Samui Wining & Dining
Samui Holiday Magazine
A Warm Welcome

A Warm Welcome

When you come to think about it, there’s something quite special about the actual size of Samui. It’s not too big and not too small – just the right size to be able to explore during an average length holiday. If you hire a car, you’ll easily be able to drive around it, and if you’re a long-distance runner, you can cross it from one side to another.

Samui’s a neat kind of a place, with a lot to offer, and if you use your time here well, and have the right information, you can pack a lot into your holiday. Apart from its many, many beaches, the island has plenty of waterfalls, then there’s jungle and mountains a-plenty. You’ll also have the chance to eat extraordinarily well, whether it’s traditional Thai food you love, or international cuisine. Then there’s the nightlife. And whether you’d like a quiet drink or to hit the clubs, then you’re in the right place for that too.

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OFF TO MAGICAL LANDS
Samui Cultural Center and Fine Arts of Southeast Asia showcases a world of marvels.

Samui Cultural Center and Fine Arts of Southeast Asia showcases a world of marvels.

Most guide books barely mention the island’s south and west coasts; they’re much less developed compared to Chaweng or Lamai. Everyone agrees that they’re the most traditional parts of Samui; with many people still living just as they did decades ago, relatively untouched by the busier world of tourism to the north. If you’re looking to spend some time taking in the beautiful coasts and unspoiled areas of Samui, you’ll want to head this way. And if you do, it’d be a pity to miss out on one of the most amazing, yet little known sites of Samui - Dusit Dhewa, or the Samui Cultural Center and Fine Arts of Southeast Asia.

          

It sounds as if it could turn out to be some dusty old museum, and you might feel a little put off by the title. Don’t be. For a start, it’s mostly a vast garden, and secondly it’s intriguing enough for anyone of any age to enjoy spending some time here. You don’t need to be a student of fine art to appreciate the treasures here.

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SUPER SA-ARD
An insight into the workings of Sa-ard’s Watersport Center.

An insight into the workings of Sa-ard’s Watersport Center.

Here’s an interesting fact: a recent survey showed that 62% of our visitors didn’t go off the island during their stay. And that’s surprising – with Samui being in the middle of a great big ocean of blue. There’s just so much to do on the water, from windsurfing to parasailing, not to mention easy access to jet skis and scuba diving. And then there are all sorts of things connected with boats; fishing trips, plus a ton of choices when it comes to hiring or cruising, too.

          

And like so many things, when you start to look around there’s a confusing variety of choices. Even scanning the internet just seems to add to the muddle, with so many sites being out of date or having conflicting info. And so, just like with such things as elephant treks or jungle safaris, it’s a safe bet to head towards someone who’s long established. A set-up that’s long since learned from experience and now has everything sorted. There are probably a couple like this on the island. But when it comes to experience, reputation and reliability, there are few to compare with Sa-ard’s Watersport Center.

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PECKING ORDER
The world of cockfighting in Thailand.

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Cockfighting. The word ‘illegal’ will probably spring immediately to mind. Back alleys, illicit meetings and fights to the death. But in Thailand, though it’s not everyone’s idea of entertainment, it is legal. And here, unlike other Southeast Asian countries, no blades or weapons are attached to the legs of the birds. Sure there’s lots of kicking, ferocious pecking and cuts and wounds, but it’s not a fight to the death.

          

It’s a very popular sport in rural areas of Thailand, and has been for hundreds of years. Such is the popularity nowadays, that there are currently 75 government sanctioned cockfighting stadiums in Thailand. On Samui, they are very much local affairs, with fights scheduled in Chaweng and south of Nathon (near the Raja Ferry) on Saturdays, on Mondays at Saket Stadium and on Thursdays in the Lipa Noi area. It’s best to check with a travel agent if you wish to go. But before you set off you may be interested in knowing a little of the history of cockfighting.

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AMAZING ZAMA
Zama Rooftop Kitchen/Bar wows with brilliant food and architecture.

Zama Rooftop Kitchen/Bar wows with brilliant food and architecture.

Take extraordinary architecture and put it in the hands of a top-notch chef and tell him or her to come up with a restaurant, furnishings and, of course, an excellent menu, and the results will be amazingly diverse, with each chef unfurling their very own creative dream. Over at newly-opened Zama Rooftop Kitchen/Bar, you can see that chef Martin Selby has combined the eye-catching setting with a unique East-meets-West menu.

