On our lovely frequent drives to Sri Thanu Phanganist had spotted a sign for Bliss Villas, just past the tranquil Hin Kong beach road on the way into the heart of the peaceful vibes of Sri Thanu village.
So Leo Beer made us an appointment with owner Stephane at Bliss, we drove down the track and was immediately greeted with one of those stunning views where the 'wow' just automatically slips out of your mouth even if you're alone...
Hi Stephane, tell us your Koh Phangan story...
I came twenty three years ago in 1993 when there was no road to Haad Rin, you had to get a boat from Ban Tai pier, it was a long time ago.
I was meant to stay for a week but stayed for a month and a half in Haad Rin and have come back about twenty times since and have now been living here for two years.
I saw how the island had evolved during my visits back and had also been on Samui and Koh Tao, Samui had by this time got its airport. I felt that Phangan had kept its nature, possibly because 65% of it is protected but it is still bigger than Koh Tao and feels more relaxed with good vibes than Samui.
I was working in France in the digital industry and would travel in between for a year. Now I am forty five but at first I started with backpacking and then moved to more comfortable travel and destinations so saw more nice villas.
When I thought to change my life I thought about the project I could do here, to give accommodation to a new population of tourists and provide service accordingly. We work with local people with new initiatives and new ideas in order to provide this, people in the food, health or travel industry to give a customised service such as personalised activity packages.
You have three wonderful villas, what is the concept of them?
They are big beachfront pool villas. 450 sqm of living space each, with 3 bedrooms. We have no reception or restaurant here but instead each villa is in between a villa and a hotel. Each bedroom has a safe, minibar and all other hotel amenities, everyday the main bar is stocked and so is the wine cellar and customers can arrange the best times for the villas to be cleaned for them.
With breakfast we do food delivery rather than a set time and some restaurants provide their menu so people can order food to enjoy at the villa as there are many great local restaurants. We also provide in-house massage customised to the needs of the guests. For the kids we have a kindergarten close-by and we can arrange babysitting, we have extra beds, baby cots and high chairs.
One of the main things for me is I didn't just want to build the villas but I also wanted to meet new people. Here, I like to stay around and give information to the guests about the island, it's a more personal service. That is the main idea.
We are also trying to be very much eco friendly, we had local workers and materials, and worked a lot with the local economy except some of the furniture and decoration which doesn't come from Koh Phangan anyway. We collect rain from the rooftops to use for gardening and give free water fill ups rather than plastic bottles for drinking, we also have a heat recovery system for the air conditioning.
One of the villas is already fully accessible for disabled but all in fact can be easily amended if needed, we have large doorways and chairs for the showers.
It looks incredible and very modern, tell us about the design...
It's a touch of Thai but mostly 'modern tropical' with its open air bathrooms that you see in Bali a lot.
They were designed by an architect called M Systems on Samui and they have a flat roof with hammocks and a private sala, which is not so common here, sunken seats lounge area, suspended staircase and an indoor patio and garden.
What have the first guests feedback been like?
We wanted to test the villas first so we did a bit of facebook marketing and we had three groups of guests who stayed here in August, we only opened officially two weeks ago!
The feedback was nice from the people who came, you want the first impression to be that 'wow' effect and at first people are a bit sensitive to the setting but then they notice the pool, the view and then the small details so it's been good feedback so far!
What is good about Bliss being in the Hin Kong/Sri Thanu area?
We have seen the competitors and they have nice villas but usually not very easy access. All around this area it is nice and flat, you can walk and do many things here.
Sri Thanu is evolving fast with more cafes, restaurants and other things all within walking distance.
You have been coming to Phangan for many years, do you like the evolution that's happened?
The only evolution I don't like is Full Moon Party but I understand that it does attract people, although it can cause rejection. Even the real party people don't go to Full Moon, there are so many other more intimate parties to go to.
Koh Phangan still has restaurants where you can lay down, when I was first here none of the restaurants had tables! You can see that the island now has villas like Bliss but also still has cheaper bungalows close by and it's not too overcrowded, there's still coconut trees, nice views and you can be close to nature.
You can now get things like wine, there is a Big C and Makro but no McDonalds so there is a good balance. People are very protective of the island and it can be hard to work here, it makes it restrictive for big investors so it keeps it good and nice.
What do you enjoy in your free time?
My children come every vacation and sometimes friends so I like to spend my time with them. Because we're French we like to eat! Places like Alcove, Belgian Beer Bar and Baobab are nice restaurants and I also like to go to the beach which is why I chose to live on an island with the sea also.
I go diving with my kids, we all saw a whale shark recently! I like a bit of party as well...
And leave us with your life philosophy...
I define myself as spiritual but not religious, I act locally and apply my principles of life around me.
Honesty and trust is important to me: Say what you do and do what you say. My life is a quest for happiness, values of friendship and people I love, tolerance is my main motto.