With a major part of the northern hemisphere recently being covered in layers of snow and the planet experiencing the lowest temperatures in recorded history (so much for global warming), you’re certainly in the right place at the moment!
Picture-postcard palm-fringed beaches surrounded by warm seas, fabulous restaurants serving the finest Thai and International cuisine, outrageously opulent spas and health centres offering the best in pampering and state-of-the-art detox packages, bars, nightclubs, shops, sports, culture and sunshine! Yes, Samui’s definitely got loads going for it.
And during January and February, there are all the normal fun events happening on this small tropical island, with the addition of Chinese New Year – the ‘Year of The Goat’ – being celebrated on the 19th February (see article on page 104).
Should you manage to sit back and relax for a while, hopefully you’ll get a chance to read through this edition of Samui Holiday Magazine! There’s a wide range of articles covering things to see and do, as well as some great restaurant features and a whole lot more.
Water transport used to be the only way, but what’s it now like – on Samui today?
We take it for granted. We can’t picture it any other way. Indeed, why should we? We only know what we can see, and the way things were before is unknown. It’s impossible to imagine Samui without the ring-road. But in 1980, it was quite new. The airport wasn’t here, either. And those legendary hippies who ‘discovered’ Samui in the ’70s had to come across by boat. No roads, no ferries, no planes – how on earth did people get around from place to place?
Things have changed very little (all over the world, in fact) ever since the first motor cars started being broken for spares. Because all you need is a boat, an old car engine, plus a long metal rod to hang a propeller on. And, even today, the vast majority of local fishermen here still putter around in these. Back in the old days, every little village had their ‘water taxis’ which you could hire to get you from place to place. But, as the island’s road network expanded and the car ferries arrived, these began to fade away. Now it’s almost impossible to wander up to a fisherman (hard enough to find in the first place) and negotiate the hire of his boat for the day. The resorts and local tour agencies now handle all that kind of thing.
A sea of green in the midst of Chaweng – getting away to Wine Oasis.
Many people are unaware that there’s often quite a chunk of land between the sea and Chaweng’s beach road – mostly it’s fronted by resorts and can’t be seen. Some of these resorts are comparatively new, filling the space where several smaller resorts used to be. But a few, just one or two families, didn’t cash-in - they held on to the land, which had been theirs for a century. They shared a quiet pride in this heritage. They passed it down from father to son. They kept the old wooden buildings and the big old trees, added more bungalows around them, and filled every cranny with greenery, like a tropical forest. There aren’t many like this left. But one of them is Chaweng Garden Beach Resort.
“And, true to form, it’s now been handed on in the family, but this time from father to daughter. Today, June and Jenny Phetkaew run everything. And what’s fascinating is that these two modern, educated, and thoroughly cosmopolitan young women have made the resort into something of a quiet shrine to the old traditions of Koh Samui.”
The Thai word for love is ‘rak’. And so when a group of residents got together to look at road safety on the island, ‘RAK Samui’ seemed a good choice for a name. It also helped a bit that in this context it also stood for ‘Road Accident Kampaign’ – the ‘K’ being seen as a modern sort of a thing! And, no, this wasn’t just another bunch of old people with time on their hands. It had been building up to something like this for a long time. And for a very good reason.
To a visitor, Samui seems a cheerful and laid-back sort of an island – which it certainly is. Everything is quite happy-go-lucky. It’s no problem if things happen tomorrow instead of today. It’s the island lifestyle. But underneath this carefree existence is a situation that’s been escalating for quite a while. It never really used to matter so much, but now it does.
Look at it this way. Once upon a time Samui was a coconut island. There were few visitors and the inhabitants made their living by either selling coconuts, or fruit, which also grew prolifically. Some islanders caught fish and sold them. The ‘Samui folk’ were a million miles away from the national seat of government in Bangkok, and almost as far removed from the provincial administrators in the nearest jurisdiction of Surat Thani, on the mainland. Life here was about as informal as it could be.
