Checking In: Centara Reserve Samui

Fresh from a two-year-long makeover, an old favorite on one of Thailand’s most popular resort islands is turning heads once more.

The outdoor lounge area at Salt Society, the resort’s beachfront restaurant. (All photos: Centara)

One of Thailand’s hottest hotel openings over the last year wasn’t a debut per se, but a stylish resurrection of what had been the pioneering property on Chaweng Beach. Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui closed for a total overhaul in 2019, after almost a quarter-century of seaside service, and the spiffed-up resort resurfaced last December as the flagship of a new, top-of-the line luxury brand, Centara Reserve.

Overseeing the transformation was design firm AvroKO, famed for its work at 1 Hotel Central Park in New York, the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, and Temple House in Chengdu, China. This sensational makeover has added pizzazz to the private and public areas and refashioned the lobby into a bright tropical-deco space. The redesign smartly maximizes sea views over Centara’s 260-meter stretch of Chaweng beachfront, not only from two huge pools, but also its bars and restaurants.

And what of the 184 rooms, suites, and pool villas? Some were combined to create bigger spaces, and a new wing was built. I found the uncluttered design very much to my liking: the look was characterized by white walls, tiled tan-colored floors, and furniture in earthy tones, including a comfy couch and a wood-rattan cabinet with a selection of spirits. My Reserve Pool suite had a king-size bed and a private outdoor deck with a plunge pool; the spacious bathroom featured a walk-in closet, twin sinks in marble, and a rain shower. Those desiring more natural light and additional space may want to book the top-floor Reserve suite, whose 127 square meters includes a generously sized terrace with sun loungers and a six-seater dining table. This suite is connected to two smaller rooms, making it an ideal choice for families.

Inside the revamped double-height lobby at Centara Reserve Samui.

The Reserve suite on the top floor of the resort’s main building comes with an impressive terrace.

Dining at the Centara Reserve also impresses. At the Terrace, where guests can take their pick of indoor or outdoor seating, leisurely breakfasts include a choice of mains and the usual eggy suspects from an à la carte menu, while freshly baked pastries, DIY salads, and juices are arranged in a large buffet spread. Dinners at intimately scaled Sa-Nga deliver authentic Thai fare styled as modern tapas, but the standout is Salt Society, the lively beachfront restaurant with a menu focused on ocean-fresh seafood.

A serving of tuna compote at Salt Society.

There’s no doubt that the food here has gourmet leanings, whether it’s the beautifully plated tuna compote with chilled cucumber-ginger soup, whole baked red snapper slathered in chimichurri, or free-range chicken breast with lychee honey and miso-glazed eggplant. Patrons can also indulge on pasta, burgers, and comfort food galore in a knockout setting. The breezy dining room looks out toward swaying coconut palms and the Gulf of Thailand’s shimmering waters; beach chairs and long wooden tables have been arrayed around a central open-air kitchen and mixing station. Overhead, 1750 bamboo rods of varying lengths dangle from the rafters, recalling the ocean waves. The table settings set an offbeat yet elegant tone with cool metallic blue cutlery, sky-blue salt and pepper shakers, and blue-tinged water glasses. Smoothies and juices come in kitschy jugs shaped like pufferfish, conch shells, or jellyfish.

Right beside Salt Society lies the resort’s main pool, complete with a swim-up bar where the bartenders also serve an assortment of nibbles. Overlooking it all is Gin Run, highly recommended for sundowners enjoyed in an octagonal observatory. Mixologists here offer no less than 100 gin varieties, including homemade infusions steeped in basil, chili, wasabi, or fruit.

Elsewhere on the property, there’s also a gym and serene spa; herbs sourced from an organic in-house garden are blended into oils and clays for muscle-melting treatments. Families will be spoiled by the revamped Children’s Zone, which boasts outdoor fountains and lots of splash space, plus a clubhouse filled with tech-free games and books. And when it comes time to cool down with a swim, few places can beat the Horizon Pool. Swathed in manicured lawns dotted with swings and cabanas, it affords front-row views of the gentle surf and the uninhabited offshore island of Ko Mat Lang.

Doubles from US$272;

Overlooking the beachside main pool and its swim-up bar.

Salt Society at twilight.

Approaching the main entrance at Centara Reserve Samui.

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