Samui Wining & Dining
Samui Holiday Magazine
A Warm Welcome

A WARM WELCOME

Samui’s like a magnet. Come here once and you’ll be drawn back time and time again by its amazing powers of attraction. And why is this? Is there a single reason, such as the unspoilt tropical beaches with the warm turquoise waters, the fantastic value for money when dining in fabulous restaurants or maybe the multitude of fun activities on offer?

          

The truth is that it’s a perfect combination of the above, and a whole lot more, besides. And in every issue of Samui Holiday Magazine we delve beneath the surface, discovering what’s at the very heart of this exciting tropical island.

          

With all the amazing things to do and see whilst you’re here, you’re sure to have a great time whenever you come. But if you’re here during the Songkran celebrations for the Thai New Year on the 13th April, you’ll have a totally unforgettable experience as you’ll be involved in the world’s biggest water fight – whether you like it or not !

 
SONGKRAN ON SAMUI
The only day of the year when it’s guaranteed to be wet.

16-1You know how it is when you want to go to a party - you have to decide how to get there and if it’s worth it. With Songkran you certainly don’t need to worry about whether it’s going to be good. This is the world’s biggest water fight after all, and it’s fun all the way. You don’t need to travel to get to it, either; it comes to you. Appear in public, and within a minute, if not seconds, someone will pour a bucket of water over you. Not just once, but again and again. To the outsider it might appear to be an aquatic war against all, albeit amicable and with a lot of laughter. If you’re a first-timer it’s a bizarre spectacle to watch, but the even bigger surprise is that it’s actually a deeply religious festival.

          

Songkran is the most popular of all Thai traditions. It marks the beginning of the new Thai year, (though Thailand now recognizes the 1st January as the first day of the New Year). Songkran originates in India, and a festival there, Makar Sankriti, which celebrated the sun’s path from the old year into the new one. The festival has evolved into a Thai cultural treasure and is celebrated throughout Thailand. Symbolically it washes away the previous year so people can get ready for the next one.

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GREAT DAYS OUT
Blue Stars Kayaking offers exciting trips to the Angthong National Marine Park.

Blue Stars Kayaking offers exciting trips to the Angthong National Marine Park.Call it picture-perfect. Think white tropical sands. The bluest of waters. Backdrops of tropical forest. Swaying palms. Just off Samui, there are some 70 islets and islands strewn across the sea, just waiting to be discovered. One of the best days out – and this goes for the whole of Thailand – is a visit to the Angthong National Marine Park. All you need to do is make the effort to actually get there. Plenty of companies offer the run to the islands and back, with tried-and-tested Blue Stars Kayaking one of the most popular choices. They’ll not only take you there, but do so in comfort, and enhance just about every part of what will be an extraordinary day. And they have recently introduced an improved program that now takes in three locations within the park, so you will experience even more!

          

The day starts early, but it’s relaxed all the way. Just remember to bring suntan cream, a hat and your swimming gear with you, and that’s pretty much all you have to do. No need to make your way to the port and worry about losing your way. You’ll be picked up from your hotel or villa and driven by mini-bus down to the pier where you will board the 23-metre boat that’ll set out across the water for the islands. Incidentally, the boat is fully-equipped and insured (everything’s done safely, and no corners are cut) and has an extensive sundeck with beanbags and mattresses, as well as protected seating downstairs. As you set off, a breakfast of croissants, fresh fruit and tea or coffee is served, and then, in just under two hours, you’ll enter the magical territory of the islands, with their strange karst shapes and beguiling beauty.

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FULL ON
Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party shows no signs of flagging.

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. I once met a rather elderly hippy on Koh Tao, who claimed that the very first party was fuelled by drugs brought in by air by someone who’d gone to London expressly to fuel up that first occasion. But who really knows anymore? What’s certain is that the same party was held again just a while later. People heard about it and the demand grew for a monthly get-together that very quickly became the very opposite of genteel. Over the years it became ever more famous (or rather, infamous) until it became the veritable institution that it is today.

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BLISS OUT IN THE ULTIMATE COASTAL HIDEAWAY
The recently opened Avani+ Samui Resort is perfect for couples or families.