Villages sprouted up in the sheltered bays. Local disputes and arguments were settled by the headman (pu yai baan) in each of the villages – in this way law and order was effectively and simply maintained. But then things began to change. Everything got bigger. Bungalow resorts appeared to cater for visitors. This caused more visitors to come. Regular ferries appeared to bring them here from the mainland. And, as the money began to flow in, so the residents could afford more luxuries – motorbikes (scooters) to get around on, cars, even.
Style, verve, flair and a unique creativity – at Chandra’s exclusive fashion boutiques.
So here you are then. Koh Samui. Lounging back at the edge of the pool with lots of factor 20 and a long iced drink. You’re going to take it easy – do what you want, when you want to do it. Lazing about in the daytime, and then a great meal and a look around the shops at night. You’re going to make the most of your holiday. You’re going to check out everything Samui has to offer. And you’re going to make sure that you buy lots of bargains and unusual stuff to take back home with you.
Not surprisingly, at the top of everyone’s list seems to be clothing. And this falls into two types. The first are all those things which you didn’t bring with you because you knew that you could get them cheaper over here – things like flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts, wraps and sarongs. But the other type of clothes is harder to find. The designer things. They are items you just can’t find back home. And they’re special.
And, if you know Samui already, that’s where you hit a snag. This isn’t The Riviera or Bali, and you won’t find boutiques selling handcrafted exclusive designs. Well, yes, there are a couple like this, but we’ll get to that in a moment! You’ll see cheap and colourful massproduced tourist tat on every corner, along with the airbeds and sandals. But the quality goods? The designer offerings? You’re limited, here. You could spend a week looking. Or you could take our advice and head directly for something unique to begin with! At which point the name ‘Chandra’ springs instantly to mind.
Chandra is unique in many ways. Firstly, it’s in a class of its own and stands right out from the crowd. And second, what they are selling is unique, too, conceptually designed from the sketchpad through the fabric design, the fabric printing, the manufacture and into the shop. Chandra simply vibrates with creative energy, and is owned and run by passionate individuals.
The International School of Samui takes a new and vibrant approach to education.
On a small hilltop sits a community that most residents have heard about, yet relatively few are familiar with. In this article we take a look at the International School of Samui, a private school that aims to enable children to put down their educational roots on a small island, and yet have an international level of learning.
The school has moved on since its first days, when there were just a few buildings and only a few students. The setting is conveniently located close to Chaweng, with the immediate environment being calm and secluded. Turn off the ring-road at Bandon International Hospital, and head up the hill until you see the sign for the school. You’ll have to go right over the brow of the hill to see the school itself – a whole collection of buildings that has a village-like feel to it.
The sign itself includes the school’s motto, ‘For a better future’, which encapsulates a lot more than you might initially think. Headmistress Lisa Taylor Hawkins says that it’s about having a clear vision. “The students come first,” she says. “We strive to be an outstanding school, enabling every child to achieve their true potential, both academically and personally. We’re adamant that the highest standards will be reached by every child, and their talents nurtured.”
The school, she says, treats children as individuals, thereby stimulating their interests so that they develop a real thirst for learning in a supportive environment. She believes that students should enjoy learning – it shouldn’t ever be a dull business. “Students benefit from the expertly planned, innovative curriculum that we have. We also have a lot of extra activities – these are an integral part of the children’s education.”
As the seasons change so do the clothes, summer fades into autumn, autumn to winter, and we see thicker and thicker clothing as we say goodbye to the warmth of summer. At least that’s how it is in western countries. But here on Samui it seems we never say goodbye to the sun for long. The shops are always full of summer dresses, T-shirts, shorts, sandals. But walk past Psylo and you’ll immediately be struck by a huge difference. If it’s winter in London then it’s winter fashion in their store front display here on Samui. It’s a shop for global travellers, not tied to local climate – they might be headed anywhere. These are clothes to take home, to travel with, or to hike the trails of a long forgotten route with a local guide. But there’s a whole other concept along with the comfort, durability and individual design behind the clothes too. Psylo adheres to a philosophy of sustainable fashion or, as it is sometimes known, eco-fashion. The people behind it have a keen sense of social responsibility.
