It was a novel idea. We could pay for a hotel. You see, as professional travel writers on assignment for a magazine or newspaper, we don’t usually pay for our hotels. (We write a lot of travel stories, and if we had to pay all our travel costs, we’d need very cushy bank accounts.)
We were heading to Koh Samui, Thailand (as part of a six-week Asia trip, which we just returned from) and we wanted to visit Koh Tao. We love snorkeling and diving. And Koh Tao – a small island only accessible by boat (a two-hour passenger ferry ride from Koh Samui) – is known for its coral reefs and excellent scuba diving and snorkeling.
Cool factoid: the island’s plethora of dive shops are said to certify more scuba divers than anywhere else in the world.
The difficulty is that there are few true five-star resorts on Koh Tao (though after visiting, we found one that came close); most of the best are considered “three-star.” Since we write about luxury travel, this was proving a problem for us.
That’s when the idea hit. We could just visit the island on our own and pay for our own accommodation. No need to write about it! After researching the best Koh Tao bungalows, we decided upon Sensi Paradise Beach Resort.
Relative newbies in the hotel booking department (since we usually stay as guests of host hotels), we relied on Agoda. Popular for booking hotels in Asia, we discovered this hotel booking site offers prices typically 10 to 20% less than what you can get directly from the hotel.
Usually rooms are the lower category, however. So for Sensi Paradise, bungalows booked through Agoda or Booking.com (another popular hotel booking site) are superior (without balcony) or deluxe (balcony with garden view or limited sea view). If you want one of the ocean-front or full seaview bungalows, you can only book these directly through the resort.
(Just to be clear – we’ve not been paid by Agoda, Booking.com or any other hotel booking site to write anything here.)
The booking process turned out to be painless – for an extra fee, we could even cancel with no penalty – and we eventually landed on Koh Tao and at Sensi Paradise.
Best Koh Tao bungalows?
As it turned out, we were very happy with our “three star” Koh Tao bungalows booking through Agoda.
We had requested a quiet seaview bungalow (deluxe), and Sensi Paradise gave us an almost full-on view of longtail boats plying the bay in front.
Oh sure, our wooden bungalow on concrete pillars was quite rustic and simple, with white tile floors. And the open shower in the bathroom was a cut-out concrete floor with a basic nozzle.
But it was spotlessly clean. And it had everything we needed for a comfortable stay – good air conditioning, a king-size bed with white duvet, quiet location – plus some pleasant surprises, like new gold silk curtains we tied back with a tassle and a welcome vase of fresh carnations.
And there was more. (It’s hard to stop “reviewing” hotels even when you don’t have to.) Free pick-up from the ferry dock (who knew there’d be a gent with a Sensi signboard waiting for guests!), welcome hibiscus drink, slippers and waffle robes, shampoo, soap and body lotion (no conditioner though), free WiFi (though it only worked properly in public areas), friendly staff – even beach mats and beach bag waiting in our bungalow for our use.
A daily hot buffet breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon and other items (great vanilla yogurt!) is also included in the rates at these Koh Tao bungalows. And all for about $100 USD night (including taxes and service charges).
Perhaps some “luxury” hotels could learn a thing or two from Sensi Paradise?
The walk to Sai Nuan Beach
Oh, one thing you should do if you stay at Sensi Paradise is to walk from the resort south along the coast to Sai Nuan Beach. The paved path, with bamboo railings, snakes through the trees, hugging the hillside, and runs through the neighboring Koh Tao bungalows of Charm Churee Villa Hotel & Resort (its colorful bungalows rest on stilts at the water’s edge), then Bamboo Huts resort, before the path finally reaches Sai Nuan Beach.
It’s a brisk 20-minute walk each way, up and down stairs, with great sea views. A bit of a work-out. But that makes a cooling swim afterward back at Sensi Paradise’s pool all that more delicious. (Did we tell you the resort has two swimming pools that look like they could belong to a Four Seasons?)
And Sai Nuan Beach itself is a pleasant laid-back place to spend a few hours.
lead photo Guyon Moree