If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably got a contented smile on your face. Or the remains of a hangover! Either way, welcome to 2017. Samui is a great place to be at this time of year, with the last few showers of the rainy season freshening the air around the pool and the beach. The weather’s mild and pleasant, and there’s lots to do and see.
But just when you were feeling pleased about your New Year resolutions, better hold on tight and think again – the festivities aren’t yet over! The Thai nation has a significant Chinese element, so make sure you’re ready and prepared for the Chinese New Year. This time around it’s the Year of the Rooster, and the main day with the colourful processions falls on Saturday 28th of January. If you’ve never been a part of this before it’s an occasion not to be missed, and Samui has several places to experience this colourful festival.
But our little island never really stops. No matter what the occasion or the time of year there’s always something to engage you, from tranquil outdoor spas and treatments to all the excitement of extreme water sports. Plus, of course, you could always drift gently over to explore the untouched beauty of the nearby Angthong National Marine Park. You’ll see the brochures for some of these things in your resort. But there’s so much more besides – it’s the reason we made this magazine!
Making A Splash
It’s great to take a dip in the sea – but there are lots of thing to do on top of the water, too!
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s happened! Other sea-side resorts like Phuket and Pattaya have had all this for a long time. But, even though we’re completely surrounded by water, Samui has chugged along oblivious. We’ve had scuba trips. And boat trips. Kayaks. Fishing. And a few jet skis. And . . . well, that’s about it. But not anymore. If you wanted, you could now come here for a ten-day break and hurl yourself at a different watery activity on every one of them. Parasailing, paddle boarding, kite boarding; even flyboards and jetpacks, and a host of others.
Of course there are those who don’t really want to thrash about on holiday. And those who can’t, perhaps due to the onset of advancing years. And then there are also many who are upset by the very thought of it all: Samui is a lovely island and still largely unspoiled. And it’s a good idea to keep it that way. But that’s OK. Because you aren’t going to see this sea-carnival on every beach, wherever you go. It’s all sensibly centred close to where most of the tourists are. That means in and around Chaweng, one part of Lamai, and a bit on Bangrak Beach. And, in any case, there are still a lot of quiet and gentle things you can do on the water, which I’ll get to later.
Chandra Boutique’s elegant garments really are timelessly classic.
Since the first Chandra Boutique opened at the end of 2003, Barak and Dana, the owners and designers, have been creating elegantly exotic, unique and stylish garments made from amazing high quality, sought after fabrics, and sewn by expert craftsmen and women from around the world.
Couple this with the warm and friendly store environment and helpful English speaking staff, and it’s no surprise that they have regular local and visiting customers that keep going back to their shops time and time again.
The dynamic duo travel tirelessly around the world in search of fabrics to complement their unique and fun, yet sophisticated and classy designs. Preferred textiles are natural cotton, rayon and silk, which enable them to expertly bring light and airy, exotic and sexy, yet ultimately comfortable and wearable (especially in a hot climate) clothing, to Samui.
Dana designs the women’s collection, and has a special talent for composing new and interesting ranges together with a wide selection of accessories. She currently favours the latest prints from India. Think of soft floaty little numbers with bold or delicate jewellery, scarves, bags, belts, sandals and even hand-held fans. Or distinctive bikinis and underwear with very differing cuts, designs and materials.
Want to see Samui off the tourist trail? Get to grips with our alternative tour of the island!
The big advantage of an organised tour is that it’s . . . organised. No need to think. You’ll be picked up, taken around with a truckload of others and make new friends. You’ll all get fed, carted about to somewhere new, then taken back and dropped off where you started. But why not hire a jeep and do it yourself – it’s cheaper and way more fun!
I’ve put together my own tour of the island. No activities. No trekking or safaris, no racing cars or off-road rides or any kinds of golf, massage spas or resorts. And the only restaurants on the route will be the ones that take your fancy when you feel like stopping for a break - I’ll get no commission for taking you there!
You’re not going to need much gasoline; a full tank will take you completely around Samui about six times over. I’m going to start off in Chaweng as all roads lead to Rome and, anyway, you can pick up the trail anywhere along my route. If you look at the layout of Chaweng, you’ll see that the island’s ring-road bypasses it completely. Look again and note the three side-roads leading off the ring-road, in and out of Chaweng.