The recently opened Avani+ Samui Resort is perfect for couples or families.Avani Hotels and Resorts were launched in response to a growing global group of discerning world travellers, whose priorities are service, style and value. The brand is contemporary and upbeat, focusing on great sleep, effective social spaces, locally sourced produce and genuine flexible service.

          

Unlimited hours can be spent by your own pool or one of the two resort infinity pools, one of which is reserved for adults. Sip cocktails on the deck or step down onto the golden beach and take a glorious dip in the ocean. Avani+ Samui guests can enjoy many complimentary activities and amenities offered by the resort, including the 24-hour gym, beach yoga, stand-up paddle-boarding, mountain biking, kayaking, snorkelling or kite flying. Or organise trips and excursions to any of the island’s delights - Taling Ngam makes a perfect base from which to explore. Take a boat trip to the Five Islands, a collection of beautiful remote shores with scenic limestone cliffs. Snorkel off the pristine white sandy beaches of Koh Madsum and Koh Tan, just a 15-minute long-tail boat ride away. Tumbling waterfalls close to the resort provide a lush background for exploring nature and enjoying a refreshing dip, and the laid-back village of Thong Krut is just a short ride away.

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MIGHTY MEALS, MIGHTY TIMES
The always awesome Hard Rock Cafe Koh Samui continues to wow its guests.

The always awesome Hard Rock Cafe Koh Samui continues to wow  its guests.Looking for music and good times? Then definitely set aside some time on your travels to drop in to Hard Rock Cafe Koh Samui. It’s a destination in itself while you’re visiting Samui. Check it out for any number of reasons: the drink, the food, the music or the sheer vibe. Be prepared to linger; the cafe is its own adventure. Located in the heart of all the action on Chaweng’s beach road, the cafe is extremely accessible. It features indoor seating for up to 200 guests, a vibrant bar and a spacious patio with seating for 100 more guests and a separate bar area facing a concert stage.

          

Music is a crucial part of the Hard Rock experience, and as soon as you step inside you’ll see a treasure trove of rock memorabilia on the walls – all of it genuine. Artists include Elvis Presley, Madonna, The Who, Taylor Swift, The Beatles, Slash, Def Leppard, Carlos Santana, Kiss and Pearl Jam. Don’t forget The Rock Shop, with its clothes and other goodies. There you’re sure to find a piece of your own Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia to take home. Meanwhile the vibe’s guaranteed by the mix of modern and retro classics on the playlist. There’s also live music every night, or a DJ playing the best tracks.

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READY TO RELAX?
Spa Cenvaree at Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui offers attractive treatments in a beautiful garden setting.

Spa Cenvaree at Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui offers attractive treatments in a beautiful garden setting.Right in the centre of Chaweng, you’ll find a beautiful oasis of a resort, Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui. It seems to have stepped out of a colonial-era film with its louvered windows and amazing lawns. Most outside guests come here to eat, unaware that Centara also boasts another sanctuary, Spa Cenvaree, which offers a wide range of excellent treatments, and is open to everyone. A division of the Centara Group, Spa Cenvaree has become one of Asia’s leading spa destinations, and now boasts 30 spas in Asia and The Middle East, Given the grandeur of the resort, the first surprise here is that the spa prices are all reasonable, and seem to be more in keeping with a much humbler venue. The spa is set in a garden of its own, where you can hear the splashing of a fountain, along with tropical birdsong.

          

The style of the treatments is very eclectic. You’ll find plenty of Thai massage techniques are used, with the therapists also relying on other different styles, such as Balinese or Ayurvedic. The focus is always on relaxation, along with effectiveness. It goes without saying that each of the masseuses is highly trained, having been passed by the Ministry of Public Health and conforming to the Centara Group’s own rigorous list of demands. Products are from Centara, and perfectly match the treatments being given. You’ll find Thai herbs, floral extracts and aromatic oils that help provide some truly blissful experiences. Whether it’s flower-scented body scrubs, traditional Thai spa rituals, muscle-melting body massages or heavenly facials, Spa Cenvaree will guarantee you’ll be relaxed and rejuvenated from head to toe.

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PALATIAL PAMPERING
Unique treatments in splendorous surrounds at Anantara Spa Bophut.

