For our 20th Anniversary, Philip and I whisked ourselves away to Thailand. To be completely honest, I was a little hesitant at first. I was hesitant because we aren’t those people who need nor do we want to be away from our kids. Actually, travelling with our children has always been something we have loved and enjoyed rather than endured. Neither Philip nor I have ever been ones who have ‘needed to get away from our kids’. I know some parents do who do need the ‘much-needed break’ and that’s okay, it’s just never been us.
So off we went, ready for a few days of rest and relaxation. Total R&R was exactly what we needed, we had both been working very hard and we needed the time to refocus and just engage with each other on another level. I think we got our first taste of relaxation once we nestled into our seats on our QANTAS flight. Yes, we are big QANTAS fans and their service is always to be enjoyed. After a welcome on board drink and the second glass of wine with dinner. The holiday was beginning to take shape.
Our destination, Koh Samui in Thailand. We chose Koh Samui as it holds so many lovely memories for us and the island always delivers the experience it promises. We also chose Vana Belle Resort because of its reputation as enchanting and rejuvenating in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The pictures, places and spaces are breath-taking, there is no mistake this establishment deserves the stars that accompany the name and reviews.
Arriving in Koh Samui is always fun, the airport’s beautiful thatched roof welcomes visitors by the thousands every day. It is a small airport but the friendly Thai service and way of being oozes through every conversation and turn of the luggage belt. Once sorted with our bags, our Vana Belle journey began.
The lovely guy who was responsible for transporting us from the airport to the hotel was at the ready. The beautiful car equipped with chilled water and minted cool towels on arrival was a definite pleasure. Through the night streets of Koh Samui we travelled. But after a big day of travel we were ready to drop our bags and enjoy the comforts we were certain the Vana Belle had to offer. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the welcoming Vana Belle staff and through their relaxed yet professional abilities, we immediately felt like we were at home. As one of the Luxury Collection Hotels, I was impressed by how the staff engaged with us – exceptional training and ‘love for the job’ was ever so evident. This is where our Vana Belle experience gave us something beyond beautiful pictures of the property and all that they offer.
Although we have countless gorgeous pictures (many we have shared on Instagram & Facebook). Our experience lies with the people of the Vana Belle and their beautiful enduring hospitality.
Where does one begin to share the experience we had? Firstly, let me say, thank you to all the staff who made our stay so beautiful. Some were seen and very apparent to us, others were behind the scenes making things happen and although we may not have met you (personally) we know how much work went into every detail and nothing went unnoticed.
First, let me tell you about Tee who is one of the chefs at the Vana Belle. Tee was the culinary genius who instructed us during our private cooking class. He is an exceptional person with a back story that is absolutely captivating. Through his cooking and his delivery, you can tell that family means a lot to him. Whether it be the kindness he shows to the children that come hungry and ready to dive into his food or the quick conversations over the oysters and prosecco that are on offer (yes, they are on offer every morning and every morning Philip and I indulged ourselves…it was hard coming home, we definitely missed that morning routine).
It’s obvious that Tee values his job and his gratitude is felt through everything he does. Getting to know Tee and learning about his life story was a definite highlight for me. Learning from him was something I will treasure through the years.
As many of my friends | readers | followers know, cooking and food play a huge role in my life. Having Tee teach us to cook was exceptional. I loved how he could tell I knew what I was doing simply by the way I cut an onion. He took time and really valued us. He shared his love and knowledge of food and how the ingredients engage with one another in a way that I never truly understood. Tee not only a great chef but leader and friend to many. Tee and his staff made a difference in our stay, they are the people of the Vana Belle.
Now onto Daniel whom I will never forget. Daniel is the ‘Personalisation Manager’ at the Vana Belle. My understanding is that this is a new role that has been created and personally, I think it’s a great role and one that Daniel occupies with exceptional skill and sophistication. Daniel’s job lies in the detail of the guest. He, and his team are there to make your stay beyond what you could imagine – that point of difference that takes you from a great experience to one that you will remember fondly forever, one that you will share with friends and talk about for a lifetime and one that you will crave to revisit. Daniel’s team make the experience so memorable you want to go back just to see how they could ever top what they have just done for you.
Here are a few things that Daniel & team did to make our trip EXTRAordinary:
The Picture: Philip and I went out for our Anniversary dinner. It was a great night, we went to Zazen and the food was simply divine. Yes, I took photos and will be trying to recreate some of the dishes for our family & friends to try. Anyway, whilst we were out one of the Vana Belle staff had placed a photo in our bedroom and it was one taken from my website. I had recently written a very honest article about making it to 20 years. Daniel had taken the time to not only read it but to lift one of the quotes I had included and put it on the picture, framed it and had it placed in our room for our arrival.
