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No journey through Thailand is complete without wild tuk tuk rides, shoeless temple visits and elbow-to-elbow shopping in local markets. After all that adventure, an extended stay on one (or more) of Thailand’s scenic islands is a good plan, and I found Koh Tao’s Charm Churee Villa to be the ideal resort for relaxing and recharging.
Though the 120-acre property is just a 10-minute shuttle ride from the island’s ferry terminal, Charm Churee’s lush foliage and cliff-side location make it feel worlds away from the other hotels in the area. The resort offers 104 suites and guestrooms, most of which have ocean views. Meandering paths and staircases through the tropical forest surroundings lead to restaurants, reception, beachside spa bungalows and more — lizards and other creeping fauna come with the territory.
Jansom Bay, a beautiful cove with inviting blue waters and enough sea life to entertain snorkelers for hours, is undoubtedly the epicenter of the resort. Sunbathers lounge on reclining chairs, complimentary masks and snorkels are ready at hand and the Elvis Beach Bar & Restaurant, set just behind the white sand, offers an array of casual eats and drinks for hungry guests.
The cove also boasts its own PADI dive shop, where eager dive guides are happy to set up shore or boat dives into the island’s renowned waters. Calm currents and an array of wildlife have made Koh Tao a hotspot for both master and novice divers. Sting rays, large schools of fish, turtles, seals and sharks are common sightings, and night diving is also an option.
While Charm Churee’s outdoor spaces are remarkable, the charm of its accommodations can make it difficult to leave the room, let alone change out of your pajamas. My spacious Sunset Cottage room showcased the natural beauty of its setting at every turn via countless windows and glass doors. From both the canopy bed and the shower, I could see the rippling waters of Jansom Bay. From the perfectly placed lounge chairs on the patio, I watched swimmers paddle to and fro as the water changed colors at dusk.
Additional rustic details kept the space from feeling overly fancy. A mosquito net draped over the bed kept me bite-free at night, and small gaps under the doorway allowed an occasional, harmless critter or two to visit. Bamboo siding, colorful tapestries, thatch roofing and ornately carved wooden furnishings made for a cozy but chic atmosphere.
When an exploratory mood strikes, guests can take a brisk coastal walk past snack shops and souvenir stands to the main road. From there, it’s easy to walk or rent a bike to reach the more bustling and touristy Sairee Beach. Some visitors opt to rent scooters, but novice drivers should beware the bumpy roads. Cabs can also be called, though they are the more expensive mode of transportation on the island.
On my last night at the resort, I reserved a table just before sunset at the on-site Chaba & Starlight Restaurant, where the circular outdoor patio juts out over the ocean and guests sit on triangular Thai floor cushions. As I munched on delicate Thai noodles, the sun sank below the horizon and I breathed in the night air with a keen awareness that, someday, I would make it back to this very spot.
Many visitors arrive to the area via plane then transfer to a ferry. Koh Samui is about a one-hour flight from Bangkok, and from there guests take the one-hour, high-speed ferry to Koh Tao.
Another option is to take the ferry from Chumphon, which departs twice daily. The trip is about one-and-a-half hours.
From Bangkok, Chumphon is accessible via a six-hour car ride, 10-hour train ride or eight-hour bus ride.
Charm Churee Villa will supply a complimentary shuttle to all guests from the Koh Tao ferry terminal.