And we wish you all a really wet and happy new year. Welcome to the year 2559! No, you’re not reading this on April 1st, All Fool’s Day. But you will be coming face-to-face with the Thai New Year which begins on the 13th of April, according to the Buddhist calendar. Wet? Sure, but we’re not talking about rain!
The original Thai greeting on this occasion was a symbolic sprinkle of water, to cleanse away the cobwebs of the old year. But this has now turned into the world’s biggest water fight, with nobody, not even policemen on motorbikes, being spared a thorough soaking. We’re lucky on Samui however, in other tourist areas this can go on for five days! Here we get just the one. And, in one of the hottest months of this year, this is not only a welcome relief, but a huge amount of fun, too.
Many of you who have come here from Europe will be taking your Easter break, to get away from the usual gales and pouring rain. And what a contrast this will be, basking on the snowy-white sand under a sky full of little fluffy clouds. This year Easter Sunday falls on the 27th of March. Easter bunnies and Easter eggs are rarely seen in Thailand. But the top restaurants all feature the most mouth-watering chocolate desserts imaginable – it’s a chocoholic’s dream! So get with the flow, tune in to the island life, and indulge yourself!
SPLASHING OUT AT SONGKRAN
Why the Thai New Year is just that bit different on Samui!
It’s a funny old world. Just think about it for a moment. I mean, in December, half of the planet goes on a gigantic shopping binge, and 10% of them turn into jolly old men with long white beards chanting “Ho ho ho!”. And then, a couple of months later, another huge chunk of the world dresses in red and gold, bangs gongs and drums, and pretends to be dragons or lions in elaborate street processions. Or ‘Songkran’, when an entire nation wakes up in the morning, then dashes onto the streets. More than 50 million of them, with buckets and hosepipes, and spends the whole day splashing, soaking and drenching every living creature in sight.
Joking apart, Songkran is probably the highlight of the entire Thai year. It’s the celebration of Buddhist New Year, not just here but in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, too. But very few things in Thailand are straightforward. The word ‘songkran’ stems from the Sanskrit word meaning the passage of the sun from one sign of the zodiac to the next – thus there are in fact 12 ‘songkrans’ every year. But the only one that is significant is the major one, the ‘Maha Songkran’, which falls on the longest day, on the occasion of the Vernal Equinox. And, as well as Thailand, such nations as India, China and the widespread pagan roots of early Christianity, all share the symbolism of this day.
Drink Gallery is actually a bistro bar and is part of the modern and stylish, yet homely resort of The Library. It is simple yet sophisticated in its design. Fine dining, but with a laid-back atmosphere. Basic wooden furniture mixes comfortably with sparkling chandeliers and artistic cutlery. There is an air-conditioned area, enclosed by floor to ceiling glass windows looking out on to Chaweng Beach Road, and a large expanse of decked area directly outside. Every night there is a live band or DJ to provide background music, but don’t worry, Drink Gallery pride themselves on providing an individual and unique place to eat, drink and ‘have a conversation’ ... so the music is never too loud. The welltrained staff are both informative and friendly, they know and understand the menu, and they also take regular English lessons, so communication is never a problem.
The bistro food is described as ‘new American comfort food’, but is actually a great compromise, designed to meet western tastes, with a Thai twist. Some of the sumptuous delights that are on offer, and that will get your taste buds dancing include succulent and tasty starters such as Samui Rangoon - crab and cream cheese stuffed dumplings with sour lemongrass dipping sauce.
This issue’s Thai cooking class features Olivio Restaurant at Baan Haad Ngam Boutique Resort & Spa.
Have you ever tried making Thai food at home? Chances are that your results may not have been exactly stellar. Maybe you willingly and enthusiastically set to work with pestle and mortar and all the right ingredients only to find the dishes were passable, but no more than that. Your companions may even have complained the food wasn’t spicy enough or, the contrary, that it burned their mouths. Ouch!
