Samui’s 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, islandhopping, 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 with floral baths, Jacuzzis, scrubs and wraps, aromatherapy treatments and a whole lot more. 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. Finally, we have the nightlife. And with numerous bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, Samui really does offer a total tropical holiday experience.
Samui’s 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
A look at the Thai New Year celebration of Songkran.
Most folks who can only come to Thailand once a year aim for this. It’s undoubtedly the single most popular Thai festival of all. It’s colourful, it’s wild, it’s wet and it’s fun, and it involves every house in every village in every town and city throughout the nation. It’s the Thai New Year celebration. And it’s all to do with water. Gallons of the stuff. And in a sense it’s also the most ‘in your face’ fun to be seen in what is usually quite a reserved nation. Because that’s where most of the water goes, by the bucketful – in your face!
The main reason that this has evolved is the ongoing rise in foreign tourists to Thailand, particularly those in the younger age group. They seized on the outward show of water splashing with glee, replacing the customary beneficence of gentle dabs of water to the face with a drenching, and substituting the traditional small silver bowl with buckets, hosepipes and water guns. The Thai nation is nothing if not fun loving; their young people and teenagers took note and were quick to follow suit, despite the initial disapproval of their elders. Thus today all the outward show of Songkran has turned away from its origins and become the world’s biggest water fight. But this is really not what it’s all about.
If you plan on celebrating St Patrick’s Day on Samui, you’re spoilt for choice.
There are a few things that all Irishmen have in common, other than a penchant for drinking before noon! They’re a lively bunch, who are blessed with the gift of the gab, a great sense of humour and an unusual love of potatoes. But that’s not all they love, and it would be a challenge to find an Irishman (or woman for that matter) who doesn’t like a good pint of beer.
There’s a saying, ‘May the luck of the Irish be with you.’ Well, luckily for us on Samui, we don’t have to travel thousands of kilometres to the green hills of Ireland to enjoy a good pint in true Irish style. An Irish father-and-son team have made Samui their home, and brought all that is Irish to Samui, with four themed restaurant/pubs. Father, Derek Watson, is an ex Northern Ireland international football player, playing for his country back in 1968, and son Paul, is an avid football supporter, so, you’ll find Irish football memorabilia in all their pubs. Tropical Murphy’s, located on Chaweng Beach Road opposite McDonalds, has been keeping patrons in high spirits for more than a decade, and turns 13 years old this March. Not that the Irish need much reason for a celebratory drink, but with St Patrick’s Day being on 17th March and it being birthday month, it’s a good reason to head down to Tropical Murphy’s for a pint (or a few) and some good ‘pub grub’.
We visit the little village of Thong Krut in the southwest of the island to find out what it’s all about.
There’s not a lot in Thong Krut. But that’s not a bad thing. Anyone who complains that Samui has become too developed and commercialised need only head there for a day to appreciate the quieter side of island life.
With its brightly coloured fishing boats and backdrop of small islands to the one side, and coconut plantations to the other, Thong Krut is a picturesque little village. Located in the southwest corner of the island, this is where you’ll come if you’re after a long-tail boat to take you to the nearby islands of Koh Tan and Koh Matsum. Lining the shore you’ll find a selection of simple restaurants offering Thai food, and particularly good seafood, as well as tour operators offering trips to the islands. From this peaceful shallow bay, boats make the journey to these two small islands, and although prices are usually fixed, it doesn’t hurt to try to negotiate a better rate with a smile.
One well-known operator is T.K Tour, which started taking tourists to Koh Tan for snorkelling back in 1986. They offer long-tail boat charter trips and joining trips for snorkelling, fishing and diving to not only Koh Tan and Koh Matsum, but also to other nearby islands such as Koh Rarb, Koh See and Koh Haa, all off the south coast of Samui. And while you’re waiting to
From the minute you walk up the stairs past the pretty fish ponds and up into the wide open marble floored reception area of Impiana Resort, you just know it’s going to be a special experience. But perhaps just not big enough for an elephant, but we’ll come to that later …
Situated in Chaweng’s quieter cousin Chaweng Noi, Impiana has just under 100 rooms, eight superior cottages, two suites and 14 deluxe cottages, but the grounds are more than enough to accommodate everyone, whether it be singles, couples or families with children.
Impiana is part of a larger group called Impiana Hotels & Resorts Management, which has two other resorts in Phuket and owns three city hotels and a resort in Malaysia. Already accustomed to providing a luxurious environment for their guests, their resort in Chaweng Noi is no different. From the beautifully crafted waiting area furniture, to the softly lit winding path and steps down to their beachside restaurant with staff dressed in their beautifully tailored Thai uniforms, you just know you’re in good hands.