Luxury takes on new forms at Khwan Beach Resort Boutique & Gallery Pool Villas.
Camping. First thoughts for most people involve mud, dirt and discomfort. Camping’s for the bold of heart and for rugged outdoor people only. It requires a marathon spirit and a fine endurance of any and all weather that comes your way.
But there’s another side to camping that’s the very opposite. It can be a luxury affair, decadent even. Think of the upmarket safari tours of Kenya. This is travelling in grand style, and though the setting may be one of the wilder parts of the world, the accommodation most definitely is not. It’s first class all the way and the only real difference is that the walls are made of canvas rather than of wood or stone. But deluxe canvas abodes are no longer confined to select areas of the world; camping of this kind has become an international trend – and one that’s set to continue.
Probably, like me, you’ve never heard the word ‘glamping’ before, but if you’re at all keen on travel, then it’s very likely you’re going to hear of it more and more in the future. So, what is glamping, exactly? It may sound like an ancient Anglo-Saxon word for some felonious activity, but it’s not at all. For a start, it’s a modern word, entirely, and is simply a combination of glamorous and camping. Eh? Can camping ever be glamorous? It can, in the right hands.
Beautiful scenery and inspired food make Dr Frogs Bar & Grill a must-visit venue.
Parts of Samui are so beautiful that they seem to have stepped out of a movie, and some of the restaurants on Samui are quite delightful when it comes to their vistas. When you walk into Dr Frogs, you find yourself perched high above a rocky coastline, and you’ll be able to look all the way along the bay of Chaweng towards the north of the island. Take a seat anywhere in the restaurant and you can enjoy some spectacular sights. Be sure however to reserve your seat if you’d like to sit at the superb terrace here, directly overlooking the water.
Dr Frogs attracts many couples, but it’s equally popular with families and groups of friends, too. People come for many reasons, but one thing that unites them all is the great setting. But not just that. There’s the food too. And that’s as good as the view. You can feast on genuine Italian food thanks to the maestro at the helm, Massimo Mariani. He’s a first-class chef, trained in Italy, who has been on the island for 14 years. Diners take great delight in his fare; it’s dependably good and Dr Frogs has many repeat customers.
Dress for unique, long lasting style, comfort and concern for our environment, at Psylo fashion stores.
Ethical and environmentally friendly, each piece of men’s, women’s or children’s wear is a timeless work of art and self-expression, created in the ever developing Psylo style. Infused within each design is a strong essence of ethnicity from different cultures, with hints of independent, bold, edgy, rebel and punk.
Located in the midst of a rice field in Bali, Indonesia, with nothing but tropical greenery as far as the eye can see, with an organic garden and pond on the premises where staff can grow fruit and vegetables and fish in their lunch breaks, is Psylo’s own design studio and workshop. This is a perfect location, where the imagination can run wild and truly liberate creative processes, where clothes can not only be dreamed of, but designed and tailored.
In line with their ‘green’ credentials, even the dyes used contain no chemicals and are water based. When the process is complete, the waste water is then passed through filtering systems before going into the sewage system, decreasing the imprint left behind on our increasingly fragile planet.
Any fabric off-cuts and waste is upcycled by using them in ‘Pecoa’ style garments; a patchwork design created from leftover pieces of fabric. Smaller shreds of fabric that cannot be used are sent to a local manufacturer that produces household necessities.
Life rushes by and all the world is mad – until you discover another world at Tamarind Springs.
You know how you feel when you first come to Samui? Yesterday’s struggle to the airport, the wait, the long-haul flight, killing time in the sweat of Bangkok, the Samui flight and then, finally, at last checking into your resort. That feeling when you flop out by the pool? It’s joyous, isn’t it? The peace, the quiet, the relaxation? But, then, that’s normal for Samui. We’re a lazy, laid-back, lovely little island.
So here you are – totally relaxed, strolling dreamily around – a million miles from the rat race and the hassles of work. You’ve rented a scooter or a little jeep and have had a day or so just drifting around. Taking in the sights. Getting the feel of this placid little place. Stopping when you want to. Just taking it slow and easy, going here and there. It’s all so quiet. So relaxing. And then you turn into the drive at Tamarind Springs. You follow the gravel path down between the greenery and the blooms. It opens out into a parking space. And you get out of your car.