Unique treatments in splendorous surrounds at Anantara Spa Bophut.Everybody can benefit from some sort of relaxation, even on the most magnificent and laid-back of holidays, and perhaps that’s why Samui boasts so many great spas. There are all kinds to choose from, so the choice can be a hard one. But imagine a stand-out sanctuary of bliss that looks like it’s stepped out of a film, replete with myths and architecture that ooze history. Such is Anantara Spa Bophut. It has such a unique charm and atmosphere that people just want to come back again and again. TripAdvisor lists it as one the highest-ranking hotel spas on Samui. It’s certainly the most dramatic-looking. You’ll find it at Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort.

          

The spa has a grandeur all of its own. And it all starts as you turn off the ring-road into the iconic resort. You actually drive across a wooden bridge that spans a moat. It’s complete with an enormous traditional arch that signals you’re leaving your usual world far, far behind. But no need to be shy – this is a place that welcomes everyone, including outside guests, of course.

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A NEW YOU
Suankwangtung Clinic offers extremely affordable cosmetic and health treatments.

Suankwangtung Clinic offers extremely affordable cosmetic and health treatments.Medical facilities abound on Samui, and many patients even vacation here so that they can benefit from various treatments. Newcomer Suankwangtung Clinic is a professionally run traditional Chinese medicine clinic focussing on acupuncture, amongst other treatments. It’s a branch of the clinic of the same name in Bangkok, which has been running for 33 years.

          

There are plenty of reasons to take a look at Chinese medicine, and they’re all good. The idea behind it is that by strengthening the body’s energy, known as ‘chi’ or ‘qi’, diseases and troubles of the individual can be healed. In western medicine, it’s the disease and the symptoms that are treated; in the Chinese system it’s the individual themselves. If the body is out of balance, then it needs to be equilibrated, disease being a symptom of some kind of imbalance. At Suankwangtung Clinic, all sorts of services are offered. Basically they’re subdivided into two categories: cosmetic and beauty treatments, then medical treatments.

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A LIFE OF ITS OWN
A look at why the practice of Thai Buddhism seems to range from saintly to strange!

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.

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GOURMET PARADISE
Venturing beyond the ordinary at Villa Nalinnadda.

Venturing beyond the ordinary at Villa Nalinnadda.Picture a hotel with white walls and a garden that opens out onto a sea view, all clean lines, pleasingly contemporary and both open and welcoming. Drive a few kilometres south of Lamai, past a temple guarded by stone snakes, and you’ll find Villa Nalinnadda petite hotel and spa, on the ring-road just before Hua Thanon. Easily missed if you don’t keep your eyes peeled, it’s that discreet. Step across the threshold and you’re in another world.

          

As beautifully white inside as it is outside, and deliciously airconditioned, the dining room here is simple and elegant. The villa and its atmosphere is definitely Mediterranean, and it would hardly surprise anyone if you heard evening bells pealing from a town church. The affable yet completely unpretentious owner is very often on hand to oversee everything. She has something of the chatelaine about her; she’s a gracious and much-loved host who matches her surroundings for charm and friendliness. Simply known as Khun Nokie, she’s extremely welcoming, and makes sure that you enjoy yourself while under her care. That’s meant in a literal sense, as she’s the one who not only owns the villa, but has created the Thai side of its eclectic menu. She’s faithfully recreated the dishes she loved as a child, experimenting with some of them until she’s even improved on them. The international side has been equally lovingly put together by her Executive Chef, Martin Fells. Together the two of them have made something that’s totally outstanding and quite different. Come along any time after 5:00 pm and you can see for yourself – or rather, taste for yourself.

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ICONIC INTRIGUE
The world of The Library exudes not just fine taste but mystery, too.

The world of The Library exudes not just fine taste but mystery, too.Part of the reason why most of us travel in the first place has little to do with sun and sand, or even relaxation; it’s to do with opening ourselves up to the mystery that lies beyond our normal lives, however exciting they may be. Thailand is, for many, a portal to an exotic world, filled with unknown and intriguing sights. It’s well-known that some of the resorts to be found here are more than just comfortable and stylish places to stay. One of these is The Library, an iconic hotel located right in the heart of Chaweng. It’s definitely more than the sum of its parts.

