Everybody who comes here knows that Samui is a prime destination when it comes to the combination of sun and sea. It’s got dozens of beaches ranging from tiny coves that aren’t marked on any map, to kilometre-long swathes of sand. Then there’s the amazing amount of sunshine allowing you to enjoy those beaches all year round. But there’s a lot more to the island than just a happy meld of geography and climate.
There’s plenty to do, and you can easily fill up your holiday and still not have seen and done everything. You can rent a mountain bike and explore the hidden interior of the island, or rent a car and do the same, discovering the temples and traditional lives that are part and parcel of Samui’s towns and villages. You can learn things too; how to paint with gold leaf, make a traditional Thai dish or how to kick-box using Muay Thai. You can learn to meditate in a retreat or hone up your golfing skills, get to grips with kite-boarding or learn to give Thai massage. Okay, so Samui may not offer everything a big city can, but there’s a surprising amount of things to do while you’re here.
Holidays on Samui can mean simply enjoying what’s immediately to hand – the beaches, the endless sunshine, the sheer relaxation that the island exudes – or it can mean digging a bit deeper and seeing all the other possibilities.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s a brilliant place to be, and you’ll probably like it so much that you’ll be wanting to come back again next year. Enjoy!
MORE THAN JUST A KNEAD
Just what is it that makes Samui an international spa destination?
It depends how you count them, but there are approximately 200,000 islands in the world, about half of which are inhabited. That’s a lot, and there’s an enormous amount of variety in them. A few – probably less than a dozen – stand out for an unusual factor: the astonishing number of spas that they have. Samui is high up on that list; given its relatively small size, Samui is packed with places to get a massage and all kinds of other health treatments. There are over 60 spas now and countless places where you can get a professional treatment. If you’re here on holiday, one thing you should definitely indulge in is a session at a spa.
But how do you choose which one to go to? Well, it’s a bit like choosing a restaurant: price and setting are both important, and just as in a restaurant, you need to know which kind to go to.
Spas can be, well, a bit daunting - but not on Samui. Firstly, thanks in large part to Thai culture, they’re very welcoming and friendly. You’ll feel at home quite instantly. And, secondly, you won’t leave white-faced with worry and
Step into The Larder, a no-fuss restaurant loaded with top quality food and more.
Unless you’re really familiar with the island then it’s all too easy to miss out on brilliant restaurants, especially the small, stand-alone ones that may be tucked away without a ton of signs pointing to them. The Larder is the brainchild of chef-entrepreneur Martin Selby, who takes care of the food, and Damian Ahern, who provides cutting-edge cocktails. Asked why he set up The Larder, Martin says quite simply, “I wanted to have exactly the kind of place that I’d be happy to drop into for food and drink a couple of times a week. A comfortable place where you feel at home.” The two have a wealth of experience in the restaurant world, and envisioned The Larder to be exactly that kind of place. It certainly works. The restaurant’s guests are mainly on vacation, and many come back to experience The Larder again and again, while others are island residents who drop in regularly.
The Larder is very easy to find. If you drive north of Chaweng, along the beach road, you’ll come to it about a kilometre from Samui International Hospital and right across the road from Anantara Lawana. If you’re driving, you’ll find a small car park right next to the restaurant. It’s open daily from midday to 11:00 pm, Monday to Saturday (last orders in the kitchen are at 10:00 pm).
What to do and where to turn when you’re faced with a sudden emergency!
I heard not so long ago that a good friend of mine ended up in hospital. It’s actually not so hard to do, considering the traffic on the island. But this gave me pause. Here was a man, living permanently on Samui for 16 years or so, who had been knocked off his motorbike. He wasn’t a tourist or a visitor to the island. He supposedly knew the score. He had a mobile phone with a full-time contract. And yet, lying in the road, slightly damaged but wide-awake, he didn’t know what to do. What numbers to call. Who to turn to. Police? Hospital? Witnesses? Ambulance? Insurance? Where how, who, what? He just didn’t know. And it made me think.
