Samui’s like a magnet. Come here once and you’ll be drawn back time and time again by its amazing powers of attraction. It’s a bit like a recreational drug really, but without the adverse side effects!
And why is this? Is there a single reason, such as the unspoilt tropical beaches with the warm turquoise waters, the fantastic value for money when dining in fabulous restaurants or maybe the multitude of fun activities on offer? The truth is that it’s a perfect combination of the above, and a whole lot more, besides.
But many other leading holiday destinations around the world provide the same, or even more, and sometimes with a greater style and panache than this little island does. The big difference being that Samui is overflowing with an indefinable charm; as the French would say, it has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. And having been here for just a short time, you’ll see why. And very soon, you’ll find yourself planning a return visit, to get your next Samui ‘fix’!
A MAGICAL UNDERWATER WORLD
Making the most of the snorkelling opportunities around Samui.
You’re visiting Koh Samui and you’ve heard stories about tropical fish, pretty reefs and blue spotted sting rays but you’re not a diver. Fear not, there is no reason to miss out, there are some pretty good snorkelling spots around the island and a little further afield.
For starters, snorkelling along the shores of Samui itself is possible, but is not always the most satisfying. The lack of suitable reefs providing housing for exotic marine life is half the problem, and sometimes the visibility isn’t ideal. A few places offer snorkelling gear to paddle about in the shallow water, but you’re only likely to see a few fish and nothing more. It’s much better to take advantage of the many tours offered by various companies on the island.
Firstly the kit. For snorkelling, you only need a mask and a snorkel. Fins are useful but not essential. These can either be purchased or you can use the ones provided by the tour operators. If you want top of the range kit, these can sometimes be purchased at various dive shops around the island. There are also sports shops in the shopping centres on the island that stock basic snorkelling gear. Big C, Tesco Lotus and the new Central Festival all have sports shops which are sure to cater for an enthusiastic snorkeler.
Oriental Living, an interior decorating studio and shop in Maenam, offers beautiful collections and professional service.
“We miss them when they go,” said Khun Alex, interior decorator and project manager at Oriental Living, Samui. Contrary to what you might think, he’s not talking about the wonderful customers who frequent the store, and whose homes and businesses he’s made more beautiful. No – he’s talking about the Buddha and other statues that are purchased, and for which he assists with the paperwork to take out of the country. “I tell them that they are going to a lovely new home in Milan, or wherever they are going, and they must be excited and happy to leave,” says Alex.
“I couldn’t live without something that touches my heart. No one should.” Donna Karan
“Objects really do acquire a life of their own, when they’ve been held and loved for years.” Vito Giallo
Perhaps Alex has the same viewpoint as these designers, as he won’t let one of his treasured statues leave the store if he doesn’t believe that the buyer has formed a real bond and connection with the piece – then it wasn’t meant to be, and the right person will come along for the statue in the future.
Thailand never fails impress with its creativity. But what’s rare to behold is luxury hotel space which is not just a hotel, but one of a kind. The Library, on Chaweng Beach is just such a place. We’re not their only fans. Magazines like The International Traveller and Forbes featured them in their top ten pools earlier this year.
And why? The colour of the pool tiles are red, yellow and orange, and on a sunny day with blue skies above and the turquoise sea behind, you notice a brilliant red pool - quite an unusual visual experience!
The Library is a part of the Design Hotels group, a brand known for its design and creativity. Each hotel that’s part of the group has its own individuality, and so does The Library. The owner of The Library is a young and dynamic visionary, who created his prodigious space especially for those who appreciate art. Creative thinkers, architects, interior designers, graphic designers,
Faraway Weddings ensure your big day is uniquely special.
For many people, getting married is probably one of the most important experiences of their lives. Everyone wants it to be special and unique. Placing your trust in a company to organise this day for you requires a lot of courage, and can be a big step for many. With so many places all over the world offering destination wedding packages, how do you decide who to go with? The best choice would be a company that has built up an international reputation for more than ten years, a company that takes their wedding planning responsibilities very seriously. So what makes Faraway Weddings stand out as wedding organisers on the island of Koh Samui, an island that is consistently one the most popular wedding island destinations in the world? Well, there’s not one, but three things.
Firstly, as previously mentioned, Faraway have been doing weddings on Samui for ten years, starting around about the time Samui first started becoming known as a perfect location to tie the knot. Since then, Faraway have organised around 1,000 weddings, for more than 40 different nationalities. What this means is that their experience is second to none on the island.
Samui’s new Central Festival mall redefines the leisure experience.
