Divine beach vacations have erupted everywhere in the Land of a Thousand Smiles, particularly in Koh Samui, where tourism brings home the bacon for island dwellers. The amphoe or district, of Surat Thani Province, is inhabited by the Chao Samui people who are predominantly Buddhist.
Buddhist influences are ubiquitous in architecture, festivals, and way of life. The country’s third largest island, rich in natural resources, picturesque beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees, draws an estimated 1.5 million tourists per annum. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Koh Samui, an isolated, self-sufficient community, got closer connections with the mainland.
After the mushrooming of tourism in Koh Samui, it has become the nation’s second largest resort business after Bangkok, even surpassing Phuket. Samui has a languid, charming pace and it’s small enough to walk almost everywhere. Quaint, old shop houses along the middle street, whisper of an exotic history and the natives are always willing to give a welcoming wai.
Samui’s crown Chaweng
Chaweng Beach is the tourism muscle of Koh Samui. Tourists sing praises about the island’s most beautiful and reputable beach, with more hotel, restaurant and nightlife options than anywhere else.
A frenetic atmosphere hangs about and if you love to get lost in crowds, you want to see and be seen, Chaweng is undoubtedly top of the list.
The main strip is approximately three kilometres long, where all the action is, yet plenty of smaller hotspots have sprung up streets ahead, and is still growing.
Moulin Rouge is a famous cabaret show and bar, formerly called Christy’s Cabaret. You can catch three nightly shows where some 20 performers release their inner Lady Marmalade with song, dance and fabulous costumes.
The earlier show would be more family friendly; watch out, things fire up at later shows. Entry is free and drinks cost about 220 to 360 baht, which is slightly steeper than you would have to fork out at average bars or nightclubs. Still the entertaining dance numbers should be well worth the upped price.
Thailand’s national sport, Muay Thai, though regarded as a top deadliest form of martial arts, is surprisingly graceful to watch. Chaweng has two boxing stadiums which organise regular Muay Thai bouts featuring international as well as resident fighters.
To witness this dynamic art of defence, visit Chaweng Stadium or the newer Phetch Buncha Stadium. Chaweng Stadium in the leading centre on Samui island. Fights are usually held twice a week with an additional third match during peak seasons. Ten smaller bouts warm up the audience before the main event. The heat really packs as the live commentator and Thai music flood the stadium.
Lazy in Lamai
Though it lingers behind Chaweng as the largest resort hub on Samui, Lamai Beach is by no means minimalist, and certainly does not play second banana to its big sister. The mood in Lamai is laissez-faire, with cheaper tourist facilities than Chaweng. However, the trend is moving from, as they say, ‘cheap and cheerful’, to a smarter, more high-end style of accommodations and dining.
It’s worth hiring a jeep or motorbike to explore the vicinity as a lot of attractions can be found on the outskirts of Lamai. Two of the island’s most famed tourist sites are the Hin Ta Hin Yai and Wat Khunaram. Hin Ta Hin Yai, meaning Grandfather Rock and Grandmother Rock respectively, are a bizzare cluster of phallic rocks that are as popular with the Thais as they are with foreigners.
Legend has it that an elderly couple by the name of Ta Kreng and Yai Riem, lived with their son on Nakhon Si Thammarat. When the son had come of age, they felt that it was time for him to be married. They decided to sail to the neighbouring province to ask for the hand of the daughter of a man named Ta Monglai.
During their voyage, their boat was seized by a storm and they drowned, turning into rocks as proof to the would-be bride’s parents of their true intentions. The rocks stand there to this day and resemble male and female genitalia. A true case of Ripley’s believe it or not!
Wat Khunaram is the resting place of Koh Samui’s Mummified Monk. The monk, Luong Pordaeng died in 1973, seated in meditative position, and ever since his body has been on display in an upright glass case at the temple.
Apparently, his remains show little sign of decay. Putting a corpse up for public viewing may seem shocking to some, but to the natives, it is something to reflect upon and revere.