For something new, fun and different, leave your scuba gear at home and go for a walk instead – along the seabed!
Fun things to do? There are a hundred of them on Samui. You’ve got day trips and sports-fishing and scuba diving, bungee jumping, go carts and football golf, a shooting range, elephant treks and quad bikes – the list is endless. As well as the exalted pastime of ‘pool potato’, there are also degrees of ‘go off and do it’ that range from the frantic to the geriatric, with 50 shades of grey in-between.
But, having stated that with confidence, when it comes down to it, there are only two types of trips or activities. There are those on the island. And there are those off the island. But as far as the latter’s concerned, you’re somewhat limited. Scuba diving and snorkelling. Fishing. Daytrips to Koh Tao. Cruises around Koh Pha-Ngan. A boat trip to one of the other islands. And that’s about it. You can sunbathe, swim, snorkel or dive, and with various combinations of these. Until just a few months ago, that is. And this is where Robert Wilkinson comes into the story.
The genial and friendly Robert is an experienced scuba diver and PADI certified dive instructor. In the process of searching for a sunnier and gentler way to make a living, he and his good lady wife, Christine, ended up on
Psylo opens another Samui store in the new Central Festival Shopping Centre.
People the world over tend to want to be fashionable, they shop at stores to make sure they wear the latest fashions, which then get discarded in favour of the next season’s outfits. But why follow the crowd? Wouldn’t you rather wear clothes and accessories that never go out of fashion, which you can wear year in, year out? Be individual! Be yourself! Get noticed!
If you’re not familiar with Psylo, you’re missing out. Their clothes are so unusual; you’ll need hours to browse their clothing collection, accessories, and shoes. The key to the Psylo look is originality and, over time, their clothes have developed into a fusion of urban street wear, with a strong underground and ethnic tribal influence and a dash of punk. Psylo style is influenced by tattoos, primal body art and sacred symbolism, all combined with a modern manifestation of fashion.
Psylo rebels against society’s fashion rules. Walking around their shop, you’ll see studded wrist bands, men’s shirts with uneven printing, skewed zips and rugged edges. You’ll see flaps and straps, studs and slits. Jackets with hoods and furry lined waistcoats, boots with buckles and stiletto boots with wrapping laces. Some of the women’s dresses have uneven hems or
There are many jewellery shops on Samui – but few that can match the
sheer quality and style at Classic Gems.
One of the fun parts of any holiday is stocking up with presents and surprises to take back home. And Thailand is the perfect place for this. There are bargains galore. But such reminders of what Thailand has to offer fall into two camps. There are the ethnic local crafts, ideal for souvenirs and inexpensive gifts. Then there’s the really good stuff. The quality jewellery, inset with precious or semi-precious stones and made from silver or gold.
There are a couple of very good reasons for deciding to shop at the top end of the market. Firstly, it can represent a solid investment. But the other is far more personal. Perhaps an anniversary or birthday present. Or a unique gift for a close friend or relative? Or the very popular idea of matched wedding rings – if you’re getting married in Thailand, and on Samui in particular, what better way of symbolising the occasion with custom-made rings?
The only snag is that there’s quite a lot of choice. Unless you’re something of an expert, it’s not easy to tell the difference between items that have been made from lesser-grade materials and those that are really top quality – just going by the price alone is not enough. Fortunately, as in
Yupa’s Restaurant at Chaweng Bay View Resort,offers spectacular views and delicious food.
For an owner to put their name to a restaurant, they must be proud of it. And that’s most certainly the case with Khun Yupa, who owns Chaweng Bay View Resort as well as her namesake restaurant within it. She’s born and bred on the island, and lived here most of her life.
Ask Khun Yupa to describe the food and she makes a bold statement, “You will be one million percent satisfied, I promise you! The food at Yupa’s is delicious!” Well, that’s quite a promise to make, and one that no owner would make lightly. Khun Yupa goes on to explain that seafood is the restaurant’s speciality, as she has many friends who own fishing boats, and they offer her the best of the catch first. She describes the Thai food as ‘traditional Samui-style’ and many of the recipes are old family favourites that she’s incorporated into the menu.
Having also lived in Europe for some time, Khun Yupa is familiar with European food, and the restaurant has a wide selection, including pizza and pasta, schnitzels, pork chops as well as imported steak and lamb. Chef Tao has worked in many fine hotels and restaurants and utilises his experience at Yupa’s Restaurant. He’s also skilled in preparing Chinese cuisine, but it’s the Thai dishes that bring guests back time and again. You’ll find a selection of
But not only your toes – Dr Fish offers full body fish spa treatments as well as pedicures.