“How have we made it 20 years…? By putting one foot in front of the other.”
This gift was possibly one of the more thoughtful gifts I have ever received. It almost brought me to tears. Immediately, I started quizzing Philip, wondering if he was responsible for this thoughtful gesture. Although he desperately wanted to take credit he assured me it was not him. With that knowledge, my mind started racing and I began listing all of the super thoughtful gift giving people in my life. I went so far as to Instagram a picture of the picture, asking people who were responsible for making my night so wonderful. 163 likes & 20 comments later I was still at a loss of who: 1) knew me so well 2) cared about what I do & what I write 3) took the time to create something and get the hotel to surprise me. The next morning Philip decided to email and ask if we could find out who was responsible for this ever so thoughtful gift. The result: Daniel and his team. We were shocked. Actually, gobsmacked more like it. We couldn’t believe how thoughtful someone could be. Additionally, being someone who works predominantly in and through Media and Social Platforms I was once again reminded of the power of Social Spaces.
Now, I must add here, Philip and I have had the opportunity to travel the globe extensively and this is not our first Five Star experience (you don’t get the nickname 5-Star Sue for nothing!). We have had exceptional experiences through Princess Cruises and all they have to offer. Additionally, we have had some hilarious experiences and some that I may share at another time (note to self: write an article about The Mount of Olives hotel in Jerusalem and flashing people who were on pilgrimage).
The Lanterns: On the night we celebrated our Anniversary, following our dinner, the hotel staff created space for us on the beach to light floating lanterns and release them into the air. Floating lanterns are extremely popular in certain festivals in Thailand, and the people consider it good luck to release a sky lantern since it symbolises their problems and worries floating away.
We were given 5 lanterns to release, one for every child and one for ourselves. We decided to light the lanterns, hold them and name each child one by one. As we let go of the lanterns and watched them float high into the sky, we spoke all of our dreams, hopes, fears, concerns and prayers over each child. It was an intense experience and one I think we will both remember for our lifetime.
We decided to use one lantern for us and as we let it go we spoke promises to each other, we named our regrets, the ways in which we’ve wronged on another, our hopes, our dreams about our future together and sealed it with a kiss as we watched that lantern float into the sky. With the last lantern, we spoke about the babies we’ve lost along the way. The little lives that didn’t get to travel the full distance with us. The babies we haven’t kissed or cuddled, the ones who we will never forget and who live forever in our hearts. This experience is one I will hold onto forever.
The Playlist: The following night we went out for dinner again. This time we returned home to another very thoughtful gesture. We opened our hotel room door to a room lit by candlelight. We knew something was up… On our bed was a letter from Daniel (put a picture of the letter in) and beside the letter was a remote control ready to play. The bath beautifully filled with milk, honey and rose petals. It was extraordinary. We pressed play and to our delight, the playlist was indeed filled with songs from 1994 (the year we married). Not only that, but the last song on the list, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, may or may not have been intentional. Based on our previous experiences I have to believe Daniel & team had researched enough to know that faith played a part in our life and this song was the perfect ending to a perfect night.
Again, the people of Vana Belle. They made our experience beyond what was expected and one that we will remember forever. As I write this I think about how intentional and thoughtful they were. How we mattered and they valued us and showed us that in so many ways. I found myself being challenged, wondering if I value those in my world the way the people of the Vana Belle valued me?
Our time at the Vana Belle was not just a stay. It was not just a great stay at a Luxury Hotel with great food and exceptional service. No, it was so much more than that and it was given to us by the people. They taught us not only how to cook beautiful food, they taught us how we should be. They showed us how we should care and they exampled how when you value another their lives are richer and they are inspired to do the same to another. The people of the Vana Belle make the hotel what it is. They do it not because they are trained to do so but because they love what they do and how they impact the lives of the guests.
Whilst on our holiday Philip asked me a great question. He said, ‘Our honeymoon in Kauai, our 10th Anniversary in Paris or our 20th at the Vana Belle – which has been your favourite?’ Yes, he could have included many other countries and many other stays and hotels in that question because as I said earlier, life has provided us with the opportunity to explore much of the beauty the globe has to offer.
For the purpose of this conversation though, we focused on our milestones and our 20th being referred to as a modern-day milestone. My response, “Definitely our 20th. Yes, the other places have been extraordinary and they were great in their own ways. But the Thai people and their hospitality have made this experience rich beyond anything. We will talk of this for years to come and we will remember fondly our 20th Anniversary. Strangely, the experience helped us make our commitment to the next 20 years. That is how the hospitality, love and care of the people of the Vana Belle impacted us so deeply.
Reflecting on our relationship, the rest of our lives and the people who we are constantly surrounded. I am reminded of this quote by M. K. Soni. “A house is made of brick and mortar, but home is made by the people who live there.”