If he, ‘knowledgeable’ as he was, and a long-term resident, was unsure what to do in an emergency, then what about me? What about you: would you know what to do? Nearly all of our readers are visitors here. Is it simply a question of ‘it isn’t going to happen to me’? My friend and his misfortune proved to me that this kind of thinking is ostrich-like – put your head in the sand and keep thinking it’s not going to happen. But it did – things do, sometimes. And it also brought to light my own failings. Because, had I been in his situation, I realised that I wouldn’t have known what to do either!
A look at what makes the grade – at SCL International School.
When you’re a school kid, you don’t think about school so much. Yes, sure, of course it’s always on your mind, day-to-day. But you don’t know enough about things to philosophise. It’s only later, with kids of your own, that you’ve now formed an outlook. Schools, you’ve discovered, go about things in different ways. Some of them stress knowledge and the importance of passing exams. Others are more child-centred, approaching it all with an eye on the child as a whole, and with their happiness and development coming first.
But this is Thailand. And for most aware parents, this means looking at a school that offers an international level of care and achievement – an ‘international school’. Such schools have to fulfil explicit conditions for Thai registration, and satisfy all the requirements to qualify for international standing, too. This is heavy-duty stuff, and not easy to achieve. But one such school is SCL International School in Lamai, which also happens to be the longest-running international school on the island. And when you discover that their motto is ‘Educating the Mind, Nurturing the Soul’ then you’ll get a good idea of what their particular approach to education is all about.
Coming into the school, first impressions are that everyone here is very cheery indeed. The co-founder and director is Emma Dyas. She’s been on board since the school began in 2004, and now has attracted more than 150 students aged between three years and 11 in the junior section, and almost 50 in the follow-on secondary school. All the teaching staff are young, enthusiastic, and mostly UK trained and experienced. And the whole place just buzzes with life.
Tattoos are a very personal thing – so what are you looking for, here on Samui?.
This isn’t going to be a review of shops and prices. It’s not even so much about ‘where to go’. Rather, it’s about the ‘why’, about ‘who are you?’ and ‘what’s it all about?’ There has to be 20 different reasons for wanting to engrave your skin with something that’s never coming off. And probably three or four ways to join the club without taking out lifetime membership. And the best way to explain this last one is to talk about hippies!
Somewhere back in the mid ’60s, the world was full of hippies. Well, that’s the way it seemed to us pop-star-struck teens in my church youth club in Manchester. While the real hippies were living it all for real in California, somewhere round about 7:00 pm every Friday, there’d be a flurry of little schoolgirls dashing into the toilets via the back door. Only to emerge 15 minutes later, all covered in beads and headbands with face paint and flowers in their hair – all of which had to be removed when they later went back home to mummy and daddy.
No matter if you live thousands of miles away, Bangkok Samui Dental Clinic is a natural choice when it comes to better teeth.
Samui is synonymous with sun, sea and sand. It offers brilliant beaches and hedonistic vacations. And whether you’re here on a romantic break, just to wind down, or to spend some seriously romantic time with your partner, you’ll be well-catered for. But it’s not just those beaches that are brilliantly white. You may well be amongst the growing number of visitors who have a great holiday and leave feeling and looking healthier than when they stepped off the plane at Samui airport.
The reason is simple, and anyone can avail themselves of it: for much less than it’d cost in the West, you can visit the dentist on Samui and have many kinds of treatments done. I can hear some people recoil in horror; I can hear words along the lines of: ‘how can I trust a dentist in a country which is totally unknown to me and where I don’t speak a word of the language?’ Indeed, it’s a fair point. After all, even back at home, it may have taken you a while to find a good dentist.
How Centara Grand’s new Coast Beach Bar & Grill redefines the concept of the beach club.
At one time, many of the high-end resorts here were ‘exclusive’. It was something they prided themselves on; they boasted about it. And then somebody must have given this a bit more thought. They must have realised that this was entirely the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. Yes, it’s a trendy buzz-word to throw into your press releases. Except for the fact that ‘unique’ or ‘highly individual’ is actually what they were trying to say. Because, after all, the very last thing that anybody wants to do is to exclude people. Every resort is looking to draw people in from the outside. It’s what they depend upon. It’s their life blood.
