From iridescent sandy beaches where you can bask under the hot, hot tropical sun to candle-lit temples of fine dining where you can relax with your loved ones and enjoy the finest food, Samui brims with a wide variety of different pleasures enabling you to enjoy your stay on the island, no matter if you’ve come for a couple of days or a couple of months.
There’s an extraordinary amount to do, and Samui caters for many different kinds of holidaymakers. In the past it offered only the simplest of accommodation, along with the simplest of foods – it was basically a place to unwind and enjoy the sun and the sea. You can still find enjoy this type of holiday here and live very economically, but nowadays Samui offers across-the-board variety and caters for both small and lavish budgets, making it a truly amazing destination. There are breath-taking resorts set in beautiful locations and villas perched on hills in idyllic and completely private settings. And there’s now an array of five-star resorts offering world-class accommodation.
The same goes for the food. You can feast on both Thai and international cuisine, treating yourself to dinners that range from cheap yet tasty, to pinnacles of sophistication and the kind of food you’d normally expect to find only in large, cosmopolitan cities.
With a little planning, you can enjoy a holiday on Samui that reflects all you’d hope to find in a tropical idyll. Whether it’s sheer simplicity you’re after or a deluxe vacation, you’ll find that Samui will satisfy all your needs and wants. Not surprisingly, many people come here again and again, as there’s so much on offer.
A stroll through Samui’s capital, Nathon, will always add something special to your holiday.
If you like to read novels, especially Graham Green or Joseph Conrad, then you’ll find Nathon oddly familiar, even if you’ve never been there before. At first you might think it’s a case of déjà-vu, but a few moments later the strange truth will strike you: Nathon has stepped straight out of a novel. It’s exactly like one of those small seaside ports in the Tropics you’ve read about so many times, exotic, run-down and yet full of quirks. But even if you’re not a great reader, Nathon will still end up leaving an impression on you. It seems purpose-built to beguile the traveller. This small port is the island’s capital, but it’s startlingly different from its bigger and far noisier neighbours, Chaweng, Lamai or Maenam. Unlike them, Nathon really seems relatively unchanged by the passing of time.
The best way to approach Nathon is by boat. Many holidaymakers still arrive this way and see the port gradually growing more distinct, yet always dwarfed by the high jungly hills just behind it. Slowly, dingy white harbour buildings appear, and it looks like any other small tropical port, half lost in the surrounding landscapes. From this angle Nathon can appear quite mysterious; a brooding destination that only gradually unfolds itself.
A look at how a small coconut island slowly turned into one of the world’s leading holiday destinations.
Now here’s the thing. In the year 1900, there were just seven million people in all of Thailand. And it’s a pretty shrewd guess that maybe only 100 of these had ever heard of Koh Samui. Well – except for the folks who actually lived here, that is! You have to be aware that Thailand was an autocracy right the way up until 1932, with a tiny ruling class and a great many peasants. Although it’s probable that even the privileged few that were aristocrats didn’t know either. But it’s certain that the King did. Plus a few of his inner circle. Because, as it happened, he came here quite a lot.
HRH King Chulalongkorn, more usually referred to as ‘Rama V’ was, and still is, Thailand’s most beloved historical monarch. Following the social reforms begun by his father, he travelled extensively outside Thailand (then Siam) – a thoughtful and diplomatic ambassador for his nation. Keep it in mind that those were the days of steamships and that trips were both lengthy and exhausting. And so it was that Rama V, and his royal entourage, started to take small breaks – a week or so on Koh Pha- Ngan – prior to returning to his state duties. In all he stayed there on 14 occasions. And although it’s not well documented, he is known to have visited Samui a number of times, too.
Thailand’s record of history is a lot patchier than many Western nations. Therefore, there is very little in the way of documented evidence that relates to Samui before this time. There’s one isolated and puzzling artefact, a 900 year-old bronze drum discovered on Samui in 1977, which has led historians to speculate that there might have been settlements here for the previous 1,500 years. But other than this one solitary enigmatic relic, the only evidence that Samui even existed prior to Rama V are the maps and journals of European seafarers. Plus, of course, the surviving records of a great many Chinese pirates!
