A very warm one – because this is the hottest time of the year on Koh Samui. The sea is cool and tempting, but do take care; lots of sun-block is the order of the day.
Many of you will know all about this anyway. Because the excitement has been building for a while now and, on 21st May, Samui will burst into action around the coast and on the water. This is the occasion of the 15th annual Samui Regatta, and it coincides with the final leg of the Asian Yachting Grand Prix. All over Southeast Asia, points have been building throughout the year, and this is the event which decides the overall winners.
And then, for something totally different, keep your ears open! May sees the annual Samui Bike Week. And the roar of long processions of hogs, choppers and superbikes will be in the air, as they tour around the ring-road. Hundreds of people will travel from all over Thailand and from Singapore and Malaysia, all in aid of charity.
Another very important event is happening in June, but of quite a different sort altogether. On May 20th it’s the Solstice. And this, according to Buddhist tradition, corresponds to the birth of the Lord Buddha. It also happens to be the point, years later, when he attained enlightenment, and then also the day upon which he eventually died. The temples will be the centre of activity for a week, with street processions and even orange candles burning in your hotel – watch out for them!
Up in Samui’s hills, the Magic Garden is a place where myths have literally become rock-solid.
Have you ever been to Iceland? It’s very common there for people to believe in elves; many people say they’ve seen them. In one case, a new road that was being built had to make a small detour because local residents were worried that elves lived at that spot and shouldn’t be disturbed by traffic. So the road was duly re-routed to keep the locals, both people and elves, content. To hear such things might cause some people to raise their eyebrows in mirth. But for every sceptic there’ll be a dozen or more people who believe in the mythical world. In the case of Thailand, it’s the majority of the country.
Once you’ve arrived here, you’ll see that most people really do believe in spirits and other-worldly beings; just look at the spirit houses that you see everywhere. Even as Thailand rushes forward to embrace the modern world, it still equally embraces the unseen one. Legend and myth are still crucial to the country and its people, and it’s up to the individual to decide exactly how real that unseen world is.
Eranda Herbal Spa is set high on a breezy mountainside, amongst more than 7,000 square metres of palm trees and beautiful tropical gardens, with views over the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The location is truly exceptional, and epitomises the luxury of a natural spa experience. Here you enter a magical garden of cascading and tinkling waterfalls, stunning architecture made of natural materials with thatch-roofed circular salas, as well as air-conditioned treatment rooms, stone walkways and stepping stones leading you up through the spa grounds and gardens, graceful, polite and attentive staff and of course, those spectacular ocean views. All this adds to the atmosphere of calm, peace and tranquillity at this very special and extremely serene spa.
Eranda Spa has been running since 2002, so they have had plenty of time to perfect and enhance their trade. Only natural products are used, together with traditional treatments, and only the most qualified, friendly therapists are chosen to be part of the Eranda team. The masseuses are all trained at Wat Po in Bangkok, the Thai authority for massage. After qualifying, they undergo a six-month probation period, when they practise only on other members of staff and learn to blend the Thai massage with western techniques. In a final exam, they have to give a massage to the spa owner. If they pass, and not everyone does, only then will they be certified by Eranda to work with their guests. You may think that it is relatively easy to get a massage on Samui, which is true, but what is not so easy is to find a fully qualified, experienced and exceptional masseuse.
Social crutch or sheer generosity? Tipping turns out to be fiendishly complex.
The steak was being borne across the dining room on what looked like a roofing tile. The waiter was frowning with concentration, and I could see why: the steak came with gravy. A big, glutinous, wobbly dollop of it that seemed ready to slide off the tile. Maybe the chef had miscalculated on the glugginess of the gravy. Maybe the waiter just wasn’t skilled enough to keep the tile 100% horizontal (who would be?) and it really was a roofing tile. As he placed it on the table, I watched the gravy make a dash for the edge, burst through the skin that held it together and splatter into my lap. Between plate and trousers it seemed magically to have tripled in volume. The waiter was aghast and was soon joined by the manager. We got some complimentary desserts that night, and enthusiastic apologies.
