Samui Wining & Dining
High Five
The Five Islands Experience is an adventure of discovery around Samui’s ‘Virgin Coast’.

 

High FiveThe award-winning Five Islands Restaurant in the south-west of Samui isn’t just about great Thai cuisine. It’s also about experiencing a whole different aspect of the island. And making those picture-perfect brochure images come to life – something that the main tourist areas simply can’t deliver. And when you get beneath the tanned, olive skin of its owner, Colin Burgess, you start to get an idea of why this restaurant and this part of the island are where those in the know head straight towards.

 

Colin’s background is as colourful and vibrant as the clothes he wears and the vision he has for what he has termed Samui’s ‘Virgin Coast’. Born and raised in the UK, he travelled to Australia before he was 18 with the Big Brother Movement. It was founded in 1925 by Sir Richard Linton to help sponsor young men to develop their life and career skills in a new country. Between 1947 and 1982, over 12,000 lads from the UK settled in Australia through the scheme – and Colin was one of them. He stayed for four years working as a labourer, at a mine and as a sales rep before heading back to the UK, via Malaysia, for a short time.

 

But before long he was on the move again, this time to Canada and the USA where amongst other endeavours he went door-to-door selling the Encyclopedia Britannica. No easy task and one that takes a bit of perseverance and a convivial way with people to bring success. And in the early 1970s, he headed back to Australia. This time he was a little older and wiser and he built up and ran a very successful printing company for 15 years. Then in 1990 he came up with a new retail marketing concept for garage forecourts that brought further success and not just in Australia but right around the Pan-Pacific region and even in Thailand. Part of the development of the company was setting up manufacturing plants that made plastic molds for use in the petrol stations. And that was what brought him to Bangkok for the first time.

 

“My business was running very well and I was looking to diversify. One idea I had was to adapt the plant in Bangkok to make kayaks. And given the growing tourist numbers in Pattaya, Phuket and Samui it seemed a viable business venture. One day I happened to mention to a business partner in Bangkok that I would like buy or build a holiday home in Thailand. He suggested I visit Samui and that’s when I first came here in 2002. One thing led to another and with some other partners we bought some land in the south of the island with a view to building holiday villas, living in some and selling the others on. I then saw the piece of beach land where Five Islands Restaurant is now and snapped it up. It was a bit of a dumping ground at the time but I could see the potential. Initially, I thought about building a restaurant as a lost leader to help sell the villas but as the restaurant project progressed I just fell in love with it and have been here ever since.”

 

Since opening, Five Islands Restaurant has established an enviable international reputation for Thai Fusion cuisine. And it has arguably the best location on the island for watching the most glorious sunsets (one of the reasons it’s also a very popular wedding venue). Quite a few of the staff have been there from the beginning and Head Chef, Khun Kiat, has been at the helm for the last five years. And the same families of fishermen who’ve sailed these waters for generations still tie their boats up just a few metres from the restaurant. The quality and freshness of the seafood are never in doubt. Chef Kiat has created a menu that concentrates on originality and local flavours, whether its seafood, meat or vegetarian. And whilst there’re far too many delicacies to mention here, Colin’s recommendations of fresh oysters Thai-style, baked seafood served in a coconut shell, roast duck curry with tomatoes and grapes and the sweet and sour crispy sea bass shouldn’t be missed.

 

But as I mentioned, Five Islands isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience. And the highlight of many people’s trip here is to take one of Colin’s longtail boat trips around the five islands that the restaurant overlooks and is named after. These looming outcrops; Koh Thalu, Koh Din, Koh Mae Thap, Koh Malaeng Pong and Koh Cheta Mun (this last one is hidden from view from the shore), are dotted with caves, beaches and bamboo huts perched precariously on the limestone cliffs. And the latter are home to armed sea gypsy guards. They’re not protecting the islands as such but rather the birds’ nests that are the key ingredient for the famous Chinese soup. And well-to-do restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China will pay $4,000-$5,000 a kilo for them. Fortunately, Colin and his team have got to know them well so there’s no need to take a flak jacket, just a camera and a snorkel. And after the trip you can laze on the beach sipping cocktails and look forward to a fabulous lunch or dinner.

 

Colin also organizes ‘Cultural Tours’ around the fishing village of Baan Hua Thanon and its Thai and Chinese temples. There’s also a muslim market, a fish market and a mosque. And nearby there’s a local rum distillery that uses 100% freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. Five Islands restaurant is located beside the village of Ban Taling Ngam which houses the beautiful temple of Wat Kiri Wongkaram and it has its own mummified monk. And just down the road there’s the Five Islands Gallery and Café which Colin also runs with some friends. They’ve just launched a new continental menu in the café and everyone is welcome to browse around the shop which has custom jewellery and genuine Thai artifacts. And you can also buy there a hardback copy of Colin’s recent book about Samui which goes into detail about local people and places with its hundreds of photographs which Colin has taken in his time here on the island.

 

Not one to sit still for long, he has also just launched a new luxury speedboat that can pick up guests from anywhere around the island’s coast and bring them to the restaurant. Champagne, cocktails and canapés can be served as you lounge around on soft cushions and take in the brilliant sunset. Colin Burgess is not only a man with dreams, but also one who makes them happen. And he’s happy to share them with you. The Five Islands Experience is exactly that – and its one you’ll never forget.

 

Johnny Paterson

 


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