          

Zama is to be found at Prana Resort Nandana, on the Bophut to Bangrak road. Head out from Fisherman’s Village and the road cuts through the resort just before it comes to Bangrak. The car park is on your right. The entire setting is extremely stylish, yet puts its visitors at ease. The avant-garde reception, with its airy vaulted look, leads you round to a cosy bar, which overlooks the extensive swimming pool. It’s the ideal place for a drink, or, since Zama’s open all day from breakfast through to dinner, you may well want a snack or light meal here. (Opening hours are from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm.) Zama and all its surroundings seem to have been designed for lingering and you’re more than welcome to do so. You can even drink while at the swim-up bar - the management are happy for you to come and use the pool, making this an excellent spot for anyone driving round the island and wanting a break and a swim at the same time.

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Going the Extra Mile
Smart Start offers way more than most pre-schools.

Smart Start offers way more than most pre-schools.

It’s always a challenge to find a pre-school or kindergarten; parents and children alike have to agree on their choice. It’s trickier still if you’re living abroad and are simply not sure how things operate there. Many people are now coming to stay on Samui for varying lengths of time, and they’re seeking options for their young children.

          

There are crèches and centres of various kinds dotted around the island, and if you’re looking for a place for your child then you’re certain to come across Smart Start, as it’s rapidly gaining a name for itself.

          

There’s a refreshing approach to day care at Smart Start, with a focus on each child as an individual, and where children also receive, exactly as the name of the centre implies, a start to their future education. It’s run by Elena Korostylova who comes from the Ukraine and has a diploma in teaching. She was first a physics teacher, and then moved to the USA, where she taught for eight years.

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GIDDY UP
Try your hand at horse riding with Samui Riding Club.

Try your hand at horse riding with Samui Riding Club.

Known for its white sands and turquoise waters, Samui draws people from all over the world to experience its wonderful beaches. But one wonders if some tourists are getting the whole experience, for in the centre of the island a vast jungle awaits, the perfect adventure.

          

Horses were originally used to speed up travel, improve farming practices and manage livestock. They have been used for work and play for several thousand years. Horseback riding is now a very common pursuit, and as a matter of fact you can now try it right here on Samui.

          

The Samui Riding Club is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Although it is a little tricky to get there, the cute little ranch is well worth the drive. Turn off the ring-road at Bandon Hospital, and you will see signs a little further down the road on your left. Beware, the road down is a little bumpy heading towards the horses, and you will definitely see a chicken or two!

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WHOOP-LA!
The Wharf Samui is a new mall offering shops,
restaurants and a whole lot more right beside the sea.

The Wharf Samui is a new mall offering shops, restaurants and a whole lot more right beside the sea.

What’s behind the name? Fisherman’s Village used to be precisely that, a small fishing community that thrived off the local seas, with boats setting off and returning with catches that fed the inhabitants of Bophut and the surrounding areas. Life was very, very simple. Television eventually came to the island and in the evening, a favourite pastime would be to bring a chair and sit out on the little street that runs parallel to the shore and gather round the single TV set and watch what was happening in the rest of the world. Back then the villagers could hardly have suspected that the world outside Samui would soon be coming to them, bringing at first handfuls of curious travellers who’d heard on the grapevine about Samui, and then gradually more and more. The little street soon began to change and its row of wooden houses (you can still see some of these today) began to open up to the holidaymakers who needed food and a place to stay. It wasn’t long before looking after the visitors provided full-time work for many of the villagers, and gradually tourism became the norm. Today you’ll no longer see nets hanging out to dry; the little street is comprised of bars, restaurants and a scattering of hotels and places to stay.

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CHANGING FACES
The face of tourism has been changing – so what’s it all about?

The face of tourism has been changing – so what’s it all about?

The origins of tourism to Thailand lie back in the ’60s, as the first European carriers started a price war by cutting the cost of flights to the bone. Packages sprang up with discount flights and hotels combined. For once America was slow to follow: their people weren’t too keen to jaunt off abroad – even today only one-third of the nation holds a valid passport. But, while all this was going on, the Americans had already staked a claim of sorts on Thailand. During the Vietnam War, the area around Pattaya was a centre of R&R, and many soldiers took wives or girlfriends with them when they later returned home. Quite a few, also, either stayed here or came back later to open a small business of some kind. And it was during this period that foreign visitors first discovered Samui.

          

At which historical point we need to hit the fast-forward button – it’s enough to say that, almost 50 years later, Samui is now an international holiday destination. This implies, of course, that people all over the globe are scrambling to get here. But in terms of percentages, when you look at how

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FIGHTING FIT
Trying your hand at the national sport of Muay Thai.

Trying your hand at the national sport of Muay Thai.