And the first thing that hits you is the calm. The silence. But not quite – there’s faint birdsong. The murmur of water. Just a hint of rustling: bamboo in the gentlest of breezes. It sweeps over you in an uplifting moment of elation – and you suddenly know that this place makes the rest of Samui feel like a rat race. Here, it is truly, totally tranquil. You thought things were placid before. But you’ve somehow just dropped through and into a whole different layer, like you’ve hit another dimension. A deeper layer of peace.
The Loft ventures through Southeast Asia to bring you the latest in interior design.
The style is funky, trendy, yet decidedly comfy and practical – it wows and cossets at exactly the same time. And it’s all a delight to the eye. Step into the store and you’ll soon be lost in contemplation. Each time you visit, there are dozens of striking artefacts to see, and sublime details that emerge as you look around. Just a few examples, seen on a chance Saturday afternoon: a ceramic plate features a blue octopus frozen in mid squiggle as it attempts to slip over the edge; a mirror made of mosaics beguiles with multiple tiny reflections; lamps built on giant seapolished pebbles invoke a rocky coastline, while a red mahogany cabinet from Beijing seems to channel a bygone imperial past.
The Loft is full of surprises both big and small, and some of the most enjoyable minutes of a day can be spent browsing the selection on offer. There’s always something new to see, something that catches the eye or inspires the mind. You can see as soon as you step inside, that the contents and the feel of the place are quite special. It’s the brainchild of Michael Dietvorst, the founder of Oriental Living. For years Michael and his team have catered to the island’s villas, apartments and resorts with a mix of creatively artistic furniture and furnishings and always high-grade quality. It’s been – and still is – a high-profile business and serves an unusually loyal clientele. Most decor lovers on the island are familiar with their work. And just as enchanting, their latest creation, The Loft, showcases a splendid yet casual array of items that are filled with flair.
Confused by all the choices you face on holiday? Sit back and relax whilst Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui does the hard work for you.
Going after the brightest, best experiences while on holiday? Excited by all the prospects? Great! But digging into maps, reading the dense, miniscule print in guide books and then balancing it out with internet reviews can become overwhelming. A lot of us end up sitting in the hotel just plain confused and not knowing what to do. And we’re on holiday! Time is short. We have to decide what to do, where to go – and a hundred other things.
Stay at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui and you won’t even be thinking like this. You’ll be relaxed, enjoying your holiday and all your choices will be (and this will feel like magic), exactly the right ones. The resort itself is a picturesque and serene hideaway located on one of the island’s best beaches, Chaweng Noi. But there’s more to this resort than its setting. Vana Belle contains many further charms, and one of these is the fact that staying here allows you access to its unique signature concierge service.
Concierge is a French word, and in times past used to be applied to humble porters and caretakers. However, in more recent years, it’s come to include a vast range of services designed to offer guests endless possibilities when they stay in luxury resorts. If you’re cynical, you might think a concierge is just a glorified way to describe what many resorts do anyway (offer sightseeing recommendations). You know the scenario: a helpful front desk person points out worthy places on a map and so on.
Coming here to get married? We look at why Samui has become one of Thailand’s prime wedding destinations.
Not that long ago, nobody even thought of getting married abroad – well, outside of the aristocracy, that is. And even if it might have crossed some minds, it was dismissed right away. I mean, it was expensive enough getting wed at home, never mind the prohibitive expense of going away to do it. Anyway, it would need to be somewhere really special, and that would have made it even more costly. This was the fantasy world of the A-list, and only film stars and celebs had money to burn like this.
But all this began to change in 1997. That was the year when the Thai economy foundered, and the government devalued the Thai baht. Almost overnight your Pounds and Dollars were buying more than twice as much as they were before (the Dollar shot from 25 baht to 50 in a matter of months). But to add to this, prices in the western world were already on the increase, and continued to rise over the next decade. As things became increasingly more expensive at home, so the comparative cost of Thai holidays dropped. More and more people came here for holiday breaks. And before very long, one or two adventurous souls started to merge their vacations with their wedding plans.
