Well here we are again! Another year has come and gone. If you’re lucky enough to be reading this then you’ll have already cast off the slings and arrows of courageous winter. Samui’s dark skies and lashing rain have now faded into a calmer, gentler outlook. So let’s hope your outlook is filled with sunshine, too!
It’s quiet this time of year. The rush of Christmas and New Year’s Eve has ended. But it will soon be time to gird your loins once more! Everyone over here just loves a party and we celebrate no fewer than three New Years. The next one to come around is the Chinese New Year on the 8th of February, and the place to be for this is either Nathon or Maenam, both of which have extensive Chinese communities.
But of course there’s another special day coming up on the 14th of February. And if you take a look at the pages inside you’ll get some hints and tips about where to go for those Valentine spa treatments. Have fun!
BIG, BOLD, BEMUSING
Big Buddha challenges you to look beyond the superficial.
Big Buddha tends to surprise first-time visitors. Even shock them. No matter how many times you’ve visited temples, it’s not what you expect. If you’re used to temples that are generally quiet, and good places for meditation, then Big Buddha will prove to be very, very exceptional. It’s not just the most visited temple on Samui, it’s also the island’s most visited tourist spot. It’s extraordinarily popular, yet most holidaymakers who come to see it fail to appreciate what it’s really about, and instead get sidetracked by all the distractions.
Big Buddha was built in 1972, on what used to be a very small island, Koh Fan. To get to it, you had to wade out or go in a boat. Later, a causeway was built, so nowadays you just drive across it and never realise this was a place set apart. The causeway is a narrow strip that sees a lot of traffic. A few people make the journey on foot and if you do, you’ll realize that it’s a great spot for taking photos of the island’s north coast. It’s particularly fine in the evenings, when you can experience beautiful sunsets, or in the cool of the early morning.
Tranquillity and bliss on tap, at Tamarind Springs Forest Spa.
As you approach the entrance and reception area to this award winning spa, just off the ring-road on the outskirts of Lamai, something magical begins to happen. You feel yourself entering another place, in another time. Here calmness and relaxation begin to blanket you, relieving any stress or anxiety you might feel. You are encouraged to put away phones and cameras and just be, breathing in the awesome natural beauty of this very special, very peaceful place. The site itself is situated on a beautiful hillside forest grove, with giant granite boulders and natural streams. The resort has been developed slowly, and with great care for the sustainability of the natural environment. This is truly a destination for spa lovers, massage enthusiasts and travellers. Anyone in search of the ultimate in relaxation and tranquillity. Great care has been taken to allow visitors access to the diverse tropical environment, but also to preserve and protect it from more destructive alterations. This eco-vision has been accomplished without imposing on any of the intrinsic natural beauty. Expect to experience a uniquely sensuous environment, where sight, smell and sound combine to heighten the experience of ‘sabai’ (the Thai word for feeling relaxed and happy).
Chef Martin Selby’s straightforward approach to food yields heavenly delights at The Larder.
Once upon a time, some people seemed to think that anything and anyone even remotely connected to British food culture wasn’t quite up to par with the French or the Italians. But now that’s all changed, and Britain is definitely a world leader when it comes to cuisine. Britain also produces great cooks, too. Needless to say, their dishes don’t have to be British in origin, nor do they have to use products that grow only in the chill, watery British climes. They’re influenced by Europe and the world beyond.
Martin Selby is a young chef who started off learning his trade in England, and has evolved a philosophy of simplicity, one that stems in part from his background and early days. He comes from Grantham in the UK, an area unfamed for gastronomy, yet surrounded by magnificent farming territory. He learned to trust his roots, even at a time when British food wasn’t exactly en-vogue, and when French styles were looked to for inspiration. He recalls that when he was first training, he really needed to have a good command of French.
From its panoramic hillside perch, Dr Frogs offers a fine dining menu to match the amazing views.
Few restaurants have everything going for them: location, great food, and a wonderful ambience. Critics may debate forever how they got that way, how much a part sheer luck played, or unremitting hard work, or the configuration of a dream team. But at the end of the day, it’s the guests’ pleasure that’s all-important. And Dr Frogs has a great many satisfied diners. People like to come back, again and again. It’s a triedand- tested restaurant, one of those places that’s extraordinarily good at what it does.
In charge of the restaurant you’ll find a veritable Italian maestro, Massimo Marianni. He’s an affable figure, and one of those professionals who make everything look very easy. In reality he’s a master of both classical and modern Italian cuisine – and of course, everything in-between. He started out as a humble kitchen helper when he was just 15 years old. He worked in the storied Via Montenapoleone, one of the hippest streets in his home-town of Naples, and the centre of its fashion industry. He’s been on Samui for 14 years, and has spent the last six heading the culinary team at Dr Frogs.