I like to read. I get through lots of American best-sellers. And always somewhere in the book, they’ll mention a mall – shopping malls seem to be one of the core elements in American society. But, along with this, it’s always somehow negative. Adjectives like ‘soulless’, ‘suburban’ or’ anonymous’, are always tacked on to ‘mall’. But think about it for a moment. Bring to mind a mall you know, a mall back home. They are functional, and they are made for shopping and eating.
But who notices and who cares. You want a special T-shirt, a battery for your phone or maybe a quick coffee, why does it matter what the shops look like? Well, this is Samui. People here aren’t dashing in to grab a bite in their lunch hour. The only type of time they’re tied-down by is the one that’s printed on their return flight ticket. They wander about, take a cool drink, have a look at what’s happening, head back for a nap, hit the beach, come back again two days later, eat something and wander about some more. And this is why the complex at Central Festival Samui is something rather special. It’s all about leisure. And, more than that, it’s just perfect for Samui, and is also something of a ‘first’ when it comes to shopping malls in Thailand.
A cool look at KC Beach Club – right in the heart of Chaweng.
The young and mobile people of today are a different breed. When the word ‘Samui’ first started forming on people’s lips, it was mouthed by a different community. It was a low-tech time, when pads were apartments, tablets were swallowed with water and phones came screwed to the wall. People travelled as and how they could. They found work when they had to, then moved on. Back in the day, a party meant smokes, beer and a bonfire on the beach. Someone always played a guitar. And the newly discovered island of Samui was an absolute paradise. Now fast-forward . . .
Wind-on past the hippie paradise, freeze frame on concrete construction, go past the new airport, pause at universal free Wi-Fi and iPads, and come to a stop on the island of today. Scan the arriving ferries and look at the airport and you’ll see three social sets. One is older retirees. Two is families with children. And three is today’s mobile young people. Usually on a gapyear break, perhaps footloose and searching. In the scheme of things, they are not ten-day tourists, although they may only stay here for a while. They are mobile, funded, and keyed into a world social network of like-minded people. Or working on short contracts. Either way, you’ll find a great many of them at KC Beach Club.
Experience the beauty of Angthong Marine Park with Blue Stars Kayaking.
Samui is an isle of sea, sand and sun. But, somewhere during your time here, you’ll want to get away from the beach for a while. There are dozens of trips you can go for, some on the land, some out at sea, some action-packed and others nice and slow. But one of the most laid-back and relaxing is a day out with Blue Stars. There are kayaks involved, yes. But in reality, this is a day mainly made up of a gentle sea cruise to one of the most picturesque areas in Thailand. There’s eats and drinks, snorkelling, swimming and beach-lounging too. And you’ll get to paddle your kayak with your guide twice during the day – for about 45 minutes each time. It’s an ideal excursion for couples and families alike.
The region you’re heading for is the famous Angthong National Marine Park, which covers a whopping 250 square kilometres. This is a long string of outcropping limestone islands of varying sizes, laid out around a precise north-to-south line (although at sea level you’ll find this hard to believe!). There are 42 of them, all uninhabited apart from one, where sea gypsies (some say ‘fishermen’) have made their home base. Due to the wind and the tides, these islands are riddled with bays and inlets, and many of them have intriguing cave formations – and with a kayak, you’ll be able to paddle into some of these.
The Thai language is quite unique, as anyone who’s ever tried to learn it has discovered.
Your intentions are good. You’ve decided that if you’re here for a while, the right thing to do is try your best to learn the local lingo. So you get a phrase book, and after practicing by yourself in the shower, you decide to try your hand at using your newfound knowledge of the Thai language. You proudly order your next meal in Thai – and receive a blank stare from the waiter. You change the tone a bit, and suddenly his eyes light up and with an “Aaah!” he runs off to get what you’ve ordered. You breathe a sigh of relief, and hope that you get what you’ve asked for.
Learning a new language is hard enough at the best of times, and Thai is so different from English and the European languages that originate from Latin, that learning it can seem a little overwhelming. Anyone wanting to stay in the country for more than a few months would be wise to pick up a few words, as mime and gesture can only get you so far – try miming ‘popcorn kernels’, without looking as though you’re having a fit!
The best way to learn Thai is to practice it, and use it whenever possible by chatting to new Thai friends and ordering in restaurants – you’ll
Morya pharmacies are your one-stop healthcare outlets on Samui.
