Samui Wining & Dining
RELAXING RELATIVELY
Why many people are now heading towards Koh Pha-Ngan as part of their holiday break.


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Everything is relative. A couple of years ago I had an American friend who was planning a trip to Samui. We sent emails back and forth for ages. He was quizzing me about Samui and I was doing my best to tell him all about the place in an honest and ‘objective’ way. In the end, he made the journey and arrived. We met up a day or so later at his resort. “Hey Rob!” he enthused. “Samui is terrific! From what you’d been telling me I was expected downtown Miami, not a lovely little island like this!”

        You see, relatively speaking, Samui is far more built-up and commercial than it was 15 years ago. And, for the old-timers who just love to bend your ear with tales of bamboo huts and no electricity, the place has somehow become ‘spoiled’. But for someone coming here for the first time and seeing it with fresh eyes, it’s delightful. Yes, it has gone up-market. Yes, there’s been a lot of development over the years. But that also includes proper roads, better drainage, an electricity supply that’s more reliable than it was, bookshops all over the place, internet access and Wi-Fi everywhere, food and restaurants from a dozen nations and a police and immigration force that can speak passable English. Even ten years ago, it was a different story, which brings us to the subject of Koh Pha-Ngan.

        A lot of people have said that ‘KPG’ (let’s call it that; it’s easier) today is like Samui was around the end of the ’90s. And having been on both islands, today and 15 years back, I’d tend to agree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, in both major and day-to-day little things, the comparison is just about spot-on. KPG has several concentrated areas, where there’s nightlife, bars, restaurants, resorts and shops, and then quite a few isolated towns and villages that are off the beaten track, plus a huge amount of more-or-less untouched land, both inland and on the coast. That’s just about a blueprint for Samui as it was back in the day. One big difference perhaps is that KPG has more than a few coves and beaches that have no road access at all – at least one has a top-end resort on it which advertises its out-of-the-way privacy. And that’s something I’m not aware that Samui’s ever been able to boast.

         The whole business of the ‘history’ of these parts is somewhat cloudy. There are no written Thai records or maps. Indeed, the only evidence relating to this part of Thailand comes from the visiting European explorers who charted this part of the Gulf of Siam as far back as the late 17th century. In 1852, the English cartographer, John Thornton, coined a name for the island of Koh Pha-Ngan He dubbed it ‘Sacoria Pulo’ (with Samui being named ‘Pulo Cornom’). Personally, I very much doubt that the Thai nation in general would have heard anything about an island named ‘Samui’ (let alone the one we now know as KPG) if it hadn’t have been for their king of the late 1800s. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) has since become one of the nation’s most-loved monarchs and was the first to seek to promote links and ties with countries abroad. On his return, he made it a habit to stop off at KPG for a couple of weeks before carrying on back to Bangkok. Altogether, he stayed there on 14 occasions between 1888 and 1909, together with a royal entourage numbering about 30.

          Even when hippies (sorry – ‘travellers’) ‘discovered’ Samui in the 1970s, I doubt very much if it would have been significant enough to feature in the Thai press of that time, although the vast majority of the populace then couldn’t read, anyway. In fact, as far as Thailand, and the rest of the world in general is concerned,the existence of KPG might still be cloudy even today, if it wasn’t for one thing: Danny Boyle’s movie ‘The Beach’ which, in the year 2000, threw KPG (more or less via a passing mention) into the international limelight. The location of the ‘secret island’ remained a secret; whereas the boat trips for supplies to the nearest island (supposedly KPG) didn’t. Although, as a result, every young person I now meet calls it ‘Koh Pan Yan’, as Leonardo DiCaprio mistakenly did in the movie – for your information there is a ‘G’ in it – Koh Pan Gan!

          Today, Koh Pha-Ngan is refreshing. You’ll find little splashes that are on a par with the modern-day Samui – some parts around the north-east and the north-west of the island, for example. Around Salad (Sa-Lat) Beach there are oases of bars and beach clubs, and in the area between Haad Sadet and Haad Kruad there are some very exclusive resorts, with the luxury Panviman Resort being at Tong Nai Pan. I’ve heard that there are now a total seven 5-star getaways on KPG, although a quick look around the internet only lists three. Plus there’s a plethora of budget bungalows and guesthouses in and around Haad Salad and Haad Kuat. There’s a fully-fledged international-standard hospital. An international primary school. And an overall culture and atmosphere that is extremely laid-back and relaxed, with miles of unspoiled coastline to explore and acres of forest, jungle and waterfalls inland – overall it’s very much as Samui, indeed, used to be.

          Today, Koh Pha-Ngan is refreshing. You’ll find little splashes that are on a par with the modern-day Samui – some parts around the north-east and the north-west of the island, for example. Around Salad (Sa-Lat) Beach there are oases of bars and beach clubs, and in the area between Haad Sadet and Haad Kruad there are some very exclusive resorts, with the luxury Panviman Resort being at Tong Nai Pan. I’ve heard that there are now a total seven 5-star getaways on KPG, although a quick look around the internet only lists three. Plus there’s a plethora of budget bungalows and guesthouses in and around Haad Salad and Haad Kuat. There’s a fully-fledged international-standard hospital. An international primary school. And an overall culture and atmosphere that is extremely laid-back and relaxed, with miles of unspoiled coastline to explore and acres of forest, jungle and waterfalls inland – overall it’s very much as Samui, indeed, used to be.

          And the notorious Full Moon Party? Well, I’m not bothering to mention this at all. Firstly, if you’re interested in it then you’ll know all about it already. And, second, it really isn’t representative of the island as a whole. Take away that monthly explosion of alcohol-fuelled frolics (which happens only in one small spot on the south-east tip of the island anyway) and you’ve got a lovely, quiet, cosmopolitan island that’s relatively unspoiled. And yet it has most of the basic (and also desirable) amenities required for living a lot more comfortably than just a tent on the beach would provide. And these are the reasons that more and more people each year are spreading the news that Koh Pha-Ngan has now become a great place for a holiday break!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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