Nature Art Gallery’s treasure trove of hand-made jewellery, precious stones and beautiful accessories isn’t just impressive – it’s affordable, too.
From the moment the first human reached down into a river and plucked out a glittering gem, polished by the water flowing over it, there has been a market for precious stones and the jewellery that can be fashioned out of rocks, crystals, silver, gold and all the precious metals that nature has given us. But over the years – centuries – jewellery has come to be associated with a massive price tag. Collecting jewellery seems to be a game only the wealthy can play – unless you opt for cheap, mass-produced pieces. It takes a heroic mind-set to create artefacts that are original – and then to sell them, not at outrageous prices, but at decidedly affordable ones.
In the crowded mass-markets of today, good small-production jewellers are as valued as the pieces they make. These are the people who are dedicated to their art, and have taken quite a few risks to bring you jewellery that’s very different and filled with inventive flair. How they manage to do this while keeping their prices down is their own secret – but the rest of us can enjoy wearing what they’ve so painstakingly made for us.
We explore a new culinary experience at one of the island’s most stylish resorts – The Library.
Samui’s changed a lot in the last ten years. Our island had been emerging, growing, for quite some time, but then there was a kind of watershed, a tipping point, around about a decade ago. This was the time when, suddenly, all the big international hotel chains began to appear at once, each keen to stake a better and more exclusive slice of Samui. And hot on their heels scampered all the lesser gods, all of them glittering hopefully, and most of them verging on 5-star in rating, if not actually in name. They came complete with the very latest in worldclass architectural fashion. Thus it came about that Samui suffered a sudden style-rash involving vast expanses of plain concrete and wide, empty spaces offset by scrubbed wooden decks, ‘plain’ fabrics such as unbleached jute and linen, and with ‘natural’ earth tones splashed everywhere around.
Except for one. While others were keen to be seen following the leaders in style, this one wasn’t. This particular resort didn’t follow anyone. This resort didn’t do things in style, it did them with style. It wrote, designed, realised, and then created, its own specific genre, according to the unique vision of its owner. It picked out some of the brightest young stars from Bangkok; artists, 3-D designers, textile and fashion innovators. And they all talked, worked and stayed together here on Samui until it took shape and was completed, in 2006. Even the name was obliquely tantalising. It was simply . . . The Library.
Calm by day, and a place where you can find hammocks slung between coconut trees, Koh Samui is a place where indolence reins by day, and people drink pink daiquiris by the poolside. It appears so relaxed that you’d be forgiven for thinking that once the sun goes down and dinner is over, then it’s time to turn in.
Of course, you can still have a very laid-back holiday and quiet evenings, and many people opt for precisely that. But the island has another side to it, like a multiple personality: it’s at night that its hedonistic side comes to the fore. Word has long since gone round that the nightlife here is on the extreme edge of fun. Even without neighbouring Koh Pha-Ngan’s infamous full moon party, Samui’s nights are the stuff of legend. You can check out lots of blog posts detailing what visitors get up to – somehow they manage to remember what happened – or you can take part in all the fun yourself, and party on the beach or in the clubs until the sun comes up, continuing for as long as you can hold out.
Thailand’s national sport, plus one of its greatest heroes, are now together on Samui – at Samart Payakaroon training gym!
Thailand is an ancient and venerable country. It values and upholds its customs and traditions. There are many things in the Thai culture that are considered sacred and beyond reproach. But there are modern Thai legends, too. Newer things, perhaps just a few hundred years old, but arising from deeper roots. I’m not talking about fads like football or food. But I am delving into what’s emerged to become the national sport of Thailand. It’s a blend of tradition and custom, a combination of mind and body, and a celebration of success and achievement. And all of this comes together in the discipline of Muay Thai boxing.