The not-so-awful truth is that, yes, though Thai food is quite easy to cook, you really have to know how to balance all the ingredients. You can’t get it right simply by keeping religiously to a cookbook. It’s a much more intuitive process. You have to seek a balance and that can only be done by seeing how master chefs proceed. This is why it really is worth going to a Thai cooking class.
It’s quite a memorable experience as you go about creating some of the kingdom’s most loved dishes. All you have to do is be attentive and open your mind to how the cook proceeds and you’ll end up with some great recipes – and the ability to cook them like a pro. How cool is that?
At Baan Haad Ngam Boutique Resort & Spa, you’ll find a very professional and fun cooking class that’s been operating a good few years at Olivio Restaurant. It’s run by a Thai chef who knows all about not just cooking but teaching, too. His full name is Jakkarin Huaysan, and he’s actually the Senior Assistant Sous-Chef. More usually he’s simply called Khun Chay. He’ll take you in hand and literally pass his skills along to you.
How a German mechanic swapped cold feet for a dream life.
How many times have you been told it’d be good for you to leave your comfort zone? There’s this idea it’s in your interests to go out and suffer; that in some earnest and vague way it’ll do you good. But how about the opposite? Imagine someone telling you it’s time you left your discomfort zone? Without further ado, here’s the strange, quirky and altogether unexpected story of someone who refused the popular idea that it’s good to tolerate vexing situations.
As a young German, Armin Kundke, like all men in that country was ordered to do military service. Since he was a trained mechanic, it fell to him to repair tanks and trucks. Hardly a glamorous job, not that he was expecting one, but then the winter came. As you no doubt know, winter in Germany can be brutal, but this one took even the natives by surprise: temperatures fell to minus 22 degrees. In the worst of weathers, Armin, or Kunta, as he’s been known since he was at school, was ordered to go check on the tanks, make sure they were all working and to dig them out of the snow. It was 6:00 am in the morning. He started digging a route through to the snowed-in tanks and his feet started freezing. It was fairly unbearable, but instead of putting up with it, he vowed to himself that he’d do something about it. And so, at that precise moment, a dream was born: he vowed to himself that he’d go and live somewhere warm,
Escape Break is pioneering a brand new form of entertainment on Samui.
You’ve seen those puzzles made entirely of dovetailing wooden pieces that you pull apart and then try to put back together. They come in various shapes and sizes, but they all make you rack your brains and provide a break – for however long – from your day-to-day reality. But ... can you imagine actually being inside one of these puzzles and then trying to solve it? I’ll warrant you’d find it ten times more intriguing than any of the original versions. And it’d be a lot more fun too if, instead of being a solitary game, it were a group activity.
Escape Break offers you a number of such activities that have been niftily designed to combine fun, exhilaration and a challenge. These are puzzles that don’t consist of staring at a board, screen or printed page until sweat starts to break out on your forehead. You’re not outside Escape Break’s games but experiencing them from the inside.
How does it all work? You book a time and game and then go along to Escape Break, which is located within Beach Republic in Lamai. To get there, coming from Chaweng, simply head south to Lamai on the ring-road. As you enter town, you’ll see big signs on the right hand side of the road for Escape Break and Beach Republic. Both are 200 metres up a small lane that the signs indicate. Escape Break is open daily from 9:30 am until 8:30 pm, with the last game starting at 7:30 pm.
More than just a top-notch restaurant, Poppies Samui has wonderful accommodation too, all hidden away in Chaweng.
Not so long ago, Chaweng used to be a tiny village where tracks led through the forest, skirting along the beaches, knitting together the community of fishing folk and farmers who lived in the area. You wouldn’t think that nowadays if you take a drive down the main beach road. The extended village is now long gone, and in its stead you’ll find a fairly large town which caters almost exclusively for holidaymakers. Samui is now an international holiday destination, with Chaweng its hedonistic capital. At first glance, it’s all bright lights, miles of neon at night, and splitting at the seams with restaurants and hotels. It looks and acts totally contemporary. But Chaweng deceives – its extravert facade hides many a quiet spot that is radically different from the main show.
