Samui is not just about its fabulous palm-fringed beaches that are lapped by the warm turquoise waters. There’s much much more. And that includes a wealth of Buddhist temples revealing the cultural side of the island. Then we have a myriad of adventurous activities available, including elephant trekking, scuba-diving, island-hopping, sailing and even bungy-jumping. Of course, if you’re after more of a sedate Samui experience, there are many world-class spas on Samui offering everything from a basic Thai massage to sumptuous all-in packages. The shopaholics amongst you won’t be disappointed either, with bargaining opportunities abounding.
And when it comes to restaurants, forget any preconceived ideas you may have had that all you’ll get here is a bowl of tom yam gung or a plate of fried rice. Samui prides itself on having one of the widest selections of different cuisines – anywhere! And the restaurants themselves also offer an amazing range, with everything from the most basic roadside eateries through to elegant fine-dining establishments perched on scenic hilltops of spread along the pristine beaches.
Finally, we have the nightlife. And with numerous bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, Samui really does offer a total tropical holiday experience.
The sights, the sounds and the smells of Chaweng beach
When you look out across Chaweng Beach, it’s just like you see in the holiday brochures. A long strip of soft, white sand with beautiful blue seas stretching out in front of you. As you look to your left and right you can see rows of sun loungers lined up in front of the various resorts along the coast, and people strolling lazily along the shore, holiday smiles firmly in place. But let’s face it, Chaweng is not the place you go for peace and quiet. There is always something to do along this popular section of coastline, and exploring the sights sounds and smells is guaranteed to overload your senses.
Ah, the tropical island sights. Palm trees swaying gently in the breeze; topaz coloured, white crested waves lapping gently on the beach. And as you look out to sea, a few jet skis darting around, splashing up plumes of water behind them. You join a few other holidaymakers walking along the beach and take in more visuals. A little bamboo shack is selling very reasonably priced cocktails. The friendly bartender is shaking but not stirring, and judging from the queue of people waiting, he shakes pretty well. A few chairs have been laid out in front of the bar so you can sit down and take your time with your cocktail. After all, island life can’t be rushed.
Blue Stars Kayaking offers great day trips to amazing tropical islands.
Undoubtedly one of the best days out around Samui has to be a trip to the beautiful Angthong National Marine Park. For most people it’s the highlight of their vacation, topping many visitors’ lists of must-see places in the region. The marine park is a collection of over 42 beautiful tropical islands off the west coast of Samui. The chain of rocky islets stretches almost as far down as the mainland. During a trip to the park you will discover hidden lagoons, green islands, an emerald green lake, and mysterious caves. As well as natural wildlife; crab-eating monkeys, small herons, dolphins, otters, and silver-haired bats.
Blue Stars Kayaking is an extremely well-established tour operator on Koh Samui specializing in excursions with sightseeing, snorkelling and kayaking to the marine park. Operating since 1995, they have a vast knowledge of the area and the best places for kayaking or just lazing on a beautiful beach. Your trip begins with a minibus pick-up from your hotel at around 7:15 am to 7:30 am. The minibus will take you to Nathon pier on the northwest coast of Samui, where the 23 metre fully-equipped tour boat is waiting to take you to the marine park. Leaving Nathon at about 8:00 am, a light breakfast of croissants and tea or coffee is served while the boat steadily makes it way to the park. The trip there takes approximately an hour and a half, but with the wonderful scenery of Samui, Koh Pha-Ngan and the southern tip of the marine park, the time aboard slips by in a pleasant and relaxing manner.
Natural Wing Health Spa & Resort offers easyto- implement ways to improve your health and well-being.
It’s hard to spot even if you’re right outside Natural Wing, so lush is the greenery, with the entire spa part of one large and beautiful garden - just being there is relaxing! Winner of prestigious awards, most notably the Green Spa Award 2013, and the Gold Thai Spa Award, it’s the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the place that guests first notice.