But there’s a lot of divergent thinking about all this. Some management gurus still argue that when you have one of the best reputations in the world for hospitality, then your name sells itself and people will pay anything you want to charge. But recently some of the best 5-star resorts have been approaching things in a different way. They know that their reputation is topnotch.
Yoga is enjoying increasing popularity, with an ever growing number of yoga studios worldwide; it is so popular that there are even classes held in shopping malls, offices and in public parks. On Samui there are beautiful white sands to lay your mats on if you wish, while some spas also offer instruction on the beach.
But what is yoga, exactly? The yoga teachers I spoke to describe it as a source for transformation, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It helps us to become more aware of ourselves and how we interact with the outside world, especially in relation to other people and the environment. Some people may practise yoga solely for the purpose of having a wonderfully sculptured body and to be in great physical shape. Other people may be practising to improve their health since yoga is able to improve chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma. Some may be more focused on mental health rather than physical, and see their practice of yoga as a relief from daily stress and other worries. Others still have a spiritual purpose for studying yoga. With all the differing styles out there, yoga can fulfil everyone’s objectives.
One of the most-acclaimed names in quality-styled fashion just happens to have shops on Samui – look out for Psylo!
Samui gets a lot of visitors. Most months you can reckon on about 100,000 of them. That’s a substantial audience for the local stalls and shops to aim for. And it has to be said that there are a lot of shopping bargains to be found around the island. But in some ways, that’s unfortunate. Because it means many people here are out on the prowl, looking for the very lowest prices they can find.
True, there are some exceptions. Gold, gems, jewellery. Plus there are some exceptional local craftworks to be seen here and there, usually created with silver and semi-precious stones, or sometimes items of intensively handworked leather. But, overall, Samui (as with so many places in Thailand) is a ‘cheap Charlie’ paradise, with everyone hassling in line to get the best price on a brass Rolex or a nearly authentic Gucci.
And so, on the face of it, it comes as a surprise to discover that one of the world’s leading small fashion houses has staked a claim on not just one outlet here, but two. Two shops, within strolling distance of each other.
Koh Tan is one of the nicest little islands to visit on a day trip.
There are perhaps about 20 smaller islands off the coast of Samui, but it’s hard to visit most of them. Here, as with any kind of excursion, you are usually better off signing up for an organised tour. That way you are minimising the error-factor, and the tour operators are experienced – they do this for a living, every day. However, you’ll find that the tinier islands aren’t on their schedule. But if you’ve been here before and you reckon you know your way around, then it’s certainly more adventurous to strike out on your own.
One question that springs to mind is – ‘what do you want to go there for . . . what do you want to do?’ If it’s only a question of packing a picnic basket and heading off to a deserted isle to luxuriate in utter isolation, then there are one or two you can actually walk to if the tide is right. Such as little Koh Farn Noi that’s almost touching the coast off Choeng Mon. For others, like the picturesque Koh Som, off the very north-eastern tip of Samui, you’ll need to find a boat to take you. But most people who head off on trips such as these are seeking a bit more variety and some social stimulus, too. The ‘Five Islands’ up near Baan Taling Ngam are an interesting choice: they are home to the swallows from which bird’s nest soup is made, and they are protected by armed guards – so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stop off at a beach there for a swim. And so, bearing all of these factors in mind, Koh Tan has become a popular choice.
You step onto the ferry, your stomach a bundle of nerves and excitement. Will this be everything you’ve dreamed of? Palm trees, beaches, exotic cocktails, resorts, stunning sun sets? You have a picture in your head - you’re sitting under a palm tree, mojito in your hand, sunning yourself while enjoying a book you’ve been trying to finish for ages. You’re moving to Koh Samui. Yes! You will make this work.
