Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-largest island, has come a long way. From palm-covered haven of tropical peace, it has grown into a sophisticated holiday destination.
The island’s palm-lined shorelines and nearby fruit and coconut plantations of the coastal lowlands gradually ascend to a central, granite-based massive, with the highest point at 653m. The slopes are largely covered in rainforest, featuring waterfalls and offer challenging trekking.
Samui’s beaches are rightly famous for their white sand, clear water and picturesque looks, many featuring huge granite boulders. Most of the island’s popular beaches – Chaweng, Lamai, Bophut, Maenam – are on the north and east coasts.
The centre of island activities is Chaweng Beach, a 6km-long strand that offers an array of restaurants and bars, and a lively nightlife scene. To the south of Chaweng is attractive Lamai, quieter and more relaxed, while Bophut, towards the top of the island, is the departure point for tours and ferries to neighbouring islands.
Bophut’s beach is not the best on the island, but its village has managed to retain its other-worldly charm with a ‘high street’ featuring wooden shophouses, colourful boutiques, quaint restaurants and bars, and even a couple of fine-dining establishments. East-coast beaches are safe all year around and the west coast has shallow-water beaches.
Samui is blessed with many standalone fine-dining venues as well as several excellent five-star hotel restaurants.
Long-standing favourites include red-themed Red Snapper on Chaweng’s main street that features live music every night, Mediterranean-influenced The Cliff on the ring road above Lamai, and Dr. Frogs in Bophut.
The impressive Tree Tops Sky Dining and Bar located in the Anantara Lawana Resort includes ‘treetop’ tables with a luxe jungle feel, amazing ocean views, romantic candle lights, hanging lanterns and even a ‘salt guru’ to provide bespoke service.
Also in Bophut, H Bistro in Hansar Resort has excellent cuisine served al-fresco or in air-conditioned luxury in a lovely beachside location.
To the north of the island, Six Senses hosts the fabulous Dining on the Rocks, a five-star ‘slow-cooking’ cuisine extravaganza for foodies. Fabulous 270-degree views of the sea and nearby islands are reason enough for a visit.
However, Chaweng is the undisputed epicentre of nightlife in Samui. If you like to dine and party on the beach, just go for a leisurely stroll and you’ll easily find where the action is that evening, as beach bars put on impromptu, fun parties.
Inland, Soi Green Mango hosts bars and clubs for all tastes such as Solo Club, Sweet Soul Café, Mint Bar, Ark Bar and Sound Pub; there’s even a ladyboy show. There are more bars in the ‘naughty’ category by Chaweng’s lake and they eventually lead to the huge Reggae Bar, a two-storey behemoth of classic rock music and reggae.
Up in the hills to the north of Chaweng you can dance to state-of- the-art grooves in style at Q Bar, overlooking the town and sea.
A few kilometres further down the coast, laid-back Lamai caters to expats as well as long-term visitors. It’s generally more of a family destination, but Lamai Central Plaza – a warren of bars and watering holes – can get quite lively. Bophut Beach warrants special mention for its tasteful ‘boho chic’, friendly bars and its delightful ‘back-in-time’ character.
The Santiburi Samui Country Club, also labelled ‘The Beast of Samui’ by its hapless victims, is located on the northeast coast of Samui in Maenam. The only 18-hole course on Samui has small fairways winding uphill and down, but this is offset by sizeable greens and the spectacular views over the island, the Gulf of Thailand and nearby Koh Phangan.
The nine-hole Royal Samui Golf and Country Club is also quite hilly, but while you’re catching your breath, you can enjoy views over Lamai Beach.
An absolute must is to sail to Ang Thong (Golden Bowl) National Park, an archipelago of some 42 islands only a couple of hours by boat from Samui. Koh Ang Thong, the most stunning, is a majestic limestone island with a collapsed centre, filled with an emerald-green lake that could double as the setting of a sci-fi movie.
On your own yacht, you can evade the standard routes of the tourist speedboats, stick to your own time schedule and discover some of the park’s deserted, quiet islands, where you might even be able to stroll on the beach alone and imagine your own private island. And if you’re looking for high-end spa and massage treatments, you’re in the right place. Samui excels in this area.
A long-time favourite is Tamarind Springs at Thong Takian, which opened in 1998. Set in a stunningly verdant jungle setting, the spa’s shady gardens are dotted with huge granite boulders. A steam room has been incorporated into the side of one of the biggest rocks. Wholesome steam therapies and Eastern and Western massages are popular.
Six Senses Spa offers top-of-the-range facilities and amenities as well as 270-degree views of the Gulf and Koh Phangan. Yoga, Reiki, hypnotherapy, tai chi and Pilates are also available.
The idyllic Rainforest Spa at Banyan Tree near Lamai Beach delivers unique water-treatments at differing temperatures and intensity, particularly effective for relaxing from a long flight or busy lifestyle.
There’s also Samui’s lush interior to discover. Hire your own vehicle and visit the waterfalls and treks in the cool early morning or late afternoon. Around Thong Krut and Bang Kao, you’ll come across delightful beach restaurants and simple Thai food stalls that might not look like much but offer deliciously authentic ‘unplugged’ Thai food.
As well as a rich array of land attractions, the surrounding waters offers a massive array of appealing destinations. For starters, sail around the coast to explore the numerous pretty coves and bays. The south coast is particularly rich in quiet, deserted beaches – you’ll have them to yourselves most days.
Whether you’re looking for quiet or action, water or land, high-end or rustic, Samui has it all.
(Note: The original article appeared in Yacht Style magazine Issue 45)
For more information, contact Camper & Nicholsons Asia
Thailand: Lies Sol [[email protected]]
Hong Kong: Sytske Kimman [[email protected]]
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