Samui Wining & Dining
MORE THAN JUST AN AIRPORT
 Samui International Airport’s facilities are now a destination in themselves.

Samui International Airport’s facilities are now a destination in themselves.

You definitely don’t need a boarding pass in hand to feel you’re entitled to spend time at Samui Airport; you no longer need to be going anywhere at all. Part of the fun of the airport these days is that it’s casual and fun, a place to come and linger – much like the best malls. It’s just as much about bon appétit as it is about bon voyage. And if you hear the merry bing-bong of a flight being called, that’s just part of the background. It only need disturb you if you’re actually on the flight and you risk being late thanks to the good times you’ve been having.

          

When the airport received a total makeover some years back, its architects had already foreseen that it could and should be used by not just travellers but, basically, everyone. That’s why they constructed a street between the arrivals and departures, and lined it with buildings. It’s simply called Samui Park Avenue. It exists without fuss or fanfare, and the ensemble seems to be simultaneously modelled on both an open-air mall and a tropical garden. It’s a blend that’s not at all jarring, but rather adds to the already considerable tranquillity and charms of the airport.

          

A large lily-bedecked pond separates Samui Park Avenue from the airport proper. There are lawns with plenty of seating before you go through security checks and afterwards too, ideal for relaxing. The entire airport surroundings are filled with greenery and are unexpectedly lush. There are trees here you probably won’t have seen before in Thailand, which are native to South America. Wildlife makes its home here, along with a few friendly cats too.

          

Samui Park Avenue elicits long, languid times spent grazing fine foods, sipping on drinks and visiting the shops for voguish clothing, accessories and much more besides. With its appeal to not just travellers on the hop, but also those already on holiday or living on the island, it’s becoming a destination in itself, not just a place that you pass through, pleasant yet forgettable. People are increasingly gravitating towards it and enjoying its facilities.

          

For food, there’s more than you’d expect. Whereas most airports concentrate on big brand restaurants, this one takes a different stance. Here you’ll find authentic Thai food, with the accent placed on bringing the freshest of ingredients to the table. Sooth Restaurant by Khao Hom serves a variety of Thai dishes including not just the expected ones but some that are more unusual. Try stir-fried egg and liang (a type of edible leaf) or southern-style pork with chopped onion. They also have a brilliant sour yellow curry with shrimp – simply eat with rice and ask for it to be spiced up if need be.

          

Right by the clock tower, you’ll find The Hut Restaurant, named for its appearance, but don’t be deceived, this isn’t just any old addition to the airport’s eating and drinking venues. The simple setting is home to some of the most authentic food around; try the delicious som tam or the pad Thai. The Hut also has traditional Thai desserts. For western tastes it offers sandwiches, burgers, a range of finger foods and dim sum.

          

Thai Brasserie is also highly recommended and is run by the same people who founded the famed Blue Elephant in Bangkok. They’ve recreated the most amazing tastes here on Samui. For a starter try the satay which comes with toast and a spectacularly good peanut sauce. The pomelo salad is no less brilliant. Egg and shrimps are added to a mouth-watering combination of pomelo (a kind of grapefruit) and chicken.
 The tastes combine to make something that’s bursting with freshness and originality. There are burgers too, both traditional and fusion. For the latter try the laab chicken burger which has a little fieriness and comes with a green salad and French fries. You’ll naturally find a well-chosen range of Thai curries. Try massaman with slow-braised beef in a medium hot sauce. Pad Thai goes well with many an ingredient, but here you can try this popular dish with very large river prawns – expect a hearty dose of deliciousness. For drinks there are all the usual kinds but more besides: try Grand Royal Thai Cocktails for tropical creations and Classic Cocktails for the more traditional.
P90-2Staff are extremely friendly and the whole restaurant is so close to its roots that you might wonder what it’s doing at an airport. They’ll also do deliveries free of charge in the Chaweng, Bangrak and Bophut areas.

          

Pizza Paradiso breaks the mould when it comes to Italian food. We all know sadly what to expect from the usual airport Italian, but this is an exception. Thanks to an authentic brick oven, you can expect a range of absurdly delicious pizzas along with pasta, salads and baguettes. Big portions abound – but the prices remain reasonable.

          

Relax Soothing Spa and Massage is the place to go to unwind and feel amazingly rejuvenated. A team of expert masseuses offer professional treatments, that are designed to leave you ready to face the world again – or simply fly 30,000 feet above it. Choose from a select yet comprehensive range of treatments that include foot massages, aromatherapy and facial reflexology and at times use of herbal compresses. Try Tension Relax which lives up to its name and focusses on head, neck and shoulders and the back, and comes with facial reflexology. There are also packages, lasting from 90 minutes to two hours.

          

You can always go shopping too. Bookazine offers the latest best-sellers and more, along with magazines, while Yummy Thai is great for gifts with a range of Thai edibles. Head to Jim Thompson for excellent silk and more, and Amoriva or Oh Là Là Bijouterie for tasteful jewellery and souvenirs. These are just some of the stores you’ll find.

          

Once you’ve cleared security, you’ll see that there are still plenty of facilities, and their prices aren’t hiked in any way. If you fancy a drink, try Sooth Bar where you can try an unexpectedly wide range of spirits and cocktails. What could be more appropriate than Bangkok Airway, a cocktail based on house-blended rum, Blue Curacao, pineapple and lime? If you’re not in the mood for cocktails you can opt for one of their excellent shakes, smoothies or ice-creams.

          

Time for a coffee? Right next door, En Route offers a small terrace and air-con room that’s conveniently seconds away from the domestic departure lounges. They use coffee beans from Chiang Mai and deliberately have a policy that ensures coffee farmers receive fair prices for the beans. Choose between medium or dark roast, and for the drinks themselves between hot and cold. There’s a full range of coffees, and teas as well. Staff are much praised for not just their professionalism but also their sheer friendliness. Free Wi-Fi makes En Route an agreeably good place to chill before you fly. Meanwhile, continue shopping at Simply Samui, with plenty of possibilities of gifts with a focus on local products or at Pañpuri for spa products and more.

          

With such a range of facilities, you’d hardly think you were at an airport at all. For one, the prices are on par with the world outside, and when it comes to food of any kind here, it’s totally fresh. The whole experience is hardly like being at an airport – but perhaps this is the point. As an open-air mall, the accent’s on relaxation and having great times, whether you’re boarding a plane or not.

          

                   

Dimitri Waring

 


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