At the end of the meal, as I usually do, I left a tip for the waiter. I walked around with the gluggy trousers on for the rest of the evening, a reminder of what had happened. This was the United States, and tipping was expected. Regardless of that, I tend to tip anyway. I was sure that the incident wouldn’t happen again to anyone else, but besides, it wasn’t my job to teach anyone a lesson concerning the usage of roofing tiles.
A favourite Italian restaurant, Prego, gets a complete makeover.
In 2003, a top-notch Italian chef, Marco Boscaini, came to Samui and helped set up one of the island’s first Italian restaurants, the simply named Prego. Given his passion and dedication, people knew it would be successful, but they had no idea to what degree. In its first nights it exceeded expectations, and very soon became one of the first restaurants on Samui to raise the culinary flag for quality Italian dining. Prego’s success has continued ever since, and the restaurant has made a name for itself as an excellent place to eat, drink and enjoy all things Italian.
Recently however, it closed its doors. Not because it had fallen out of fashion or favour. If its lights went dark, it was only because after a dozen years in operation, it was being given a total makeover.
And total means precisely that. Everything changed. Marco and the Prego team have transformed the lot. From floor to ceiling, the entire restaurant has been redone. Its tables, seats, colours have all been changed, as well as all the plates and cutlery – right down to the tiniest teaspoon for espresso. It’s still in the same place, opposite Amari Koh Samui on Chaweng’s beach road, in the northern part of town. Opening hours are incidentally slightly changed - from midday to midnight, daily.
So you have arrived on the sun-drenched (most of the time), tropical, palm-fringed island of Samui. You have relaxed, sunbathed on a number of the islands’ gorgeous beaches, and swum in the warm, clear waters that surround this idyllic picture-postcard destination. You have been spoilt for choice with dining options, and eaten at a number of the excellent restaurants, serving a huge variety of fantastic local and international cuisine. You may have followed this by exploring the bars and night clubs on offer. You have toured the island, visiting temples, waterfalls, viewpoints and the heavily forested island interior. You hopefully had the opportunity to ride an elephant and climb the steep steps to the top of Big Buddha temple, where you delighted in ringing the bells around its summit. You are feeling rested from your crazy busy life that seems so far away right now, but maybe, just maybe, something is missing. Ah, maybe your physical body is not feeling too thankful for all the relaxation and overindulgence.
Luckily, there are an increasing number of health and fitness options on Samui to help you out. Doing just a bit of exercise each day is guaranteed to benefit your heart, overall disposition and fitness. Samui has this covered with a variety of water and land-based activities.
Next time you’re in Lamai, slow down for a treat – Waterline is easy to get to but not easy to spot!
If you’re staying on the island for more than just a day or so, then it’s guaranteed that there are two places you will visit. Sure, yes, you’ll possibly head off to marvel at the Mummified Monk, cool off at a waterfall, or even catch a temple or two. But every single soul seems magnetically moved to Fisherman’s Village. And then, wherever you’re staying, there’s one place more. Well, I confess it’s not actually a venue as such. But unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool pool potato, then you’ll most certainly pass through Lamai in one direction or the other – probably on your way to somewhere else. Which is a shame, because one of Samui’s unsung stars is just sitting there waiting just for you!
The jewel here is known simply as ‘Manathai’. This is not a name you’ll be familiar with. In fact, there are only three other such resorts in Thailand (all of them beachside) which bear the name of this very forward-looking Thai company. Admirably, Manathai Hotels & Resorts isn’t working to a blueprint or a tried and tested formula; each of their resorts has been designed and architected along different lines. And happily they’ve avoided falling-back on the easy option of ‘traditional Thai design’. The resort here on Samui is refreshingly elegant and styled with a smooth colonial theme. It’s imposing, spacious and thoughtfully laid out, spanning a long U-shape with old cobbled tiles in the wide central parking area, and the hotel itself presiding regally at the top end of this.
Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo offers a great alternative to the beach.
As much as you like spending time on the beach, you just know that Samui has more to offer than beautiful coastlines. There are trips to take, places to go and things to see. Sometimes they’re quite unexpected and if you’re looking for the distinctly unusual and memorable, a visit to Samui’s own aquarium will guarantee a special time: you can spend a wonderful few hours checking out a plethora of tropical marine life – a whole world awaits you. And not just undersea creatures... there’s a lot more besides. You can also see lions, tigers and an array of other animals.
Located in Hua Thanon, in the south on the island, the aquarium is easily to find. Drive though Ban Hua Thanon (heading towards Nathon) and turn off the ring-road just after the village onto Route 4170. This takes you a couple of kilometres further south, then just turn left at the signpost marked ‘Samui Aquarium’. If you don’t feel like driving; the aquarium offers several packages that include hotel transfers, which is highly convenient. Just phone ahead and you’ll be picked up at your desired location and afterwards, dropped off again.
Did you pack everything in your medicine cabinet before you left home? No of course not. So which pharmacy do you go to if you find there is something you need? A big success story on Samui is Morya Pharmacy. The first branch opened its doors to customers along Chaweng Beach Road, in 2001. Since then, the young and dynamic team behind the scenes have been listening to customers, and providing a caring and responsive service. This approach has earned them a lot of respect, and has been so successful that stores have since opened around the island. The brand that has continued to increase customer support and trust now has 22 branches.
Eighteen of the stores, including the snazzy new, glass fronted head office on the ring-road in Chaweng, opposite the PTT petrol station, near Bangkok Samui Hospital, employ full time fully qualified pharmacists. These people are trained to offer more than just pharmaceutical advice. They can refill prescriptions, offer advice and refer you to a hospital if required. They are also able to offer health and beauty information including, which products may be best for your personal requirements. They all speak at least two languages, normally Thai and English. If you cannot speak either of those, they will use Google translation services to try and help you.
Beach Republic - not quite a country, but certainly a state of mind.
When Beach Republic opened, in 2004, it certainly hit the ground running, and quickly acquired a name as the place to go if you wanted to chill out and enjoy the beach. It’s certainly stood the test of time. It offers anything you want from a snack all the way up to luxury vacations. Drop in for a coffee or come and stay for a month, the choice is yours. And there are a great variety of them at this über-relaxed resort.
Even if there’s no border control to get into Beach Republic, it’s a place apart, a chic destination that, as its name suggests, is focused on the sea and all the pleasures it has to offer. Though it falls short of being its own country, you certainly will feel different once you enter its territories; you’ll start to feel very relaxed and your cares will drop away from you. In short, it’ll give you a greater sense of wellbeing.
You’ll find Beach Republic nestling into a small promontory at the eastern edge of Lamai. (Look out for the signs as you drive along the ring-road.) It’s well away from the town itself, and is a few hundred metres up a small track. It’s close to nature and you’ll find palm trees, white sand and everything you’d expect of a tropical coastline.
It’s always time to relax at Central Festival Samui – whether you’re there to shop or not.
Say the word ‘mall’ to almost anyone and ask them to describe what goes through their minds, and in all probability they’ll come up with an indoor experience. Blank, windowless boxes. Indeed, this was the way that the first malls were built. In the USA, in the 50s, when they first started popping up with the ease of corks on a lake, they were all indoors, with their backs turned to the outside. One of the main reasons was the entirely obvious one: climate. The cold, the snow and the rain were to be banished forever from an idealized, weatherless interior. On a tropical island like Samui, that doesn’t make so much sense. Gentle breezes blow across the land; the sun shines most days of the year.
When Central Festival Samui opened its doors in 2014, it was already a rather different sort of mall. Just from the exterior alone you could see it was an outdoor experience. It didn’t have any maximum security walls, and from the Chaweng lake road, you could actually see inside it. It wasn’t boxy on the outside and blinding with fluorescent lighting on the inside.