When I arrived at my first Muay Thai session, I was too late to join the trainees who had left for their ‘casual’ afternoon jog, so I turned my focus to the training session ahead. Slipping off my shoes I trudged onto the mats, regretting my carefree vacation attitude that had consumed the previous couple of weeks. I knew the late nights and bottomless tubs of ice cream and pancake binges would eventually catch up with me, but I hadn’t imagined it happening quite like this. I couldn’t even picture myself going through a jog, how was I supposed to get through two hours of Muay Thai?

          

Pointing to a cascade of jump ropes hanging from a boxing ring one of the trainers said, “Ten minutes”. Okay, I thought to myself, I can at least do this. So I began, doing my best not to trip over the rope as I swung it around and around my body.

          

This fighting technique was first used in actual warfare, but became a sport when spectators began to watch for entertainment. As it continued to grow in popularity, the once bare-fisted fighters began wearing lengths of hemp rope around their forearms, fighting at local festivals and celebrations.

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PANORAMIC PINNACLE
The Ridge wows with its bold architecture and top quality finish.

The Ridge wows with its bold architecture and top quality finish.

There’s an old Berber saying – it could only come from a nomadic race - ‘A house is a tomb for the living.’ It may seem a tad extreme, but anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors will recognize its wisdom. And perhaps everyone can agree that houses in hot climates don’t need to have anything claustrophobic about them; there’s no battle to keep out the cold. Surprisingly though, quite a few houses in the tropics don’t take as much advantage of light, air and space as they could. They end up being just boxes. Effortlessly veering away from such soullessness, a new project in the hills overlooking Choeng Mon uses creative flair and imagination to bring homeowners a true sense of spaciousness - The Ridge.

          

The Ridge took part in the 2014-2015 Thailand Property Awards and impressed the panel of judges. Drawn from top CEO’s of Bangkok’s business and construction scene, they are not the kind of people to be easily swayed,

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THERE’S MORE TO MORYA THAN MEETS THE EYE
Morya Pharmacy stocks thousands of medications – and that’s not all.

Morya Pharmacy stocks thousands of medications – and that’s not all.

If you’re driving around Samui, you’ll see there are lots of convenience stores selling food and drink and a wide range of other useful items. You’ll also come across what appears to be a medical version of these stores, stocked with medicines, and with a pharmacist rather than just a cashier in charge. Pretty much everywhere on the island you’re never far from one of these chemists. The chain is called Morya. In Thai ‘mor’ means ‘doctor’ and ‘ya’ means ‘medicine’ – Dr Medicine, therefore! The name’s apt: step inside any of the branches and you’ll find it’s a lot more than just a medical ‘convenience’ store – you’re covered for the full spectrum of pharmaceutical products, and you’ll also find many other products that complement the medicines on offer.

          

There are currently 17 Morya pharmacies on Samui, and they recently opened a stylish new branch at The Wharf, in Fisherman’s Village. You might think that Morya must be a Thailand-wide network. It’s obviously successful and looks sophisticated enough to be present anywhere in the country. But it turns out that the founder has chosen to keep things local; you’ll only find Morya on Samui, and nowhere else.

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XD X 4
Samui’s gut-wrenching XD Theater has sprouted another three stunning attractions!

Samui’s gut-wrenching XD Theater has sprouted another three stunning attractions!

Yes, indeed, this is Koh Samui. It’s a tropical island, palm-fringed and blue-skied. But, if you tour around and look closely, it’s ever so slightly schizophrenic – albeit cheerfully so. One identity is Paradise Isle. This is picture postcard land, and to be found deep in the south, with island natives in rustic shacks and toothless fishermen mending their nets on the beach. This is the Samui of 30 years back: people doze in hammocks and sit in salas; there are hut-shops instead of 7-11s and Wi-Fi needs digging out like buried treasure.

          

But, the further north and east you go, the more things begin to change. The pitted concrete turns to blacktop, you can’t see the sea for end-to-end resorts and everywhere there’s tooting taxis. Hypermarkets jostle for frontage, there’s a multiplex cinema . . . and a shopping mall - Central Festival. This seems to be the ‘bridge’, the icon where the island’s two personalities merge. It’s pretty, it’s light, airy and open, it’s filled with giant trees and plants. And it’s also where you discover that the island has come of age – well, one part of it at least!

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ISLAND COPS
How the police and the tourist police on Samui are working together for you.

How the police and the tourist police on Samui are working together for you.

Things are different here. Although you’ll look around at the nice modern buildings, the new cars and trucks, the policemen on their motorbikes, the shopping malls, the 7-11s on every corner, the banks and the ATM machines – and never know it. Everything looks so familiar. But it’s only when you’ve stayed here for a month or two that you realise a great many normal aspects of daily life look the same on the surface, but are strikingly different in the way that they work. And one of these is the role and function of the police over here.

