Koh Samui: an island oasis for Bangkok urbanites
Bangkokians may bemoan the price of the short 45-minute return flights to Koh Samui, but the reality is that once you touch down in the ‘Fantasy Island’ style airport with its thatched salas, it feels worth every last baht; a priceless experience that can only be measured terms of pure joy, relaxation, and the meaning of life!
There is no denying that Thailand’s second-largest island is a divine beauty of a weekend getaway destination; the allure of sparkling white-sand beaches, those exquisite, tropical island clear waters—this is what captures the hearts, dreams, and imagination of Thais, expats, and non-resident holidaymakers alike. There is something wonderfully special about Samui that epitomizes the castaway island escape.
This Chumphon Archipelago stunner, set amidst 80 islands in the Gulf of Thailand, exudes an innate natural charm and effortless charisma. There is a laid-back gorgeousness about Koh Samui that is endlessly seductive. Lounging on soft sands looking out over the azure waters of the Gulf of Thailand is just about as perfect as it gets. However, the island also offers some interesting mini-break things to see and do too.
Whilst there are plenty of great sightseeing spots on Samui, the fact is that none of them really warrant an extended stop off. The heat may slow down the speed, but a fairly fast-paced minivan tour with an experienced guide is the best way to go.
Samui’s famous Hin Ta and Hin Yai, commonly referred to as “grandfather and grandmother rocks”, are visually interesting. Two separate formations that resemble, in an artistic sense, the private regions of a man and woman have been turned into a folklore tale involving a shipwreck, a marriage proposal, and a symbol of everlasting love.
Moving inland, the Namuang Waterfalls are pleasant enough for a mini photo-shoot and a cool dip with a two-minute stroll to the first fall, and just a little further to the second. Translated as “purple water”, the falls which are so named because of the colour of the rocks. Locals love to come here for swimming and picnicking.
Wat Khunaram, located in the Lamai Beach area, is famed for its ‘Mummified Monk’. Locally born Luong Pho Daeng, who passed away in his late 70s in the early ‘70s, is on show in a glass case at the temple’s Buddhist shrine. In a meditative pose, the monk is so well-preserved that he still has some hair nearly 45 years after his passing. There is something fascinatingly eerie yet spiritually uplifting about this enduring symbol of Buddhist culture, and his retro sunglasses add a Thai quirky touch.
A real highlight is the Secret Buddha Garden which is more of a small beauty spot than a garden to stroll around. In this private sculpture park set atop Pom Mountain, one of the highest peaks on the island, sculptures of humans and deities in and around a stream and waterfall depict classic Thai stories and the effect is a magical, fairy-tale feel in a jungle setting found up an off-road drive with amazing views over the whole island along the way. The timeless tranquillity of the garden, owned by a fruit-farming family, and animal stone carvings resonates with visitors on some deeper inner level.
SUGARCANE LUNCH & NIGHT MARKET
A few distillery type machines and buckets stand in what resembles a cow shed. Whilst there is little to really see at Magic Alambic Rum Distillery (44/5 Moo 3, Na Mueang), it is worthy of a stop off for lunch in a quiet rural setting with a bar serving drinks straight from the barn. The French owners rustle up a European menu of the day, and tapas with homemade sausages—plus a shot of sugarcane alcohol served with a lime, sugarcane, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla juice to mix on the side. Tel: 091 816 7416
Fisherman’s Village (Bophut Beach) is one of Samui’s most-talked about visitor hotspots, yet it is surprisingly cool and touristy in the best way possible. The shops, bars, and restaurants are open each night, whilst the night market adds to the vibrant atmosphere on Fridays. The drinking holes are trendy yet chilled out joints, and there is a surprisingly mellow vibe with a boho edge.
If you can ignore the en masse tourist vibe of speedboats setting out to the beautiful Ang Thong National Marine Park, then this really is a bit of a must-do trip. The islands of this archipelago dot the clear waters northwest of Koh Samui, and a snorkel stop at Koh Wao reveals coral reefs and colourful marine life. Once inside the park itself, a hot and sweaty trek upwards takes you to the ultimate reveal, the famed Emerald Lake at Koh Mae Koh (Mother Island). Surrounded by cliffs, and with a white sand sea bed, the saltwater lagoon shines a brilliant green, sparkling like the Emerald City of Oz, far, far from home.