Newly-opened Pink Elephant Samui Water Park wows not just children but adults too.
Water! It’s one of the reasons you’ve come to Samui – to enjoy swimming in the bluest of seas, and all the while enjoying the heat and the endless sunny days. You might think that being on an island there’s enough sea for everyone. There is, but the sea isn’t for everyone. Or at least not everyone all the time. So there are swimming pools too – hundreds of them. Seen from the air, Samui is liberally dotted with them, and unless you’re in the centre of the island, then there will be one close to you. In all probability if you look up from this magazine, you’ll even be able to see a pool, or at least be no more than a hundred metres away from one. So isn’t that enough water?
Sure. But most pools aren’t geared up to providing activities as well. And that’s why there are water parks. These are relative newcomers not just to Samui but also to Thailand as a whole. There aren’t many as yet. And people aren’t quite sure what they are. In fact, many holidaymakers are inclined to think that they’re no more than just large-scale swimming pools. But they have a lot more going on than any swimming pool. Or even the sea itself. Let’s take a look...
Comfortable, stylish, durable and fun clothes at Psylo.
Imagine; an ethnic tribal art gallery, a fashion museum, London’s Camden Town, travelling, self-expression, earthy tones, comfortable adventure clothes, tattoo type prints, organic fair-trade cotton, leather, metal, belts, buckles, shoes and boots... and mix it all together. All this and more can be found at the two Psylo fashion stores in Chaweng. At first you may think it’s just another clothes store, but as you look around you realise it is so much more. On the walls you can see giant wooden masks from Papua New Guinea and huge wooden picture frames from Bali. Hanging from the ceiling there are hand-made metal lamps. The concept is attributed to a way of thinking, a way of life. Everything is connected to nature, and is the brainchild of four intrepid travellers originally from Israel and Iran.
Whilst travelling, they realized that the clothes they wanted and needed for their personal expression and their adventurous lifestyles were not easy to find. So as they hiked in the Amazon jungle, climbed the Himalayas and travelled between cities worldwide, they began to design and make the natural, comfortable, stylish yet fun clothes they needed for their individual lifestyles.
The colourful and dramatic Chinese New Year comes around again – and this time it’s the Year of the Monkey.
More than 2,000 years ago, The Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on the first day of the New Year. Only 12 of them came. But Buddha was so impressed that he bestowed a special favour upon them, and named a different year after each one. Furthermore, from this point on, any human born in the corresponding years would absorb elements of that animal’s character into their personality. The last Year of the Monkey was in 2004. And this year it’s come around again.
Monkeys are interesting: mercurial, impetuous, lively, alert and curious. They crave enjoyment, activity and stimulation. And the human ones can range from being singers to sensualists to scientists. If you were born in any of these years – 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 or 2004 – then the monkey is your Chinese astrological sign. Tom Hanks, Buster Keaton, Bette Davis and Will Smith are all monkeys.
It is not often that you walk into a shop and just have to pause, take a deep breath and say ‘wow’. But that is exactly what happens when you walk into one of the Nature Art Gallery shops. You are involuntarily forced to stop, appreciate and be mesmerized by the magical aura and atmosphere of the Aladdin’s cave of all things shiny and sparkly. The polished wooden interior, the chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and the mesmerizing display cases of gems and artistic jewellery, introduce you to opulence and magic. Welcome to the mysterious world of stones.
In ancient times, shamans, priests and healers used crystals and stones for protection and healing. Their power and beauty have a proven effect on many people who come in contact with them. Crystals are chunks of pure energy that sparkle and call out to you. It is said that their power can lift your spirits, heal your body and even open chakras. Amongst these are amber, emeralds and jade.
Amber is the golden brown fossilized resin of ancient pine trees that was formed about 50 million years ago. It is said to promote our ability to self-heal, remove fears and give stability. It supports our ability to make calm, clear decisions and can increase your inner-strength whilst promoting self-confidence. It also protects from radiation, especially that caused by the sun and computers.
Prana Hotels & Resorts take accommodation and dining to new heights.
Half way along the bay of Bangrak, you’ll find a rather special resort, Prana Hotels & Resorts, which unusually consists of two hotel properties; the original Prana Beach Villas and the newer Prana Resort Nandana.