Chaweng grew up around its first hotels and restaurants, and they’re mostly gone now, or so revamped and modernised that you’d never recognize them. Mostly, but not all. Head down the beach road, and in the south of the town you’ll find Poppies Samui. From the outside, the facade offers no glimpse of what’s behind it. But pass through its atrium and you’re in for a surprise: you’ll find yourself going up some steps into one of the lushest, most unexpected gardens on the island. It’s a place where greenery rules supreme; it’s a welcome oasis, not in a desert but in an urban setting. It’s completely quiet here and you’ll find a sense of calm and tranquillity reigns throughout.
On Samui, the name ‘Ohm’ means superbikes – the story behind one of the island’s most successful personalities.
Once upon a time, there was a small Thai family. They were Samui folk, part of the island’s community, stretching back for generations. Unlike some, they weren’t wealthy. They didn’t own huge plantations or long strips of beach. But the head of the family, Khun Cherd, was savvy. He had watched his island change. He’d seen more and more white faces coming to town. He’d looked on as more little huts and houses were built, and family-owned resorts bloomed on the beach. And so he began to supply a need. He opened a small shop, called it ‘Friendship Motorcycles’, and rented-out scooters.
But wait – you have to think of the Chaweng of 30 years back, kilometre after kilometre of nothing. The beach road was made of dirt, and on almost all of its length, you could walk across a fringe of untidy scrubland to the beach. There was a muddle of small beach resorts around where Soi Green Mango now is (but at that time, no Green Mango Disco). One big hotel, Chaweng Regent. Somewhere around where McDonald’s is now, Chaweng just stopped. And, south of this, there was almost nothing until you hit the ring-road. Khun Cherd set up his motorbike rental up at the other end, near Chaweng Regent. But back in those days, there were no big bikes, just little scooters.
Are you a stranger in a strange land, or are you merely here on holiday?.
How old are you? I’m serious! Because your years determine your outlook. Even old people (like me) go to the Full Moon Parties. Like we would to Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal. Just gotta do it and go there! But age prescribes activities. Meaning that pensioners don’t usually ‘party’ and uni gappers aren’t known for being particularly sensible. So what you get up to in Thailand has a lot to do with your age and your testosterone levels (or whatever the alternative female thing is).
Ever seen the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’? This is a generation thing, too. My (30-something yearold) daughter has, but I skipped it after watching the trailer. I reckon I’m just so much older and that much wiser. But she doesn’t agree. She just thinks I’m old. This is what I meant by ‘the age thing’. My generation is going to fall for Thai fake gem scams. Her generation is going to fall off scooters. But (being old and wise) I reckon that, overall, it balances out. We just fall down in different ways, that’s all.
Azur Samui is a tropical idyll set in beautiful hills offering a dream lifestyle.
It’s said of Venice that everybody wants to see it, and that those who’ve already seen it want to return. The same goes for Samui, but with the critical difference that, unlike Venice, a lot of people want to come and live on Samui permanently. Many holidaymakers wish that they could have more of a foothold here than a week or two in a hotel. It might seem impossible, as dreams go, but it turns out not to be true. All sorts of people are coming to Samui and are setting up here, living on the island for months at a time, or permanently. A millionaire’s game? Not at all. With extremely reasonable prices, you can afford to buy a property on the island and live here for as much of the year as you care to. And if, for any reason whatsoever, you’d like to be away for a while, then you can rent out your property, make a tidy profit, and have it looking spick and span for your return.
This is one of the ideas behind Azur Samui. It’s the brainchild of Tim Dean-Smith, who developed Beach Republic, an architectural gem on the coast at Lamai.
EasyKart and EasyFly Samui provide huge thrills on the land and in the air.
Have you ever been go-karting? If you have, then you’ll need no persuading that this is a great way to get an adrenaline rush. If you’ve yet to try, first off, it’s an amazing amount of fun. It’s basically a scaled-down version of motor racing. It’s fast, furious – and fun, fun, fun all the way. Even as a spectator it’s enjoyable to watch, but that doesn’t even remotely compare to being in the driver’s seat.