Five star stays
Remote and romantic with no neighbours on either side, Rocky’s Boutique Resort and Spa is concealed in a cove a short distance from Lamai Beach. Its enviable location gives it the luxury of blissful isolation, looking out over the unmatched panorama of the Gulf of Thailand; yet it takes only a short ride to reach the heart of downtown Lamai for shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
Accommodation features three samui villas and 47 bungalows, all well spaced and set on various levels from the ground. Beachfront bungalows string the length of the shoreline, while ocean-view bungalows are more elevated, providing a better view of the bay. Rocky’s villas rest even higher, nestled among lush palm trees.
If you don’t fancy straying too far from the resort for exciting goings on, then dip your toes into the full list of tours and activities to ensure a thoroughly packed timetable and fun experience. What’s a trip to Koh Samui without going under the sea? Seeing is believing - crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling and diving. Glimpse exotic tropical fish and striking corals.
Prefer to be dry but still want to be out there on the open ocean? Just charter a private Thai-style long tail boat at the resort for fishing and sunset cruises. The resort also offers guided island tours, safaris, elephant treks, golf courses and driving range. Those who love to be in the kitchen can try their hand at the Thai cooking classes.
In the capable hands of Rocky’s masseuses, guests are spoiled with a good rub down at outdoor spa treatments, as they listen to the lapping waves. Choose from the most expensive, the Herbal Thai Compress Massage, to a simple manicure or pedicure, then just kick back and unwind.
Seventeen kilometres away from Rocky’s Boutique Resort, up north of the island, Melati Beach Resort & Spa sits along an inviting beach on Thongson Bay. The opulent resort, boasting early Southern Thai architecture with elements of traditional feng shui, houses 77 units of generous proportions for your ‘great escape’.
Melati’s five star dining options include all-day Eastern and Western dining at The View Restaurant. Adjacent to the resort waterfall, Kan Sak Thong Restaurant serves authentic Thai cuisine as well as Thai French fusion.
For a more casual ambiance, chill out at See View Terrace & Lounge, a tranquil beachside pavilion, where rotating events such as Sports Night, Ice Cream Social and other interesting themes make for pleasurable dining. The coolest hangout to be on a hot day is the See View Bar. Knock back your favourite poison or try one of mixologist, Joseph Boroski’s signature libations.
And how would dinner by the beach sound for starry-eyed couples? A canopy overhead, candles a glimmer, Kir Royales - the formula for an unforgettable evening.
By the waterfall and pond, Melati Spa provides an extensive array of wraps, scrubs, massages and facials. Get a taste of ‘The Essence of the Orient’ with jasmine as the dominant ingredient; you are given a jasmine scrub and Melati massage.
New on the bill of fare is the ‘Indigenous Coconut Experience’. The award-winning treatment combines natural herbs and modern massage techniques for absolute relaxation of body, mind and soul.
Fork, spoon and glass
Koh Samui is a foodie’s paradise—a very apt argument if there ever was one. You get lip-smacking local delights and international fare at every corner of every beach. Our suggestion would be to start with local Thai food, then for a contrast, try Royal Thai cuisine.
It traces its roots back to the cosmopolitan palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351–1767 CE). And if you’re missing food from your home country, you’re bound to find an eatery that serves it somewhere on the island.
Nuch’s Green Ta’lay Restaurant on a quiet area at the west end of Thong Krut bay is the place to sample the yummiest of central Thai food. Chef Nuch and second cook, Nin have worked together for years, before jointly opening this restaurant, said to serve genuine Thai dishes that are hard to find elsewhere on the island.
Their signature dish is green curry and is quite simply the finest on the island as voted by customer. Another dish that comes highly recommended is the steamed fish with Chinese mushrooms and ginger. If you like a good bottle of wine, Green Ta’lay has a select range of both new and old world wines, at affordable prices.
All the hype about Royal Thai cuisine can best be explained through a dining experience at The Muda House. A 100-year-old house with all the trappings delivers sophisticated and pricey Thai dining, presented with nightly shows—a culinary and cultural encounter rolled into one.
Savour your royal meal in luxury as you simultaneously feast on the Poo Chao Dance, Thep Banthoeng Dance, Cut Lamchiak flower Dance and more.
