Discover Thailand: Koh Samui

You can shake the sand from your shoes but it never leaves your soul.Unknown

After the hustle and bustle of five nights in Bangkok we boarded yet another internal flight for the short hop to the beautiful island of Koh Samui. This was our second trip to this little Thai tropical island but unlike 2009 where we stayed in the secluded Taling Ngam Bay on the West Coast this time we were staying in Chaweng, the island’s busiest and biggest town.

I’m not going to lie but having spent an afternoon and evening in raucous central Chaweng on our last trip my expectations of staying in this area were pretty low. It’s filled with cheap hotels, shops touting counterfeit goods and souvenirs, ladyboy shows, loads of backpackers and half/full moon parties, in short it’s party central. My concerns proved completely unnecessary as our amazing hotel, the Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort was located in the Northern end of Chaweng beach, an idyllic spot on a strip of pristine white beach with colourful fishing boats bobbing on the turquoise waters and views out to hilly headland beyond.

Samui is a sun-filled paradise island with a more relaxed pace in complete contrast to Bangkok, the perfect place to relax and it attracts all sorts of travelers from backpackers to honeymooners, families, total sun worshippers (if you were hardcore and could bear the intense heat and humidity of May) and those seeking a sanctuary for a healthy detox or training at a Muay Thai camp. Our five night stay was centered around the beach wedding of two good friends from Abu Dhabi at the splendid Villa Mia, just a short stroll along the beach from our resort.

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What we did……

If anyone reading this has ever been in a car with the other half driving you will appreciate how brave or just downright crazy I was to go on the back of a motorbike with him. Hiring motorbikes is a great fun but slightly dangerous way of seeing the island and helmets are mandatory unless you have a death wish. We enjoyed the experience and survived unscathed even after venturing out after dark for a group bike convoy to dinner in central Chaweng.

Copious amounts of Thai massage salons are dotted along the roads and we enjoyed several treatments during our stay that were awesome and like the rest of Thailand incredibly cheap. I also tried an intense reflexology foot massage and a traditional Thai facial that ended with my whole face covered in strips of chilled cucumber, both were fantastic.  

Wedding activities were spread over three events starting with a pre-wedding eve white party on the outdoor deck of the breathtaking RockPool at Kanda Residences Samui, the incredibly romantic sunset beach ceremony and a fabulous yacht party to Koh Pha-Ngan (read more about that here).

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As well as its idyllic beaches this island is also known for its thick mountainous jungle where you can partake in lots of adventurous activities such as hiking, rafting and zip lining through the trees. As we had previously toured the whole island we abstained from sightseeing on this trip but from memory (and throwback photos below) I can thoroughly recommend booking a tour where you get to climb and swim in the two Na Muang waterfalls, ride an elephant, interact with monkeys and get up close and personal with magnificent tigers (all these activities are probably not for those against animals used in tourism) and visit Wat Phra Yai temple to see the golden Big Buddha statue. A trip to Samui is not complete without seeing the South coast rock formations of Hin Ta (Grandpa) and Hin Yai (Grandma) which resemble male and female genitalia, seeing is believing. Samui is also a very popular place for diving and while the other half dived on our last visit, time constraints prevented him from doing it this time.

Where we ate…….

Much like the accommodation choices that range from backpacking budget affairs to unadulterated luxury retreats, Samui dining options are also yin and yang varying from cheap street food to world class chefs and restaurants.

We had dinner on our first night at the Ocean Kiss restaurant located at our hotel. The all-day open air venue with a seaview, it was also the location for breakfast every day. The menu is a mixture of a la carte Asian and Western favorites paired with good wines and premium beverages.

A firm favourite on Tripadvisor, Magnolia is a spa, cafe and studio that offers yoga, dance and meditation. We had a post massage lunch in the spacious cafe that specializes in salads and fresh baked cakes and pies, allegedly the best brownies on the island but we didn’t try them. The food was good, well-priced and the fresh coconuts were the ideal drink for rehydration.

The Kitchen Restaurant & Bistro in central Chaweng serves a range of Thai and international cuisine. Another TripAdvisor favourite it’s the ideal place to grab a spot of lunch as it’s affordable, good sized portions and suits most tastes. Service was good too and the pizza was tasty.

Our last day was also the other half’s birthday, just the excuse we needed to try the high-end gastro bar-come-restaurant The Larder before we flew back to Bangkok. The Larder was located opposite our hotel and had come recommended so was a no-brainer for birthday lunch. The British menu offers fuss free delicious options, although more pricey in comparison to local venues as expected. I was impressed with the food options as well as its extensive wine cellar and cocktails.

The only disappointing thing was that we were the only diners in this trendy venue at lunchtime (everyone else is sunbathing or sightseeing) but I expect it’s busier in the evening attracting the expats and wealthy tourists. The fresh modern food was well cooked and presented accompanied by a crisp rose and the deconstructed ‘Inside Out Bloody Mary’ for the birthday boy. The lunchtime offer of free dessert was a bonus, my indulgent chocolate fondant with ice-cream and an edible chocolate spoon was amazing – see the full menu here.

We also enjoyed some traditional Thai food in various local restaurants and street food including the famous Thai banana pancakes with Nutella that are covered in optional condensed milk (I opted out as the sweet milky topping was a step too far even for my sweet tooth), totally worth every calorie laden bite.

Where we stayed….

We stayed at the Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort, a tranquil haven of luxuriousness set into the hillside above a stretch of palm-lined beach (read the full hotel review here).  

IMG_5471If you are looking for a dreamy tropical island that offers you an opportunity to relax but also be active, to eat street food and indulge in fine-dining, to experience history and culture then lounge on a stretch of white sandy beach with a fresh coconut in hand, to be at one with nature and animals or go diving in the ocean, Koh Samui has it all and so much more. It’s the place where you immediately feel at home from the minute you land at the quirky open air airport, this island will leave you longing for your own cliffside holiday home so you can revisit time and time again.IMG_5549All views are my own. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2009/2016. All rights reserved. Pancake stand photo used with courtesy of Minh Nhat Nguyen.

Read my previous Thailand posts In Pictures: A Postcard from Thailand, Discover Thailand: Phuket , Review: La Flora Resort Patong, Discover Thailand: Bangkok, Review: Oriental Residence Bangkok and Review: Siam@Siam Design Hotel, Bangkok

For top tips and to find out more about Koh Samui check out this fantastic blog www.kohsamuisunset.com