Christine Retschlag goes in search of rare sea creatures but finds much more.
The sky is grey, the islands jungle green, the ocean aqua blue, and the dolphins are pink.
I am bouncing through the Gulf of Thailand in a speed boat, past Thai fishermen in longtail craft who punctuate the ocean like exclamation marks.
Nearby, tin and timber fishing houses on stilts are perched on remote islands of rugged rocks and cliffs.
In the distance, a giant white statue of Buddha surveys the scene as I hurtle towards the south of Thailand in search of this country's endangered pink dolphins. So rare are these marine mammals, there's only 150 left in Thailand and Koh Samui is one of the best areas to witness this miracle of nature.
These Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are grey when born but become pink as they grow. They face extinction due to encroachment on their habitat. There are believed to be only 9000 pink dolphins left around the world.
The speedboat punches through towards Khanom, a small town with only one traffic light and best known for its white beaches, emerald mountains — and pink dolphins. But like any animal experience in the wild, things don't always go to plan. It turns out today is not our day for dolphin spotting, so we roar towards our second destination to snorkel the coral reef of Koh Tan.
There are no roads or cars on this small island, but the warm waters are ideal for snorkelling with fish chattering against the reef, a comforting consolation prize on this grey day.
I am staying at the InterContinental Koh Samui Resort, whose dolphin tour is just one of the authentic experiences it aims to deliver to its guests.
Days earlier, I've joined the resort chef and driven through jungle and past villages to the Blue Market on the southeast of Koh Samui in Taling Ngam.
The fertile soil around here is ripe for coconut, durian, mangosteen, basil and pineapple, and the balmy waters ideal for fresh fish.
If I squint into the Samui sunshine, I can almost picture this region just 50 years ago when it was a jumble of coconut plantations with fishing boats dotting the coastline at night like Christmas lights.
We reach the markets where the cement floor is wet and the air pungent from stalls selling fruit, vegetables, herbs, fish and meat.
I spy fat vats of rice and skinny snake beans. There are chicken gizzards being fanned by two plastic bags, red snapper and squid. I crush fragrant lemongrass and Thai basil between my fingertips, and inhale the seductive scent of Thailand.
Nearby, a pumpkin wears the grin of a Halloween mask next to clusters of green peppercorn, other spices and chili. The humidity is so high my skin is as clammy as the catfish still wriggling in the plastic tubs.
Later, I'll join chef back in the resort kitchen where the lobster caught from neighbouring Phuket will be transformed into a sashimi starter and I'll learn how to make an organic chicken curry for lunch. I'll wash that down with Thailand's "new latitude" wines — delicate drops from the Monsoon Valley.
There are 79 rooms dotted around the InterContinental Koh Samui Resort, which is perched on 9ha that tumbles towards the sea
Indulge in a sensual and stretchy Thai massage in the award-winning spa that uses locally-produced Harnn oils; take tea in the Club Lounge; pause in the Inspiration Room; shop in the boutique for 14 carat gold jewellery or Thai-design smocks and frocks; dine in two restaurants or laze by any of six pools.
At sunset, sit at the Air Bar high above the resort overlooking the ocean and sip from a classy and creative cocktail menu.
So revered is this resort, it has been named in the New York Times bestseller 1000 Places to Visit In Your Lifetime .
And those elusive and endangered pink dolphins are another ripping reason to visit.
Air Asia flies direct route from Brisbane to Bangkok with return airfares at around $500, which, combined with a low-cost carrier from a major New Zealand city, may prove cheaper than a direct flight from New Zealand. www.airasia.com
Bangkok Airways has several flights a day to Koh Samui www.bangkokair.com
InterContinental Koh Samui Resort