There are 42 islands in this protected paradise, and heading past Monkey Island, and onwards to Wua Talap (Sleeping Cow Island), kayaking, swimming or trekking along a jungle trail are classic tourist pursuits. However, lying under the shade of a tree on the green grass and watching the spider monkeys at play is perhaps as active as some visitors want to get.
Open Water Adventure: Samui Regatta
From flyboarding to kite surfing, jet-skiing to scuba diving, Samui is intrinsically all about the fun to be had on the water. Trips to the island in May also offer visitors the chance to catch sight of some simply stunning yachts at the annual five-day Samui Regatta; showcasing the crème-de-la-crème of Asian sailing beauties, from single hull day cruisers to immense multi-hulls.
At the 2017 event—which ran from May 19th to 28th—around 500 sailors descended on Samui, complete with a spectator catamaran reached a few nautical miles from shore, and beach parties and a gala dinner finale for yachties and those with a passion for sailing. Now in its 16th year, the regatta has turned into a competition of international repute and adds to the appeal of the island as a luxe destination for sports tourism. The climate and winds in this part of Thailand make sailing a pleasure and an exhilarating challenge for yachting aficionados and novice sailors alike.
Hotel Highlight: NOVOTEL SAMUI RESORT
The Western Coast of Koh Samui may tempt with its promise of sunset views, but staying on the eastern shore of the island, on Chaweng Beach, is gloriously close to the airport. With a weekend escape, the ultimate aim is to land, check in, and be dipping your toes in a resort pool within an hour. Right by the beachfront, Novotel Samui Resort Chaweng Beach Kandaburi is a worthy 4-star stay exalted by its location which is the absolute pinnacle of luxury.
When it comes to beach stays it is all about location, location, location and as you walk into the foyer and spy the shimmer of the beach and blue sea beyond, you know you have “arrived”. The architectural design creates a stunning, uninterrupted vista through the middle of the resort which is impressively grand. Steps from the open reception lead down to a pretty walkway that runs past lotus flower ponds to a big swimming pool with cabanas, loungers, and water-jet beds.
The 54 sq.m Deluxe Beach Side Rooms are spacious, with baths, balconies, and the comfiest beds. The turn-down service with an aromatherapy oil burner lit adds a nice touch after a long day in the sun, or coming back to your room after an evening out.
The 54 sq.m Superior Hillside Rooms and 74 sq.m Family Hillside Rooms with bunk beds are across the road in the hillside section of the property, where there is also breakfast and all-day dining available at Palm Court. Walking across to this non-beachside part of the hotel definitely feels a step down, but the rooms here are decidedly cheaper, and with the sands still so close it is an irk you could probably live with.
Breakfast is served al fresco at the @Beach Restaurant, with daytime snacks and evening BBQ buffets. The Friday-night seafood delights are tempting, and the beachside location is perfect. Across the road, Tom Yum Thai serves up a delicious family-style sukiyaki at the table. Admittedly, the food at Novotel is not going to blow you away, but it is decent enough, and with the spectacular beach setting it’s more than you can expect for this level of stay.
Oil massages at the resort’s Kanda Spa are soothing, with two spa treatment rooms boasting a sauna and bath, but an iced cloth, cold water, and foot washing on arrival would add some finesse. Massages poolside are also offered.
Whilst there is a kids’ pool, there is no children’s club, but this enhances the peaceful seaside ambiance. Meanwhile, napkin folding, fruit carving, flower-garland making, and Thai massage and cookery classes may seem eye-rollingly clichéd for people who are no strangers to Thailand, but they are surprisingly absorbing, promising a sweet hour or so out of the sunshine.
With a few interesting beach bars and restaurants, and a 20-minute walk to Chaweng’s main entertainment zone, Novotel has one of the best spots on the island for those who want a resort-style stay. Total luxury it is not, but what makes for a truly relaxing break is the superior service which is absolutely first-class.
By Nadia Willan
Novotel Samui Resort Chaweng Beach Kandaburi
20, Moo 2 Chaweng Beach, Bophut
Tel: 07 742 8888