A generation ago, few people outside of Thailand would have been familiar with this sport. Sure, everyone knows of Bruce Lee and Kung Fu. And martial arts centres and dojos are nothing new. But it’s only been in the last few years or so that the discipline of Muay Thai has been taken seriously on an international level. This is partly due to the immediacy of social media. Plus a broader base of internationally televised fighting styles – free-style fighting, mixed martial arts and cage fighting. And partly it’s due to legends like Khun Samart Payakaroon.
A look at what makes Samui Fireworks one of the safest and most spectacular pyrotechnic displays in Thailand.
Folks are fascinated with fireworks. In Europe they’re tightly regulated and every show pulls a crowd of thousands, but Thailand is much more easy going. Anyone can buy fireworks at any time, and there are no real laws about using them. As a result, every night, somewhere on Samui, you’ll hear or see another thumping cascade of lights spreading across the heavens. It’s so common as not to be special any more. But it is! No matter how often it happens, people will come out of the bars and restaurants, onto the streets and beaches, all staring, mesmerised, at the sky.
Enter, stage left, an Englishman by the name of Alan Brewis. He was born and bred in Sunderland. And, even as a young man, had something strange about him! You know how quite often you’ll hear a top chef say that he always wanted to cook? Well Alan, from as far back as he can remember, was always utterly obsessed with fireworks. When he was a kid, on Fireworks Night, he’d go around the streets, from one back alley to another, organising the other kids into a series of parties, and pooling all the penny-fireworks together to make one big street show after another.
W Retreat Koh Samui offers fabulous privileges with its new W Disruptor Card.
W Retreat Koh Samui is known for its beautiful sunsets, its headland that allows you a choice of not just one but two palm-fringed beaches and its sheer devotion to all things food, drink and chilling. It’s set well-away from any hubbub, and once you step inside, it’s a world apart. You might think you’re in a remote part of the island, but you’re just a couple of kilometres down a country lane that angles off from the ring-road (look for the signpost just after Zazen as you head towards Maenam from Chaweng). The vibe throughout the resort is refined yet comfortable, but is equally cutting-edge chic. It’s thoroughly creative and contemporary, yet always both cool and fun. The brand is unique and is happy to be so, always seeking to please its discerning guests.
Many people living or staying on the island know about W Retreat Koh Samui. But there are some who have yet to hear the name. With its cachet for pleasure, the resort wants to offer guests from outside the chance to come and experience what it’s all about.
Chaweng Lake’s Night Market is a feast not just for the eyes, but all the senses.
Saturday night has rolled round again. And like all Saturday nights, just across from Central Festival in Chaweng, dozens of trucks pull up; nimble passengers leap out and speedily unload tables, chairs, boxes, awnings, signs and so on. In minutes they’ll have put together fully-equipped stalls. Ready to go? Absolutely! These are vendors who have nigh-on military routines; most evenings, as night falls, they’re already set up and raring to sell at a different venue somewhere on the island.
In Thai-style English, these night markets are bizarrely known as ‘walking streets’ – the street being turned for a few hours into a pedestrian zone, where the only option is to walk. Highly popular amongst Thais, holidaymakers and foreign residents alike, a walking street is a chance to relax and enjoy the local atmosphere. It was Bangkok Governor Bichit Rattakul who first started the walking streets during an economic downturn, in an effort to perk up communities’ sluggish revenues and to help them promote their local goods. He certainly succeeded: on Samui, walking streets have an attendance of thousands every week, and can make fortunes for some of the more intrepid vendors. (A popular cocktail stall on Samui that I know of nets some 20,000 baht per night during high season!)
The truth about water in, on, and around Samui – and it’s not all bad news!
Go online. Do a search for ‘Samui’. And then look at what you come across. I don’t mean actually read it all. I mean scan the websites that come up on the first page of Google. They’re all commercial sites that have invested in search engine optimisation – with the exception of Wikipedia and TripAdvisor which inject a much more reliable note into things – perhaps. The most up-to-date info on Samui is what people are doing and saying right at this minute. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes based on impressions and hear-say, and not on real facts. However, in amongst all of this, you’ll not see anything about water – except advice not to drink it out of the tap!
