Chef Tao likes to shop local. Rather than spending hours cooking a duck that will become the main ingredient of a Thai red curry dish, he prefers to pop out and buy a pre-cooked bird.
Our small cooking class – two other hotel guests and I – accompanies him to market and when you're staying on the peaceful western side of Koh Samui, that's not an arduous task. Unlike the east coast, where beachside hotels, guesthouses and restaurants in Lamai and Chaweng stand cheek-by-jowl and the traffic is hectic, it's all quiet on this western front.
Tao is head chef of the InterContinental Samui Bann Taling Ngam, which lays claim as the first luxury resort on the island. Operated as an InterContinental for the past six years, the property has occupied prime real estate on a hillside and along a beach for two decades, with few neighbours. A trip to the Sri Fah market in nearby Saket is a hassle-free affair and our trio are the only tourists present.
Tao buys the duck from a roadside vendor and we follow him as he browses stalls and selects fresh tiger prawns for the green curry, various vegetables and a couple of litres of coconut milk made right before our eyes by a man who shreds the nut and presses the flesh in a rickety machine.
Back at the resort, the cooking class is not too taxing either; at this five-star bolt-hole the staff tend to do the prepping, while all we do is stir in the ingredients and swish in the coconut milk.
Eating the dishes in the Amber restaurant with the most glorious views over what's called the Five Islands is superb. These five limestone chunks, Ko Si Ko Ha in Thai, are off-limits to all bar fishermen (also known rather romantically as "sea gypsies") who live in makeshift houses and guard the valuable birds' nests from poachers – the swallow nests command a high price in restaurants around the world.
The islands are my view as I eat breakfast and later as I have a drink in the Air Bar as the sun sets. It's mesmerising – no speed boats, no parasails or jet-skis, or perhaps I've just come at a very quiet time.
I first visited Koh Samui in 1984 and stayed on the western side – in much humbler digs – not far from the ferry wharf. Decades on, despite rapid growth elsewhere, the Taling Ngam region is still serene.
Although spread over nine hectares of gardens and a kilometre of beach, the InterContinental only has 79 rooms. Getting from hilltop to beach is best done by buggy and staff are always ready to whisk me up to the terrace for breakfast, to the hillside spa for a massage and down to my beach villa, complete with an ooh la la plunge pool, or to nearby Flames restaurant.
There's so much serenity and several gentle pursuits to engage in, such as visiting the spirit house to make offerings, that one wonders why you would ever want to venture out to surrounding attractions. But if you do – as I did when the pink dolphin cruise I was booked on was cancelled due to choppy seas – the resort is close to several attractions that often slip under the radar when folks are on beach holidays.
About 10 kilometres inland are two waterfalls known as Na Muang (one's higher than the other) and a little further to the north is the well-hidden jungle nook known alternatively as the Secret Buddha Garden or the Magic Garden. Here dozens of Buddha and mythical statues are dispersed in the rainforest in what resembles a religious stone kingdom. Quiet pursuits indeed.
Caroline Gladstone was a guest of the InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort.
InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort. See samui.intercontinental.com