A look at why the practice of Thai Buddhism seems to range from saintly to strange!
The Thai nation is a proud one. It’s one of only three countries in the world that have never been colonised. It has however, been ‘infused’ a few times along the way, and the origins of the Thai people remain cloudy, even to this day. There are three or four Thai ethnic sub-races that can be determined by facial features and skin tones. Thais are a part of the ethnic group known as the ‘Tai’, which includes Lao, Burmese ‘Shan’, Vietnamese and the ‘Zhunag’ people of southern China. And, somewhere around 800 years before the birth of Christ, this bubbling mix had already begun to settle down, gradually emerging with a new ethnic identity.
The earliest national religion to emerge, around two hundred years later, was a form of Hinduism, traces of which can still be seen in Thai religious practices today. But it was absorbed into a young and primitive nation, in which the people were struggling for everyday survival. The daily reality of ghosts and spirits, both unworldly (ghosts) and animistic (places, trees, rivers), dominated everyone’s lives and needed to be placated and subdued. Superstitious aspects and bad omens were thought to be real. It was into this context that Sri Lankan holy men introduced Buddhism, around 600 BC. And this was the base that Thai Buddhism was built on, with many fragments of its original beliefs and practices remaining even today.
RockPool’s brand new chef, Lucas Varin, is rewarding diners with enticingly good food.
The lure of large kitchens and the thought of getting creative with fine quality ingredients is something that’s irresistible for many an aspiring chef. Daunting as it may seem to reach top-notch status, such people enrol in cooking school, graduate and go on to realize their dreams. But it takes inordinate energy and skill to go beyond that. Relatively few chefs decide to go round the world, sink their teeth into as many different cuisines as possible – then start cooking them.
But that’s just what Lucas Varin has done. Rather than just honing his skills, he’s broadened them as well, and is now at proficient in a variety of different cuisines. Here’s his story.
Lucas was born in Brazil and grew up there. Early on he realized he loved cooking and studied at a prestigious culinary school. And almost as soon as he’d graduated, he started out on an epic journey that has taken him pretty much around the world. But he didn’t go as a tourist, but rather as a chef, with a professional eye on learning the next recipe.
This special spa package at Hansar’s LUXSA Spa will lift you right out of your body!
There are all sorts of spas. Some will offer a sauna, a facial, and you can get a manicure or massage, too. Others are more esoteric, touching onto ancient Chinese or Ayurvedic approaches, proclaiming to be aware of your whole body, not just your aching feet, and promising to re-energise and balance your chakras. The thing is – what to believe. Just check the number of roadside massage shops offering ‘reflexology’ when all they’re really doing is a foot rub. Sacro cranial therapy? A head massage. But not at Hansar.
Hansar Samui is a 5-star resort, located on the beachfront at Bophut, at the far end of the popular Fisherman’s Village. It’s one of the new wave of luxurious holiday resorts, where the old-school gold-leaf and marble has given way to expensive understatement. Natural timber and fabric abound, tastefully complemented by quiet and elegant ethnic artwork. There’s a gourmet restaurant with a world-class chef, but you’d walk right past it unless you were aware; the entire resort has a quiet confidence that doesn’t need shouting about. And that applies to its world-class spa, too.
Abidingly popular, Maenam’s weekly night market is guaranteed to pull in the crowds.
The Thais are known for their speedy martial art, or Muay Thai; fighting that’s all blink-of-an-eye and totally efficient, so fast at times that it’s hard to capture on camera. But Thai speed isn’t restricted to fighting, and you’ll see other instances of it while you’re on your travels in the country. On Samui, the night markets, known colloquially as ‘walking streets’, that have sprung up in towns on the island are prime examples. The markets are only held once a week in each town on a designated street. The rest of the week the street goes back to its normal routines. But come the day of the market, everything changes. And fast. Really fast.
Maenam’s walking street is held right in the heart of town; it starts at the new Chinese gate by the traffic lights, goes down the street, then bends round to make its way back up the street parallel until it ends at the other Chinese gate.