Samui is an island. And so it’s surrounded by the sea water of the Gulf of Thailand. This you will swim in. The island of Samui also gets rained upon. And, unlike the rainwater in so many parts of the world, it’s completely safe to drink; there is no polluted-emissions layer it’s going to fall through first. And then the rain water soaks down into the ground and into the water table. It’s not surprising that this water subsequently flows downhill through the sub-strata – we’re an island which has nearly all of its landmass on a slope down towards the coast, after all. And then some of this water ends up in your water-pipes – and then you wash in it.
An unpretentious but award-winning spa in a stunning setting – Tamarind Springs has a great deal to boast about!
There are spas, and there are spas. You’ll see them out on the street. Your resort will probably have one. Some are stand-alone, offering pampering and rejuvenation treatments. Others offer accommodation too, together with more detailed programs. And these ones usually include different forms of detox and other health-related options. Then there’s the more mystical side of things, the so-called New Age places, where the talk of ‘balanced chakras’ and ‘energy fields’ runs side by side with dieting on live vegetables and investigating zero magnetic gravity.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because you’re utterly spoiled for choice – take your pick! And it’s not so good because, with all these wide and varied spas of different forms and flavours, how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff? How can you make certain that your emailed enquiry about sacro-cranial massage isn’t answered by a manager who tells her clerk “. . . head massage? We can do that. Tell them ‘yes’ and book them in for a week.”?
The answer? TripAdvisor. But the big problem here is that you need the skill to be able to read between the lines. Two or three spoiled brats can give a nasty taste to a place very fast, despite the reams of moderate praise that’s embedded all around. The other and more reliable way is to listen carefully to, and take note of, say, someone who has been on Samui for 20 years and has experienced many of these spas first-hand, on and off, over this period of time. Like me, perhaps! And I can’t find anything even faintly negative to say in any way about Tamarind Springs, in Lamai.
SCL International School’s ambitious new building project dovetails with students’ happiness and performance.
In architecture there’s a saying that goes, ‘form follows function’ – the use that a building will be put to determines how it’ll look. Too often, however, we have to make do with ramshackle architecture that not only doesn’t look good but only vaguely fulfils its potential.
Schools tend to end up rock bottom on the architect’s list of creative ventures. Children are mercilessly crowded into rooms that seem to have been inspired by the tight shoeboxes their footwear came from. The rest of school design seems equally slap-dash: the biggest space gets tagged as the assembly room and the rest follows predictably with lip-service rooms, such as play areas, science labs, a refectory, etc. All are connected with arteries of echoing corridors, and hey presto the architect’s work is already done. The results are as rousing as the sight of a multi-storey car park. It seems to take a visionary to do anything different.
Thankfully there are schools around that think out of the box. In Lamai, SCL International School is doing just this. It was a year ago that Emma Dyas, the school’s headmistress moved premises. A larger school was needed, as was increased outdoor space. The move went ahead, with the new location being just a few doors up from Lamai Post Office. And since moving into the new facilities, she’s been steadily improving on the layout and the amenities. Emma’s now going ahead with ambitious new projects that require some major architectural changes to be made.
These days it’s incredibly easy to come and live on Samui – and totally worth it.
Samui’s frequently referred to as a paradise on earth; over the years it’s become a world-renowned holiday destination that attracts over a million visitors per year. There are plenty of people who come back year after year, booking a new holiday each time. But it’s one thing to vacation in a place, and another to actually live there. So the big question is: just how easy is it to move to Thailand and drive down your tent pegs on the country’s third largest island?