Natural Wing is far more than just your average spa, offering what it calls ‘Beyond Spa’. While you’ll find all the usual services of a spa - body scrubs, facials, a steam room and a variety of massage packages, there is also their signature massage, the Siam 10 Senses Massage, using a blend of their own virgin cold-pressed coconut hot oil and herbs. The massage was developed by the Managing Director of the spa, Khun Wanwalee Tantikarn, who is the current president of the Thai Spa Federation. She developed the massage which works on the ten senses of the body, according to the ancient art of Thai massage. Also taking it beyond the usual spa treatments are Natural Wing’s detoxifying and slimming programmes which are available for their in-house guests.
Cutting through the confusion of trips, treks and elephants – at Baan Chang, Living Thailand Tours.
“I really have no idea about the other elephant trekking places – we don’t have any connection with them. And the majority of our business comes through outside agents. But I do know what these agents have told me. They have said that they get to see all the other places. And one thing they say to us is that our elephants are happy elephants. The other thing is that we have fat elephants, compared to other places. Many other elephants have the skin hanging off them in folds. But then, we’ve had some of our elephants now for 20 years. We were the first elephant trekking business on the island. How could any of us not get to know them like they were our children and, worse, ever think of treating them badly?” So said Khun Noi, overseer and manager at Living Thailand Tours.
Let’s come back to that in a moment. In the meantime, here’s a problem for you to solve. How many elephant trekking companies are there on Samui? Answer – there’s five, including one near Big C hypermarket! And if that sounds too much like urban elephanting, there’s another not that far from Fisherman’s Village in Bophut, too. Next question – how many names can you find for elephant treks on Samui? And the reply to that one is . . . a heck of a lot more than five. Some elephant companies are marketed and sold under the agent’s name as well as their own. Some companies are also wrapped up as part of a package tour that includes another four or five activities and, again, packaged under a different name. It’s really quite confusing.
Plus there’s another thing to be aware of, too. This is Samui. We’re a little tourist island that’s around 50 kilometres wide, from coast to coast. Up in the north of Thailand, where there are tens of thousands of square kilometres of virgin jungle, you can head off on an elephant trek which lasts three days, fording rivers, forcing your way through the undergrowth and camping out in the jungle at night. Here on Samui, the shortest trip is 15 minutes out and 15 minutes back again, on a wide and well-worn path between the coconut trees. So be prepared!
Leave your youngsters with confidence in a UK-quality nursery – at Tiny Steps.
At one time people just used to come here on holiday. But this began to change. Everyone loves Samui. It sticks in your mind – gets under your skin. And so more people came here to live. Some were older, retiring to the island. But a great many people came here to work, and they came with their kids. True, mostly these children were older. But every year more and more people came with babies or toddlers. The problem was apparent right away – until only quite recently, there was no day-care on the island.
But today there’s a lot! At the last count there appears to be around eight day-care centres, kindergartens, nurseries – call them what you will. So, there you go, problem solved. Well . . . not exactly. Ask any parent with young children, and they’ll tell you that choosing the right nursery can be a real headache. It’s not simply a question of convenience - finding the nearest place to look after your little ones for an hour or two. Parents need confidence. Their children are precious. They need to be sure their children are safe and being treated with care and love. And that’s exactly the reason why, when you balance everything out, so many people wouldn’t go anywhere else but Tiny Steps.
It’s why you’ve come here. To enjoy hot, sunny days and swim in warm seas. And to get away from the grey skies back home. But when exactly is the best time to visit? And what should you pack?
Samui has probably some of the best weather in Thailand, it being neither unbearably hot nor too cold. It’s a tropical climate however, so that also includes rainfall and during the rainy season there can be a lot of it. Temperatures all year typically vary only from 25°C to 33°C. So while in Bangkok and Chiang Mai visitors will be suffering 40°C weather during the hot season it won’t reach such peaks here. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the highest recorded temperature for Samui is 36.5°C.