From the stand at the EasyKart track in Chaweng, you can see lines of rubber tyres, tarmac raceways and black-and-white striped concrete kerbs. All that changes when you’re actually sitting in the cockpit: the road’s right in front of you and immediately starts ribboning out once you get going. And because you’re low down in the kart, the speed seems a lot faster than it actually is. Skill is required to negotiate the bends and tight turns – just like in any form of motor racing.
EasyKart has not one but two tracks. The first is for beginners and children, and is 350 metres in length. The go-karts are 100 and 160 cc. Then there’s a much longer track for more advanced drivers. It’s 750 metres in length, and the go-karts here are a lot more powerful – 250 cc.
You have arrived in Samui, sampled a selection of Thai dishes, but what you suddenly hanker after is some really authentic and satisfying Indian food. Luckily for you, in the heart of Chaweng, you will find Noori India, the longest running Indian restaurant on Samui. Noori India has the taste, the atmosphere and just that extra bit of pizzazz.
Desh Deepak, more commonly known as D.D., is the very charismatic, charming and knowledgeable general manager. He has accumulated a wealth of food, beverage, organisation and training knowledge through managing some of India’s top hotels. He went on to open the first Indian restaurant in Mongolia, and then taught in various hotel training schools in Jaipur, northern India. His university education also gifted him a flawless use of the English language, and he loves to use it discussing philosophy. If you get the chance to have a chat with him, take it. He has some very interesting and comical life observations and experiences to share. D.D. prides himself on the fact his restaurants only prepare and serve authentic Indian style food. You will not find any Thai food, burgers, pasta etc. here. Ah, except for French fries ... according to DD, the English tourists insist on asking for them!
The staff are all super friendly and speak excellent English. There is an extensive menu, which is available in English, Chinese and Russian. It even includes some interesting astrology information, matching your star sign with foods that should agree with you. There is something for everyone on the menu, including approximately 25 different vegetarian dishes, 20 different types of naan bread (the traditional Indian flatbread) and a kids section which is slightly adapted.
SCL International School is adding to their curriculum
Samui Centre of Learning, more commonly known as SCL International School, was originally established in 2004, and is now a respected international school located in the bustling town of Lamai. The school first began teaching from a small wooden building with just two primary aged students. The wooden huts multiplied, and then became concrete structures. They employed more teachers, offered more and more subjects, and after a lot of hard work, they began offering secondary education as well. The school has always prided itself on providing high quality teaching and learning, within a caring family-orientated environment. They utilise individualised learning, and employ holistic teaching methods, ensuring that every student is learning at their own pace and ability. Every year, the school has attracted more and more interest. Parents talked with other parents, and as the word spread about the fantastic learning opportunities at the school, a steady increase of parents enrolling their children began. This has enabled the school to continue growing at a firm and steady pace, and they now have approximately 200 students.
Oriental Living is the only logical choice when buying your holiday home.
Let’s take a close look at Oriental Living. To say it’s a furniture store is overly simplistic. Most establishments in this field merely act as middlemen; they collect furniture and objets d’art from different sources and then resell them. But Oriental Living has become far more than a curiosity shop – although it has to be said that owner and founder, Michael Dietvorst, is constantly acquiring fascinating artefacts from his travels all over the world. Now there is also a branch in Phuket, together with an in-house design team creating custom-made furniture in wood, metal and rattan, plus artists producing original and striking paintings on canvas.
But what scores all the brownie points is the client-service offered by the team. The Samui-based sales and customer relation manager is the very capable Dew (Khun Peedinan Somnongsook), who previously lived in the UK, where he gained his initial degree in Fine Art. “Some years ago the approach was for house buyers to go for Thai-influenced décor – after all, we are in Thailand,” he explained. “But architectural trends have become dramatically more simple and elegant, such as Gary Fell’s stunning project at Samujana, for example, which won Asia’s Best Resort Residences by Property Report 2015. Although the occasional highlighted feature of antique Asian craftwork is certainly admissible, the overall dynamic of the furnishings and fabrics needs to be in harmony with the clean and almost minimalistic lines of the buildings. And that’s where we at Oriental Living come in. We provide a series of in-depth consultations with our clients, whatever their budget, helping them to select styles of furniture for each of the rooms – living space, bedrooms and so on – and providing them with differing sets of choices and combinations at each stage.”
