Life s tyle
104105 IRISH TATLER MAN
Koh Samui may no longer be the sleepy backwater and backpacker magnet
that it was in the Nineties, but the picturesque island retains many of its
charms and encapsulates everything idyllic about a holiday in Thailand,
writes Alexander Fitzgerald
Tourists climb to the
viewpoint at AngThong
Every traveller who has visited This page, clockwise
Thailand seems to have an from top left:
opinion, whether from experience
or merely from hearsay, about Pretty as a picture: Koh
Koh Samui. Its beaches and Samui’s beaches are
nightlife are some of the best some of the finest in
around, some say; it’s paradise Asia; Samui’s Big
well and truly lost, bemoan others. What is Buddha is one of the
clear is that the island on the Gulf coast retains most popular tourist
much of its beauty but has, inevitably, evolved attractions; Quench your
and developed over the years and, as a result, thirst with a strawberry
is an entirely different place to when intrepid mojito and a backdrop of
backpackers first set foot on its palm-fringed gently lapping waves at
shores in the 1970s. Coco Tam’s beach bar in
The Koh Samui of 2015 may be more defined Bophut
by its glut of holistic spas, five-star hotels and
ever-increasing collection of Western-style steady stream of hawkers and, in certain Whether it’s shopping for gifts and trinkets,
shops than by the bucket showers, squat toilets places, blaring music. getting measures for a three-piece suit, having
and beach shacks of old. The latter still exist a stress-busting foot massage or simply
but are an endangered species, liable to be all For a more relaxed vibe, head a little further watching the sun go down in a beachside
but obsolete within a few years. south to the less developed town of Lamai, restaurant, Bophut is well worth a visit.
Indeed, if it’s laid-back, rustic living and which boasts a deservedly popular beach that
cheap-as-chips accommodation you’re seeking, is perfect for swimming. Still too busy? Venture Spend an evening wandering through this
you might be better served by taking a boat to to the island’s north-eastern tip, which features charming enclave’s narrow streets — still
its smaller neighbour, Koh Pha Ngan. But for the beautiful headland of Choeng Mon, where boasting scores of original wooden shophouses
those prepared to overlook the mass bold rock formations have created a stunning — where you’ll find everything from fashion
development (which, mercifully, has not yet crescent-shaped beach about one kilometre in boutiques and gift shops to French pâtisseries,
reached the levels of Phuket on Thailand’s west length and lined with palm trees. Thai eateries and chilled-out bars.
coast) and allow themselves to be seduced by
the powder-soft sand and aquamarine sea, The options for embracing beach life are, in Friday evenings are perfect for a visit along
they’ll be rewarded with a holiday destination short, enormous. For travellers with wheels, Walking Street, when the neighbourhood
that delivers across the board. it’s well worth sampling a different beach each comes alive with street-food stalls (try the sôm
day. Other recommendations include the đam, a spicy green papaya salad) and markets.
MAKING WAVES palm-fringed and usually ultra-tranquil Alternatively, stop off at the newly-opened
Bophut, the secluded Mae Nam and Bang Po Fisherman’s Wharf, which is located along the
If sand and sea don’t set your pulse raising, and the picturesque Silver Bay (also know as beachfront path. Here you’ll find a great mix of
Samui is not for you. If, however, you’re partial Crystal Bay), a charming cove between quirky international labels and traditional
to some of the clearest water, the softest sand Chaweng and Lamai. souvenirs from local artisans.
and, usually, ideal sun-bathing temperatures,
the island is something of a paradise. FISHERMAN’S VILLAGE EATING & DRINKING
Stretching almost six kilometres, Chaweng Bophut Beach, the charming and compact With a concise menu of just seven mains,
is Samui’s largest and most popular beach. It village along the north coast, is one of the Barracuda is a popular draw with foodies. Chef
has dazzling aquamarine water, powdery white island’s fastest developing areas but remains a Ferdinand’s fusion menu (a blend of European
sand and a glut of five-star resorts but stops deservedly popular tourist destination, and Asian dishes) changes constantly but the
short of being a tranquil paradise thanks to a particularly its charming Fisherman’s Village. standard remains consistently high. Favourites
include homemade tortellini of prawns,
106107 IRISH TATLER MAN Far more elegant and infinitely less hectic
than bustling Chaweng, its main street is lined
by old wooden Chinese shop-houses,
boutiques, restaurants and a small number of
Samui’s seemingly omnipresent tailor shops.