Integrity leads the way with one of Samui’s most impressive new living environments.
Yes, I know, it’s another Samui development. There are a great many of them about, it seems. Everywhere you look, there’s another parcel of land up a hill somewhere being sold off as apartments and villas. Some of them are still in the concept stage, and you’re effectively buying from an architect’s drawings. Many are partially built and buyers have to live with construction noise. Quite a few are excellent, but how can you tell? It can be a gamble – just how do you sort out the gilt-edged from the guilty? Buyers need to have confidence and they need assurances. They need to know the bottom line before they get
And so here it is. The bottom line at the start of the story. Azur Samui is a development located off Soi 2 in Maenam with (in its current phase) luxury apartments and villas. It’s been conceived and managed by a company who have very successfully done this sort of thing before and won awards for it – the main players live here on the island. The award-winning architect – also having previously proved himself on Samui – is a perfectionist and insists on
A close look at all those public holidays – and what they mean in Thailand.
When I first came to live in Thailand, I knew nothing. But six months later, I was getting clued in. I remember smiling at travellers I met and saying with a cool kind of shrug, “. . . yeah, well, I’ve been here six months now . . .” and getting a small glow as they nodded wide-eyed with respect. I suppose it took me a year to really get the hang of things. I could now speak the language – nothing like as well as a two-year-old Thai child, but to the other foreigners around me I sounded like a native. And certainly well enough to order food and tell taxi drivers where to go and what to do. Yes, it took me a whole year living here full-time to get the hang of what Thailand was all about.
And it took another two years to realise that, really, I’d just been scratching at the surface, and in fact, I didn’t have a clue. I still knew next to nothing about the way Thai people thought, why they acted and reacted in certain ways and why their attitudes and their country was in many respects so very strange. You see, my thinking, my logic, my approach to people and things, my ideals – all my assumptions about morality and life in general – were rooted in the
A look at the day and nightlife in and around Bophut.
It’s a hard thing to do. It’s not easy. And after a week, you’ve probably forgotten. But the very first impressions of a new place – those first few hours – give you a strange and one-sided picture. For most people on Samui that means coming in by air. That charming view of tiny cars and houses fringed by sand and blue sea as you drop in to land. And then 20 minutes through a maze of tiny twisting lanes away from the airport, with no sign of the sea at all. In fact, that perception is all wrong. The airport’s runway is just a half-a-kilometre from Chaweng Beach Road, but there’s no direct link.
The same holds true for Bophut. If you spend a while zooming about on Google Maps, you’ll see just how close it is to both the airport and to Chaweng. But there are only two ways to get there - both by road, and both ways you’ll seem to have travelled for miles. But then, the whole subject of Bophut can be confusing. Generally speaking, when anyone mentions Bophut, they are talking about the bay up on northeast coast. But unhappily, the post office has decided to include all of Chaweng in its Bophut address zoning, too – in fact, the whole top right-hand quarter of the island seems to come under this code.
Handcrafted jewellery that just might change your life at Nature Art Gallery.
A couple walks in. They’ve been here before. In fact, the previous year they had moldavite bangles made, and now they’ve returned to have some made for their children. A man walks in. A collector from France, he stands over the table of crystals. Picking up some blue amber he exclaims, “I found it, I found it. I’ve looked for this stone all over Europe, and here it is.” A woman walks in. She had asked to get her grandmother’s ring restored. When the finished ring is shown to her, she weeps.
These stories continue, one after the other. A simple store. That’s all it is. But it’s what the store can do, that makes Nature Art Gallery special beyond measure.
Your experience will begin even before you step inside. It will begin from the street. You will be walking down Chaweng Beach Road, windowshopping, laughing and carrying on. Then, just across from Central Festival you’ll stop, fixated on a store. The warm wood covered walls will catch your eye, the bright lights will draw you in, and soon you will be standing in a room that sparkles.