The market is held every Thursday, and the area starts off quiet and near empty. You’d think nothing out of the ordinary was due to happen here.
Explore the extraordinary world surrounding Samui with Sa-ard’s Watersport Center.
Blue waters. Palm-fringed beaches. Endless summer days. The fact that Samui is surrounded by sea probably has something to do with why you’ve chosen to come on holiday here. There are beautiful beaches aplenty, and the sea is warm all year round making it an ideal place to unwind. Most people have come a long, long way to be here, and once they arrive on the island, they’re more than content just to stay put and soak up the atmosphere and all the beauty. And why not? With dozens of beaches within driving distance, is it really necessary to step foot off Samui? Certainly not … but that means missing out on some truly amazing experiences.
Looking out from Samui at the intriguing islands that lie just offshore, you may already feel a bit tempted to go exploring. Many a resident regret that they don’t have a boat that would enable them to regularly spend more time at sea discovering what’s out there.
If you’re here on holiday, you can easily spend a day or longer at sea exploring, thanks to a myriad of companies who offer trips. There’s a bewildering variety of packages and it can be hard to decide between them. Amongst the companies there are some who go the extra nautical mile to offer the very,
The annual Four Seasons Cancer Care Charity Fun Run
It all started in 1980, when a plucky young Canadian man named Terry Fox, who’d had a leg amputated in order to stop his cancer spreading, decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness of this growing and often fatal disease. With his prosthetic leg, Terry ran and hopped in his own style, along highways and roads, through cities, towns, villages and countryside. Continuing even in the pouring rain, he just kept going with his aptly named ‘Marathon of Hope’.
Isadore Sharp, the founder of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts was among those inspired by Terry’s dedication and commitment that summer. As he followed Terry’s progress, he became more and more convinced that this disease needed so much more research done in order to find a cure. Research is time-consuming and costly, so he personally pledged $10,000 to support Terry’s cause, and wrote to another 999 Canadian corporations urging them to do the same. Before long, Terry’s route through Canada was lined with supporters, waving flags and cheering him on. Sadly, Terry succumbed to cancer before reaching his goal to run across the entire country.
You might not know the name, but the Impiana Resort is right up there with the best
– and offers a lot more than you might expect.
It’s not a new idea. You’ll come across several like this. They really stand out from the crowd – although you have to know where they are. Most resorts really can’t carry it off. But when it’s done well, it’s sheer joy. I’m talking about those few 4-star resorts that have got everything right. They’ve geared up to the 5-star ethos and have risen to the challenge in all but those final few, fine twists that the ratings demand. More often than not it’s a matter of measure – maybe room volume is just that teensy bit out. But those few that are bold, and have flair, steam right on ahead, becoming 5-star in all but the name. And one of the most established of these is Impiana Resort, just a little way around the corner from the main strip of Chaweng Beach.
It’s not an easy thing to do this, to buffer yourself up to these standards, right across the board. Staff are a resource that is often downplayed, but not here. It’s just so easy to put in a spa, a fitness centre, or buy quality cutlery. But it takes an ongoing investment in time and continual training – thus costing so much more to do it right – to assemble a team with confident English skills, an awareness of international standards, the ability to improvise and the initiative to know when to do so, and the pleasantly relaxed politeness that rises out of experience. And there is simply no substitute.
Getting married on Samui is a lot easier than you think – and more fun.
When Jodie Anderson and her boyfriend Mark decided to get married, they were faced with so many possibilities that it seemed a daunting process. At home in Ireland, a wedding meant having to invite a huge number of friends and family. That in turn meant the wedding would be very expensive. But it was more than that. “We weren’t sure exactly who to invite,” said Jodie. “We were afraid of leaving anyone out. Friends, family, acquaintances – we didn’t want to offend anyone.” It’s a problem faced by many couples. Jodie and Mark decided to hold their wedding on Samui. Just the two of them. They combined it with their honeymoon, and for the couple this was a great solution. As Jodie said, “We saved an astounding amount of money, even by travelling thousands of miles to come here. And no-one got offended. Everyone was very understanding. On top of that, we had this wonderful holiday. If we’d stayed at home, we’d never have had anything like that. We had a brilliant time.”