SCL International School’s reach now includes not just children, but adults too.
With a new year already underway, people on the island are asking what’s happening at SCL International School – after all, it’s always been a go-ahead type of place, and people look to it for inspiration. And the answer is that plenty’s been happening; the school’s been moving ahead in quite a few different ways.
Six purpose-built classrooms have recently been completed, using ecologically sound principles, such as solar panels. For Emma Dyas, the school principle, the entire school should ultimately aim – if possible – to use energy that’s sustainable. It’s a massive goal and may never be 100% complete, but the important thing in her eyes was to get started with the project. The new classrooms reflect this spirit. Children love them, and will in turn be inspired to think ecologically.
Building work is also now complete on the football pitch; and it’s completely covered, allowing protection from the rain and sun. There’s also a new science lab, which enables children to experience at first hand some of the exciting possibilities of physics and chemistry.
SCL goes way beyond what you’d expect of the average school. And it now caters for adults in more than just dancing and fitness. Take the field of language learning, for example. As you can imagine, knowing how to speak English on Samui is a vital skill if you’re doing business internationally, or if you just want to be able to speak the island’s second language. There are some options for this already in place at various schools, but at SCL there’s a new and different approach, which works well. Rather than endless classes requiring not just learning time but travel time, there’s a niftier way of acquiring English. Requiring only two hours per week class time, students learn in four month blocks, always during term-time.
Now refurbished, The Page features not just international dining but a chance to taste Thai dishes from the kingdom’s past.
Dining out in Chaweng is always fun, and there are some remarkable places to go. Right in the heart of the action, you’ll find The Library, a resort that strikes many people as having stepped out of the near-future. It’s a creative kind of place without being peacockish in any way – if anything, it’s understated. Come in off the street and you’ll face a plain wall with a large opening. Step through this and Chaweng and its bustling neighbourhood are immediately forgotten: you find yourself in a garden setting with a wooden walkway that leads past old trees down to the sea and the resort’s restaurant.
The Library has always successfully combined a natural feel with some very contemporary architecture. However, it’s managed to raise the bar a few notches higher; already hyper-modern, it’s given its restaurant, The Page, an aesthetic touch-up and has unveiled its new look. Before, the dining area was flatteringly black and white, but now its colours have become more comfortable, with the black replaced by cream tones and the occasional touch of copper. The Library’s incidentally just in the process of opening its brand-new pool villas, and the upgrade in the decor goes hand in hand with the latest section of the resort now coming on stream.
There are a hundred places to buy gifts – but at Nature Art Gallery everything’s a hand-made object of desire!
We’re all going to do it. Everybody does. You can’t avoid it, and it’s partly the reason you’re here. You might do it in Bangkok. Or you might do it on Samui. It really doesn’t matter how long you stay, four days or 40. Because . . . some of that time you’ll spend buying gifts. Thailand is a nation that’s rich in tradition, and well-known for its artefacts. But, unfortunately, this limits your choice. Some silk fabric maybe? A painting you can roll up and pack? But anything much bigger simply won’t work. So you’ll look around for some really nice jewellery or a bag or a purse; something small and special. And that is where Nature Art Gallery comes in.
Even from outside, the shop is alluring. It shines out. All around is the flash and glare of neon. But this shop sits glowing warmly, a soulful oasis amidst the cheap glitter all around. This is partly due to the warm lighting. But more so because every single surface – ceiling, walls, floor – is covered in the same golden wood. And everywhere, in glass cases, on shelves, in display cases, in rows and trays, lined up on benches and displayed out on stands, are hundreds, thousands maybe, of countless little treasures.
From the day it was built, Samui International Airport has wowed those who pass through it.
If you want to see just how green Samui really is, the only way is to circle round and then criss-cross it in a small plane or, better still, a helicopter. You’ll be amazed at how lush it is, how unspoiled. Away from the coasts, Samui is completely verdant with few houses or buildings to be seen. But if you’re lucky enough, your flight into Samui may take you directly over the island’s heartland. You’ll see for yourself just how untouched the land is.