When times get tough Bangkok Hospital Samui is there to help.
If you’re far from home and new to Thailand, falling sick can easily make you feel insecure – after all, you’re in unfamiliar territory and aren’t quite sure what to expect. But ask any expatriate living on the island about medical care, and you’ll be told that there are no less than five hospitals here. For an island that just used to be jungle until not so long ago, that’s a very impressive statistic. It’s certainly one that makes people feel safe living here: they know that if something goes wrong they’re not far from help and can usually be treated on the island.
Bangkok Hospital Samui is now 10 years old, and offers a plethora of medical amenities. It’s internationally accredited and has 50 beds, with over 25 highly trained specialists and physicians offering a variety of services.
Medical facilities include a modern emergency and trauma unit, 12 fully equipped ICU beds, two ultra-modern operation rooms, a haemodialysis unit, a CT scanner, 4D ultrasound, a fully equipped laboratory with blood bank, a well-stocked pharmacy, and a physiotherapy unit.
Want to take home some souvenirs? Of course you do! But will the folks at home appreciate them? That’s the big question – souvenirs always have a bit of a tacky association. And that in turn makes it doubly hard to buy something that people will like having around. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s a brief guide to shopping for some un-souvenir type souvenirs, all of which will surprise, intrigue or delight those that receive them.
These are high quality and typically Thai products and souvenirs that are to be found on Samui and be purchased at local prices – just because you’re shopping for gifts shouldn’t mean you have to pay inflated prices.
Seashells and Pearl Jewellery
Shell World in Big Buddha features a beautiful range of top quality fresh and salt water pearl jewellery, and a large variety of seashells. Many of the shells have been made into ornaments and gift items, and you’ll see rings, bracelets, brooches and photo frames on display.
You’ll love being out of control at XD Theater’s four attractions.
Holidays are all about being laid-back and taking things easy. How good it is, we’re told, to de-stress, soak up the sun, stretch out by the pool and simply enjoy the surroundings. But perhaps even on a holiday, we crave intense excitement not usually associated with the palm-fringed tropical island on which we find ourselves. XD Theater caters for just such times. You’ll find it in its own niche in the second floor of Central Festival in Chaweng. You can walk past it without so much as an extra heart-beat, but visit any of its four attractions and you’re in for a serious dose of fun, and a big spike in your adrenalin. Here’s a brief run-down on what the folks at XD have on offer for you.
The little cinema at XD Theater looks so innocent. A single row of seats, unremarkable except that they have handles to hold onto by the sides. And then you notice that each has a safety belt too, just like in a car. Things aren’t going to get that rough, surely? The screen is quite close and looks oddly blurry. That is, until you put the glasses on. These are given you by the staff
February welcomes in the Chinese Year of the Goat.
I used to think that I was a goat. But then I saw a professional Chinese fortune teller. He reassured me that I wasn’t. I was a horse. No I’m not mad, though some of my friends would doubt that. I’m talking about the Chinese zodiac, which is comprised of 12 animals, and Chinese New Year. It’s a lively time here with the explosion of firecrackers, fireworks, the ringing of the gongs at the Chinese temples, and dragons dancing in the street. Each year a different animal is honoured.
Chinese New Year is a big event in Thailand as many of the population are of Chinese descent. And Samui was settled in part by Hainanese immigrants. Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar and is thus celebrated on a different day every year. This year, 2015, the festival is celebrated on 19th February, and is the year of the goat in the Chinese zodiac. The goat is the eighth animal of the zodiac, and in Chinese the number eight is considered to be very lucky. Hence many people are hoping for a prosperous New Year.
Talking of money, little red envelopes containing small gifts of money are given to children at this auspicious time by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and even sometimes neighbours.
A new and capable day-care and nursery facility has opened in Lamai – Smart Start.
A generation ago, it didn’t really matter. After all, most people who came here were visitors. But now it’s important. There are many westerners living on the island, either full time or part time. And lots of people means lots of children. The age-groupings have altered, too. At one time, it was mainly older folks with grown up children who’d moved away from home. But now, there are thousands coming away from Europe, particularly out of Russia. They’re younger and more active – and so are their kids.