          

The chances are that, here, you’ll hear a policeman before you’ll see one. One of their most visible activities is to direct traffic, which they do with wind-milling arms, and some kind of code signals belted out full-tilt on a whistle.

          

Their function is different, too. There is no system of law in Thailand where a minor offender is issued with a summons to appear in court at a later date.

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CHEERS TO SKÅL!
A look at one of Samui’s longest running networking and friendship groups – Skål International.

A look at one of Samui’s longest running networking and friendship groups – Skål International.

In order to understand what Skål International is all about, it helps to take a look at The Michelin Guide. Today it is associated almost entirely with good food and those coveted Michelin Stars. But that’s not how it all began. For this, we have to go back to the early days of motoring. In those days, motor cars were unreliable and kept breaking down. The French tyre manufacturer, Michelin, organised a map that showed all the places where motorists could find repairs, and the locations of car mechanics, hotels and petrol stations. The association grew into a French motorists club, with members always able and willing to extend their hospitality and help others. And from these beginnings, it spread throughout Europe.

          

The roots of Skål International can be traced back to a similar kind of origin, but in this case relating to the emergence of global tourism. (Although it has to be said that today Skål has vastly surpassed anything that Michelin went on to achieve – Skål has spread throughout the world whereas Michelin, by its very nature, is still mainly rooted in Europe.) However, back in the early 1930s, the concept of world tourism was still very much in its infancy; such travel was at that time strictly limited to the upper classes.

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GO IN, GO UP!
Samui isn’t just sun, sand and sea – there’s a whole other world if you just head inland.

Samui isn’t just sun, sand and sea – there’s a whole other world if you just head inland.

Traditionally Samui’s thrust towards tourism has placed a lot of value on the fact that we’re an island. There are palm-fringed beaches and white sand. The sunset cocktail on the beach has become an institution in its own right. There are a hundred scuba outfits offering their services. There are boat trips of every description from sunset cruises to luxury yacht charter. But there’s one genre that’s yet to emerge. And that’s the organised tour that takes you inland. Certainly, there are organised temple excursions or trips to the aquarium or tiger zoo. But, these aside and bowing to our geography, on Samui ‘in’ also means up.

          

Yes, you will find several trips that take you away from the seaside. But mostly these fall into the ‘adventure’ category, heading off-road on a jungle safari or a rented quad bike, or abseiling on zip lines from tree to tree. There’s nothing of a calm and placid nature. True, you can wobble about on the back of a jumbo for half an hour and take in a local waterfall, but that’s not really what I’m getting at. If you want a leisurely look at what’s really inland – and there are a great many attractions, not least the amazing views – then you have to do it yourself.

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ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Nora Beach Resort & Spa Koh Samui has a brand new look.

Nora Beach Resort & Spa Koh Samui has a brand new look.

Resorts are a bit like Swiss watches. They’re hopefully beautiful to look at, efficient and provide total reliability. But there’s more to it than that. Neither the watch nor the resort should ever come to a standstill – both should be steadily progressing forwards. But, of course, no matter how perfect your Swiss watch is there are a few times when it has to come to a halt. Just occasionally – hopefully not often – it has to be overhauled and certain parts replaced or made new. And it’s exactly the same for a resort.

          

Nora Beach temporarily closed last year during part of November and December. Once the last guests had checked out, whole teams came into the property and started refurbishing it. In a resort, every square inch of space is important. At the very least, it has to be spotlessly clean and stylish, and in keeping with the rest of the property. No easy task, and if the hotel’s undertaking big changes, it’s not just a question of having a few discreet work people nipping into the rooms and making them look superficially okay. There’s a lot that needs to be done.

          

So the management decided to close the hotel during the low season and roll up their collective sleeves and get to work. Plans had been afoot for months; now the time had come to implement them. So, what were the results?

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ADVENTURING UP
Chaweng is more than just one road – we explore upwards, to Chaweng Bay View and Yupa’s restaurant.

Chaweng is more than just one road – we explore upwards, to Chaweng Bay View and Yupa’s restaurant.

What do you do? After the jet lag has worn off and you’ve had a day or two by the pool? You’ve calmed down and settled in, enjoyed the cocktails and the restaurant. Now what? Well, it’s what everyone does, every time. You go outside to look around and see what’s what. To get a feel for the lie of the land. Check out the shops and the restaurants. Saunter down the road to explore. And there we have it! In Chaweng, there’s only one road. And most of it is end-to-end shopping and eating. Chaweng Beach Road will keep you busy for weeks.