This page, clockwise from top left:
Thai boxing takes place at Petchbuncha Boxing Stadium and
Lamai Boxing Stadium; Hidden away high in the hills in Koh
Samui’s interior, The Magic Statue Garden is filled with images
of deities from Buddhist mythology and fantasy creatures;
Delicious yet wholesome treats such as chicken caesar rolls,
three-bean quinoa salad and quinoa paella abound at
The Love Kitchen at Absolute Sanctuary
This page, above: NA MUANG WATERFALLS opulent spot whose French owners have
created a stunning restaurant serving mouth-
Resplendent in orange robes and Ray-Ban sunglasses and Na Muang Waterfalls, a majestic set of two watering Gallic cuisine complemented by a chic
propped up in a glass case, the mummified monk is said cascades on Koh Samui, show that the décor in a riot of silks and satins.
to have told his followers shortly before his death that if island’s beauty is not limited to its beaches.
his body were to decompose he should be cremated, but Found inland about 12 kilometres south-east Elsewhere, Chinese shophouses have been
if not then he wanted to be put on display as a visual of Nathon Bay, the Na Muang falls are cleverly converted into hip Mediterranean
reminder of the Buddha’s teachings reached by taking a walking path from the restaurants and grillhouses in Bophut’s
entrance to the park. Fisherman’s Village, while Lamai’s numerous
calamari with roasted watermelon and a food stalls, where locals whip up fiery curries
butter-lemon sauce and, our own favourite, The first waterfall, Na Muang 1, flows down and noodles in their woks for a few baht, are a
salmon with a Tom Yam velouté. into a pretty natural pool that provides a cool must for those on a budget.
escape from the heat. About 30 minutes by
There’s no shortage of watering holes in foot further uphill is the smaller yet equally Keeping an eye on the calories without
Bophut. Be sure to quench your thirst at one inviting Na Muang 2. wishing to deny yourself the pleasure of
with sea views, though. Coco Tam’s, which is delicious Thai food? Make your way to The Love
situated on the beach, is hard to beat. THAI BOXING Kitchen at Absolute Sanctuary, close to Choeng
Mon on the north-east coast.
SEEING IS BELIEVING Fast, aggressive and dynamic, Thai boxing is
the national sport, and as in most villages in The emphasis at the restaurant — which
If tanning, pampering and shopping hold little the country, Samui has a number of Thai serves breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees daily
appeal, there’s no shortage of popular boxing schools as well as an original Thai either in its air-conditioned indoor seating area
sightseeing options on Samui. From the boxing Stadium. or outdoors on a sheltered terrace — is on
36ft-tall golden Big Buddha in Koh Samui’s light, clean dishes that focus on the inherent
most important temple, Wat Phra Yai, and the Slightly less popular than Chaweng’s vast natural flavours of the key ingredients.
mummified monk, Long Pordang, in Petchbuncha Boxing Stadium, which is the
meditation position at Wat Khunaram, to the heart of Samui’s thriving Muay Thai scene, A new addition to a continually evolving
enchanting Magic Statue Garden, which will Lamai Boxing Stadium has some great fights offering is the aptly-named Superfoods Delight
mesmerise you with its many statues in a every Saturday from 9pm onwards. menu, which was introduced to support
hidden mountain location, there’s plenty to Absolute Sanctuary’s guests who are on one of
keep even the most hardened traveller amused. WINING & DINING the resort’s popular detox programmes, but
also caters to those, including non-residents,
Information on these attractions can easily Elegant Italian bistros, cheap-as-chips fast who simply wish to enjoy healthy, flavoursome
be found in one of the many tourist information food joints, trendy fusion restaurants, fare. Its component dishes are created from
offices dotted around the island. Thai-style dining on cushions by the sea – hand-picked local produce (organic whenever
Samui has the lot. possible), cold-pressed oils, whole-food
GRANDFATHER & seasonings and nutrient-dense superfoods,
GRANDMOTHER ROCKS Feeling flush? Dine on a spicy green curry or such as flaxseeds, spirulina and coconut oil.
freshly grilled snapper in an Ayutthaya-style
Set on the rocky coastline between Lamai and teak pavilion at the Poppies, a boutique resort It might sound insufferably virtuous but the
Hua Thanon on the island’s south coast, a pair on the southerly part of Chaweng. Alternatively chefs’ skilful preparation and a masterful
of fascinating natural rock formations, Hin Ta head north to Maenam’s The Boudoir, an appreciation of flavours ensure that healthy
and Hin Yai, are a popular tourist attraction
and a constant source of mirth due to their
likeness to male and female genitalia (you can
guess which is which).