Asia loves alternative medicine and beauty therapies – in fact the more bizarre the better. Following this mind-set, Thailand has jumped on the bandwagon of Garra Rufa fish spas, which have been used in the Middle East for centuries. These little freshwater fish originate from the river basins of Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. They also go by the name of nibble fish and Kangal fish. They’ve earned the nickname Dr Fish because of the health benefits they provide to people with skin conditions such as psoriasis, as they nibble away at the problem skin.
Now on Samui, you’re likely to see several fish spas located along the roadside. But, many of these don’t use the Garra Rufa fish, preferring to use other (cheaper) nibbler fish with micro teeth, and these fish spas often have inadequate hygiene controls. And that’s where Dr Fish comes in, as they practice the principles of a good and reputable fish spa. Dr Fish has UV lights to sterilise the water, and a filtration system that changes the water at least every 30 minutes. They also insist that customers wash their feet well in clean water, as chemicals from sun creams and other body products can harm the fish – their safety should also be a concern. For a full body
Far more than just visas, it’s one of the best online resources for Thailand info.
By trawling around the internet, you can find many things: it’s the biggest research tool mankind’s ever created. Not only that, but you’ll probably use it to shop for your flights and pay for your hotel, too. If you then Google ‘Samui’, you’re going to come across a dozen or more websites that are crammed full of info about the island. There’s everything you could need, from details of beaches to advice on bargaining, from how to cope with the taxis here to or what to do in an emergency. All these sites are treasure houses of information that are worth their weight in gold. Except that’s not quite true.
Unchanging aspects such as geography, distances, locations or major tourist attractions will probably be just about spot-on. But things that can alter on a monthly, or even on a yearly basis, are more suspect. Sure, yes, most of these sites feature plug-ins that give ‘live’ exchange rates or weather conditions. But when it comes to restaurants, bars, maps, or even things like the schedules of buses or ferries, it might pay you to be cautious. It’s not a lot of fun if you navigate your way across the island only to discover on arrival that the excellent restaurant you were heading for closed two years
Explore hidden caves and secret beaches with Blue Stars Kayaking.
Koh Samui is a beautiful island, but just sometimes you want to explore a little further. From the hills of Samui, you can see many small islands dotted around, and perhaps you wonder what secrets they might hold.
Well, you’re in luck because not only is Samui within easy reach of the world famous Angthong National Marine Park but there is also a kayaking company which has been leading tours there for more than 17 years. Yes, Blue Stars Kayaking first arrived on Samui 17 years ago, and are proud to offer a tried and tested tour of this beautiful natural attraction.
The Marine Park is a collection of uninhabited islands lying to the west of Koh Samui. Made famous by Alex Garland’s book ‘The Beach’, the islands are full of hidden caves and secret beaches, and what better way to view them all than from a kayak. The park covers 42 islands in a total area well over 100 km², of which only 18 km² are land. The words ‘Ang Thong’ mean ‘golden bowl’ and the park is famous for its natural beauty. The islands themselves seem to leap up from the sea and boast dramatic cliffs, bizarre rock formations, towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand
One of the joys of living in the tropics is the selection of delicious fruit,
and Samui has its fair share farmed right here on the island.
Think of a tropical holiday and a picture emerges of white sandy beaches, balmy oceans, palm trees swaying in the breeze and bright tropical fruit in abundance. Now while some fruits that require a winter season, such as apples and peaches, don’t do well in a tropical climate, there are many more interesting varieties to choose from.
Part of travelling to a new place means trying new experiences and new foods. So while you’re here, be sure to try the sometimes strange-looking fruits at the market. It’s so cheap, you may as well give it a go – you never know, it could just be your new addiction!
The most obvious fruit farmed on Samui has to be the versatile coconut. Even though the palm tree has become synonymous as a symbol of Samui, it was only fairly recently that the coconut became the largest export from the island. Although there were always coconuts, over the years, Samui farmers gradually turned the island into a substantial coconut plantation. Every month, Samui supplies Bangkok with over two million coconuts. These are harvested from the approximately three million trees that grow on the
We all love Samui, but for those who love it just too much,
here are the ins-and-outs of extending your stay.
Is this your first time? Are you on holiday here? Are you travelling or on a gap year? Well, if you’ve been here before then you’ll have a fair idea of what’s-what when it comes to visas. But if it’s your first time, then you might need some detailed info about all this. Actually, you don’t even need a visa to stay in Thailand – you’ll be given a 30-day ‘Visa on Arrival’ (VOA) upon entering the country. But the entire business of stays and visas is something of a minefield, and the regulations seem to get changed as often as a chef’s apron.