Prana Beach Villas is a well-established resort, and its guests love the seaside location, where you can literally jump off the restaurant terrace and find yourself on Bangrak beach. It’s a great place for swimming, and doesn’t see the sheer numbers of holidaymakers that Chaweng and Lamai do. Guests are assured of great attention with the staff being friendly and welcoming.
Prana Resort Nandana is home to 60 brand new rooms. To get to them, you pass through an atrium that must surely be unique in hotel architecture. The style’s called ‘khwaang’ and certainly isn’t an expression you’ll find in any reference book, no matter how detailed it may be. The word is Thai and refers to a longish basket-style fish trap. If you stand in the atrium and look up you’ll see the shape, acting as a stylish centrepiece around which the lobby is loosely built. It adds lightness to the resort and, isn’t at all gimmicky. Visitors always stop to have a look because they’ve never seen anything quite like this before. It’s eye-catching without being an eye-sore.
How to manage your finances while holidaying on Samui.
No matter how savvy you are when it comes to finance, it’s easy to feel vulnerable when abroad. Nothing’s guaranteed to cause more concern than the thought of losing all your money. The worry’s logical after all: credit cards, travellers’ cheques, and cash – you name it; they can all be lost. That age old travel question persists into modern times: how can you keep your money secure while on the hoof?
This isn’t being paranoid; those fears are somewhat justified, especially if you’re far from home. You might know just what to do in the countries that neighbour your own, but if you’ve just flown half way across the world to a completely new destination, where you don’t speak a word of the language, you can expect to feel a little, well ... disorientated.
But it all depends where you are. Some countries are known to be risky, and visitors to them only feel relaxed when they step aboard the plane for their flight back home. Thailand’s not like that at all. It turns out to be a very easy country to travel around in – one of the easiest in South-East Asia. Partly that’s because of the friendliness of its people, who will go out of their way to make you feel at home. Also, because tourism is so much a part of the nation’s economy, everything’s set up to facilitate travel – including the banking system. Crime rates are relatively low, too, but that doesn’t mean to say you should let your guard down.
Lamai’s ‘The Spa’ is at the heart of the island – and so much more than just the sum of its parts!
This is a story about a resort on a beach. In fact, it has one of the nicest beach settings anywhere: lots of sun-bleached knotty wood, little shady nooks amongst the trees, and a sprinkling of those big chunky rocks you get on this part of the coast. The restaurant, cool and opensided, links through onto the sand. Running parallel and towards the sea is the pool, alongside which stretches a row of quaint wooden A-frame bungalows. As soon as you come into this resort, away from the main road, it’s tranquil. In fact, everything about it makes for a really nice place to go and spend some time.
I’ve read other stories about this resort, that set a grim sort of tone and launch right away into details about cleansing and fasting – you can almost picture their authors putting on a serious face – and then they’ll continue on to depict a kind of New Age hideaway where intensely serious people closet themselves to detox. But this is ‘The Spa’ in Lamai we’re talking about (The Spa Samui Beach Resort’ to give it its full name.) And when you pop in for some of the nicest food anywhere on the island, together with perhaps a smoothie or a glass of wine, you’d never in a million years realise that there are so many other things going on as well.
There are plenty of exciting reasons to buy into X2 Vibe Samui Nautilus Apartment Hotel.
Just a couple of generations ago world travel was something that relatively few would or could undertake. Now it’s become both cheaper and more comfortable, and the mighty spin-off is that it’s now possible to live abroad for vastly extended periods of time. This is certainly true of Thailand, where there are thousands of foreign residents who live here all year round, and who rarely go back home. Then there are thousands more who come here to stay each year for periods that vary from a few days to a few months. Holidays and work can now easily overlap and co-exist; the hammock’s not just for whiling away an afternoon, now it’s your new office – a phone and a keyboard is perhaps all you require to drive your business forward.
In all of this, the old architectural adage still holds good: form follows function, and it equally applies to this new phase of living. Housing is constantly evolving to make it ever easier for people to live in versatile ways. It’s with this in mind that a new development has been designed to offer a staggering amount of flexibility, whether you’re on the move or if you’re a permanent or semi-permanent resident. (It’s also attracting pure investors looking for dependable returns, too, but we’ll come to that in a moment.)
Musical maestros The Night Sessions just get better and better.
Vocalist Pete McDowell and guitar player Alex Rigley have been playing together for the last 15 years. They have a unique sound which is created by combining skilful, intricate guitar arrangements with dynamic, soulful and smooth vocals. Based on Samui for nearly four years, they have been performing exclusively as a duo, playing classic hits and popular tunes from all genres. Now they are developing their style and diversity, adding more members and creating a further blues and soul sound.
