them because I can earn points, use points and get my Diamond benefits like free breakfast, Wi-Fi, upgrades and lounge access. In many cases, the properties are pretty expensive and without my points we’d just not be able to afford to stay at them.
After a very very long trip to get here (if you’re curious about how we got here check out the rest of the trip report) we finally arrived. The view from the check in reception lobby was just as spectacular as advertised. Conrad is located on the Southwest side of the island about 45 minutes from the airport along the coast. Because it’s situated on a very large hillside or mountain if you have to hike it, you have incredible views and virtually unobstructed views. The check in desk is situated at the top of the hill, and surveys all of the resort. Which gives you a glimpse of what the incredibly beautiful hotel has to offer.
The hotel consists of 77 villas (give or take a few), each unit is self-contained with incredible views of the Gulf of Thailand. The resort is set up into levels starting with the 100’s at the lowest part of the resort nearest the gulf and going to the 700’s at the top of the mountain. The 6 -700’s are actually 2 and 3 bedroom villas that are for sale as residences, but I think on occasion they use them as hotel rooms too. That being said the rest of the villas are all the same size otherwise, and have the same furnishings and fixtures except for Apple TV’s in the 300’s and higher, the views and location are what differentiate each villa. We’d picked our room based on reviews at Flyertalk that said that the 300’s had some of the best views and were also unobstructed. Check in itself went smoothly, and since it’s an all-suite property, the room location was our upgrade, and we got the room selection we’d requested, yippee!
After a smooth check in, we were driven to our room in one of the hotel buggies. Sure you can walk but with the steepness of the resort it’s frankly just easier to take a buggy, plus it would probably have taken us 15 minutes to walk there. In general they encourage you to use their buggies since the resort has so many levels and with the actual terrain you’d be in for the stair climber of your life otherwise.
Upon arrival in our villa I was immediately impressed by the view and the actual space as you’ll see from the pictures below. I was just overwhelmed by the location, the view and the sheer size of the pool. What I was not impressed by was the walk through of the hotel room by the check in agent that drove us down. I know this makes me sound incredibly petty, but at this type of resort and this type of property I expect that kind of service. Besides, Conrad’s are known for this type of service. I’ve been well trained by all the other locations that take great pride in walking you thought the amenities of the room. Basically what we got from the host was “here’s the closet, bathroom, bed and TV” and that’s about it. Since the room itself has so many features and amenities, it would have been nice to get a better run down. For example what the TV could do, where the fridge was, what services and amenities you could order via the supplied iPad, Apple TV, heating/AC, how and where to call for additional services like the buggies and most importantly where do we eat/drink have happy hour. Again I may sound like I’m nitpicking but this hotel brand is all about service and special features and we got none of that when we were shown our room. Oh and that fact that they charge what they charge, check out low season and you’d be lucky to pay under $800/night. On points this hotel is a category 10, the highest points cost they have. What I’m saying really is the way the hotel is presented with the opulence it has, the private pool in every villa and the incredible bathroom . So you’d just expect a little more from the host. On a side note this was our 10th anniversary, and hotel management did go above and beyond and congratulate us with fresh rose petals and two swans on the bed, that was pretty darn cool.
On the technology side, we had Apple TV, now I have no idea what it really does, but it was out internet router and we had mega fast wireless internet speed. Even out by the pool. Additionally the TV had service menus for the spa, room service and a list of the daily schedule for things to do around the resort. Even though we had this information on the TV it turned out that it was incomplete, the room service menu for example was just the menu from the Thai restaurant and they actually offered a much larger menu for room service then the TV listed. We found this out when we spoke with the General Manager and found out that the room service menu was much more robust. It turned out we were missing a very large printed menu in our room (one of many things missing we discovered). Same for the Spa menu on the TV sure the menu was there but you literally had to stand in front of the TV if you wanted to read descriptions and details (as we were told to do by the front desk and spa host). Really? We asked if there was supposed to be a menu printed in the room and were again directed to the TV, finally after five calls, yes five calls because nobody understood us and kept pawning off our request to someone else we finally got someone to deliver a spa menu. Again we were later told this was supposed to be in our room, but since nobody understood us we were unable to communicate our questions. We also were provided with an iPad concierge. This device was supposed to be your way to order things, such as room service, spa treatments, turn down service, pillows from the pillow menu and even alternative bath amenities. In theory a really cool device, but again it was not working when we arrived, and after one night when we called to get help, the person on the other end didn’t understand what our problem was and directed us to log in via the iPad, which was the problem we couldn’t. So they sent down a staff member to “fix” it, but he couldn’t either and was unable to communicate with us as to why it was not working, so ultimately it didn’t get fixed. But that being said by some miracle the next day it was working, we have no idea why, but it just started to work.