Some holidaymakers will scratch their heads and wonder if it’s even possible. Surely, you can’t just go and settle in Thailand, can you? The immediate answer is that, yes, more or less, you can. Unlike many countries, setting up in Thailand is very, very easy. There are relatively few procedures to follow, and you don’t even need to prepare a ton of documents before you leave your own country. The ease in which you can settle in Thailand is perhaps one of the best plus points. Similarly it’s just as easy to work or retire here. The procedures to follow lie outside the scope of this article, but you can easily find them on the internet. It’s also astonishingly easy to buy a house, villa or condo here.
Exploring Samui’s hidden interior on the back of an elephant.
A lot of visitors head to the beach again and again, thinking it’s pretty much the only activity on Samui. After all, beaches abound here and they have an almost magnetic pull. But they’re not the only attraction. Away from the coastline, there’s a completely different Samui waiting to be discovered - the world of the interior. A few roads make brave attempts to traverse it, but not very effectively, and all but one peters out. Even after 30 years as a tourist destination, there’s no easy way to get into it.
The heart of Samui consists of endless coconut plantations, dense orchards and jungle as well as primordial rainforest. Exciting? You bet. It’s pretty close to being The Land That Time Forgot. It’s a beguiling place, filled with trees and plants and sights that you’ve probably never seen before. As such it makes a great alternative to the beach.
And since elephants are native to Thailand, a wonderful way to get acquainted with the interior is to ride on the back of one of these primordial beasts. They know their way around, and while they walk the forest paths and tracks, you can sit back and relax. There are plenty of elephant safaris on the island, but one of those that’s tried-and-trusted is Living Thailand Tours.
Anodas Spa at Nora Buri Resort & Spa combines beautiful views with seriously good massage.
For years, many spas have concentrated on being true sanctuaries, where you literally step away from the world. As such they’re often about being indoors, and many do away with even having windows. It’s a formula that really works, too, especially if the views aren’t, well, so picturesque.
But what if you can step away from the world into a beautiful, intimate garden and have this as a spa setting? Then it becomes a magical experience. Just minutes from the busy heart of Chaweng, you’ll find a place that’s a complete haven, where relaxation is on tap. The garden setting at Anodas Spa is exactly what you think of when you imagine tropical trees and plants. But that’s not all. The view’s just about the best of any spa on Samui - the garden frames the beautiful headland that marks the northern end of Chaweng and the tiny, enigmatic islet of Koh Matlang, just off-shore. And best of all, you can see all of this from the trio of treatment rooms that comprise this select spa. Each room is housed in a small purpose-built chalet, which is completed by a steam room and a generous-sized open-air Jacuzzi. Just the kind of place where you’ll find it easy to let the cares of the world slip away.
One of Samui’s finest restaurants has very accommodatingly branched out – Dr Frogs!
What more can you do? Let’s start with an award-winning restaurant with superlative cuisine. It’s got one of the most stunning views around. The décor is easy, the ambiance, super. It’s comfy and relaxed. It’s already about as good as you can get. So how can you improve it? What can you do to make it even better still? Well, yes, you can put up some fab weekly specials on the chalkboard. You can even add the silky vibes of a top guitarist three times a week. And then . . . and then you can build 16 utterly gorgeous one-and two-bedroom luxury villas, and discretely pepper them on the hillside right next to you. But more of this in just a moment!
The enigmatically named Dr Frogs made its debut back in 2007. And it immediately achieved something elusive, much to the envy of all and the annoyance of many – success. As so many aspiring hopefuls have already learned, there’s simply no formula for this. And so when the emerging Dr Frogs was perching itself on top of a prime view, people nodded and shrugged. And when they sneaked a peep at the layout of the mellow inner room,
Even though it’s a world-class tourist destination, Samui still relies very much on its fishing industry.
In the early 60s, when Khun Urai was a little girl living on Samui’s north coast, life was very different to how it is today. “As a kid,” she recalls wistfully, “we used to go down to the beach in the afternoon and start putting together a fire. My parents would be out fishing, and when they returned, we’d cook some of what they’d caught over it, and that would be our dinner.” There weren’t any hotels back then – the first tourists hadn’t yet come to the island, and its heady future wasn’t to start for another decade. Samui depended on its fishing and farming. “There was plenty to go round,” says Khun Urai. “As a child you could wander into anyone’s house in the village – there were no locks – and just help yourself to food. If you took a flashlight and went out on a boat at night and shone it into the sea, the fish would just appear, attracted by the light. The sea was full of fish.” It was an idyllic life, and she grew up with happy memories.