Some foreigners jokingly refer to the three seasons of Thailand; yes, Thailand has only three seasons not four, and people speak of the ‘hot season, the even hotter season and the hot and wet season.’ Samui also has just 3 seasons, but since the region has something of a microclimate, they can be more correctly called the dry season, the rainy season and the hot season.
Central Festival Samui is all about having a relaxed time – whether you go shopping or not.
Last year saw a new mall go up with the most incredible speed – it seemed to be ready before many people were aware of it, and ever since its doors opened, it’s been increasing in popularity. Everyone seems to like it, whether they are locals or holidaymakers. A lot more than the sum of its parts, in this article we take a look at what makes Central Festival Samui work so well.
Firstly though, you may ask why there’s a mall here at all. After all, it might seem a bit odd to have a modern, sophisticated mall on a tropical island. But it actually fits in very well with Samui’s laid-back vibe. For a start, the entire space is open air. Many malls, even in Asia, are mostly enclosed, and large as they might be, shopping in them is an indoor experience. It’s almost certain that on Samui you won’t want to waste time indoors, since the weather’s mostly sunny. So even if you spend a good few hours at Central Festival, you won’t emerge with the feeling you’ve spent too long under strip lighting, and have acquired an unhealthy pallor. It’s definitely got that island, holiday feel to it.
Gaze down like a god at the breath-taking views from Narai Kiri.
We’ve come a long way from the wooden huts and the hippies of the ’80s. The hippies have morphed into backpackers. And today there’s now a whole new breed of young and moneyed ‘techpackers’. These are the people who travel with iPads, tablets and smartphones, plus a couple of credit cards for luck. They seek Wi-Fi, not marijuana. Today they’re touring about, making the most of being young, and taking it all in. However, these are the same people who, in a few years’ time, will be earning big money. They’ll be coming here with their children.
There are only two places on the island where people want to buy land or property. If you’re a rockstar or the dictator of a small developing nation, it’ll be on the beach. But for most of the rest of us, the call of the heights is hard to ignore. Every year our green hills mountainsides are studded with more white dots. Of course, it’s a lot cheaper to build something half way up. But the prime pinnacles are the best. They’re where everyone wants to be. Way up high, with a view like a god. There are not so many places like this; they are highly sought-after. And one of the most impressive to date is Narai Kiri.
With therapists ‘bending’ their clients into positions resembling a pretzel at times, what exactly is Thai massage all about?
It’s not something you’ll see every day in London, New York or Berlin. But on the streets of Samui and the rest of Thailand, glass-fronted shops reveal rows of lazy-boy chairs, holding tourists with trousers rolled up, lulled into a semi-conscious state as their feet are being prodded and rubbed. Beyond that, low, padded mats contain yet more tourists, this time getting the full force of a traditional Thai massage. If you’ve never experienced Thai massage before, it can be a little daunting, as it’s completely different to Western-style massages.
So what exactly is Thai massage? Well, it blends styles from Asian neighbours, including India and China, passed down through the generations. Unlike the kneading and continuous strokes of Western massage, the Thai method uses pressure points, muscle stretching and compression, done in a rhythmic movement of gentle rocking. In Thai massage the therapist uses not just her hands to free tension from your body, but also her feet, forearms, knees, and elbows too.
Noori India serves up amazingly good dishes and let you in on the recipes!
India. A massive country, always on the move. Packed full of history, colour, possibilities. As a simple tourist you could take a 10-year holiday there, and then you could just about say that you knew this country – though many would still disagree with you. People tend to think of it as a homogenized area, when it clearly isn’t at all. There are different climates, geographies and cultures all within the same country.
The food is equally varied, and one of the few things you can say about it is that the dishes mostly include spices. Some are very mild, with Kashmiri dishes being delicately flavoured, while others blaze with heat. Then there are the different cooking methods. There’s the Punjabi tandoor oven, in which marinated meats, chicken and naan bread are cooked to perfection; there are skillets of iron to be heated on open fires; then pots, pans, steamers, skewers – just about every kind of cooking utensil is present somewhere in India. Its cuisine has captured hearts the world over. And these days you’re never far from an Indian restaurant.
