Samui Wining & Dining
Samui Holiday Magazine
A Warm Welcome

A Warm Welcome

Samui’s not just about its fabulous palm-fringed beaches that are lapped by the warm turquoise waters. There’s much, much more. And that includes a wealth of Buddhist temples revealing the cultural side of the island. Then we have a myriad of adventurous activities available, including scuba-diving, island-hopping, sailing and even bungy-jumping. Of course, if you’re after more of a sedate Samui experience, there are many world-class spas on Samui offering everything from a basic Thai massage to sumptuous all-in packages with floral baths, Jacuzzis, scrubs and wraps, aromatherapy treatments and a whole lot more. The shopaholics amongst you won’t be disappointed either, with bargaining opportunities galore. And when it comes to restaurants, forget any preconceived ideas you may have had that all you’ll get here is a bowl of tom yam gung or a plate of fried rice. Finally, we have the nightlife. And with numerous bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, Samui really does offer a total tropical holiday experience.

          

So, what with all the amazing things to do and see whilst you’re here, you’re sure to have a great time whenever you come. But if you’re here during the Songkran celebrations for the Thai New Year on the 13th April, you’ll have a totally unforgettable experience, as you’ll be involved in the world’s biggest water fight – whether you like it or not!

 
KOH CASCADES
The best of Samui’s waterfalls.

The best of Samui’s waterfalls.Samui’s beaches duly amaze. Driving around the ring-road, people gaze out towards the sea, rather than inland towards the hills. They want to glimpse the sea, and hopefully come across one of the well-known beaches, or perhaps discover a more obscure one, all of their own. Samui is after all a beach destination, and a world-famous one at that. But if you were to ask a Thai where they might go for a dip, you might be surprised to hear that their favourite swimming spot isn’t a beach but a waterfall. Why’s that? Especially when guide books and all their digital counterparts are singing the praises of the shores, whilst the waterfalls are definitely in second place?

          

There are some good reasons, one of the most popular being that most beaches are extremely hot, and offer relatively little in the way of shade. Waterfalls, however, are usually densely integrated in a landscape of trees, bushes and foliage. The sun gets a look in, but through a dappled veil of greenery. Close-by, but never obtrusively so, you’ll find carts and vendors selling food at low prices. And last but not least, access is usually easy – you don’t have to walk through the grounds of a hotel to get to waterfalls.

          

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but here’s a round-up of Samui’s most interesting waterfalls, all of which have pools that you can swim about and splash in.

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CASTAWAYS
Blue Stars Kayaking offers stunning daytrips to Samui’s very own archipelago.

Blue Stars Kayaking offers stunning daytrips to Samui’s very own archipelago.You may have seen a glittering collection of islands just off the west coast, all different shapes and sizes, cut into mysterious outlines by forces of nature. From the shore they’re eye-catching, but too far away to really make out any details. Blue Stars Kayaking specializes in extraordinary day trips, taking you out there so you can experience these beautiful gems for yourself.

          

Why go when you’re already on an island known for its beauty? The archipelago turns out to be one of the most picturesque places in the region. It’s also utterly different from Samui. The 40 or so off-islands are so spectacular that they’ve been granted government protection, and are known collectively as the Angthong National Marine Park. There’s been very little development out on any of these islands, beyond extremely sparse settlement on one of them, along with the park’s headquarters on another. That’s about it. No hotels, shops, restaurants or bars - just untouched beauty.

          

So far, so idyllic. The islands are postcard perfect: extraordinary white sand beaches, tiny bays, and clusters of rock awaiting your discovery. Once they were unreachable; only local people with fishing boats ever went out here until a few entrepreneurs decided to put them on the map. Blue Stars is one of the foremost companies that did so, and have been running trips out here since 1997. The islands haven’t changed much in that time, but over the years Blue Stars has added more and more value to the service they offer. Thanks to them, it couldn’t be any easier to get there. Better still, everything’s done safely and no corners are cut.

