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Perched above a coral cove on Koh Samui, Samujana is one of the Thai island’s most celebrated real estate developments.
Aimed exclusively at the luxury end of the market, it is best known for its spectacular location, which allows for some of the island's most jaw-dropping vistas. Also notable are its personalised service and high architectural ideals courtesy of award-winning designer Gary Fell of Gfab Architects.
Since the completion of phase two in 2015, Samujana has become popular not only with savvy investors but also as an enviable venue for upscale family holidays, intimate parties and even as a celebrity bolthole.
While each of the 27 villas are desirable, Villa 28 is one of the stars of the show. From the boats on the horizon to the beauty of its immediate surroundings, the six-bedroom property boasts some of Koh Samui's best views. It was for this reason that British software company owner John Chartres made the decision in 2015 to invest in his own slice of paradise at Samujana.
Tell us a little about your background and your previous experiences with property investment.
I spent most of my formative years in the Royal Air Force before leaving in 1990. Since then I’ve primarily worked in programming and founded a software company, which works with very large retail opticians mainly in the US. That success has allowed me to buy a few properties and a boat.
Two of the residential properties in the UK are in West Sussex, which is convenient as the boat is docked at Brighton Marina. Obviously, a boat is not an investment, you’re just spending a lot of money that you’ll never see again! Still, I’ve invested at both ends of the spectrum, so hopefully my properties don’t become boats.
Why did you decide to invest in Thailand?
My relationship with Thailand started about 12 years ago. My wife and I fell in love with the culture and the food. My wife loved going to detox retreats, especially Kamalaya on Koh Samui. I went along a couple of times and just about coped: if nobody mentioned colonic irrigation!
The general manager at Kamalaya told us that a friend of his was managing a resort on the island and we should look. We went up to Samujana on the same day and I remember being absolutely wowed by the villas and the views.
We didn’t go there with the intention of spending USD4m, but by the time we were sat back at Kamalaya the decision had been made. We can occasionally be impulsive, but there wasn’t even any coffee, never mind alcohol, served at the retreat, so it wasn’t a question of us being intoxicated. We just thought it was the right time and basically said “why not”?
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Did you buy Villa 28 solely as a lifestyle investment or were you already thinking about the potential rental yields?
There was never any intention to rent it out. It was to be used as family holiday home. It’s only when we went to a cocktail party at one of the villas and got chatting to another owner that we realised the types of rents we could achieve. He told me that we could probably fetch anywhere up to USD3,500 a night and, well, I thought that sounded good.
I think our property is slightly different to some of the others in that we’ve made some notable bespoke additions, such as the high-tech games room. Guests are now specifically seeking out our villa because of the facilities we offer.
There have even been a few celebrities stop by, including a very famous Chinese actress and model. Wealthy Chinese clients now very much want to stay where these celebrities have visited.
Would you say you’ve designed the interior to suit your tastes as well as those of your guests?
My wife is a natural interior designer. She spends her life pulling out pages from magazines. While we haven’t employed interior designers, we have hired great craftsman to create a unique setting.
We’re not trying to copy a certain brand, but there’s been an eye on who’s staying there. Many of our guests don’t necessarily always want to be out in the sun, which is why is why we wanted to ensure the property was kitted out with the latest gadgets and tech. If guests have had too much of the heat, they can lock themselves away and watch the latest movies in the home cinema.
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What do you think is the villa’s standout feature?
The view from the dining area. In fact, the view from anywhere in the villa. Wherever you sit there’s a stunning view.
I also think that the personalised service and the privacy sets it apart and makes it better than a stay at any hotel. A hotel room is essentially just a bedroom and, unless you want to eat from your lap, you typically must go the restaurant, which you share with everyone else, to eat. If you’re a wealthy businessman or a celebrity – or you’re with someone you shouldn’t be with – you probably want privacy, and that’s what you get at Samujana. You’ve got the kitchen, the staff (maids, butlers and the gardeners) and if you want to self-cater you can. There’s nobody looking in on you.
Had you explored investing in overseas property elsewhere, and do you have plans to expand your portfolio?
Before buying the villa at Samujana we’d taken a trip on a catamaran to the British Virgin Isles with some friends. They were looking seriously at buying property in the Caribbean and we were involved in that for a while. We also looked at Ibiza, so that we could have the boat nearby and stay in a villa when we wanted to use it, but I never found anything suitable in Ibiza or the Caribbean. Looking ahead, there’s no plans to invest in other properties again anytime soon. For now, the villa on Koh Samui – and the new boat – is all I need.
Read next: Why luxury real estate in Thailand remains a solid investment