Pete and Alex are both originally from Hertfordshire in the UK, where they met on a college music course. Here their friendship began when they found a shared passion alongside a drive and dedication to work hard at musical perfection.
Pete was a talented sportsman, his heart set on becoming a professional football player. After a serious injury, he became more involved in his other passion, music. With training from a teacher who recognised his potential, his voice quickly became his strongest asset.
Pete eventually graduated with a university degree in music composition, but has never stopped learning. He is currently studying great vocalists such as Howlin Wolf, Aretha Franklin, Ray Lamontagne and Freddie Mercury.
When it comes to expert advice, few know more about buying property in Thailand than author Rodney Waller.
Back at home, you probably know exactly how to go about buying a house. Even so, it’s not something you’ll undertake lightly. You know that when it comes to real estate you need to be as knowledgeable as possible, and find trustworthy experts. But what if you’re in a foreign country? In a country where you can’t speak the language, don’t know the customs, and where you may have spent little time so far? The first task is to find out as much as you can about the purchasing process and hear what true experts are saying.
In the labyrinthine business of negotiating your way through Thai property laws, you may well have come across Rodney Waller’s book, ‘Buying Property in Thailand’. It’s very readable, and gives you an indepth guide to buying here. It stands out as the definitive guide in the industry, a sort of Lonely Planet for house hunters.
The person behind it, Rodney Waller, is an expert who has studied not just the property market in Thailand but the events that can impinge on it. His own development, The Ridge, took part in the 2014 - 2015 Thailand Property Awards and was declared the winner of the Best Residential Development (Samui). We asked him about buying property as a foreigner and also the forecast for 2016. What do we need to be aware of? And are things looking good on the property front?
Don’t want to drive, or ride a motorcycle? There are other ways of getting around Samui.
From the moment your plane touches down on Samui, you’ll be faced with choices: what to eat, drink, which beach to go to, what to do at night, and so on. A good many of these choices will involve transport. And Samui, which looks so small on a map, turns out to be a lot bigger when you’re actually here. Not everyone wants to hire a car or motorbike to travel around, given the dangers of driving here – the island has appalling accident statistics. You may think your options are limited, but they’re more wide-ranging than at first glance. And they’re worth investigating as each of them comes with benefits of its own. They can variously help you save money, time and cut down on stress. Here’s the lowdown on ways to get around without actually being in the hot seat.
Maroon and yellow taxis seem to be everywhere and will give you a toot of their horn as they’re about to pass you. The drivers will take you anywhere as long as the road isn’t too much of a dirt track. Some locations on Samui look like they’re accessible, but the roads still haven’t been completed, and unless you’re a rally driver with a seriously good 4-wheel drive vehicle, it’s best not to venture on them. Taxi drivers may refuse if the road looks a bit rough.
Taxis are a lot more expensive than they are in Bangkok, and before you get in one, you should ask the driver for the price. He or she will expect this. You can then accept, decline or bargain. Whatever you do should be done light-heartedly. Once you’ve accepted the price, you cannot bargain further. Check also that the price quoted covers all your party and isn’t a per-person figure. Taxi drivers are supposed to use their meter, but it still remains a rarity.
Natural Wing is not only a tip-top spa it has lots of other hidden attractions, too!
Samui’s ring-road goes through some busy places. It crawls across the edge of Chaweng. It picks up pace as it pushes on to Bophut. It chugs around and into Maenam, where it narrows right down and gets slow. And then it widens again. And by the time it’s hooked around to Ban Tai, it’s racing. It’s broad, it’s fast, and it’s wide enough for six cars. The best thing about this road is that it gets to see most all of Samui. The worst thing? Well, if you’re on it, you’ll be going too fast to see much at all.
Take that stretch in Ban Tai. Once you’ve cleared Maenam, the outlook shifts. Now there are little Thai shops along the edge. Honda and hardware sit side-by-side with rows of TV fixers, roof tiles out on show, securicams and shops. And then there’s a whole heap of green. Gated drives hint at beach villas within. Huge trees hang high over walls. A resort on the road. Villas sales and for rent. And then, without even knowing, you’ve shot right past Natural Wing!
But it’s easy to find. Head out of Maenam towards Nathon. Go around the sharp 90-degree bend with the arch of Wat Napralam/Lomprayah Ferry on the right – you are now in Ban Tai. And exactly three kilometres after that 90-degree bend, you’ll see a small modern resort on the righthand side, The Sea. At this point, slow down: Natural Wing is just a little further, on the left.