It’s utterly fitting then that when you actually land, the airport itself seems to be part and parcel of the same continuum. Concrete is used sparsely and everything’s specifically designed to dovetail into the land. Earth tones are everywhere, and there’s nothing brash or over-bright about any of the buildings. Indeed, the airport’s a product of the jungles and forests that you’ve just flown over. It was purposely designed to look this way, and those who created it went to an inordinate amount of trouble to produce a memorable design.
Anyone in the civil engineering business can tell you that as far as small airports go, it’s relatively easy to cut corners and build one on the cheap – it’ll be a tin-and-concrete affair. Think of the aerodromes of the past; little more than fields with gigantic sheds outside towns. It was the landing strips that were important – the safety aspect. The rest could wait or at least look very temporary. And deeply ugly, too! Airports belonged to the air, so to speak, so it didn’t matter so much what was on the ground. You’d be zooming up into the sky before you knew it, everything else tiny and forgotten.
Chinese New Year on Samui is big, bold, brash – and you’re invited to the party.
A story out of the depths of time. In China, centuries ago, a monster used to rise out of the sea. It gave no thought for humans. It laid waste to the fields, and killed everyone it found in its path. Nian is the name people gave to it. Nian means ‘year’. Because, every year, before spring, it came, once again out of the water to destroy everything and everyone.
People didn’t have weapons to match its ferocity. But it was, at least, an animal. And therein lay its undoing. Villagers everywhere learned how to defeat it. There were two ways, and both had to be employed at the same time, and on the largest scale possible. Here’s what happened: the entire community dressed in bright red. That alone scared the beast. The rest was done by noise. As much noise as possible had to be made. The Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks, and these prevailed. A night filled with explosions drove Nian away – until the next year. And then he’d come again, only to face the same deafening opposition. He was always defeated, and the custom of wearing red and letting off firecrackers has continued down through the centuries, to the present day. Has it abated in any way? Not at all. It’s as loud as ever, as bright as ever, the defeat of Nian – the Chinese New Year – is a major celebration wherever there are Chinese communities.
Why you should head to the edge of Chaweng and Nora Buri’s signature restaurant, The Barge!
No, this story isn’t about canal cruises or houseboats. It’s about one of the island’s most lauded restaurants, and the young chef who’s shaped their menu into an item of envy. All restaurants succeed by virtue of their reputation, but hotel restaurants do this solely due to outside guests. It’s not enough to just feed the folks staying there; what’s offered has to be enticing, too, and also affordable. And if you add to this one of the mostimpressive architectural landmarks on Samui and sprinkle it with 5-star attention and service, you’ve hit on the recipe for success.
The resort in question is Nora Buri Resort & Spa, just about the first thing you’ll get to when you head north up Chaweng Beach Road in the direction of neighbouring Choeng Mon. It’s not far; five minutes in a taxi perhaps. The Barge really is quite something, and it’s worth going there just to marvel at its architecture and styling alone. You can’t miss it. Firstly you’ll see the huge expanse of the main resort stretching away up the hillside. And, on the opposite side of the road, mostly hidden by the greenery but perched up high and overlooking the sea, there’s the main body of the restaurant, tiered on three levels down the hillside and shaped like a gigantic, futuristic wooden ship, although this isn’t evident from the road outside.
Samui’s cycle champion takes to the hills and lives a life less ordinary.
It’s a sweltering hot morning, with temperatures set to rise still further. And since it’s a weekend, most people are thinking of relaxing, just pottering about and not keen to take on anything that sounds like it’s going to be an effort. Basking in the loamy heat seems to be the only rational way to deal with the day ahead, but not for Natalie Panyawan. Instead, she’s out mountain biking at breakneck speeds along steep, stony and unnerving tracks that wind through wild hillsides. And she’s definitely fast. She has to be as she’s permanently in training for a never-ending series of races that will, she hopes, culminate in her being chosen for the Olympics.
Natalie is certainly a force to be reckoned with: she’s already carried off numerous prizes for cycling, and her dedication to the sport is inspiring. At the level she’s reached, eating, sleeping and training are already on a level that’s different to most people’s regimes, even if they class themselves as sporty. However, as with many of us, she faces not just competition with others, but also with her other commitments, notably the fact that she’s still at school and has to devote just as much time to that as any other student. She attends a local school here on Samui, and is serious about her studies. Though both her parents are Thai, she’s fluent in English, which is another asset when it comes to cycling – she already competes abroad, and life is much easier since she doesn’t have to worry about communication problems.