          

The first thing you need to know about The Library is that it’s hidden away right in the heart of the action of Chaweng. You might even pass by without noticing it’s there. Located behind Drink Gallery, about half way down the beach road, a bamboo-lined lane looks like it leads to a blank wall. It hides a corner, and there, beyond an opening in a high wall, you can find the resort. The accommodation that you can see is spread out on a large lawn with old-growth trees that lead down to a red-tiled swimming pool. It’s quite a stunning sight in itself. Here and there, you’ll find white statues, all depicting people in repose, book in hand. Why the library theme, you might ask? This is hardly a bookish place after all – but a cheerful resort. It all stems from a wish to keep things simple. Like relaxing with a book. But it’s more than that. While at The Library you’ll come under the sway of the artistic owner, Khun Kasemtham Sornsong, who sums up his ideas quite simply: “When guests leave, I want them to feel that they have just left a magical place full of stories.”

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ROCKPOOL ROCKS
RockPool wows with an entirely different vibe.

RockPool wows with an entirely different vibe.Delicious times and treats come in spades on Samui. Vacationers never get bored, and places to go number the hundreds. Yet just occasionally, something very different is called for. Something that may widen the eyes and fire up those sun-spavined neural pathways. If it’s time to look for a venue that’s highly original and exudes pizzazz, then RockPool at Kanda Pool Villas is a preferred place to go for islanders and repeat holidaymakers. None of it is showy; nothing is samey and predictable. Instead, exactly like the food, it’s brimming over with vibrancy.

          

So what makes it stand out? Don’t think to judge it from the road. You might even miss it. Both the resort and the restaurant are hidden away. Getting to RockPool is an adventure in itself: a golf cart descent from the atrium, down winding lanes and then finally the restaurant itself – set apart from everything else. No rackety neighbours. It stands in pride of place, fronting the beach. But it’s not the usual tropical beach either. Think rocks, waves, big skies – this is primal ocean territory, a wilder Samui.

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ISLAND ICON
Mark James – musician extraordinaire.

Mark James – musician extraordinaire.Unless you have the abilities of Mozart from the womb, then learning musical skills can only come through hard work, and a lot of it. Not just a question of strumming some strings in the garage, it’s a life-long business. Grit to start off with, glamour – if it comes at all – a lot later.

          

Singer and guitarist Mark James, well-known on Samui and far further afield, sat down for a chat and told us how he managed to survive in an industry notorious for dashing the dreams of even the most ardent. The fact that he never gave up and showed great persistence has shaped his destiny in some fairly quirky ways. The first thing you tend to notice about Mark is that he mixes both a laid-back demeanour with a thoughtfulness that makes a winning combination. He strolls up casually dressed, yet with a disarming alertness about him. Just the right kind of person who can check out a crowd, judge the vibe then play the music that’s most likely to please them. If he makes everything look effortless, it wasn’t always the case!

          

Mark was raised in Doncaster, a hardscrabble town in the north of England, where art wasn’t usually encouraged. But he showed musical aptitude from an early age; his father encouraged him to pursue his dreams and to learn the guitar to the highest level possible. That meant the Royal Northern College of Music, and he had the talent to be accepted as a student. He became a classical guitarist, and though his studies brought him many benefits, the Academy could be quite stifling at times. “It’s changed since then,” says Mark “but I’m grateful that I was able to go; if I hadn’t, I don’t think anything much would have become of me musically. It gave me a great deal of impetus.”

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DOUBLE DRAWCARDS
The Rice Barge & Terrace at Nora Buri Resort & Spa showcases excellent Thai food,
while its sister restaurant wows with a Hawaiian theme night.

The Rice Barge & Terrace at Nora Buri Resort & Spa showcases excellent Thai food, while its sister restaurant wows with a Hawaiian theme night.Upon arrival at The Rice Barge & Terrace, you’ll be given a warm welcome by the dedicated staff, and you’ll probably not even notice you’re inside one of Samui’s most iconic buildings – the restaurant’s exterior has been designed to evoke a rice barge, one of those riverine workhorses that used to ply the Chao Phraya up in Bangkok. A few of those rice barges have actually been brought to Samui, but this is actually a lot more than they could hope to be: this is one of the best places on Sami to enjoy authentic Thai specialties that come from all the different regions of Thailand. Whether you’re a foodie whose focus is primarily on Thai food, or a complete newbie, The Rice Barge & Terrace will win you over.