The rocks, known as Grandfather (Ta) and
Grandmother (Yai), are seen as strong fertility
symbols, and local myth has it that they were
where a people known as the Mui originated.
welltravelled This page, clockwise
from top left:
Feast on mouthwatering
food and breathtaking
views at Dining on the
Rocks; The ever-popular
Green Mango is one of
the island’s hot spots;
eating is not just nutritious but also delicious SUITS YOU, SIR If you favour your independence, for
and, surprisingly, satisfying, too. approximately 700B or €20 (without
Tailor shops proliferate the streets of Samui, comprehensive insurance coverage), you can
The Love Kitchen’s Masuman Curry promising made-to-measure suits at bargain rent a basic jeep to navigate the island. Be sure
Potatoes are a particular favourite with guests prices. There’s a vast difference in price and to read the fine print before you rent a car,
and feature an appetising mix of fresh coconut quality, though, so it pays to shop around and though as policies can vary wildly between
milk with garden-fresh broccoli, tofu, do your research (examine the various fabric rental companies and travel agents.
cauliflower, potato, carrot, bell pepper, peanuts swatches and always ask to see a sample of a
and kaffir lime, served with organic brown rice. tailor’s work) before you place an order. Far cheaper but significantly more risky is a
scooter, the mode of transport of choice for
Other highlights on the menu include If in doubt, head to Roger at Famous Suits most visitors to Samui. Travel agencies and
Samui Ceviche, lime-marinated white snapper, (famoussuits.com) at the southern end of small operators rent motorcycles, and most
shrimps and calamari mixed with bell peppers, Chaweng’s main street, where a two-piece resorts can make arrangements. A 100cc
spring onions and Thai chilli, all served in made-to-measure suit can be made in Honda scooter goes for around 150B (€4) per
butter lettuce leaves; and Pesto Garden Stir approximately 48 hours and will cost as little as day, while a 250cc chopper or trail bike starts at
With Nori, a savoury treat made with fresh basil 4,000B (€112). Be sure to factor in time for two around 400B (€11).
drizzled over lightly-fired pumpkin, carrot, or three fittings, though, to ensure that it fits
cabbage and onion, and served with nori. like a proverbial glove. BOAT TRIPPIN’
For a truly unforgettable dining experience,
however, it’s hard to beat Dining on the Rocks, NIGHTLIFE While there’s more than enough on Samui to
the signature restaurant of Six Senses Samui. wile away an action-packed 10-day visit, many
The views — over the surrounding islands and The biggest beach party is at Chaweng, where visitors opt to take a day trip to one of the many
the Gulf of Siam — are, of course, the real star hedonistic clubs, go-go dancers and one small neighbouring islands such as Koh Tao or
of the show but are ably supported by pumping bar after the next pack the sois Koh Pha Ngan, which are fantastic locations for
sumptuous fusion dishes that combine tastes (alleys). Clubbers head to treehouse-style snorkelling and experiencing some of the
of east and west, different textures and Green Mango and Bob Marley fans to the magical marine life found in Thailand’s waters.
intriguing contrasts of hot and cold to really Reggae Pub. Lamai’s scene is mixed, with Thai
give your tastebuds a wonderful workout. boxing halls and techno clubs giving way to One of the most popular options it to take a
chill-out beach bars. More relaxed still is boat to Ang Thong National Marine Park, a
The ambience and décor aren’t exactly Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village, where the pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of
shabby, either – think nice cantilevered decks of mellow music and cocktails come with equally Thailand and approximately 40 kilometres
weathered teak and bamboo combining open chilled moonlit sea views. north-west of Samui.
air and covered seating areas. After sunset, the
diners feel as though they’re dining on a barge GETTING AROUND A visual treat, these are characterised by
set adrift on a starlit sea. Absolute bliss. hundreds of limestone monoliths, carved into
Though Koh Samui is the country’s third largest stunning shapes by years of erosion, and boast
RETAIL THERAPY island, with a total area of 247 sq km, its entire towering limestone mountains, dense jungle,
coastline can be toured by car or motorcycle in fertile mangroves, powdery beaches, waterfalls
From cheap-as-chips markets to malls and roughly two-and-a-half hours. The island’s and hidden coves and lakes to explore.
upmarket boutiques, Samui has every retail main road, which is known as the ring road,
therapy requirement covered. Small boutiques circles hilly, densely forested terrain. Most Ang Thong visitors arrive on a join-in
selling souvenirs, knock-offs and pirated DVDs day trip or by boat charter. For those who wish
line the main street of Chaweng, while Lamai Songtaews, the omnipresent no-frills, to stay overnight, though, a small number of
and Bophut are great for unique gifts, textiles open-back pick-up trucks, are the cheapest and simple bungalows and camping tents are
and Thai handicrafts. easiest way to get around the island. Hail one available for rent at the Park Headquarters on
The glitzy new Central Festival Samui anywhere, any time along the road, negotiate a Koh Wua Talab.