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TOTAL IMMERSION
Art of Life is the quintessential French seafood restaurant on Samui.

Art of Life is the quintessential French seafood restaurant on Samui.Even though it’s packed out with eateries and restaurants, the dining scene in Fisherman’s Village in Bophut has reached new heights with the opening of the curiously named Art of Life, a dedicated seafood restaurant serving an appreciative clientele. Situated in the very heart of the village, at the main junction by the sea, many people simply stumble across it.

          

Art of Life is located in one of the original Chinese-style shop houses that are still to be found here, though are gradually becoming a rarity. This one has been lovingly refurbished, and is now an open-sided dining room that faces out onto the two roads that meet here. The setting makes Art of Life a convivial place to be, and certainly good for people watching. That doesn’t detract in the least from what’s going on inside – everyone enjoying the various seafood treats that are on offer, thanks to Chef Christophe Scali, who hails from France, where he trained in a seafood restaurant in Marseille.

          

Chef Scali has brought with him some of the great dishes that you’d expect to find in the south of France and you can savour them all here. As such the restaurant is unique, both on the island and doubtlessly far further afield; nobody prior to this had thought to establish a French-style seafood restaurant (there are no concessions to meat eaters, but here nobody seems to mind at all). He’s put together a menu that’s bound to please anyone who enjoys seafood, and there are additional items posted on blackboards around the dining room. There’s little on the menu that you wouldn’t find outside France, but for starters you can, however, try Japanese-style tuna tartare or a Thai mixed seafood salad.

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TASTE WITHOUT WASTE
Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort succeeds in becoming increasingly green.

Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort succeeds in becoming increasingly green.Famed for its enormous lush gardens, Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort isn’t just green when it comes to foliage. Word’s getting round that the resort is picking up pace – if not setting it – for being eco-friendly, especially when it comes to food. More than just aiming to cut down on kitchen and restaurant waste, the resort is getting creative when it comes to helping the environment. To this end, a couple of months ago, General Manager, Lutz Mueller and his team introduced some unexpected new guests to the resort: bees.

          

Bees? They hardly seem to go hand in hand with sustainability, but they’re an endangered species. They have a lot to cope with, and the bee population in many parts of the world could do with some help. And to help them is to help ourselves - bees pollinate fruit and vegetables, without which humankind will be in severe trouble.

          

The bees at Anantara Bophut, a special stingless variety that live in hives in the gardens, also provide honey, which the restaurant, Full Moon, uses in various recipes. Says David Eldridge, the resort’s new executive chef, “We are now using honey that our bees make and incorporate it in our à la carte menus and for breakfast. It’s very tasty and guests appreciate it. This is one of the ways that we’re ensuring that the resort is as green as possible.”

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WET, WETTER,WETTEST!
The Thai New Year of Songkran is about a lot more than just water fights.

The Thai New Year of Songkran is about a lot more than just water fights.Ask someone what celebrating the New Year in America means, and what’ll come to mind is ‘Times Square’. Ask them the same thing about Beijing and the answer will probably be ‘dragons and firecrackers’. But get them to sum up the Thai New Year and the immediate response will be – ‘the biggest water fight in the world’.

          

But that’s a bit like asking someone what kind of car they drive and getting the answer, ‘a red one’. Yes, indeed, looking at the surface of it all, it’s one huge all-day water fight involving the old, the young, foreigners and locals, the police and bankers in shirts and ties. On the road, up the side streets, using buckets and hosepipes and water pistols and even giant fluorescent plastic water cannons. But in reality it’s all about something quite different, and the way it is today has a great deal to do with the huge influx of foreigners – but all of that will be explained in just a moment!

          

Although the Thai New Year was officially changed from its traditional date way back in 1888, to correspond with the celebrations in the Western World, the Thais are nothing if not a fun loving nation. And so today, they enjoy celebrating not only the Western New Year and the Chinese New Year, but also their own centuries-old ceremonies of Songkran, every year in April – they’re probably the only country to be able to let it rip three times a year!