Some say that Samui is lacking in certain facilities and services. This may be true in some minor aspects, but when it comes to those that matter most, such as healthcare, Samui has all bases covered. And there’s certainly no shortage of pharmacies on the island! They say you should always watch where the locals go, and so while tourists might not be familiar with the Morya brand, locals are loyal to this group of pharmacies for a very good reason. And when they’re in need of medical assistance, the familiar blue and white sign of Morya Pharmacies is a welcome relief.
And it doesn’t matter where on Samui you are, as Morya now has 17 branches around the island, with the latest additions being Bang Por and Maenam Soi 7. The modern glass headquarters building in Chaweng, is a mega-pharmacy, stocking more than 4,000 medical and healthcare related products, and can be found just opposite the PTT petroleum station on the ring-road, not far from Bangkok Hospital Samui.
You’ll find more than just medicines on the shelves at Morya. There’s an assortment of big-name body products, as well as ranges for the Asian skin and hair-care market. And with the increase in tourists from Asian countries, you’ll also find Thai and Chinese medicines and balms with familiar brand names.
Dropping in for a quick bite has a different meaning at Dr Fish!
Have you ever seen those old faded picture postcards? You know, the ones that are faintly humorous? Victorian scenes maybe, in nostalgic sepia, or pre-war cameos of times gone by? Well, I’m constantly being reminded of something like this. Not directly, you understand. But in pictures that keep coming to my mind. There’s the image of a good, solid, working man on holiday at the ‘seaside’. To help his shiny bald head from being sunburned he’s wearing a pocket handkerchief knotted at the corners as a hat. He’s got his trousers held up by braces and rolled up to the knees. And he’s sitting on a rock, with his bare feet in a rock pool to cool off.
Hold on to that image. Because every time I walk around Chaweng, I have to stifle a giggle. Here and there, on street corners and outside little massage shops, on the dusty edge of the street, you’ll see exactly the same thing. Well, today’s version of it anyway. Because all over the place, in ones and twos, there are hot and sagging holidaymakers perspiring in their shorts with their bare feet in plastic washing-up bowls full of tiny little fish.
If emulation is the greatest form of flattery, then Dr Fish is the focal point that endless little shops are trying so hard to copy. But it’s like so many other things here. Reflexology? Ah – foot massage. Sacro-cranial therapy? Ah
There may not be lions and pandas, but Samui does have some wildlife.
While Samui might not be a national park teaming with ferocious animals, it does have its fair share of weird and wonderful creatures. Since this article is about ‘wild’ animals, we’re not going to include the trekking elephants, buffalos or the show monkeys, but perhaps point out some others.
So Samui is covered in coconut palms, right? And nothing endangers these coconut trees because they are one of Thailand’s main exports, right? Well, not exactly. Introducing a rather nasty little creature called the ‘Coconut Hispine Beetle’. This critter likes to make its home deep inside the crown of coconut trees. They then feed on the tissue of developing leaves, eventually leading to the death of the tree. A lot of research has gone into ways of preventing this from spreading further afield. There is a small wasp that eats the beetle larvae, so that is an option. But our favourite option is the use of squirrels. Yes, the humble little squirrel is actually a knight in shining armour to most coconut trees. This little creature shimmies up the side of the tree, and indulges in a delicious meal of beetle larvae. Sadly, squirrel numbers were reduced in recent years due to the locals acquiring a taste for them. However they are making a comeback, and Koh Som, a small island off the north east tip of Samui, has shown very positive results.
Great dining and entertainment at Nora Beach Resort.
Some hotels give you an hour of happiness, and some may even offer a couple of them. But Nora Beach Resort offers you five happy hours to relax and enjoy a drink or two around their pool bar, restaurant, or in the lobby area. The Nora Group strongly believes in excellent service for their guests, and this is evident in every aspect of their hospitality.
At Nora Beach, located at the northern end of Chaweng Beach, there’s a 50% discount on beverages during the hours of: 1:00 - 2:00 pm, 4:00 – 5:00 pm, 6:00 – 7:00 pm, 7:00 – 8:00 pm and finally 10:00 – 11:00 pm.
In fact it always feels like happy hour at Nora Beach Resort. They have daily promotional menus, a stand out Thai theme night every Tuesday called ‘Siam Kingdom’ and ‘East Meets West’ barbecue nights every Thursday. These theme nights are full of high-spirits and energy that will keep you smiling from the moment they start, at 7:00 pm, till they end at 10:00pm.
Siam Kingdom night consists of authentic Thai cuisine, along with a northern classical Thai performance, known as Pong Lang, featuring six musicians and four dancers. Pong Lang isn’t a common sight in the south of Thailand, but if you get a chance to watch these beautiful doll-like dancers move gracefully to traditional Thai music, you really shouldn’t miss it.