Also it depends very much on what nationality you are, too: it seems that the Thai authorities aren’t too keen on making it easy for the citizens of what they consider to be some of the ‘poorer countries’, just in case they do a runner and want to stay here! One way or another it’s quite a complex subject. So let’s make it simpler by dividing it into different categories and stages.
Firstly it has to be said that a visitor’s visa is strictly for tourism purpose only. And so, if you are coming here for a holiday break of between 15 and 30 days, there is no need to apply for a full tourist visa beforehand.
Buddhism is not the only religion in Thailand – there seems to be room for everyone.
It’s Buddhism, isn’t it? That’s the instinctive reaction. Ask anyone between the ages of 20 and 120 – they’ll reply that Buddhism is the religion in Thailand. And so it is. But that’s like saying that New York is full of Christians, or Muslims never touch alcohol. Nothing’s ever quite so clear-cut. When it comes to religion over here, there’s a lot more than Buddhism. And even this won’t be quite what you’re expecting!
Although Buddhism is both the primary and the state religion, the Thais have always subscribed to the ideal of religious freedom. Thai constitutions have stipulated that Thai kings must be Buddhists, but monarchs are invariably also titled the “Upholder of All Religions”. Overall, Thailand is a very open and receptive nation, although in practice now and then you’ll notice a bit of a tremble.
Take the State religion of Buddhism, for instance. Those of you reading this, that are (ahem) of a certain age will immediately nod to yourself and relate this to a timeslot in your past. The word ‘Theravada’ springs to mind immediately – and it just so happens that this is the form of Buddhism prevalent in Thailand today. It’s not easy to come up with a slick outline of
The Spa Resorts in Lamai offer several detox and rejuvenation packages
– a great kick-start to a healthier lifestyle.
Mention the words ‘detox package’, and most people picture the money falling out of their wallets as fast as the toxins are supposed to be escaping their bodies. Yes, it’s true that many detox and health retreats do charge a small fortune for their programs, but that’s not the case with The Spa Resorts – with two branches in Lamai as well as one in Chiang Mai and another in Koh Chang.
The Spa Samui Beach Resort is located at the northern end of Lamai beach, and was Thailand’s first destination health spa, opening to the health-conscious traveller nearly 20 years ago. Due to its popularity, a second resort, The Spa Samui Mountain Retreat, was opened in 2002, in the hills of Lamai. Here, guests can enjoy panoramic views amid tropical gardens, and a shuttle service connects them to the beach resort as well as Lamai town. Both the beach and mountain retreats offer detox cleansing, yoga, raw food classes, and free meditation classes. It’s possible to stay on a bed and breakfast only basis at either retreat, and enjoy delicious and healthy meals at the beach resort’s Radiance Restaurant, but it’s the wellness packages that most guests sign up for.
Drop into W Retreat’s laid-back daytime scene – it’s one of the most delicious spots around!
‘W Retreat’ in Mae Nam isn’t a place that you’ll stumble across. It can’t be seen from the road. Not the ring-road, anyway. But it’s easy enough to get to, and the chances are that you’ll probably have driven close to it two or three times already. Heading away from Chaweng in the direction of Nathon, go through the traffic lights in Bophut. It’s almost a dead straight road all the way but, at the borders of Maenam, right next to the landmark of Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa on the corner, the ring-road kinks to the left in a sharp 90-degree bend. You can take either the next on the right after the bend, or the one after that; each runs into the other, forming a U-shaped loop off the ring-road, with W Retreat right in the middle.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of dropping in to a ‘W’ before, you may be in for a surprise. This is a luxury brand, part of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group, and there are now 45 such Ws located in some of the most languid and sensuous parts of the world. Each of them is designer-architected to reflect the vibrancy and atmosphere of their particular location – a blend of cutting-edge design with local influences. And what this means is that, as you enter the reception area of Samui’s own W, the clean lines,
Here’s what 2014 has in store for the International School of Samui.
The International School of Samui (ISS) has become synonymous with outstanding education and exceptional staff. This year, there’s a strong focus on the curriculum itself, adding yet more vibrancy to the already diverse subjects and extra-curricular activities and encouraging the children to be excited about learning.