Weddings like Jodie and Mark’s, without guests, are called ‘elopements’ but have nothing to do with a couple running off in a clandestine way; it’s just an intimate ceremony, usually on the beach or perhaps up in the hills, where two people can join together in marriage. As a wedding celebrant myself, I can safely say that weddings are incredibly varied on Samui.
Narai Kiri offer unparalleled holidays in a unique hilltop location.
Imagine sitting in a Jacuzzi, perhaps casually enjoying some champagne, and gazing out at a view so mesmerizing that it engages the eye no matter which part you care to home in on. You can see offshore islands set in a blue sea, a forest of jungle palms that leads all the way down to the coast and a beautiful temple. There’s a whole sweep of scenery that no camera can catch in a single shot. If you look left you can see Bangrak beach almost directly below you, and then just beyond the mysterious islets of the Angthong National Marine Park in the distance. Directly in front of you, there’s the Big Buddha complex and Plai Laem Temple just a little further away, this time to the right. Needless to say you can also see Koh Pha-Ngan as well. And then there are the planes. They’re every bit as eye-catching as the rest of the view: you can look down on them as they come in to land.
Look down? Indeed, you’re so high up that you don’t look up at them; they’re actually flying below you. It’s a perspective that takes a little getting used to. So does the setting itself. Unless you’re really used to living on the tops of very, very high hills or you own a penthouse suite in a high-rise, then all of this will be a brand-new experience for you. It’s a great one to have. There’s something very liberating about being high up over everything else. It tends to lead to a certain sense of well-being. You’re lifted up, literally.
Profit from your holidays and let Bangkok Samui Dental Clinic’s professionals improve your teeth and your looks.
It might seem strange to combine visiting white sand beaches with improving the state of your teeth, but the two actually go hand in hand. Or they can do. Thailand sees some million or so medical patients jet in to the country every year for treatments they either couldn’t afford back at home, or because they choose to recuperate in the best of all surroundings – on those same sandy beaches. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Hmm ... but you might still not be convinced. Aren’t those people naive and taking an enormous chance? Isn’t it a bit risky to put your trust in medical facilities in a country you’re unfamiliar with?
But if you do just a little research you’ll soon see that Thai doctors and dentists are renowned for their excellent record, their experience and training, and sheer dedication to patients’ well-being and safety. Over the years their attitude and performance has led the country to being a major destination for medical procedures, both big and small. Naturally, the widest range of procedures is to be found in the capital, Bangkok, where there’s the greatest concentration of hospitals and clinics.
Bigger and better each time around – a look at this year’s Samui Regatta!
Samui is only little. There are not that many people here. It’s been described as sleepy – a place to come to get away from the mad dash and bustle of life. World events are things that happen elsewhere; we’ll give them a look on TV now and then. And our little island doesn’t see truckloads of sport – apart from a quiet spot of fishing, maybe! And so it comes as a shock that we’re on the map. The international sporting calendar. We’re all set up for one of the biggest events in the world – because we’re an island. And it’s the waters all around us that draw people in. Yes, once again, this month of May, it’s time for the annual Samui Regatta.
To those not in the know, some background is needed. This isn’t just a bunch of islanders sculling about with boats, bunting and booze for a week. This is one event, the final one in fact, in an international series of races which have been going on for the best part of a year, as part of the 12 stages of the Asian Yachting Grand Prix (AYGP) – a series of competitions and races that take place in the seas between Hong Kong and Singapore. It starts every June with Phuket Race Week. And then over the next ten months (with a break for the monsoon season) moves on to Penang and Langkawi (Malaysia), The Philippines, Vietnam, back to Phuket again (for The King’s Cup) then Singapore and, finally, Samui.