Samahita Retreat is a premier lifestyle centre for yoga, detox and fitness.
Samahita Retreat is set right on the long, unspoilt and tranquil beach of Laem Sor, on the south coast of Koh Samui. It’s nestled in a quiet and secluded area, well away from any crowds, busy roads or hedonistic activity. Surrounded by coconut trees and tropical wildlife, it is still close to markets and cultural attractions such as waterfalls and temples, for you to discover at your leisure.
Samahita provides a genuine oasis of yoga and wellness. It’s a calm and eco-friendly retreat, where you can relax and practice a holistic approach to rejuvenating your mind, body and spirit. This dedicated yoga centre provides you with all the right tools to support you in your goals, whatever they may be, to help you grow and transform your health. Integral to their philosophy is a daily program of activities which incorporate meditation, different yoga techniques, fitness, cardio and balanced nutrition.
The morning program begins at 7:00 am four days a week, with half an hour of quiet indoor cycling in the air-conditioned Cycle Shala using top of the range Schwinn Carbon Blue bikes. An instructor will help you to adjust and understand the bikes and then guide you through a moderate program of different paces and positions, aimed at waking you and your body up for the day and improving cardio fitness. At 7.30 am, every day except Saturday, there is 40 minutes of guided meditation and breath work at the Beach Shala, (8:00 am on Saturdays). You can then choose between a Mysore style Ashtanga yoga class in the beautiful teak-wood hall, or stay at the Beach Shala for foundation work on your core, developing and strengthening your abdominals. This flows into a guided Vinyasa yoga class which finishes at 9.45 am.
It’s party time at Manathai’s Waterline restaurant.
Manathai Koh Samui resort is located at the northern end of Lamai, and stretches from the beach inland across the ring road into the foothills. The resort’s Waterline restaurant sits gloriously on the silvery sands of the Gulf of Siam, surrounded by palm trees, with a view of a tiny Thai fishing hamlet across a wooden bridge. Surrounding a swimming pool and a grassy area, it is the perfect spot for family and children’s activities. And now there are organised and supervised birthday parties available for both in-house guests and visitors. The kids can make as much noise as they want, and mum doesn’t have to do anything!
The birthday parties offer a range of activities, plus party games and music for ages four to 16. Two hours of blissful fun, with a choice of lunch and water or juice, birthday cake and a lolly bag for all children to take home. The minimum number for a party is four, and the maximum is 15. Activities on offer range from Thai dancing (including dressing up in traditional outfits), yoga, Thai boxing, balloon art, nail art, go-karting (at a local track), sandcastle building and pizza or mocktail creation. All activities are supervised by Thai staff and childminders, and everything your children create, can be eaten, drunk or taken away with them.
Parties on Samui come in many different shapes and sizes. You’ll be surprised at what goes on.
Samui’s known as a haven of hedonism, and as soon as the dusk starts to set in people come out to play. There’s drinking, dancing, and having wild times. All the clichés hold good for Samui, but it’s more than a raucous, alcohol-fuelled party zone. There are many different kinds of parties going on here. And not always at night.
Many parties are held during the afternoon. The most usual kind are the beach parties, held in many beachfront resorts or bars. There’s always food available, very often in the form of a barbecue and/or buffet. Drinks will be a-plenty and you’ll always find a DJ. The music tends to match the vibe and time of day, so will start mellow round midday or in the afternoon, when the beach parties usually start. Beach Republic’s Ocean Club is home to the Sunday Sessions – featuring The Ultimate Sunday Brunch Club. Some beach parties go on until very late, sometimes till the early morning, finishing at 2:00 am.
But what about parties where people know each other, however vaguely? What are parties like on an island where many foreign residents have come to live, either full-time or part-time? The short answer is that they tend to be fairly low key and reflect the diversity of age groups that the organizers know. Not all involve music and alcohol, and they can be held in places you might never have dreamt of.