Something of that way of life still remains, even to this day. Walk along many of the beaches on the island in the early morning, and you’ll see people fishing for their food. In Maenam you’ll find, for example, old people standing utterly still in waist-deep water with home-made fishing rods,
Come in and discover the fantastic environment, service and facilities at Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort.
Anantara Bophut is conveniently located right next to Fisherman’s Village. You can access the resort directly from the beach, just follow the beach promenade to the western end, go down to the beach and you are there, or from the rather special entrance on the ring-road in Bophut. As you turn into the resort, you travel over a long rustic wooden bridge which spans a gorgeous lily pond and begin to enter a timeless oasis of calm and tranquillity. As the lush tropical landscaped gardens surround and envelop you, your whole being starts to become calmer and more relaxed. Turn right for the parking area; go straight on for the reception and meet the first three monkeys! Different monkey statues are seen throughout the resort, and are a reference to Thai mythology. The hero of the story, Prince Rama, is aided by monkeys, and most notably the magical white-faced monkeygeneral Hanuman and his army. With Hanuman’s help, Prince Rama successfully defeats an evil ten-headed demon and rescues the Princess. Throughout the story, the monkey is portrayed as being helpful, clever and brave. On Samui, monkeys work to help harvest the coconuts, this was the main economy of the island before tourism took over.
For some of the best water fun on the island, head away from the sea to Samui Water Park Pink Elephant!
Koh Samui. A tropical island with dreamy white sands, palm-fringed beaches and a sky full of little fluffy clouds. It’s a holiday paradise. It’s a couple of weeks lazing by the pool and sipping cool drinks. It’s absolutely perfect – except for one small thing. The kiddie factor. If you’re here with your kids, then that adds another dimension to it all. It means that you’re always on the lookout for great restaurants – meaning not just good food but a play corner too. And, essentially, everything you do is geared to the kids; keeping them happy, keeping them safe, keeping them entertained. If they’re very young, they’ll play for ages with the little friends that they’ve made. But the closer to their teens that they get, the easier it is for them to get bored.
It can be tricky, striking the right balance. But, in the last few years, more and more fun things have emerged. Organised games on the beach. Resorts with nannies and playrooms. Shopping malls with playgrounds and rides. And now, appearing half way through last year, a splendid water park, with features and rides that are geared to kids of all ages,
Common holiday maladies: what they are and what to do about them.
The vast majority of holidaymakers who come to Samui never experience any mishap, malady or require any medical help. Samui and Thailand as a whole are fairly healthy places. But it’s only natural to worry, and that’s not a bad thing when it comes to looking after yourself when abroad. In this article, we take a look at some of the common problems that can beset the holidaymaker. Most can very easily be avoided, and all are fairly easy to sort out. Suffice to say that some people incur major problems, but this is beyond the scope of this article.
Topping the list of ailments is the possibility of getting an upset stomach and diarrhoea. This happens fairly commonly, and is usually mild and temporary. It may be enough to visit one of the island’s chemists, most of whom speak adequate English. They will ask questions and prescribe the appropriate medicine.
Most stomach problems clear up quickly, but it’s best not to leave them if they don’t. Some may worsen and cause major health problems. Some low grade types of food poisoning can continue indefinitely if left untreated.
If the symptoms aren’t severe and consist of nausea but with no actual vomiting and maybe low-grade diarrhoea, a recommended medication is Disento. It comes in a packet, and you just take two tablets every four hours. You can also use Ultracarbon, to absorb gas and toxins from the food poisoning. Again, it’s a question of two tablets every four hours, but don’t take at the same time as Disento. Leave 30 minutes between them.