Drift placidly towards The Siam Residence – a hidden gem in Lipa Noi!
Drift placidly towards The Siam Residence – a hidden gem in Lipa Noi! Over the last few years, things have changed a lot. Not so long ago, new resorts looked at the areas around Chaweng and Lamai. The result, of course, was that these places filled up and land became expensive. And so, when the big names started to appear, they looked for quieter, more secluded locations. The comparatively undeveloped southern part of the island was the choice. Others quickly followed their lead. Today the result is that this whole area of Samui is quietly and unobtrusively busier.
But, looking at the western coast, particularly that area around Lipa Noi, there’s not a lot of new development. In fact, apart from one beach club, there’s not a great deal there at all. There might well be many people staying in the areas nearby, but they have to head to Nathon for a change of scene or to explore a new restaurant. Except that’s not true! There’s one notable, quiet and pleasant resort, with a great restaurant and a secluded beach. It’s been here for quite a while, although few people know of it. Its name is The Siam Residence.
SCL International School takes learning to new levels thanks to a holistic approach.
Back in 2004, two children were going to school in an old wooden house at the back of a temple. In the background - jungle, palm trees, buffaloes grazing. An idyllic scenario. It sounds great, doesn’t it? But you might be thinking by now the teaching was as simple and as rudimentary as the school building. And there you’d be wrong. Even if the school started small and didn’t look like an educational powerhouse, the teachers were dedicated, professional and inspiring. The word got round, and more and more parents enrolled their children, who were happy there and got great results.
The school soon outgrew the old wooden house and it’s now in a new building in a new location, set in countryside in Lamai. It’s easy to find. As you head into Lamai from Chaweng, turn off the ring-road and take the small lane that goes past Tamarind Springs. Simply follow it until you see the school buildings. You’ll find a large modern and well-run complex with plenty of sports facilities. Over the last 10 years, more and more parents have sent their children there and the number is growing.
If the term ‘fine dining’ conjures up images of heavy dark wooden chairs and stiff white napkins, then the minimalist approach of The Page will make you think again. Situated at well-known resort, The Library, you can easily get to the restaurant from South Chaweng Beach Road. As you’re walking or driving along you’ll notice a white statue of a person reading a book on a bench. This marks the entrance to The Library. Turn in here and walk down towards the beach, along a path of wooden boards, past neat white buildings and manicured green lawns, and then to the right of the spectacular red-tiled pool you’ll come to The Page, on an expansive beachfront restaurant overlooking the blue waters.
The Page incorporates a stylish minimalist theme into its design. There are high vaulted ceilings and open walls with screen doors which are almost always open to let the sea breeze waft through and cool you down. Or if you want to truly experience the wonderful beachfront location you can sit on their long terrace which is kept cool during the day by tall leafy green trees that offer plenty of natural shade. There’s also an indoor air-conditioned section should you prefer it.
In order for tourists to enjoy the wonderful island of Samui, there needs to be a fair few people working behind the scenes to make it all happen. Resorts and hotels which can’t ever close, restaurants open seven days a week, entertainment every night and bars that don’t close until the early hours of the morning.
Working on Samui is tricky, because you have a very distinct high season and a very distinct low season. High season runs roughly from the middle of November to the middle of February, but this varies depending on who you speak to. There’ll be a few months of craziness followed by a very distinct lull. Hotels and resorts might have longer high seasons compared to smaller tour companies, for example. Some places might even take on extra staff around the high season just to cope with the influx of tourists eager to explore this small island.
We’ve spoken to a few small bar owners on the island and they often say the same thing. It’s all too easy to join their patrons having a few drinks, and before they know it, they’ve been drinking all night. If you have a bar manager and staff that work alongside you, sitting at the end of the bar with a pint of beer discussing the latest football defeat is okay, but if you’re a ‘one man shop’, it’s different. Or is it…
Classic Gems offers a superb range of jewellery at very affordable prices.