You watch the island getting closer and closer, and as the ferry docks at Nathon, you are keen to quickly set food on the island and start exploring. The island is fairly easy to circumnavigate in a day, once you’ve accepted the state of the roads and realised there aren’t any motorways. Non-stop you can do it in just over an hour, but it’s a challenge not to stop and check out some of the breath-taking views of rocky coves, cliffs, sweeping bays and beaches along the way.
If you’ve been living elsewhere in Thailand, the first adjustment you’ll have to make is getting used to the cost of things. Things are not cheap on Samui. I lived in Hat Yai before moving to Samui, and you could get anywhere in the city on a songtaew for 10 baht, on a tuk-tuk for around 50 baht depending on the time of day, or take a 15 minute motorbike taxi ride for 50 baht (a tad cheaper than the 150 baht I’ve been charged for getting a motorbike taxi from Maenam to Bangrak!) Accommodation is also more expensive here, but given the choice, I’d much rather be living over the road from a beach than in a city.
In the less ‘touristy’ parts of Thailand, farangs (the Thai term for ‘foreigner’) are less common, so you are openly stared at. But this doesn’t happen on Samui, which is strangely weird for those of us who’ve just got used to it. It seems at times that there are more foreigners living here than locals.
Having fun with drugs in Thailand is totally not a good idea!
It’s almost impossible to write a story like this. I’m either going to sound like a moralising granny, or I’m going to come across with something bland and general. Either way there’s an excellent chance that I won’t do much good. Because what I’d really like is to warn people off. But the ones who need such a warning probably won’t be reading this. And those of you who are reading this most likely aren’t into fun drugs anyway. So what the heck! Let’s just regard this as a cautionary tale of Thailand. And that, of course, includes Samui.
In today’s internet-savvy culture, urban legends spawn thicker than mushrooms in a cellar. And to add weight to the mix, every now and then one of our shabbier daily papers will splash up some new shocker about Thailand. Scams, prostitution, corruption, ladyboys, beach parties, drugs; it seems that, if there’s not much going on, not much news, then Thailand’s always handy to fill the gap. The result of all this is that very few people actually really know what happens over here. And what’s likely to happen. Especially when it comes to drugs.
W Retreat Koh Samui offers way more than the average resort.
W is enigmatic. Once you start to think about W Retreat, then you start to pose questions. What is it, exactly? The over-simple answer is that it’s a resort. It has rooms you can stay in, 74 pool ‘retreats’ as they are called. So that’s exactly what it must be, surely – a resort? That answer is mainly correct, but it’s not a resort – a hotel – in any usual sense of the word. Just spend a bit of time there and you’ll see that things aren’t stapled down quite the way hotels usually like them to be. It’s a place where conventions are often turned on their head. That doesn’t mean to say the hotelier’s rule book gets thrown out of the window, but it does get creatively and very colourfully scribbled over – new ideas, new styles, new ways are all encouraged here. If you think that this is all a grand and giddy experiment that’ll pop like a cheap lamp bulb, then you’d be wrong: the people behind W are in the 15th year of running the brand, and have peppered the world with their hotels and retreats.
The sun is deceptive – how to enjoy your stay here and keep your skin in one piece, too!
Question: what’s the best car to buy? Answer: what a silly question! The best car for what – racing or shopping? The cheapest to run or the most reliable? The most-ecofriendly car, the car with the lowest petrol consumption, the best electric car? There’s no such thing as a ‘best car’! What’s best for you won’t be the same for me. Everyone’s different, and has different needs! It’s so obvious – why ask such a silly question in the first place?
Well, because when it comes to cars, everyone has already worked things out for themselves, that’s why! They know exactly what they want, and why they need it. Therefore, it’s quite self-evident that the question is misleading. But when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, most people are quite content to take passing advice. Wear a hat, use lots of high-factor sunscreen, and put a towel over your shoulders if they start stinging. Which is much the same as saying, “. . . take your hand out of the fire when it starts to hurt”.
Already I bet some of you are tutting and shaking your heads and thinking about turning the page – yes? Because the other thing about this topic is that everyone
Serving top-notch delights since 2004, The Cliff Bar & Grill has more than stood the test of time.