Experience the underwater world in a truly unique way.
Twenty years ago, someone in the Caribbean decided to take a stroll with the fishes under the sea and called it sea-walking! The first ever sea-walk here on Samui, was hosted by Robert and Christina, a lovely couple from the UK, who moved to Thailand from Cyprus, in November 2012. Although strictly speaking, their first venture was initially set up on Koh Tao, but now they have shifted the operation to Samui.
“Everybody comes back with a smile - that’s for sure. It’s such a unique way of going under the water.” explains Robert. Christina agrees. “It’s like you’re in an aquarium, with the fish looking at us and saying, “What are you doing?”
Generally, they take a maximum of eight people on a long tail boat from Thong Krut pier. Four people will then go sea-walking, while the other four go snorkelling, before swapping activities. Also included in the 2,000 baht cost is your hotel transfer. You are picked up at 8:00 am and taken to the boat, which leaves at 9:00 am. You are finished by 12:00 pm and back at your place by 1:00 pm. They provide fresh water and fruits too. If you plan to have breakfast beforehand, they suggest you have something light, and nothing heavy.
The exclusively private way to have your own beach party – at Akyra Chura.
The beach club concept is not new to Samui. There are already three full-tilt beach club resorts here now. And the idea is strong enough to have made even family resorts change their seating and music to get with the trend. That’s great, and everyone welcomes it. But there’s just a tiny little drawback. A club is a club – and this means that everybody gets to go along. And, like any club, if you want to hire it for something private, it’ll cost you. Sure, there are lots of resorts and restaurants with private rooms. But that’s not the same. It’s just not the same as being on the beach right next to the sea, with everyone free and easy, laid back in their loungers and happy with the DJ and their favourite tunes. But there just isn’t anything like an affordable private option on the beach. Well, there wasn’t. And now there is.
Akyra Chura Samui has been here since June 2011. It’s a lovely resort in every way; the theme throughout hints at Japanese styling, but it’s more of a flavour than a design. ‘Zen’ is a widely misused word with lots of different meanings, but here it fits. There’s an elegance here that’s several notches above minimalism, from the wood floors and bamboo screens to the scrubbed concrete surfaces offset with vines, to the little outcrops of rocks scattered around, to the water feature and its two tiny humped bridges.
A look at how gold is very much a part of daily life in Thailand.
“All that glisters is not gold . . .” William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice; Act II - Scene VII.
When I first came to Thailand, I wasn’t interested in gold. I knew nothing much about it. So my awareness of Thai gold was fragmented. It was formed from bits and pieces of rumour and gossip picked up in bars and via the internet. And that’s where the 400 year-old quotation from the Bard of Avon comes in – as far as I was concerned, in my ignorance, I had the impression that Thai gold was far too glittery and the wrong colour to be much good. Gold jewellery was put together with old-fashioned and inferior technology. And the whole business was a minefield of schemes and scams to fleece foreigners, and not to be trusted. Oh boy, was I ever wrong!
Yes, as in every big city all over the world, there are some who seek to prey on the weak or uninformed. Gem scams in Thailand (and unfortunately therefore also gold, by implication) are legendary, tarred by the same brush as is usually applied to the jet ski ‘mafia’. But I read the other day that far more people are ripped-off, and for far more money, by the extortionate currency conversion rates of reputable institutions like Western Union or Amazon. So it all boils down to the instinct to trust something familiar,
If you’re considering relocating to a tropical island, you’re probably concerned whether it’s the right thing for your children.
You’re lazing under a coconut palm, sipping on a mojito, while the gentlest of breezes cools your body, which is developing a beautiful golden glow that you’ll be able to show off to your friends back home. You gaze at your little darlings playing at the water’s edge, and smile as you think to yourself that they’ve never seemed happier. You turn to your partner who’s lying next to you with the same silly grin on his face and say, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Well that depends, darling. Are you thinking that we should sell our house, resign from our jobs, uproot our kids and move to paradise? Then yes, I am thinking what you’re thinking!” Then you both shake your heads and chuckle a little at the idea, and discuss how silly and unrealistic the thought is. Then you spot me walking past with my husband, child and dog … and realise that tourists don’t have dogs, so we must live here. And that’s when you realise that people really do crazy things such as relocate to an island in the Gulf of Thailand, and maybe, just maybe, you can too.
