Samui Wining & Dining
GOING DOWN SOUTH
Exploring Hua Thanon; one of Samui’s unspoiled secrets.


Page-140

One of the best things about Samui is that it’s a blend of the old and the new. Not so far from the hypermarkets and fast food chains you’ll find small local shops. And for every beach that’s filled with wandering vendors and jet skis, there are another ten that are remote and unspoiled. Perhaps one day it might eventually turn into another Ibiza, although I doubt it. But, until that day comes, none of us are ever very far away from the old flavours of Thailand.

      The first thing that new arrivals to the island usually do is to crash out by the pool with a cocktail. But, after the effects of a long-haul flight have faded, it’s time to go exploring. There are some fairly standard outings here; the elephant and safari trips or the excursions out on a boat. And then there’s the do-it-yourself alternative of renting a jeep and making your own way around. And this is where the ring-road is a God-send. It’s broad, it’s reassuring and it’s almost impossible to get lost on – for more than a few minutes at a time!

       So you’ve had a look around Nathon and enjoyed the attractions of Fisherman’s Village. You’ve ventured around in a big circle on the ring-road, looked at the mummified monk and even dared to head up to a mountain viewpoint. And that’s about it. That takes care of the ring-road. Well, yes, but there’s a huge chunk of the island – even as much as a quarter of it – where the ring-road doesn’t skirt the coast. And it’s down on the south-eastern part of Samui, just around the southern end of Lamai beach, where the ring-road makes a sharp right turn inland, that you’ll come across Hua Thanon.

          Hua Thanon is best-known for both its inherent Muslim community and also for its fleet of colourfully handdecorated fishing boats. There’s very little in the way of documented history about this, but for its origins we have to look back in time to the period after the Second World War. In this era there was no road around the island, and communities formed naturally around all the deepwater harbours. There is a strong Chinese influence in the south of Thailand, due to Chinese seafarers who settled and raised families. A percentage of these had converted to the Muslim faith and so such communities grew. Today there is an active Muslim presence on Samui, with several mosques scattered around. But in those days the few Muslims who had their home on the island congregated in and around the village of Hua Thanon.

          Not surprisingly one of the big draws in this part of the island (all over Samui, in fact!) is the quality and diversity of the seafood restaurants. And two of the most famous of such eateries are to be found in this region. The first is a thoroughly traditional Thai-style seafood restaurant, big and on the beach, in the south of Lamai, on the road to Hua Thanon and not far from Hin-Ta Hin-Yai (the ‘grandfather and grandmother’ rocks), and goes by the name of Sabeinglae. And the other is actually right on the ring-road before it hooks around inland, and is also an attractive and rustic eatery that’s well-worth a visit. And, appropriately, it’s known as Hua Thanon Seafood.

          There are still a few places left on Samui where you’re able to see groups of wooden buildings on two floors that have been constructed in what’s known as the Hainanese style. Some of the ones that still remain are as much as a hundred years old, are often built raised up on wooden pillars and, traditionally, have no glass in the windows, using shutters to keep out the heat and the insects. The middle road of Nathon is a good example of this, as is the area in and around Hua Thanon.

          If you carry on ahead, onto the smaller road, as the ring-road bends inland, you’ll quickly find yourself at Hua Thanon market. To the eyes of a Westerner this is delightfully ramshackle; a long, narrow street lined on the right-hand side with hand-made buildings roofed with tarpaulins and tin. The big open market is on the left, with the shops and stalls on the opposite side. If you’ve never seen a traditional Thai market before, you’ll be probably overwhelmed at the sights and sounds (and ‘aromas’!), and it’s imperative you remember to bring a camera.

          As you continue further into Hua Thanon village you’ll begin to see more of the Hainan-style wooden buildings, usually several together and slotted in amongst more-modern examples – although there are two antique detached houses that are proudly still standing. These form a dramatic contrast to the area’s other major attraction; the recently-completed Chinese-influenced Guang Yu shrine. The older shrine is still there, next to it, but both are resplendent in their extensive use of gold leaf and bright red paint, and the Chinese statuary forms a dramatic counterpoint to the images of Buddha, which are more-usually seen. In fact this is one of the very few places on the island where you’ll find Buddhist, Chinese and Muslim places of worship so close together. Usually (in Nathon or Mae Nam, say) they are more widely scattered.

          In the whole area around Hua Thanon, you’ll feel that you’ve entered a kind of time-warp. There’s been very little in the way of development as you come away from the coast, and there are many old and rustic buildings to be seen sitting, dreamily, away from the road. Nearer the coast, there are couple of exceptions. Firstly there’s the allure of the Samui Aquarium and Tiger Show; a popular venue with some exciting features. And then there’s the lavish minimalism of one of the island’s top resorts at X2. This is quirkily said as ‘cross to’ and it has a fine-dining restaurant that’s up there with the best. It’s called 4K – pronounced ‘fork’ – and it’s one of the finest resort restaurants on the island.

          Someone once said that there’s only two ways you can go on Samui; either left or right. And, thanks to the circling ring-road, that’s undoubtedly true. But not all of the island’s gems are scattered around this circuitous edifice. And, if you fancy heading away from it, a bit further south, you’ll find a wealth of treasures around Hua Thanon – one of Samui’s unspoiled secrets!

 

 Rob De Wet

 

 


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