Things have gotten zippy since the birth of the internet; now you can do everything faster, better and get the edge over your competition; you can pick up a skill in no time, watch a few YouTube videos and profess yourself an expert in a month. Fortunately most professions raise an eyebrow at that, and there’s still expertise that takes decades to learn. Professionals who declare themselves in for the long haul are more likely to be trusted. On Samui, where everything appears so modern, and stores set up overnight, you might think that traditional learning and crafting may be a thing of the past. But this isn’t so in many cases.
Classic Gems is a locally-run business. The current owner, Khun Chayapa, learned the jewellery business from her father and he learned it from his father. If you need to know anything about precious stones and jewellery then you won’t go wrong with Classic Gems. Their shop is conveniently located at the southern end of Chaweng Beach Road opposite Centara Grand Beach Resort.
Have you got what it takes to save the world at Escapology?
Thirty year ago, computers games turned the world upside down. And as the years went on the games became more complex, more fantastical and more diverse, as better and faster components came on the scene. Immensely complex games emerged, every one involving a challenge of some sort, with objectives to achieve, initiatives to take, and problems to solve. The graphics and simulations were so realistic and compelling that it was just like really being there.
Now it’s all changed. Yes, of course, these games still exist and are as popular as ever. But now people are starting to play real games, in real rooms, with real teams of people and real puzzles to solve in real time. And this quaint, old-fashioned idea, from back in the days when people sat around in their parlours, before television was even thought of, is taking the world by storm.
Actually, it’s not as odd as it sounds. Some of you may recall the game Cluedo, which may perhaps have been the forerunner of the genre. And, interestingly, the first recorded example of today’s ‘adventure room’ game idea happened way back in the early ’90s, at a one-week symposium held in California’s Silicon Valley, which was not only based on Cluedo but also added-in Agatha Christie’s crime novels and their characters.
Today the adventure-room game setting is back with a vengeance. And now it involves a bunch of people (you!) really being inside a series of locked rooms, and having to use your wits and powers of analysis and deduction to unlock each door and progress to the next room, in order to go on and achieve your set objective. In less than two years, this style of game has erupted all over the globe and is still spreading like wildfire. And you can now get to play it here on Samui, at Beach Republic in Lamai.
Nathon has some charms - you’ve just got to know where to look.
When people talk about visiting Samui, Nathon doesn’t usually feature on their ‘must visit’ list, but the island’s administrative centre does offer a few worthwhile sights.
Nathon lies on the west coast of the island and is best known for being the island’s main port, the key arrival and departure point on the island, apart from the airport. Most people arriving from Suratthani on the mainland will arrive here by ferry, but you can also depart to neighbouring islands, such as Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Tao from here. Nathon pier is able to accommodate hundreds of people that hop on and off various ferries throughout the day. Car ferries, passenger ferries and even ocean-going tour and transfer boats. Nathon is also home to the main bus terminal offering both VIP and economy class coaches, and you can buy ferry and bus combination tickets to make travelling easier.
Nathon town itself has some interesting spots. The beachfront road has countless Thai restaurants, bakeries, pizzerias, sarong and bathing suit shops, along with internet cafes and coffee shops which are perfect to sit down, relax, and enjoy a drink. The waterfront restaurants are a must for authentic Thai cuisine but watch out, the dishes might be spicier than you’re expecting! There is no shortage of taxis in the form of metered, motorbike or public transport, but remember to haggle for a lower price and don’t forget to smile while you’re doing it.
OK. So you want the number one reason to visit Thailand? Well, in a word - Songkran. That’s if you’re fond of water! And who wouldn’t be during the hottest and driest part of the year. The word Songkran comes from the Sanskrit words meaning ‘New Year’, and it’s the celebration of the Lunar New Year in Thailand. It’s the largest water festival in the world, where thousands of people take to the streets to cleanse their souls and enjoy the community spirit. Held on the 13th, 14th and 15th of April, it’s three days of complete pandemonium throughout the country, although in some areas the celebration continues go on for as long as seven or ten days. People line the streets armed with hosepipes, big barrels, buckets and water guns full of ice-cold water, waiting for all who pass by.