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SHORE THING
Coast Beach Club & Bistro at Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui
wows with its extraordinary Sunday Brunch.

Coast Beach Club & Bistro at Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui wows with its extraordinary Sunday Brunch.What better way to spend the languid afternoon hours than over a delicious brunch? And one that is a chance not just to enjoy a brilliant line-up of treats, but an amazingly picturesque setting. Coast Beach Club & Bistro exceeds expectations when it comes to brunch, and has acquired a name for doing so.

          

It has to be said that brunch has had a bad press in certain parts of the world, with a good few celebrities dissing it as a tepid and ambiguous non-meal, but on Samui it’s entirely different. Here it’s a real feast, with holidaymakers and island residents expecting across-the-board delights as well as all the drinks to go with them. Coast Beach Club & Bistro has managed to raise the bar still further.

          

For a start, there’s a staggering variety of food on offer, so much so that before you grab a plate and start making your choices, it’s worth spending a few minutes walking around and checking out the entire set-up. There’s more to be had than you think, and if you don’t take a thorough look you may find yourself missing out on some items. There are various displays both indoors and outdoors. There’s even an entire baked goods section, all of its own, in a special room. Here you’ll find delicious breads of several different kinds, ideal for the main courses or simply for the starters. They’re also great for the cheeses and cold cuts that Coast Beach Club & Bistro specializes in; you’ll find many delicatessen items that are usually only found in Europe. Maybe this is one of the draws for the expatriates who come here on a Sunday - a hankering for the luxuries they’ve left behind in their home countries.

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TROPICAL TREATS
Samui has its fair share of delicious fruit farmed right here on the island.

Samui has its fair share of delicious fruit farmed right here on the island.Think of a tropical holiday and a picture emerges of white sandy beaches, balmy oceans, palm trees swaying in the breeze and bright tropical fruit in abundance. Now while some fruits that require a winter season, such as apples and peaches, don’t do well in a tropical climate, there are many more interesting varieties to choose from.

          

Part of travelling to a new place means trying new experiences and new foods. So while you’re here, be sure to try the sometimes strange-looking fruits at the market. It’s so cheap, you may as well give it a go – you never know, it could just be your new addiction!

          

The most obvious fruit farmed on Samui has to be the versatile coconut. Even though the palm tree has become synonymous as a symbol of Samui, it was only fairly recently that the coconut became the largest export from the island. Although there were always coconuts, over the years, Samui farmers gradually turned the island into a substantial coconut plantation. Every month, Samui supplies Bangkok with over two million coconuts. These are harvested from the approximately three million trees that grow on the island, each of which produces around 70 coconuts per year. That’s a lot of nuts! The legacy of the islands early coconut farmers is still apparent today as Samui proudly boasts more varieties of coconuts than anywhere else in the world. There’s nothing more refreshing, or no better hangover cure than an ice-cold ‘maprao’, lid cut open, and soft white flesh to scoop out after drinking the coconut water. Coconut milk, made from crushing the flesh and juice, is used at the base for all Thai curries, as well as some soups, blending well with spices and the heat of chillies. And coconut is used for substance and flavour in most Thai sweets and desserts.

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EXPAT LIVING
The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One.

The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One.Living on a tropical island is a dream for many people. Imagine being able to swim in the warm ocean water, relax with a book on a pristine beach, take out a kayak, go hillwalking amidst the tropical vegetation. Or simply watch the coconut trees sway in the breeze whilst chatting with friends over a sundowner or two. Yes, you can do all that, and the infrastructure is slowly improving, with better roads, shopping, restaurants entertainment and sports facilities all within a stone’s throw of other major Asian cities. But what’s the nitty gritty low down of actually living here? And is it that easy? The answers can be very different depending on your current life situation.