The Green Mango Club strip still forms the axis around which town bars revolve and is packed with mostly young party animals night after night. Koh Samui super-club’s location in Chaweng’s buzzing beach district spins cool tunes in a huge, airy alfresco space. There are multiple bars and dance floors accessible via wooden bridges suspended over the mango river.
The rustic island construction is inspired green mango’s iconic tree house design, complimented by the latest sound systems, creative lighting and contemporary music. Green mango’s has the distinction of having a whole party street named after it—Soi green mango on Chaweng Beach Road.
City of Good People
Surat Thani, often Surat for short, received its name from King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1915. The name which translates as ‘city of good people’ was bestowed due to intense devotion of the locals to Buddhism. Surat Thani province is divided into 19 amphoe in total, including Koh Samui.
Samui. despite frequently being passed over as a mere transfer to the nearby popular Koh Samui island, Surat does have a few sightseeing treasures which deserve the limelight. Khao Sok national park is swathed by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world.
Leviathan limestone mountains shooting up in the air, valleys swoop deep below, breathtaking lakes, exciting caves, wild animals and much more. You’ll never suffer a moment’s boredom as there are scores of things to do like elephant trekking, canoeing, jeep safaris, not to mention boat tours to Cheow Larn Lake.
Cheow Larn, with majestic mountains rising hundreds of metres above the turquoise waters has to be to most attractive feature of the park. Don’t miss out on a chance to stay overnight in a floating bungalow, where you will wake up to the cries of the gibbons and hornbills, and feel at peace with all the world.
An archipelago of 42 isles forms up the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. Enter this destination by safari speed boats that will take you around to see caves, hidden lagoons, white beaches and Emerald Lake. Ang Thong is a thriving and vibrant quarter in Thailand where diving activities are concerned.
Established to preserve marine life, visitors who have had a spot of diving at this lake simply cannot get enough of its astonishing underwater denizens. Travel back through time at the Folklore Museum, a significant landmark in Chaiya City with an impressive collection of historical artefacts; bone China, pottery, shadow puppets, ancient instruments and a ceramic opium pillow.
The said ethnology museum has a charming reconstructed kitchen, veranda, and birthing room, typical of a Thai village house, known as a ‘tied house’. There’s even an intriguing exhibit of specialised contraptions, invented to trap critters from birds to bugs.
So have you a nice, long holiday on your hands? Want to immerse yourself in a bout of balmy beach weather? Then book a flight to sunny Koh Samui and you’ll quickly be bought over by the daytime indolence and nightlife buzz.
Capital: Koh Samui, Thailand
Currency: Baht (MYR 1 = THB 10.10)
Weather: Ko Samui is warm and moist for most of the year. However, in comparison to Phuket and most of the rest of Southern Thailand, the weather is relatively dry. The heaviest precipitation is typically seen in October and November. For the rest of the year, rains usually don’t last long.
Getting there: AirAsia flies three times a week from KL to Surat Thani. Other airlines are also available.
Moo 2, Laem Din Road,
Chaweng, Koh Samui,
Tel: 66–7741 3504
The Green Mango Club
Bo Phut, Koh Samui,
Khao Sok National Park
Khlong Sok, Phanom,
Tel: 66–7739 5139
Melati Beach Resort & Spa
9/99 Moo 5, Bophut,
Thongson Bay, Koh Samui,
Tel: 66–2530 7866
Chaweng Beach Road,
The Muda House
Chaweng Lake Side,
199/11-12 M.2 Bo Phut,
Koh Samui, Surat Thani
Tel: 66–7748 4985
Nuch’s Green Ta’lay
31/4 Moo 5,
Thong Krut, Taling Ngam,
Koh Samui, Surat Thani
Tel: 66–8879 956
Phetch Buncha Stadium
Moo 3, Chumchon Chaweng Yai
Soi 13, Chaweng, Koh Samui,
Rocky’s Boutique Resort
438/1 Moo 1,
T. Maret, Amphur,
Tel: 66–7723 3020
45/1-2 M.1 Thongsala Koh
Tel: 66–7723 8232