Samui Health Shop and Cafe by Lamphu, has it covered.
Located diagonally across the road from Tesco Lotus in Lamai, you will discover a true treasure trove of healthy and organic products, a onestop health shop for all your needs. The small shop front belies the sheer number and range of products available inside, as well as a hidden gem of a cafe which offers home-cooked healthy food and fresh organic juices.
With the growing trend of healthy eating, and more people developing allergies, an increasing number of people are seeking to eat organically grown food, and use products which are made with as few chemical additives as possible. The term ‘organic’ refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Specific requirements must be met and maintained in order for products to be labelled as such. Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications, and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products. As a result, organic farming is more labour intensive, as natural methods of maintaining the growth of crops and produce must be used, therefore it is currently more expensive.
Blue Stars guarantee a blissful day out at the Angthong National Marine Park.
Now that you’ve arrived on Samui, you might just want to relax and soak up all the sights that there are here – and there are indeed many. But it might seem a bit strange, even counter-productive, to have arrived on one island only to go and visit other islands, albeit just for a day. Isn’t this just the kind of thing you’d do only if you’d exhausted all of Samui; seen and done everything that was notable here?
The answer is a definite no. Thousands of holidaymakers every year head off to visit the amazingly beautiful islands that make up the Angthong National Marine Park. And that isn’t because they’re bored with Samui, but because a visit to the park is a wonderful day out. The park is a group of some 40 islands that vary in size. Some are just rocky islets, while others are massive landforms in their own right. This amazing archipelago has been entrancing travellers for decades. You might think that these islands must be quite like Samui. After all, they’re not far away and Samui itself is also part of the archipelago. But it turns out these islands are remarkably different.
Franz J. Estermann, the new Executive Chef at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui and Sheraton Samui Resort knows how to wow diners.
Just what does it take to be an executive chef? The short answer is a huge number of different skills. First off, there are all the cooking techniques you need to master. Then you’ll need to exercise a great amount of creativity – you’re an artist of the kitchen, after all. And then you need to know how to gather a dedicated team around you. Fail here, and no matter if you’re the best chef in the universe, then your diners will never know how good you are – teamwork is everything. You’ll also need to know how to train your team, present food to make it attractive, and manage all of the documentation that goes with running a restaurant and maintaining food, safety and hygiene levels. Master these and you’re in the door, just about – but then every day you have to prove that you’re dependable and reliable. And make sure, of course, that the food is startlingly good, always.
Franz Estermann has all of this and more under his belt. The proof of it isn’t just in his cooking, but the fact that he’s in charge of all the restaurant facilities at not just one major resort, but two. He was specifically chosen by Starwood Hotels, which manages both Vana Belle and the recently opened Sheraton Samui. They recognized his abilities and put him in charge of both. Luckily for him, the two properties are close together, in the quieter Chaweng Noi area, and are handily linked by the ring-road.
For a day of family fun, Samui’s paintball playground takes some beating.
Once upon a time, somewhere back in the ’70s, paintball was invented. And for years it was hugely popular. Of course, in the early years, it was somewhat rough and ready. Technically it was crude; it was hard to limit the power of the guns, and the real paint that it splashed on you made a bit of a mess. But as time went on, quality improved and standards were established, and the sheer fun of paintball spread all around the world.
Except for Japan, where for some reason it was banned, and this upset a great many people. The curious result was that Japanese manufacturers created an alternative, just for the home market. These were authentic replicas of real military weapons, but using low-power springs, and firing tiny lightweight plastic balls. Within a few years they’d progressed to compressed butane gas as a power source and were producing fully automatic rifles that looked and felt like the genuine item. This took not just Japan but also the rest of the world by storm. And to go with the new genre they’d created, a new name was coined – ‘Airsoft’.