          

Are you single or in a relationship? Do you have children? Are they of school age? Will you need to work to support yourself financially or are you retired with a steady income? What sort of accommodation would you be happy with, and how about getting around the island? Let’s break down the basics.

          

Accommodation. Koh Samui is developing fast. It seems a new villa, condominium or resort is opening almost every day! There is definitely no shortage, but it is no longer a cheap destination. Tourists visit in abundance, and Samui now has a firm footing as a luxury destination. You can still find simple bungalows for rent, but those near the beach are heavily sought after, and some are very basic, possibly without a proper kitchen. At the other end of the scale, you can buy or rent beautiful luxury villa’s up in the hills with sea views and private pools, surrounded by mother nature’s finest tropical landscape. Anything is possible, just wallet dependent!

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THE PULL TO PLEASE
Come home to real Italian flavours at Prego.

Come home to real Italian flavours at Prego.Handily located on the beach road in north Chaweng, Prego first opened its doors in 2003, but definitely likes to innovate; the restaurant had a complete makeover recently, and sports a bright, new look. It’s inspired by Italy’s rich cultural heritage, but is a lot more than rustic Italian decor; at Prego’s heart is an abiding passion for authentic cuisine.

          

Authentic Italian flavours are what Prego’s all about. You’ll find them here, faithfully recreated by executive chef, Marco Boscaini. He’s a friendly, approachable figure, and he and his staff will accommodate your every wish. And adding to the appeal of the restaurant, you’ll find that it’s an entirely welcoming place – you’ll definitely feel at home here.

          

On the menu, certain dishes are variously marked as chef’s recommendations, vegetarian dishes and guests’ favourites. But you’ll probably need no guidance as most of the dishes are well-known favourites. Which isn’t to say that the tastes are all run-of-the-mill - they’re not. The food at Prego is filled with flavour and utterly scrumptious. This is thanks to Marco being very careful to get exactly the right ingredients and prepare them in traditional ways. You may well find that your taste buds, even if well used to Italian cuisine, will perk up while enjoying the food at Prego. Everything is authentic, right down to the refurbished pizza oven which Marco uses not only for mouth-watering pizzas, but also for a whole plethora of baked goods.

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WHAT’S IN A SPA?
Spa can mean a lot of different things – here’s what to look out for.

Spa can mean a lot of different things – here’s what to look out for.Like most other things, spas have gone through a lot of different evolutions. A couple of generations ago, most town spas were all about manicures, pedicures, body hair removal and sunbeds (that last one never caught on here on Samui!). And then, gradually, the idea of pampering started to spread, and different sorts of massages appeared, along with rejuvenating and beautifying treatments.

          

As far as most European towns are concerned, and unlike the USA, the (media-promoted) idea of lifestyle and fitness didn’t raise its head until somewhere in the mid ’90s – up until that time a gym was where men went to find punch bags and sparring partners. But the ’90s was the era of healthy living. And it was in that last decade of the 20th century that ‘spa’ took on a whole different set of implications.

          

Of course, there were places – following alongside the legendary hippie trail towards India and Nepal, Morocco, and then Southeast Asia – that had always sidestepped the practical, and leaned towards the esoteric. Spas which explored alternative therapies, healing, fasting and cleansing . . . those which today tend to be dubbed ‘New Age’, for want of a better label. Places where breathing lessons ran side-by-side with the re-harmonising of chakras and crystal therapy. These not only still exist, but have become far more general-user friendly.

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JUST AROUND THE CORNER
One of Samui’s most luxurious resorts is just a little way from Chaweng – Nora Buri Resort & Spa!

One of Samui’s most luxurious resorts is just a little way from Chaweng – Nora Buri Resort & Spa!Samui now has so many good hotels, it’s hard to know where they all are. Or, indeed, which of their fine facilities they’re keen to share. Things have changed – not so long ago many of the 5-star places kept themselves private. But this sort of old-style ‘exclusiveness’ has faded away. Today everyone’s keen for your custom, and outside guests are more than welcome. And one of Samui’s best-known resorts, Nora Buri Resort & Spa, is one of these.