Take a look on Google - you might be surprised. I have to confess that, until I began to research the subject, I didn’t realise just how many crèche and day-care facilities are now on the island. It poses the question: what do parents look for when they need to leave their young child at a crèche? Is it mere convenience – simply the closest place to where they are? Is it about cost? Perhaps it’s the level of dedication of the staff, or what the facilities are like. And this brings me to the subject of this story, a day-care centre that scores on all these points. It’s new. The name is Smart Start Day Care and Learning Center. And it’s in Lamai.
It’s lovely to walk into a shop where you feel that you’ve left the crowds and noise of Chaweng behind, and Ms.Carino is just such a shop. Stepping inside is a delight for all the senses, the wonderful aroma of lemongrass pervading the air, the pastel shades of the clothes and the painted wooden furniture. It is a simple yet stylish design that immediately puts every shopper at ease. I met the owner, Khun Yui in the larger of her two shops in Chaweng. Khun Yui described how she and her partner fell in love with the island, she herself being from mainland Suratthani. After some careful consideration they decided to open up their own boutique. But what is the meaning behind the name? Khun Yui wanted an Italian feel to her shop right through from the name to the interior design, and she also wanted a name that suited her designs - feminine, light and flattering, hence carino, which in Italian means beautiful. So was born Ms. Carino - Ms. Beautiful.
Khun Yui’s concept is all about quality at affordable prices. All her garments are handcrafted by one family that she works closely with in Indonesia. The designs are her own, or made in collaboration with her Indonesian counterparts. And this is where the really clever and unique part of her boutique comes in. All the clothes are free size and are cleverly designed to suit all body sizes and shapes. Khun Yui has some beautiful feminine summer dresses that are especially flattering for the fuller figure, perfect for sunset strolls along the beach. Off the shoulder beach dresses, feminine halter-neck summer dresses and beach cover ups to suit everyone. Her collection is a combination of pastel colours with hints of darker summer hues, cobalt blue, peach and the ever classic black and white. The pastel items have proved to be the most popular, Khun Yui tells me, and anything light blue is also in high demand. At the top of that list is her easy to wear pastel blue and floral print cotton summer maxi dress, and an off-theshoulder shorter version, or for fun, a short playsuit. There are also some original beach cover ups, with fringed edges and loose-fitting elbow length sleeves that come in solid colours or with floral designs.
When it comes to great restaurants, Rocky’s is still the name on everyone’s lips!
Restaurants are like neighbours. Well, on Samui, at least. They come and they go. If you keep looking out of the same window for a year or so, you’ll see Russians, an Italian or two, or maybe even a Greek – and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s eateries, or the folks living in the house next door! But restaurants, unlike neighbours, can be a fickle fad of fancy. They might have an all-star cast, burn brightly for a few months, then simply fade slowly from sight, without a murmur. But there are others that may not have yelled and made a fuss when they arrived, but are still simply unbeatable, ten years later. And one of these is Rocky’s.
Rocky’s Boutique Resort emerged on the island scene back in 2003, created by partners Ole and Colette Larsen. It took a while to compete all the work, but right from the start, they had a vision of what they wanted it to be like. This part of the coastline is formed from steep cliffs that are chequered with giant rocky outcrops. So it’s not surprising when you discover Rocky’s layers of terraces, descending around a central path which drops on down towards the beach. But what is delightful is the consistent flair with which Colette has landscaped, and themed, both the surroundings and the décor of the luxurious accommodation and the two restaurants.
Most vacationers stay at large resorts, eat out at five star restaurants, and only swim at the ‘featured’ beaches. But what if I were to tell you they were missing something. What if I told you there was a place where the staff not only know every guests name, but at least one or two facts about them. A place where the waiter knows what you want even before you sit. And with a staff that’s been together for nearly ten years, some members even twenty, Siam Residence is more than a resort, it’s a family.