Traditional Spanish tapas are still rare on Samui, but at The Cliff Bar & Grill you’ll find them in glorious profusion.
Usually governments seek to restrain bars from selling their wares, rather than encourage them, but forward-thinking King Juan Carlos I of Spain had the opposite idea. In order to solve the problem of inebriation in the populace, he decreed that alcohol could no longer be sold unless the drinker had something to eat as well. No more drinking on an empty stomach for his subjects. And that’s how tapas came into being. These small dishes of appetizing food were presented along with each drink. Go to Spain today, and you’ll find tapas on sale just about everywhere. In fact there are now tapas bars the world over.
Out here in Asia, however, tapas has become a far more eclectic proposition; it covers just about any kind of small mouth-watering snack, and so there are now tapas dishes that you’d never be able to find in Spain itself. Tapas can now include spring rolls and sushi as well as even more exotic ingredients. The original dishes have been lost in a welter of fusion, and as often as not, confusion.
At the very far north end of the Chaweng Beach Road, and just before you reach the summit of the hill that then heads down towards Choeng Mon, lies Nora Beach Resort & Spa. On entering the grand Thai style reception area, you begin to sense a feeling of calmness, and you’ll wonder if you’ve been transported back to the Siam of old. The exceptionally high teak style ceilings and pillars, the ultra-polite and helpful staff and the cosy but spacious lounge and bar area, create a quiet and gentle ambience. This is heightened as you overlook the pool into the luscious green gardens that surround the rooms and villas. The beautiful garden features sky-high palms and a terraced stream that flows through the grounds and over waterfalls into the clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The luxurious villas at Nora Beach are very spacious, and are spread throughout the grounds with stunning views of the lush gardens or across the sea. Some of the garden view villas overlook an area around a series of small ponds, creating a calm and tranquil oasis. Great for unwinding and de-stressing if you have just arrived from a busy city or work environment.
Bangkok Hospital Samui has you covered even if you’re on Koh Pha-Ngan or Koh Tao.
When you decide to go on holiday, your first thoughts will probably revolve around wonderful weather, beautiful beaches and comfy hotel rooms. You want to have a brilliant time and for everything to be as much fun as possible. But of course, if you’re far from home you’ll want to know what happens if you fall sick. You probably know that Bangkok, being a capital city, has world-class hospitals – Thailand is now a thriving medical tourism destination. But what about Samui? After all, it’s far from the capital, and besides, it’s an island.
If you’ve never been to Samui before, you might be forgiven for thinking that it only has a low-grade hospital and scant medical services. But this is very far from the truth. Five hospitals are located on the island and form an impressive medical base. The majority of cases can be handled without patients having to be evacuated home or referred to specialist hospitals in Bangkok. Should the worst happen you’re not far from help that’s both speedy and professional.
Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party shows no signs of flagging.
Imagine a party that’s so good that its hosts decide to hold exactly the same party again and again. You can’t repeat a good thing, right? Wrong! The same party’s just as good the following month. The process continues not just over months but years, getting bigger and bigger and more and more famous, until eventually it plateaus - but still keeps going. Turn up at one of today’s Full Moon Parties and you’ll probably not see anyone who was at the first, but like a relay race, the fun is handed on ... and on. The party’s now so big that it probably couldn’t stop even if it wanted to – people would still turn up. It’s the party version of a runaway train, and one where there’s no shortage of people who want to climb aboard for one of the world’s most deranged, giddy rides.
You might wonder how this steamroller of hedonism ever got going in the first place. After all, Koh Pha-Ngan is basically a small, quiet jungly island with beautiful beaches. It seems an unlikely venue for an on-going party. You’d think it’d be more suitable for a placid beachside barbecue for a small group of friends. Low key is indeed the way it started out. A few friends gathering together by the sea, according to legend. The original party is said to have started in 1985, or thereabouts. Oddly, nobody seems to remember exactly when.