It just was a little frustrating that on two accounts in less than 24 hours when we needed help we were unable to get our point across and neither was the person on the other end of the phone. Besides the missing spa menu, room service menu and for one day our iPad, we were also missing any sort of writing implement beach bag and laundry bag. All signature items that ALL Conrad’s usually provide the hotel guests for use during your stay. It just seemed like the previous guest did a great job of pilfering the room, and the staff forgot to do a room check. I know this makes me sound petty yet again, but I’ve been beaten into submission by the Conrad standards they offer at each resort I’ve stayed at. Over our stay we constantly kept finding things that were supposed to be in the room that weren’t and having to call for them. Not the worst thing in the world, but I just expected a little more attention to detail.
Above and beyond the supplied bath amenities, you could also order four other varieties
The hotel has five restaurants and we only partook in two of them plus room service. Overall what we did eat was good, if not expensive. I get that we’re at a resort so they can and will charge what the market will bear, but when I can get the same drink for example at a restaurant offsite for 80% less than the hotel something is wrong. Beer on property was close to $10 each and offsite $2, water was $10 onsite and $1 offsite. I know we’re on an island but it’s not like the hotel WAS the island and you couldn’t go somewhere else. It just was slightly ridiculous. That being said we did eat at the resort, and didn’t have a bad meal they were all good.
As for breakfast, it’s only served at Zest from 6:30-10 daily but it’s also open for lunch and dinner too. We ate breakfast hear every day and most nights for dinner. As a Diamond we’re provided complimentary breakfast for two (or you can pay something like $40 each). At some hotels the free breakfast is pretty sad and pathetic, but here it was quite the opposite as you can see from photos below. In fact the spread here was pretty amazing. Made to order eggs, pancakes and six varieties of eggs benedicts. Plus a whole host of fresh breads, pastries, fresh jams and jellies. Then you had a fruit, meat and salad bar plus a well-stocked library of other items. Plus for those that like congee and noodle soup they had a fresh noodle station with meat and vegetables and all the sides to add on, it was epic for me. Lastly they had a hot station that included fried rice, a meat dish of some sort, bacon, beans and some other western option (these rotated daily). On the drink side they had a whole menu of teas, coffees and espresso drinks (just not mochas…boy I missed those) plus fresh squeezed fruit juices and smoothies. Again it was all very very tasty. The only hard part for us at breakfast was ordering “off” the menu. For example since they don’t serve mochas, trying to explain what that was or what was in it was comical. That’s fine and all I don’t speak Thai, but when we did get something we did like we had no way of re-ordering it, because nobody knew what they made us, and we had no way of explaining. Beyond that my wife likes egg whites (they cracked fresh eggs and separated the whites) go Conrad!!! But she also likes them really well done too, and every day that was hard to explain, even if the same cook was at the egg station. Lastly they had pancakes made to order, and toppings in front of the station. We asked for Nutella pancakes, and got a big bowl of Nutella and no pancakes. Sure I like Nutella but I want the carbs to go with it. If we just wanted the standard items that were already out for your selection or you could point to it on the universal menu you were good. Otherwise we seemed to inevitably have some sort of communication barrier.
As for the other bars and restaurants we frequented, we did hit up the pool bar Azure a few times and it was good. They had pizza, burgers and some international cuisine. They had table service and also served at the loungers in the water and at the daybeds which were never busy. Lastly we went by the lobby bar almost nightly for happy hour mainly because they offered ½ price drinks which made them a pretty good deal. But the happy hour was only on certain mixed drinks and beer, so for the non-alcoholic drinkers like my wife, you were out of luck and still paid upwards of $12 for a single iced tea. Sure again this is a resort, so I get it. But newsflash not everyone drinks booze and since your hotel doesn’t serve any water for free besides at Zest during breakfast. At all other times you had to purchase bottled water. Oh and BTW the water in the hotel room in not potable, how do you like them apples. Of course that just means you bring the bottled water they offer in the hotel rooms when you wanted to go anywhere on premises. I don’t want to sound cheap but to charge for drinking water is a little on the insane side. I’m still not 100% sure what restaurants serve happy hour and at what times, since it seemed depending on the day different places supposedly had it or just who you asked gave different answers. We went to the Lobby Bar, but Azure and apparently Aura served it too, but the hours were not the same at all three places so be sure to check and check again.
My main other gripe was the speed of service or really lack thereof when it came to ordering drinks, be it happy hour or just at mealtime. Meals were always prompt and tasty. For example happy hour at Azure and Lobby Bar were never busy, say 4-6 people and we were 2 of them. On average a drink took 10-15 minutes to get after ordering, I was convinced that they made them somewhere in the bowels of the hotel but that was not true. They were made at Zest 40 feet from the Lobby Bar or at Azure right where you were so it was never about having to trek to hell and back to bring you your drink. In one case it took us 50 minutes to get a drink and that was after I had ordered my second one and my wife was still waiting for her first. We assumed they forgot, so when I got my second drink I asked for the bill and magically hers showed up and so did the bill having charged us for her drink. Needless to say I was annoyed. I would have been glad to flag someone down to ask them where her drink was but there was nobody to ask till the server came buy 40 minutes after my first drink to see if we wanted anything. This just sort of became the norm and we sadly got used to it. I don’t mind waiting for anything when it’s busy, I’ve been to bars in Manhattan and San Francisco where it’s just crowded and you wait your turn, but seriously 15 minutes to receive a drink when you’re group is 1/3 of the whole bar? It’s not like it was busy or that I was ordering a complicated beverage.
