Samui Wining & Dining
Girl Power

Samui’s new generation of ‘It Girls’ are moving the island
to new levels of success and sophistication.


40You don’t hear the phrase ‘It Girl’ too much anymore. But back in the ’90s it was a firm favourite with the UK paparazzi on the trail of the new young breed of glam girls that came from Europe’s oldest and elite families. The society pages of Tatler and Harpers were awash with juicy gossip of their escapades at places like Annabelle’s and Stringfellows. Maybe it was a passing fad. That generation of idle rich have settled down now and all but disappeared from the columns. The current European crop appears keen to be taken more seriously after the antics of their predecessors. As do the ‘It Girls’ on Samui.


Beyond the island’s thriving tourist centres, lives a very different community. The true islanders whose families have graced Samui for several generations. They’ve built up their businesses with hard work and determination, passing from father to son, mother to daughter. They’re a private and exclusive society and their children are almost always educated to university standard.


Within their ranks, surprisingly, it’s even more important for daughters to attain a degree-level education rather than sons, as mostly it will be the girls who go on to run the family business. Boys are still expected to go to university to get a degree in order to enter the high-kudos career of local politics. Having a son who works for the Tessaban (local government) brings respect to the family, as politics means power and high status.


Degree or not, daughters must behave in a dignified and proper manner at all times. Respect is always given to elders, demure dress code must be observed and strictly no alcohol. Nice Thai ladies don’t go out partying with their friends and they certainly don’t drink cocktails! Or they didn’t …


The new generation is starting to rebel just ever-so-slightly. And, like their European counterparts of the 1990s, they love to party! But the difference with these girls is they work hard, and understandably feel the need to let their hair down occasionally, in a Western-style ‘girls' night out’. Shocking!


Khun Namtan (or Sugar as she prefers) is 28 years-old and has been running one of her family’s businesses for three years. Phalarn Inn, on Maenam Beach, was one of the very first resorts to spring up on Samui nearly 30 years ago. Back then, it was very much back-packer style but over time it’s developed and since Sugar took over at the helm she’s given the resort a complete overhaul with new bungalows, bar and restaurant and superb swimming pool with Jacuzzi set in a glorious tropical garden.


Sugar has a natural flair for business, it seems, with a knack for knowing exactly what her customers need. She says this comes from her education firstly in Bangkok, where she was sent to school at the age of 10, and then Melbourne where she studied for her business degree at university. This, combined with her own natural abilities, has taken the family business to a new level. Her parents now live quietly in the foothills behind Maenam, whilst at the same time still keeping a close eye on the family empire.


Sugar explains, “I’m very lucky because although my parents would be considered strict by Western standards, for Samui they’re very understanding of my life. My mum knows I work hard and take the business very seriously. And even though it’s not really acceptable for many families, she also knows that I need to take time off with my friends and go out to party.” As long as she’s on duty by 7:00 am every morning and providing the business is not effected, her parents turn a blind eye … albeit with a little bit of tut-tutting! “My mum’s brilliant because she supports me where others wouldn’t. Once, after attending morning temple, a neighbour told her that she’d heard that I go out dancing in Chaweng until late. My mum said, ‘Yes, she does! She works very hard and needs to relax. It’s good for her’. That told the neighbour and no one ever tried to gossip again.”


Sugar’s friend, Way, has recently just arrived back from Australia where she completed her degree and has now returned as a fully-qualified physiotherapist. These two girls have been friends since their early childhood when they first attended the only private school on the island at that time – St. Joseph’s. It’s a catholic school run by nuns and it provided the strict education that their esteemed families deemed appropriate for the grooming of their daughters, prior to their secondary education in the capital. Coming from a Buddhist background, Way recalls being bemused at the religious aspect of her early schooling. Looking back she admits that her parents chose this path in order to give her the best start in life, even though she still can’t explain the significance of the numerous ‘Hail Marys’ they had to recite daily!


Whilst sipping their lychee mojitos, the girls discuss the ironically amusing island story of land inheritance. You may have noticed that many prime beach land businesses usually have an elderly lady hovering in the background, but in fact she rules with an iron fist. Back in the days before the madding crowd of tourists arrived, coconut farming was big island business and consequently the most valuable land was in the interior where the lush coconut groves were. Beach land was considered less important as it didn’t provide a great income and consequently this ‘wasteland’ was passed through generations to daughters (and ‘bad’ sons), whilst favourite sons inherited the prime, high-value land in the jungle. In a twist of fate, the daughters of Samui suddenly found themselves in possession of the most profitable and sought-after land on the island and took advantage of their unexpected good fortune. Whilst the coconut land owning sons could only look on in astonishment!


So how can you spot a home-grown trendsetter? Well it’s not that difficult. They wear chic, but subtle clothes as opposed to the more favoured island casual. Sleek haircuts that scream sophistication frame fresh but lightly made-up faces. And, of course, the latest in mobile phone technology is permanently attached to an earlobe! They drink cocktails, gin & tonics, maybe a glass of good red. They don’t smoke and they meet up at the latest of trendy bars. These young ladies are a fine blend of astute business woman mixed with the inimitable Thai sense of fun. They’re leading Samui towards a bright future, with the carefully honed skills and background so cleverly invested in by their indigenous Samui families.


Kathryn Amberley


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