(centralfestival.co/th/samui) provides an fee with the driver and jump on board. If you
air-conditioned escape with brand-name decide to disembark earlier than expected,
stores, including Uniqlo, alongside sports and simply press a bell to signal to the driver to stop
electronic shops. and out you hop. Be warned, though – although
wonderfully cheap by day, prices soar after dark.
108109 IRISH TATLER MAN
This page, top row from left to right:
An oceanfront villa at the stunning Six Senses; For a day of
unadulterated pampering, the luxurious Tamarind Springs is a must
Below left, from left to right:
Hideaway villa at Six Senses; Nicely priced and beautifully
appointed, The Hideaway Suites offers affordable luxury; Room
with a view: a treatment room at Six Senses’ spa
COOKING UP A THAI is located on a palm-clad hillside just above the ACCOMMODATION
STORM beach. A haven of tranquillity, its small
collection of villas and massage studios are Accommodation options abound on Samui at
For daily Thai cooking and fruit-carving seamlessly incorporated into nature: some all price points. Backpackers and those with an
lessons, the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary have granite boulders built into walls and eye on their budget can rest their head at
Arts (sitca.net) in central Chaweng is highly floors, while others offer private ponds or simple yet clean lodgings for a mere 550B
recommended. A professional operation with creative outdoor baths. (€15.50) per night at P Chaweng Guest House,
an ultra-friendly cooking school, where a friendly resort along a quiet cul de sac off the
morning (11am) and afternoon (4pm) classes The perfect place to wile away a lazy and main drag in lively Chaweng.
(2,250B or €64) are taught in English to small luxurious day, it’s not cheap but definitely
groups, it’s an ideal place to acquire some worth the cost. The four-hour Forest Dreaming A superb mid-priced option is The
Asian culinary skills to impress the folks back package, for instance €— which includes 90 Hideaway Suites (thehideawaysuites.com), a
home. minutes in the spa’s stunning steam caves and boutique guesthouse with three bijoux rooms
plunge pools, snacks and refreshments and a and a stunning penthouse suite with sea
PTHRIENPCLIEPALSEURE two-and-a-half hour massage (there are four to views. Located in the upmarket Choeng Mon
choose from) — costs 5,500B (€155) but will area and run by an affable Englishman, John
Like many popular tourist destinations in leave you refreshed, relaxed and, quite simply, Corbett, its four rooms — which are
Thailand, the spa scene has really taken off on feeling like a new man. luxuriously appointed and have complimentary
Samui. All the big international five-star resorts wifi — can be booked individually, as a pair, as
boast their own in-house spa where guests can And should you be wondering, the infamous three rooms or in their entirety to provide
enjoy top-of-the-range (and top-priced) ‘happy endings’ for which Thailand is infamous accommodation for up to eight guests. Prices
treatments by well-trained staff. Shop around, do exist – but not, obviously, in the more start at 3,600B (€100) per night.
though, and it’s possible to be pampered for a reputable spas. If a contented conclusion really
relative pittance. floats your boat, simply visit one of the less Those with deeper pockets, however, are
salubrious massage parlours away from the blessed with an extensive selection of luxurious
The main streets in areas such as Chaweng main drag in Chaweng. And hang your head in resorts. At the north-eastern tip of the island is
and Lamai have numerous reputable days spas shame! the stunning Six Senses (sixsenses.com), a
and massage shops, which may lack the pomp luxurious hillside retreat with a blissfully
and ceremony of their more pricey secluded location. Set over 20 beautifully
counterparts but usually offer a very good level landscaped acres, this chilled-out escape
of service. A one-hour Thai massage can be boasts 66 private, split-level teak villas, each
enjoyed for as little as 200B (€5.50). with double outdoor rain showers and many
Treatments vary between spas but the most with panoramic sea views and a private pool
popular and most widely available include with sun deck. Prices start from 14,375B per
everything from manicure and pedicure to foot villa per night on a B&B basis.
massage, coconut oil massage and reflexology.
The level of service is second to none – all
If you wish to push the budgetary boat out a villas are assigned a private butler to look after
little, however, make time to venture south to guests’ wishes and requests, buggies are readily
Lamai to discover the renowned Tamarind available to whisk you from one area to another
Springs day spa (tamarindsprings.com), which within the resort, glasses of water are served and
topped up as you bask on poolside loungers.
The attention to detail is extraordinary.