          

However, it’s just too easy to stay on the straight and narrow. But this means you’ll miss some real gems – the great places that aren’t right out in plain view. Places that are down a side street or up the hill. Restaurants and resorts that are special, but tucked away, out of sight. There are quite a few like this. And one of the most scenic is Chaweng Bay View, up at the very northern end of the beach road.

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HOLY ORDERS
Do’s and don’ts when visiting a temple.

Do’s and don’ts when visiting a temple.

You’re on holiday in a hot tropical country – a time to bring out your shorts and sundresses and soak up a few rays. That’s fine when exploring the shops along the streets or walking on the beach, but what about inside a temple? Here are some rules to keep in mind when visiting a temple so as not to cause offence.

          

1. Attire - Please take care in how you dress when visiting a temple. This is a place of worship, and as such you should politely respect the dress code. For everyone this means covered torsos and shoulders. If you are a planning a day of sightseeing keep this in mind – for women you can always take a scarf/shawl along with you to throw over your spaghetti strap t-shirt, and keep the skimpy shorts or miniskirts for other occasions. You should wear pants or skirts that at least cover the knees. If you have long loose pants or a long cotton skirt, that’s even better. Incredibly I have seen people in swim wear wandering around temple grounds. A temple is not a place to show off your new bikini.

          

2. Footwear – Remove your shoes before entering any temple building. Flip flops or other slip on shoes make this quite effortless.

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PERFECTLY PRANA
One of the best small resorts on Samui has just become delightfully better!

One of the best small resorts on Samui has just become delightfully better!

How many times have you been on holiday? For most people visiting here, the answer is ‘lots’. But if you then asked these people how many truly lovely resorts they’ve stayed in, then they’d undoubtedly answer ‘not many’. Most hotels and resorts are pretty good. But that’s the trouble. They’re all pretty good; therefore none of them stands out – a few years later they’re hard to recall. Over on the north coast of the island, on the edge of Bangrak, lies Prana. It’s always been worthy of mention – pretty good all round. But now it’s unforgettable.

          

And this is the result of a two-year extended building project that has completely remodelled the entire place. Before, Prana was a compact-but-pleasant upmarket resort, right on the beach and with an exceptional restaurant. Now it’s something quite different. It’s split itself across the narrow beach road onto a beautifully designed split-level site with garden and pool villas and an exceptional restaurant. And an exceptional spa. And with an exceptional . . . well, it’s all quite exceptional, really! But, in truth, it’s not really ‘Prana’ any more.

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HOWLING AT THE MOON
One of the best small resorts on Samui has just become delightfully better!

Karaoke – the drinking man’s passport to dreams of fame and stardom.

How many times have you been on holiday? For most people visiting here, the answer is ‘lots’. But if you then asked these people how many truly lovely resorts they’ve stayed in, then they’d undoubtedly answer ‘not many’. Most hotels and resorts are pretty good. But that’s the trouble. They’re all pretty good; therefore none of them stands out – a few years later they’re hard to recall. Over on the north coast of the island, on the edge of Bangrak, lies Prana. It’s always been worthy of mention – pretty good all round. But now it’s unforgettable.

          

And this is the result of a two-year extended building project that has completely remodelled the entire place. Before, Prana was a compact-but-pleasant upmarket resort, right on the beach and with an exceptional restaurant. Now it’s something quite different. It’s split itself across the narrow beach road onto a beautifully designed split-level site with garden and pool villas and an exceptional restaurant. And an exceptional spa. And with an exceptional . . . well, it’s all quite exceptional, really! But, in truth, it’s not really ‘Prana’ any more.

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SAFE AND SOUND
A great opportunity to buy a quality apartment – courtesy of X2 and Nautilus.

A great opportunity to buy a quality apartment – courtesy of X2 and Nautilus.

Buying property in Thailand has traditionally been a cautious venture. Property laws are strict, and the attitude to foreign ownership can deter potential buyers who are used to the security of freeholds. But, gradually, over the years, the suspicions attached to a Thai ‘30-year lease’ have lessened. And, as confidence has grown, so more and more real estate firms have firstly become established, then experienced and trusted. For the last decade or so, the actual process of buying property or land on Samui hasn’t been a problem at all. But today a new aspect has appeared.

          

And it’s all connected to the way the island’s population has been changing. Up until quite recently, there had always been a slow but steady flow of new residents coming here to live. Many came to retire. Some came for employment. And a very few came here on the off chance they could hustle some kind of a living, purely on speculation. But times have changed. And in the last couple of years, we’ve seen a sudden influx of those who fall onto the latter category. Many have turned to property speculation, and this has led to a bewildering rash of new web sites and companies, some with no investment and working hopefully via commissions, all of them after your money, and every one doing their utmost to look professional and experienced.

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