          

The restaurant is big enough to be divided into several sections, and is open from 2:00 pm until 10:00 pm, with the bar open still later. Rice Barge features a contemporary design, along with hand-carved wood, giving it a unique blend that’s both easy on the eye yet laid-back at the same time. Choose between the air-con section, which also includes a large wine cellar, or the adjoining open dining terrace, with its beautiful view looking south to Chaweng Bay.

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LOWDOWN AT THE TOP
Perched above the sea, romantic Dr Frogs Bar & Grill brings tastes to new heights.

98-1If you’ve never heard of it before, Dr Frogs Bar & Grill might sound like some outlandish theme restaurant. It’s actually quite the opposite – it’s a totally professional Italian restaurant, exactly the kind you might find in Italy itself, all elegance and homely charm, along with great food and drink. The fact that it’s dramatically overlooks the entire bay of Chaweng only adds to its appeal. Look out over the amazing views and you can’t help but think that this is what holidays are all about.

          

All this is immediately visible as soon as you’ve parked up and stepped inside Dr Frogs. The great food comes once you’ve browsed the menu (but note that Dr Frogs is equally good when it comes to Thai food, too, and carries a full selection). What you don’t see is the sheer dedication and expertise that underpin the restaurant.

          

Wherever possible, fresh, top-quality local ingredients are used, along with fish from local waters. The management is determined to leave as little impact on the environment as possible. Even the most basic procedures are carefully thought out. For example, everything’s cut and cleaned in the restaurant; there’s as little wastage as possible.

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LIVE MUSIC EVERY NIGHT
Come and join the party at The Palms Bar & Grill for music and more.

Come and join the party at The Palms Bar & Grill for music and more.Enter an ever-evolving space offering live music, food and drink, plus a high-octane atmosphere. It doesn’t matter what night you decide to come here, it’s bound to be good. This is the world of The Palms Bar & Grill. Behind the innocuous-sounding name, is one of Samui’s foremost entertainment venues. Here the music isn’t just an after-thought; it’s the main reason for coming. It’ll definitely put a glow on your face.

          

The said glow starts when you’re outside Palms; an entire wall lights up with changing colours. You know you’ve arrived. It stands at the exact corner of Chaweng’s beach road and the restless Soi Green Mango. The epicentre of the island’s nightlife, in other words.

          

Some live music acts can get a bit samey, and you feel as you step in the door that the entire evening is guessable in advance. Palms is different. It offers vibrancy with different bands every night of the week. It opens every night from 6:00 pm until 3:00 am, and bands play nightly from 9:30 pm with DJs performing both before and afterwards. Saturday Night Live is a bit different; come for two top bands, the first starting at 8:00 pm, the second at 11:00 pm. On occasions throughout the year, there are also live international DJs playing.

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THE GREAT INDOORS
What to do on Samui when it’s too hot to go outside.

What to do on Samui when it’s too hot to go outside.Samui can simply be too hot. Overhead white clouds boil and look like they’re made of steam. The beaches are incandescent and the sand too hot to walk on. Even when evening finally comes there’s no respite; the night actually seems hotter than the day.

          

What to do? You could just stay in your hotel room, listlessly cooled by fans and air-con or dare to venture out, sun hat pulled down. Even if Samui isn’t like Bangkok with ice-skating rinks, museums and vast, chilled malls, you will quickly find that there is plenty to occupy yourself while on holiday without worrying about the heat. Let’s take a look at some of the activities that’ll keep you out of the sun.

          

Getting a massage is the most obvious activity to indulge in. Not a beach massage, but one that’s in a spa, away from the sun. Some spas are even windowless, definitely no blinding sun coming in. Pure bliss if you’re intent on getting some relaxation. All spas will be cooled, allowing you to escape from the heat, and offer not just individual treatments but entire packages where you can indulge in up to five hours of kneading, bathing and rejuvenating.

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