When you look round Samui these days, you’ll see that it’s basically short of nothing when it comes to food and drink. There are restaurants of all kinds, from the simple to the sublime. But just a decade ago, there were few suppliers here, and many foods were extraordinarily hard to get – it was like panning for gold. It was very difficult to open a restaurant that specialized in food from outside Thailand. The Cliff was one of the first places to brave that culinary void. Lionel Helena, who has been The Cliff’s manager from the very first days, saw at first hand that while it might be easy to get local products from Samui itself, it was another matter to get products from the mainland or from outside Thailand.
Before opening The Cliff, owner and master chef Bradley Munns had already painstakingly travelled to Portugal, Spain and Italy to find the right combinations of herbs, spices, olive oils, ingredients and recipes to please his guests. It’s thanks to Bradley’s dedication that he was able to succeed in bringing quality food to Samui, and it can be safely said that he was one of the first restaurateurs to do so. Things have changed a lot since those early days and there are more suppliers now, new routes from farm to kitchen and generally a very savvy, international approach to food.
Head for the shop that’s so full of heart – Chaweng’s Nature Art Gallery.
Just take a look along Chaweng Beach Road. It’s a busy little strip. And it’s also a prime tourist trap. The logic is simple enough; this is where most of the tourists are, after all. And, on the whole, this makes shopping there great fun. But it has its down side too. Although there are hundreds of shops all selling the same kind of gifts and mementos, it’s hard to find the good stuff. Quality items. The sort of thing you just know is in there somewhere if you keep on looking. Fortunately, you don’t have to look very far. Because ‘Nature Art Gallery’ is just about directly opposite the main entrance to Central Festival Mall.
It’s an ironic fact that so-called ‘designer’ goods mostly have very little thought in their design. It seems enough merely to stamp them with the labels of Gucci, Prada or Versace. But here it’s the opposite. The moment you look around you’ll see endless items that simply shout creative flair, from the unassuming to the bold, and every one of them has been individually, painstakingly and lovingly designed. And yet there’s not a brand name to be seen at all.
The history of the Thai nation features some interesting twists and turns!
Did you know that Thailand is one of perhaps four nations across the globe that have never been conquered and colonised? This is a grey area though, as there’s still debate about the implications of ‘occupation’ and ‘colonisation’. But the bottom line is that, throughout its history as an entity (a country in its own right), Thailand has never relinquished control or government to any other nation. (And if you’re wondering about the others, you can add Nepal, Turkey and Bhutan to the list, too.)
I do not intend to bore you rigid with a succession of dates and unfamiliar names of ancient Asian nations and monarchs. Suffice it only to say that the genetics of the people, who now call themselves Thai, can be traced back to northern India almost 4,000 years ago. They were known as the Nanchaoans, and migrated towards China and eventually settled in Hunan province. But due to the invading Mongol hordes, they moved out to the south after only 400 years. By then they were known as the Tai people, and they settled among the Khmer, Mon and Burman populations whom they encountered along the way. By the 12th century, they had established several small states in Upper Burma (Shans), the Mekong Valley (Laos) and the Chao Phraya River Valley (Thais).
Get away for a break at Khao Sok National Park and The Cliff and River Jungle Resort!
There comes a time in the affairs of men, as Shakespeare said, when life becomes tedious. The same old sunshine, the same old golden beaches. Day after day of picture postcard scenes, with the deep blue sky and those little fluffy clouds. Palm-fringed sands. Seascapes with pastel islands. All these things are simply joyous on day one; with 30 hours of travel and a dizzying jetlag, they’re welcomed with sun-oiled open arms. You flop by the pool with a book. Then later, explore around. Find great restaurants. Go on a boat trip. Find better restaurants. Adventure up the mountain. And then, if you’re lucky, you go back home.
If you’re lucky? Yes. Because you haven’t been staying here long enough to get bored. You came, you enjoyed, you went. But not everyone’s so fortunate. Thousands of people now stay on the island for months at a time. And there does indeed come a point where the gloss starts to dull a little. When grabbing every little bit of sun is no longer so urgent.