Songkran is regarded as one of the most important festivals in Thailand, because it encompasses many of the major values incorporated into the Thai way of life. It’s a time for the family to come together to show appreciation, love and respect to each other. Traditionally, Buddha images are bathed at this time. The water that runs off the statues is collected and sprinkled onto the shoulders of the elderly. This ‘blessed’ water is believed to give good luck and prosperity for the future. This custom has evolved to include dousing others with water to relieve them from the heat. The historical, spiritual and religious traditions have developed into what we know today as the largest street water fight you’ll ever experience.
A look at the place of the Siamese fighting fish in popular Thai culture.
The Thai nation just loves a good fight! Plus, of course, they’re a very sporting kind of a nation. Top of the list has to be their national sport, the Thai boxing known as ‘Muay Thai’. And like many other facets of Thailand, it’s steeped in a whole wrap of pageantry and ritual that is just as much part of the ethos as the spectacularly fast leaps and kicks that characterise the sport.
But, down at grass roots level, few ordinary folk can aspire to the riches and glory that Muay Thai can offer – you need to be young, fit and fast and not a little mean for that! On the other hand, a buffalo will do quite nicely – making the noble art of buffalo fighting a convenient number two combat sport. Or, if buffalos are a bit too big and lumpy and cost a lot to feed, how about pitting a couple of cocks against each other instead? Or . . . if cages full of squawking cockerels are really getting on your neighbours’ nerves, what about something altogether smaller, quieter and cheaper? How about a fish?
This is how it all began, hundreds of years ago, in the poorer part of the northeast of Thailand. Nobody knows for certain when it started, there are no written records, and Thai history is patchy and concerns itself with important things like kings and queens and battles. Some sociologists guess at five or six hundred years, but this is based on the knowledge that these fish were being bred during that period for their beautiful plumage and were a favourite at the Royal Court.
The Patio Restaurant offers fine dining in an amazing setting.
A few decades ago, a local entrepreneur, Khun Virach Pongchababnapa, was wondering what to do with a bit of beachfront land that he’d inherited. This was in Lamai and a few tourists were starting to turn up on the island. He built a few huts. Business was good and he ended up with a resort, and over the years it began to get more and more sophisticated. For accommodation in Lamai, the prestigious Pavilion Samui Boutique Resort has, for the last 20 years and more, been one of the finest places to stay. The Pavilion is resolutely contemporary and could easily feature in one of those coffee table books featuring the hippest of hotels. Its clean, modern lines please the eye, and as for accommodation itself, it would be hard to beat.
The same goes for the food. Khun Virach has always believed in eating well, and has from the early days managed to find some extraordinary chefs, who have led him on a culinary journey that matched the entrepreneurial one he was already taking. One of Samui’s most creative restaurants was born, The Patio.
It’s gone in a flash. All you see is a temple gate as you drive past, and it’s all too easy to miss one of the island’s most intriguing temples. But it’s well worth stopping and spending some time here. It’s easy to get to, as it’s on the ring-road just past Rocky’s Resort, before you get to Ban Hua Thanon. Wat Sila Ngu is far from being a run-of-the-mill temple. Just translating the name from Thai adds a sense of the dramatic: ‘sila’ means stone, and ‘ngu’ means snake. Yes, that’s right - Stone Snake Temple. As you go round the grounds, you’ll see it really does live up to its name: snakes a-plenty have been carved here, and stand guard over the entire area.
Once inside the main gate, you’ll find a grassy area, usually deserted, where you can easily park. You probably won’t even see many people here. A huge tree stands guard with a canopy of spreading leaves and a swathe of coloured ribbon around its base, signifying that it’s sacred. Already, though the main road is just beyond, a sense of peacefulness reigns. The walls of the temple keep out most of the sound from outside.