As a resort if you’re looking to do nothing this is a great place. The room is spectacular and the pools are too. If you’re active and want to do something besides get a tan or drink, this may not be the place for you. Sure they have beach volleyball and a gym, plus yoga and such. But I never saw anyone doing that kind of stuff. It was just quite. The hotel is isolated and so getting to the closest town Lamai takes about 20 minutes one way. The hotel does offer several free bus trips a day, with the last return being 6 PM, otherwise a taxi back to the hotel was about $20-25. Be sure to make a reservation there and back otherwise they don’t go. We went to Lamai once and that was enough for us. You could get some snacks and drinks at the store and some cheap souvenirs or sit by the beach. Since we wanted to relax all we needed from town was beer, water and a few gifts. The shuttle also went to Chewang where the airport it. It’s and an even bigger city with more touristy stuff. It took about 45 minutes, and again reservations were needed with the last pick up being 6 PM too. What I’m trying to say is that there’s not a lot to do, but for us that’s what we wanted so we were happy.
Besides this they had a boat that would take you to a local “deserted” island it went three times a day and was worth one trip for us. The island was fine, nothing special and not deserted. The water and sand were great nothing to see in the water though if you wanted to snorkel. But the trip was fun if not just once during your visit. On our trip out we saw a tornado touch down in the water, it was amazing. Other than a beach, sand and water there was not much else to do, so bring stuff or just hang out. On our trip, there were three other boats with tourists so deserted it is not, but that didn’t make it less desirable.
In both cases these events were free, just make sure you reserve in advance since the seating was limited.
Overall this hotel was a tough call. Did I love it or hate it? In one statement it was very Yin/Yang. My title says it all. We were here for six days and after two or three days we were ready to move on, but we had a six night reservation, and I really didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of finding a different place to stay. In the end on day six we came to the conclusion that four days here was enough and we should have just planned better. The hotel itself is incredible. The pictures I’ve seen on many blogs and on their website do it justice. The hotel is quiet, well maintained and just freaking beautiful. In that regard I could NOT have asked for anything more. Even at 90% capacity there was only one day at breakfast that we felt like it was crowded and really it was not that busy. At all other times it was like our own private resort. We spent hours in our pool spying on the other villas pools and save for maybe ½ a dozen times we never even saw anyone in their pool, so frankly I can only assume people were out sightseeing or huddled in their rooms doing who knows what. This part of the resort was exactly what my wife and I needed. So for that part I give the hotel very high marks. But on the other side was the service as I’ve mentioned a few times already. We just had a hard time communicating and getting our point across and in many cases the staff had the same issues with us. Again I don’t speak Thai so that plays a large part to the complaint. But I also expect some of the staff to speak English, I mean I’m staying at a US based hotel chain which at all of their other Asian properties I’ve stayed at (Bali, Maldives, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo) I’ve never had this kind of challenge. Sure there were some, but they were few and far between, which made most requests that could not be done on the iPad or by pointing at a menu difficult to say the least. I know I’m not in America I get that, but this is not my first time abroad. I’ve been to over 50 countries on 5 continents, so I get around. I guess I just expected more based on the reviews I’ve read and on previous encounters with this brand. Familiarity usually play a great role in most things right?
There is one major kudo I have to mention though, and this was the General Manager. I will not use their name here, but I imagine it can easily be found. On our first day while we were lounging by the pool at Azure, he walked by us and said hello. He was heading to lunch and introduced himself and said if we had anything please ask for him or leave him a message. Sure nice touch. But it gets better. On day two he sees us at the Lobby Bar, and at this point I had not made any complaints to anyone about what we had experienced so far but he asked us. So we obliged. We listed off the three or four things that were hinky already and he was appalled. He asked our room number and then sent someone to investigate. That night those issues were squared away before we came back from dinner and later he acknowledged that the items we asked about and thought should be in our room were in fact missing and had been replaced/addressed. Again he was doing his job and took care of us. So on our last day, I was finally happy to be leaving, I tweeted Hilton and said something about the amazing hotel and subpar service. That day I got an email from Hilton inquiring what was wrong. I sent them a long note listening all the stuff that was just not right. I’ve mentioned the majority here but there were a few more. This is where the GM earns his paycheck. A few days later we get a call in California from him asking us about our complaints and apologizing for how we felt about staying there. I was blown away. I had not asked for a call from him, I just wanted to tell Hilton how I felt, and to get a call back was classy, seriously. He went so far as to provide us a credit for all of our hotel spend, which too was incredible to say the least. We used points for the stay, so he refunded us for all of our other expenditures. I never expected this nor asked for it. I just wanted to tell someone that I expected more and was looking forward to my 10 year anniversary and making this trip special and how the hotel was amazing, but the service not so much. This gesture was amazing, and for that I’m appreciative and feel that if I must give the GM and Hilton’s Twitter team credit for their follow up.