In the hands of Chef Roberto Bellitti, Waterline will evoke your memories.
The setting’s spectacular. Waterline, as the name suggests, is right by the sea. And the sea isn’t the only water it overlooks; right outside the restaurant you’ll find a large free-form swimming pool. This gives Waterline an added bonus, making it a great place to come and spend a few hours swimming and getting a tan. If you’re driving round the island, it’s a good place to take a break – and a beautiful one at that.
The restaurant is part of Manathai Koh Samui, which stands out on the island for its colonial architecture. There’s nowhere else quite like it. It looks as if it was built during the same era as Raffles in Singapore. The colonial façade, window shutters and bougainvillea-lined terraces conjure a feeling rich in history and the charm of a bygone era. Surprisingly, it turns out to be very modern and has just gone through a complete renovation, making it an even better place to stay. But you don’t need to be a hotel guest, of course, to go and have lunch, dinner or even a simple snack or drink at Waterline. Everyone’s invited. The restaurant’s easy to find: as you drive along the ring-road from Chaweng to Lamai, you’ll find it on your left just after the turning for Tamarind Springs. It’s open daily serving food between 11:30 am and 10:30 pm.
The traditions of Thailand include some customs that are important to know about.
A “chaotic veneer”. That’s what it has been described as. That’s what overwhelms first-time visitors to Thailand, particularly as 95% of inbound flights land in Bangkok. In our cosmopolitan age, it’s all too easy to use the words ‘culture shock’ – I’ve even heard them used to describe an unfamiliar corner shop back home. But until you first find yourself in the middle of a capital city where ‘East meets West’, you ‘ain’t seen nothing yet!
Although Bangkok seems modern and cosmopolitan, it’s part of a nation with an approach to life that’s not even vaguely similar to our own. One of the first signs of this new culture you’ll see immediately is the ‘wai’. This is the prayer-like gesture of respect and greeting that’s made by bringing the raised hands together at chest height. To the eyes of an outsider, it seems that this is merely one general gesture – a wai is a wai is a wai. But not so, and there are unspoken rules about this that every Thai child simply absorbs while they are growing up. So study the form of this greeting and try to spot the differences. Imagine it to be a bit like a salute: the casual greeting amongst friends or near-equals is a flowing and relaxed rapid raising and lowering of the hands to chest height. On a more formal or important occasion, the hands are kept in place for longer and the fingers are stiffer. If the person you are greeting is of a higher social status than you are, then your hands will be raised higher so that your fingertips touch your nose – the higher your hands, the more you are humbling yourself and showing respect.
It’s amusing to see newcomers sometimes almost ‘worshiping’ serving staff by wai-ing them wildly with their hands up on their foreheads. To a Thai this is much the same as when a Westerner throws himself fulllength on the ground in front of The Pope! It’s quite out of place. Young children, also, should not be wai-ed by adults. There are so many shades of meaning contained in this one simple gesture that it would fill a book (and has done so, numerous times). Therefore, the simple rule is to wait until you are wai-ed and then return it in a similar style. But happily, the Thais are a most tolerant and accommodating race and have become accustomed to their visitors doing odd things!
There’s always plenty going on at Impiana Resort Chaweng Noi.
One of the joys of coming to Samui is to find an unexpectedly good resort which has something way beyond the usual. It could be the setting, the food and drink, the accommodation or it could just be a heady combination of all of them. There are hotels in the world so wonderful that you feel, surely luck has a lot to do with their success. But hoteliers don’t believe in luck; they believe in making great choices right from the start. It begins with choosing the land, and ends with every square inch being utilised to please the guests who’re going to be staying. And then there are all the services that are on offer and a thousand other things besides.
Whether you stay at Impiana Resort, or are just coming there for a drink, you’ll feel impressed by what you see. Walk up the steps of the entrance and you’ll realize that the atrium perfectly frames the sea beyond it, giving you a taste of what’s to come. Its effortlessly laid-back ambience will soon work its charms on you and you’ll enjoy your time here.