So wanderlust and sense of adventure aside, there are other considerations when moving from your homeland to another country – whether it be on a
There are more than a hundred spas on the island now, but they are all the pampering kind. ‘The Spa Resort’, started by Guy Hopkins and his wife Toy, was the first on the island, and the only one doing fasting and cleansing at that time. And we are talking about more than twenty years ago! Their hard work over the years is evident in their dedicated repeat clientele. The Spa is located at the north end of Lamai Beach. Lamai actually translates as ‘longevity’ - as if whoever named it knew about the The Spa already!
They are perhaps best known for their detox program called ‘Clean Me Out’. Guy’s aim was to make it accessible to everybody, by keeping the cost reasonable – it’s just 14,000 Baht for a basic sevenday cleanse, exclusive of accommodation. If you don’t complete the whole week, they just charge you by the day. And you don’t have to be a guest at the resort to take part in any of their programs.
Guy and Toy also have another facility – 40 individual bungalows spread across the mountain, called ‘The Village’, which opened to the public in 2001. It’s two kilometres from the beach and ring-road, making it a quiet mountain retreat. So if you prefer a beach view you can choose The Spa, and if you prefer the scenic mountain views you can opt for The Village. The restaurants at both resorts are called ‘Radiance’, and feature the same excellent vegetarian menu.
A little gem of a hideaway on the west coast – The Siam Residence.
In the last seven or eight years, a dozen or more 5-star resorts have appeared. And what’s significant is that the majority of these have been built away from Chaweng. There are probably several reasons for this. But one of the main ones is that Chaweng’s getting a bit busy now. Its sleepy heyday has moved on. The time has passed when it had a deserted beach and you could see the sea from just about everywhere on the long strip of the beach road. Don’t get me wrong – Chaweng has become lively and vibrant. But those who are seeking the fabled peace of a tropical island now look further afield. Such as, for example, the island’s northern and western coasts. And it’s here, on the west coast, that you’ll find The Siam Residence.
Perhaps the Austrian owner of the resort has a crystal ball, because Siam Residence is no breathless newcomer to the Samui scene. And not only has it continued to succeed for the last 25 years, but it’s also been subject to an ongoing policy of modernisation to keep up with the changing times. All of the bungalows look brand new, both inside and out. The two glass-sided dining rooms and interlinked kitchen area seem as if they’ve come from a glossy magazine – and this futuristic design is echoed in the nearby massage room, too. Mature pines line the grassy lawn at the seafront, and carefully
Down in Lamai there’s a crowd every night – at Seafood Palate.
There are probably a dozen reasons. But nobody can tell you exactly why. True, it’s not so compact; it’s more spread out. And the ‘main strip’ isn’t as long and intense as Chaweng. But the fact is, Lamai has always been a kind of little sister to the bustle and neon of Chaweng. It’s certainly less pacey, and this aspect alone has gained it a big fan-base – with the folks who value a calmer vibe for their holidays here. Others will toot on rabidly about the straightline spangle of Chaweng – five kilometres, all in a line along the beach. But it’s horses for courses, and here’s the thing – go over the hill and turn into Lamai and drive slow and straight until the road narrows. You won’t fail to see the glow of the lights and feel the buzz. You’re at Seafood Palate; one of the most talked about eateries on the island today.
Okay – to be more precise, head up and over from Chaweng into Lamai, take the first left (blue signposts to Lamai Beach) after the small road bridge, and Bob’s your father’s brother. The thing about Seafood Palate is that it didn’t just pop up overnight. It’s been slowly growing, flourishing even, for well over a year. And that’s not surprising, given the spot-on formula that has been so successfully applied.
You’ll make your party go with a pop, when you call-in Balloon Samui!
What is there in common between balloons and the internet? (Actually, to be fair, I could have substituted any number of other things for ‘balloon’!) Go on, try to guess. No? Well then . . . both of these things are so much a part of our lives that it’s hard to imagine being without them. I suppose that’s a bit simplistic. But you could also add that both the internet and balloons have only appeared on the scene comparatively recently – historically speaking. Except, if you thought that, you’d be wrong: about balloons, anyway! Because balloons have actually been around for a very long time indeed.
Here, on our little tropical paradise island of Samui, balloons are also alive and well, courtesy of a very interesting man who goes by the name of Supakit Duangngern, although he’s more usually known by his nickname of Khun Yod. He’s the man behind ‘Balloons Samui’, and a very busy time he’s having of things right now, too. But it wasn’t always like this. Indeed, for the biggest part of his life he was a sailing instructor, and one of national renown, too, I might add. In a bizarre way, it was this that led to his involvement with balloons and the formation of his company – but all of this will be explained in just a moment!