          

Many of the national chain-resorts are managed under the umbrella of big multinational groups. But Nora is something of a Samui legend in that’s it’s not only hugely successful, but it’s also been ‘made on Samui’. This family-owned group began with the large and luxurious Nora Beach in Chaweng. And then it expanded over the next several years, adding a budget hotel and a town hotel, before establishing the jewel in the group’s crown, the opulent 5-star Nora Buri, just north of Chaweng, on the road to Choeng Mon.

          

It’s actually in two parts: the obvious one being the huge spread of gardens and grounds rising up the hill from a long frontage along the road outside. But what’s not immediately obvious is that directly across the road, and running down to the beach, is the section that contains the signature restaurants, and another group of rooms and suites around a central pool that borders on the sand.

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GETTING IT RIGHT
Just follow a few simple steps and Thai etiquette is easy to master.

Just follow a few simple steps and Thai etiquette is easy to master.Seen on the ferry to the mainland, a man slumped in a seat, his bare feet propped up on the seat in front of him. And in a restaurant, two drunks yell at the staff for more beer. Meanwhile on a local beach, a woman shows off her new breast implants. They’re all on holiday, and on holiday you can let yourself go a little (or even a lot), right?

          

It’s a deeply obvious yardstick: if you wouldn’t do it at home, then don’t do it in Thailand. Many visitors and, alas, a number of foreign residents too, don’t bother to think along these lines. Or perhaps they’re relying on the famed tolerance of their hosts. Who knows?

          

The first rule of Thai etiquette is simply this: follow accepted, universal standards of behaviour. Enough said. The rest is barely any trickier. Here’s a brief guide to etiquette concerning the most important facets of Thai culture.

          

The Royal Family Always show the greatest respect to members of the Royal Family by doing as all Thais do: make no disrespectful comments about them, either in spoken or written form (think Facebook and other social media); treat any object that carries their image or photograph with respect, especially money, portraits or displays. The same goes for the Thai flag or any symbol that’s associated with the country or the Royal Family. If you’re at the cinema, stand during the royal anthem.

          

Appearance and Body Language Thais never wear dirty, unkempt clothing, and neither should you. If you’re visiting a bank or government office, look clean and wellpresented.

          

On the beach, nudity isn’t allowed and neither is going topless if you’re a woman. When leaving the beach, put on casual clothing (and nothing see-through). It’s quite amazing the number of people who blithely visit supermarkets wearing Speedos and bikinis. Don’t be them! If you go around half-naked, Thai people will think you are incredibly vulgar. Not just them. Other westerners will also find it rude, and may well not be so polite about it.

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FREE-FALL FUN
Samui Bungy Jump guarantees thrills – enough to make you want to repeat the experience!

Samui Bungy Jump guarantees thrills – enough to make you want to repeat the experience!Sensational and highly addictive, bungy jumping has been on Samui for years now, expertly run by the folks at Samui Bungy Jump, conveniently located in the heart of Chaweng right by the lake close to the famous Reggae Pub. But you don’t need to make your own way there as there’s a complimentary round trip transfer available from most areas, and you can be picked up at your hotel or villa. You can jump any time between 10:30 am and 6:00 pm daily.

          

What happens once you arrive? Your heart may already be pumping a little faster, but first you get to watch a short instructional video, and meet the owner, Mike Thomas, who will answer any questions you might have.

          

Next, you’re hauled up in a cage to the top of a very, very high crane. To say that the view from there is awesome is an understatement – you can see out over the whole of Chaweng. The jump is situated over a large pool, but once you’re at the top of the crane, it looks surprisingly small. It’s obviously going to be a scary moment – after all, it’s a typically human fear, falling from a great height!

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FROG WITH A VIEW
We take a look at why Dr Frogs’ superb restaurant continues to excel!