Rocky’s Boutique Resort Koh Samui is making things better for guests at The Dining Room and Bistro Modern.
There’s an old Zen-like saying: ‘When you get to the summit, keep on going.’ What!? It’s hard enough to get to the top, and surely when you get there, isn’t it time to relax a bit? Or even a lot? Of course. But if you want to really stand out from the competition, then you have to go even further, impossible as that may seem. Resorts and restaurants on Samui have certainly taken this on board and always somehow manage to continually improve.
When you walk round Rocky’s Boutique Resort, you’ll be hard-pressed to know what, if anything, could possibly be improved. The resort has gone through numerous overhauls and is utterly different from its beginnings at the turn of this century. Every square centimetre looks in pristine condition. But improvement is in the pipeline. “We want to take the property to the next level,” says Stefano Leone, Rocky’s chef, “and that means the general approach, the service and the restaurants all have to be in tiptop form and more.” It’s not just a question of taking on any shortcomings that can be found, but also looking at what’s already great and then doing even better.
Don’t miss out on The Angthong National Marine Park, one of the treasures of Thailand. Natural Wing is not only a tip-top spa it has lots of other hidden attractions, too!
One of Samui’s biggest attractions turns out not to be on Samui at all. It’s a group of off-shore islands which attract thousands of visitors every year. The Angthong National Marine Park is visible from the west coast of Samui, and is an incredibly beautiful archipelago of some 40 islands. They’re easily accessible – under an hour’s speedboat ride – and if you don’t have time to see anything else at all while you’re on holiday, a visit here should be top priority. Even if you’re a seasoned traveller, this is a day out that’s bound to impress.
When you think of desert islands, you may well be thinking of a classical atoll. You know the type from computer screensavers: a minuscule strip of beach with precisely three palm trees sprouting improbably from the sand. Well, these islands aren’t like that at all. They’re better. They’ve got more substance and a quirkiness about them that’s hard to define. For a start, there are the islands’ strange shapes to consider. On a map they don’t look remarkable – just an archipelago like any other, really – but see them up close, at sea-level, and they appear very strange. Some have quite smooth shapes, while others are so jagged that they appear to be at times barely natural. Their contorted features are due to the geology here being karst; limestone that’s been eaten away by rain and the sea, leaving them with fantastic shapes and at times outlines that seem to have been cut by a mad person with a razor. For all this, they remain extraordinarily beautiful.
Nora Buri Resort & Spa has a brilliant chef to navigate the culinary waters of Samui.
If someone asked you to imagine a treasure ship, how would it look? In all probability it’d have three masts, rigging and plenty of sails. In short, it’ll look like it’s stepped out of a history book. There seems to be no other kind. But try this now: imagine the ship isn’t a typical schooner but instead it’s a barge. Yes, a barge. And filled with treasure. Can such a thing exist? It can and does. It turns out that Samui has its own treasure barge, though the treasure is something quite untypical, not coins or gold or silver. This time it’s culinary treasures – dozens and dozens of authentic Thai recipes that have been handed down through the generations
The Barge is a very large building that has been created to look a little like one of the old-style rice barges that were once a common sight on the waterways of Bangkok. From the coast you can see what looks like a ship heading from the land out to sea. Once inside the building, however, you’ll find that it’s technically home to two restaurants, The Barge (international menu) and Rice Barge & Terrace (Thai menu). They’re collectively known as The Barge and are located at Nora Buri Resort & Spa, just a few minutes’ drive north of Chaweng. To get there take the beach road for three kilometres and keep on going (don’t take the turnoff to the airport) and you’ll soon see the signposts for the resort. Note that the restaurant can’t be seen from the road as it’s set on the slopes beneath.
Air Event & Entertainment brings dance to the island and helps you get super fit.
There’s a line in that must-see movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show that goes: “Don’t dream it, be it.” The line is in a song and the words are repeated over and over again like a mantra. Why are they so important? Aren’t they there just to camp things up? Not at all - it’s solid wisdom and one of the worst-kept secrets of the self-development industry: the urge to be your dream rather than just wish for it is crucial. It basically separates those who achieve their dreams from those who don’t.
It’s also the official slogan that newly-founded Air Event & Entertainment lives by. These are folks who are deeply passionate about what they do. They’re into fitness, dance and choreography, and are certainly bringing something different to the island. It was founded by professional dancer and fitness trainer, Kathi Master. She’s based in Choeng Mon in a property that is dedicated to both fitness and dance, where some very dedicated sessions take place, albeit in a fun atmosphere.