How does ISS do this? By introducing concepts such as ‘super learning days’, where the focus for a day – and sometimes even a week – is on one particular subject, featuring an itinerary packed with fun yet educational activities to boost the children’s interest in a subject. This year, there’ll be ‘World Book Day’, where the children are encouraged to appreciate books, both fiction and non-fiction and discover the joys of reading in a world dominated by electronic communication. Children dress up as their favourite character from a book and are immersed in the wonderful world of literature. Other such days planned throughout the year include Science Day, which will make full use of both the primary and senior school’s well-equipped laboratories, as well as History Day.
Restore your body systems at Natural Wing Health Spa and Resort.
Situated on the north coast of Samui, in Bang Por, nestled deep within shady trees, palms and ferns, hanging vines and a multitude of wooden elephants of all sizes, lies a truly tranquil getaway. Natural Wing Health Spa and Resort call themselves a ‘small, family, ‘green’ hotel’ but they’re big on good value, award-winning massages and friendly staff. They also pride themselves on offering friendly prices too.
The resort itself has 37 garden and sea facing villas. As soon as you arrive at the reception area, besides seeing the numerous awards, trophies, plaques and commendations, you’ll hear the gentle sound of a fountain and will be greeted by a lush, tropical garden with a pretty fish pond. The resort is surrounded by towering trees and they even grow their own herbs for use in the spa. The sounds of soothing music can be heard and walking on the wooden floor makes you feel like you’ve entered an enchanted forest. And if an enchanted forest can stimulate your senses and restore your body and balance, then Natural Wing certainly can too.
When you visit Samui, whether it’s for one month or 12, there are really only two ideal locations to choose from. A property right on the beach or a property that sits on the top of a hill and overlooks palm trees, beaches, the sea and islands - and at Narai Kiri, that’s exactly what you get.
Situated on the side of a hill in Ban Plai Laem, this luxurious development has breath-taking views guaranteed to relax you. So what exactly is Narai Kiri? Its full name is ‘Narai Kiri Project’ and it consists of three locations, each with large plots of land available for those who want to design and build their own home. The three locations are called Samui Royal Holdings Project, Skyline Residences and the Narai Kiri development itself.
But before we tell you more about Narai Kiri, let’s give you a brief description of the other projects which are equally irresistible. Samui Royal Holdings Project consists of 11 exclusive beachfront and sea view plots at Plai Laem (around the corner from Six Senses Samui Resort). From the majority of these plots, you can almost dangle your toes in the sea from the end of the plot, and a swim to the neighbouring island of Koh Som could easily be your morning exercise. There are 16 plots in total, and five have
Soaring through the jungle canopy on a zip line is a great way to see Samui’s interior.
Sometimes, lying on the beach, you’ll see a sea eagle soaring above, riding the thermals and checking out the scene below. Then it disappears into the jungle, and you have to wonder what it is they see from up there. If your curiosity gets the better of you, just book a canopy adventure with Skyfox Super Ride, located in the southeast of the island, near the Namuang waterfalls.
Not all visitors to Samui are aware that the jungle interior is equally as breath-taking as the island’s beaches. If you’re keen to see more than blue seas and white sand, and if you’re even marginally an adrenalin junkie, then a zip line canopy tour is a must-do activity.
Canopy tours originated in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica, where biologists devised a system of cables and platforms to explore and study the previously inaccessible upper forest canopy. This soon evolved into a successful form of adventure and eco-tourism, raising awareness of the plight of the world’s endangered rain forests. The Skyfox canopy tour on Samui has been constructed in accordance with strict civil engineering
Why many people are now heading towards Koh Pha-Ngan as part of their holiday break.
Everything is relative. A couple of years ago I had an American friend who was planning a trip to Samui. We sent emails back and forth for ages. He was quizzing me about Samui and I was doing my best to tell him all about the place in an honest and ‘objective’ way. In the end, he made the journey and arrived. We met up a day or so later at his resort. “Hey Rob!” he enthused. “Samui is terrific! From what you’d been telling me I was expected downtown Miami, not a lovely little island like this!”
You see, relatively speaking, Samui is far more built-up and commercial than it was 15 years ago. And, for the old-timers who just love to bend your ear with tales of bamboo huts and no electricity, the place has somehow become ‘spoiled’. But for someone coming here for the first time and seeing it with fresh eyes, it’s delightful. Yes, it has gone up-market. Yes, there’s been a lot of development over the years. But that also includes proper roads, better drainage, an electricity supply that’s more reliable than it was, bookshops all over the place, internet access and Wi-Fi everywhere, food and restaurants from a dozen nations and a police and immigration force that can speak passable English. Even ten years ago, it was a different story, which brings us to the subject of Koh Pha-Ngan.