The resort has just eight villas offering two types of rooms, both spacious and private. The one bedroom villa stretches 80 square meters to encompass a bedroom, bathroom, living room, and walk in wardrobe. It should be noted that the bathroom is nearly the same size as the bedroom, so get ready to feel pure luxury. The two-bedroom offers a similar layout only with an extra bed and bathroom, but you’re never going to guess where the second bathroom is located – outside! Escape normalcy and shower with a view of the ocean and a natural breeze.
A Thai monk’s life may be a spiritual quest, but it’s also a barefoot journey through the streets and much more.
No early morning street scene is complete without barefoot monks collecting alms and people kneeling to receive blessings. It’s a routine that’s gone on for hundreds of years. Monks are everywhere, and as modern as Thailand is becoming, they’re still an integral part of the culture. Every young Thai Buddhist man is expected to spend time in the monkhood, known as ‘buat phra’. They may enter for any period that they wish. It’s not always a lifelong commitment. It is done to bestow merit on the young man’s ancestors and parents for the afterlife, especially their mothers, who as women can’t themselves become monks.
The monk will upon his entrance to the monkhood show great respect to his parents and immediate family, kneeling to wash their feet. But once he becomes a monk the roles are reversed and the parents will treat him with great respect because of his position as a monk. Often people will consult with monks on the naming of their baby or ask them to come and consecrate land for a new building.
The Spa Resorts specialize in fasting and cleansing, but there many other reasons for a visit.
Drive around Samui and you’ll see plenty of spas, but one of the best just happens to be the first to be built on the island, simply referred to by everyone as The Spa. Not only has it been going strong ever since its inception, it’s gained a world-wide reputation for its fasting and cleansing programs which leave you amazingly rejuvenated. Thousands of people have taken part and have experienced the benefits of detoxing the body, as well as learning to meditate and increase their sense of well-being.
The Spa is set right by the beach in Lamai, and to say that The Spa did well for itself is a bit of an understatement; it proved so popular that owner Guy Hopkins set up a second resort on Samui, this time on a hillside, just a couple of kilometres away. So whether you prefer to be on the sands, or away from it all and close to the jungle, you can spa in the setting of your choice. Guy has also set up further branches on Koh Chang and in Chiang Mai.
The main activity at both spas is fasting and cleansing. Dr John Schreiner is in charge of the programs and is a firm believer in the benefits of the programs. “It’s something you have to experience first-hand in order to really understand what it’s about,” he says. “Generally speaking, you feel lighter afterwards, and you have more energy – it’s a very empowering experience.” Most guests enjoy the three and a half or seven day programs which consist of fasting and colonic enemas, or ‘colemas’, as they’re called here, and rarely experience hunger, thanks to the addition of broth, herbal supplements and pure fruit juices.
There’s been a lot of hype about spas over the last few years and a few have become almost cultish, causing those who might be curious to instead be cautious; step inside these palaces of luxury and you feel you have to keep your voice hushed and earnest. But The Spa Resorts are not like this. They’re deeply convivial places and very relaxing. They’re well-appointed and filled with simple luxury
An article about insects on Samui wouldn’t be worth reading if it didn’t start with the most annoying insect of all time - the pesky mosquito. Yes, that annoying sound you hear while you are just drifting off to sleep at night. While sometimes only thought of as a nuisance, they actually transmit quite a few diseases including malaria and dengue fever. There are roughly 25,000 reported cases of malaria each year in Thailand, but these tend to be in the more rural areas. The trick is to cover yourself from head to toe in the highest percentage DEET anti-mosquito spray you can afford, and keep your windows and doors shut at night. Not always so easy in a hot country.
Some say eating garlic or Thai herbs will keep the pests away. Maybe burning coils or spraying citronella will reduce your contact, but no matter what you do, make sure you have Tiger Balm handy as this applied immediately after being bitten, will rapidly reduce the swelling and itching.
Next on the list are centipedes. Some Thai people fear these multi-legged beasties more than snakes. These colourful creatures, sometimes around ten