We take a look at why Dr Frogs’ superb restaurant continues to excel!You’ve got to look hard to find the best. And when it comes to a restaurant, that means more than just fabulous food. It needs a great location and top-notch service, too. And then, if the décor and the overall ambiance are just right, it might stand a chance of success. Many venues have started like this. But Dr Frogs, perched high on the road between Chaweng and Lamai, not only had all this from the start, but has gone on to set standards for others over the course of its awardwinning career.

          

Dr Frogs is conveniently situated on the first of the hills after Impiana Resort, next to the famous Samui lookout that shares the same incredible views. The first thing you’ll spot is the plentiful off-road parking at the front. But as you make your way inside, that stunning seascape will blow all other thoughts right out of your head. You can see the entire bay of Chaweng laid out below, all the way up to the northernmost point, and the island of Koh Matlang. And at night it’s even more impressive, as the lights from the entire sweep of Chaweng shimmer across the water.

          

And, once inside, you’ll realise that the layout has been designed to maximise this impact. There’s a really cosy L-shaped bar and lounge area, edging down onto a terrace which is roofed, but open at the sides, and alongside this there’s another, similar deck. There’s lots of warm glowing teak, glorious green and red accents which play-off against this, and discreet mellow lighting everywhere.

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UNDER THE MOON
The next best thing to flying – going scuba diving under the surface of Samui’s sea!

The next best thing to flying – going scuba diving under the surface of Samui’s sea!Ever since Man first gazed up at the stars, he’s longed to be able to soar freely into the sky. This is now possible, of course. But piloting your own light aircraft is beyond most people’s means. Whereas the alternative, ‘flying’ under the surface of the sea, is not.

          

Scuba opens the door to an underwater kingdom, providing a far wider range of experiences and sensations than snorkelling ever can. It’s an out-of-body sensation: a Zen-like experience as you glide through the water, listening to your heartbeat and watching your breath taking shapes with the bubbles. Fortunately it’s really easy to find an introduction to this just about everywhere on the island.

          

There are starter courses which simply let you get the hang of things – usually a day-trip out to one of the islands. There’s no theory involved: you’ll do a couple of shallow-water dives, have lunch thrown in, and after a pleasant trip head back again. Although, if correctly documented, this will count as one of your dives to qualify for a recognised dive certification.

          

For this you need to get yourself on a basic course which expands your experience, and shows you how to set-up and use the equipment. It won’t take up a lot of your time – usually over a period of three or four days. During this time you’ll have successfully completed four dives out at sea, under controlled conditions. Note that there are several training agencies, the main ones being the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and Scuba Schools International (SSI). The information here relates to the morecommonly- found PADI.

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HELP IS AT HAND
Samui Elephant Sanctuary gives suffering animals a brand new life.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary gives suffering animals a brand new life.For many visitors, coming to Thailand means enjoying the tropical flora and fauna and seeing sights that they wouldn’t otherwise see back at home. Elephants are part of this. Indigenous to the country, they’ve been here for thousands of years, and are part of the culture. At the same time, many aren’t to be found roaming the forests at liberty but are captives, working for human owners. People hold different views about this, but what everyone can agree on is the fact a lot of elephants need help due to maltreatment. That’s why there are various organizations in Thailand that are there specifically to help elephants in distress.

          

You’ll find elephant sanctuaries up and down the country. And, right at the beginning of this year, Samui Elephant Sanctuary opened its doors to look after elephants on the island that are in distress. With every month that passes, the sanctuary is evolving thanks to its founder, Khun Wittaya Salangam, and his staff.

          

Khun Wittaya says, “At the moment we have five elephants at Samui Elephant Sanctuary. Cartoon, Kham San & Sri Nin (all aged between 50 - 60 years old) who are from Koh Samui. Then we have two much younger elephants who are best friends Nong Pech (six years old) and Moloair (nine years old). They’re both from Surin province.”

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