The numerous amenities at Six Senses
include a drop-dead-gorgeous infinity pool with
This page, clockwise
from top left:
Tongsai Bay’s newly
refurbished villas boast
stunning views and their
own pool; The Source
offers a range of detox
programmes; Toning up
at Absolute Sanctuary
panoramic sea views, a private beach and a Absolute Sanctuary (absolutesanctuary. weight-loss programmes (from 9,500 B) of
stunning spa where the pampering options and com) boasts the smartest yoga studio on the seven, 14, 21 or 28-day duration, and which can
treatments are almost impossible to resist and, island – a state-of-the-art facility with sea and be completed during a stay on Samui or,
arguably best of all, the resort’s restaurant, jungle views respectively – and offers as many equally, on the hoof. The formulas, which are
Dining on the Hill, where diners can feast on as five classes a day. Visitors can select from a 100% natural and organic and have been
spectacular Thai cuisine in an open-air pavilion number of different packages, including created by a Master Herbalist, are potent and
with a stunning sea view. drop-in class, 10-class pass or two-week incredibly effective in both restoring health
unlimited pass. — benefits include cleansing and detoxing the
Equally luxurious is the charming Tongsai whole body, elimination of Candida, parasites
Bay (tongsaibay.co.th), a five-star, family-run The resort also runs daily pilates classes in a and bad bacteria, and rejuvenation of the
resort located just 10 minutes’ drive from the designated studio. Again, visitors can pay per organs – and promoting weight loss naturally,
airport yet set within 28-acre lush tropical class (1,200B/€34) or purchase a 10-class card as well as helping reduce the likelihood of
gardens on a hillside that winds down to a (9,500B/€268), which is valid for two months. future health problems.
serene private cove. For the pilates devotee, however, the resort
runs a poplar Pilates Reformer Bootcamp Taken morning and night, the set of
With an emphasis on guests being as close holiday, which is available for both five and formulas (syrups, capsules and tinctures)
to nature as possible, the 83 suites, cottages seven days and priced from 54,000B (€1,520). tastes great and you can choose what to eat
and villas incorporate spacious terraces with an each day from the prescribed healthy foods/
outdoor bathtub, dining area, sun lounger and An all-inclusive package, the Bootcamp juices list. The programmes are reassuringly
gazebo. holiday includes two group reformer packages simple to follow, too, allowing you to go about
a day, as well as a postural analysis and your day as normal without any side-effects
A luxurious fit-out makes it tempting to do individual one-to-one private reformer and with good energy levels.
as little as possible but there are numerous sessions. The price also covers all of Absolute
reasons to peel yourself from the sun lounger Sanctuary’s signature offerings, such as a If weight-loss or wellness hold little appeal,
and do more than simply fly and flop. Activities wellness consultation, three spa cuisine meals The Source is well worth a visit simply to
on offer include tennis, kayaking, windsurfing a day at the Love Kitchen restaurant, soothing sample some of their famed fresh juices, which
and snorkelling. Guests can also partake, for a massages and scheduled group fitness classes. are arguably the finest on the island. Our
small additional cost, in regular Thai cooking recommendation? The mango and fresh
classes, which are held twice a week. DDIEFTFOEXRWENITCHE A coconut probiotic smoothie. ITM
With a staff ratio of three to each guest Looking to boost your wellbeing while on FACTFILE
room, the service is, needless to say, holiday? You’re in luck. Samui is home to an
impeccable. Little wonder, then, that visitors ever-growing number of wellness spas and GET TING THERE: Koh Samui is an
— which run the gamut from honeymooners detox centres. Our favourite, however, is The
and couples to retirees, families and groups of Source (thesourcesamui.com; Tel: +66 (0)77 hour’s flight from Bangkok. At least 20 flights are
friends — often return for a second stay. 953 163) in Lamai. available each day.
Prices start from 10,000B (€280) for a Run by an affable Dubliner, Ivor Fitzpatrick, CURRENCY: The Thai Baht is the currency
suite, while cottages and villas are priced from it offers a selection of herbal detox and
16,000B (€450) and 19,000B (€535) of Thailand. The exchange rate fluctuates often but
respectively. The latter are particularly is currently approximately €1 = 35 Baht.
luxurious, featuring their own private pool and
sun deck, making them ideal for a romantic NEED-TO-KNOW: Visas are available on
getaway or a special occasion.
arrival for a stay of up to 30 days.
HEALTH & FITNESS Weather is sunny for most of the year, even
While many travellers head to Samui for during the rainy season, which runs from October to
hedonism, there are plenty who make the trek late December.
to enjoy the various health facilities the island
has to offer. Yoga is a major draw here, with The best-dressed woman on any given train, boat
just about every variety – hot, ashtanga, or pavement is probably a ladyboy.
vinyasa, yin yan – available in various locations.