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Melia Koh Samui opens with Thai rice boat villas

Brand new resort Melia Koh Samui has repurposed 100-year-old Thai rice boats into luxury poolside villas. Carolynne Dear drops anchor for a sneak peek.

Boats bobbing outside the new Melia Koh Samui resort.

A century ago, merchant vessels laden with rice dotted Bangkok's Chao Phraya River, a busy waterway that was often referred to as the 'Venice of the East'.

Thirty of these barges have now found dry dock on the island of Koh Samui at the newly opened Melia Koh Samui resort. The boats have been repurposed as two bedroom duplex suites with modern luxuries including polished wooden floors, soaking tubs and double showers. And these days, their water views are of Choeng Mon Beach and the Gulf of Thailand, or the resort pool, rather than Bangkok's busy thoroughfare.

The Chao Phraya River starts in northern Thailand at the confluence of the Ping and Nan rivers; the Ping river coming from a Myanmar-bordering mountain range and the Nan originating from a mountain range that straddles northwestern Laos and northern Thailand. The river flows through Bangkok and eventually empties into the Gulf of Thailand. Hundreds of rice barges once carried this important commodity from the central plains of Thailand to the capital.

The meticulously restored 'boat suites' at the resort.

Converting these working vessels into sleek holiday accommodation was no simple task. The decayed teak wood structures required extensive refurbishment and the resort had to recruit experienced craftsmen to painstakingly repair and restore the boats.

Old, decayed wood was cut out and replaced, piece by piece. The strakes of wood that run the length of each boat in the keel were carefully repaired, as well as the intricate ribs that support the hull and give the boats their shape. The craftsmen used a traditional concoction of rubber oil and red lime with cotton rope to seal joints, gaps and holes.

"These boats were built to last due to the great strength and durability of the teak wood as well as the craftsmanship initially invested in them," said Melia Koh Samui general manager Ernesto Osuna. "We turned to the tried and tested methods of the shipwrights to provide the sturdy foundation of our boat suites, that really are one of a kind."

Inside one of the two-storey boat suites.

The boat suites are now part of the 159-room and 41-suite beachfront development, which is just 15 minutes from Samui airport. The boat suites are part of accommodation portfolio offered at The Level, an upgraded 'resort within a resort' that boasts a raft of exclusive benefits including a private lounge, evening cocktails, afternoon tea and spa discounts.

Further nods to the accommodation's seafaring past at the resort include marine-inspired accessories and home decor for sale at The Gallery. Pieces are created by Thai designers and artists and are sold on a not-for-profit basis with the goal of improving the lives of local Thai communities.

"We commissioned artists who created sculptures, installations and paintings that provide captivating stories of a way of life that sustained many in Thailand for centuries. They've come together here at the resort to help tell our boat story," said Osuna.

For guests who want to find out more about the boat story, there's a display of miniature boats and a timber map of the Gulf of Thailand in the lobby that explains the history of the boat suites.


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