Sitting back with Singa beers, a 360 degree view across the island, we watched as the storm clouds rolled in. There was a spectacular display of lightning in the distance, edging ever closer, yet it was barmy and warm. Overlooking Chaweng at the Jungle Club waiting for local Thai food, this was the perfect end to my first day on Koh Samui.
I have been to Samui once before and its beautiful combination of pristine beaches, coconut groves and culture make it perfect for a sunshine getaway. Whether you like partying, shopping, wellness retreats or the trendiest restaurants and bars, this holiday island has something for you.
Staying at the striking colonial Manathai hotel feels like a real indulgence. Sinking into the crisp linen on huge four-poster beds at day’s end or recovering from sightseeing with a bath and a chill out in the living room with its floor to ceiling white shutters makes it a real sanctuary. There were some days that I fancied doing nothing so an escorted walk across the road to their instagram worthy beach front pool and I could swim, tan, eat and drink my way to relaxation.
There are five restaurants – from Mulligan’s Irish Bar to Coffee World and Pad Thai – to choose from, but don’t go home without dining at their Waterline restaurant. Italian Executive Chef Roberto Belliti offers an exquisite Mediterranean interpretation of local in-season ingredients. I was brave and let Roberto choose my meal from his imaginative menu and wasn’t disappointed. After a flavourful bruschetta inspired amuse bouche, first course was Salmon in the Garden – a lemongrass cured salmon that cut like butter and simply melted in the mouth. I loved that the dressing was provided in a miniature watering can. Sticking to the theme, main course was The Farm – a tender Angus beef fillet topped with chicken and foie gras and accompanied by miniature, yet perfect garden vegetables. I finished with a chocolate and beetroot fondant served with a goat’s cheese ice-cream.
While Manathai is a haven, this island has so much to offer and their ever attentive staff can help you to develop an itinerary of discovery that will make all your facebook friends green with envy.
Being fascinated by the peaceful modern Buddhism that is practice in Thailand I was keen to see as much of it – both ceremonial and commonplace – as I could. My journey started at Wat Khunara, the temple of the mummified monk. Serenely preserved in a case of glass, sat cross-legged in a meditative pose, he is quite an unusual site. At the Wat, you can have a water blessing from one of the monks, discover your fortune and learn your ‘day of the week’ Buddha posture.
The Big Buddha is stunning for its size and beauty, as is the 18 armed Buddha at Wat Plai Laem. For an authentic local temple experience however, buy a monk gift and head to Wat pagoda Laem Sor for a blessing. You will need someone who speaks Thai and English to help you to understand the ceremony but it is a beautiful experience.
*If you see a copy of Without and Within: Questions and answers on the teachings of Theravada Buddhism, consider taking it home. It is a dense read but a beautiful book to dip in and out of to gain a better understanding of Buddism in the region.
Elephant trekking can be a controversial thing. There is no longer enough jungle for the elephants to live in the wild in many places in Thailand and since logging with elephants has been banned, many captive elephants and their mahout must find a way to exercise and earn their keep or risk starving. The Namuang Safari Park is recognised in Koh Samui as looking after their elephants while still providing interaction with tourists. It is still a trekking camp rather than a rehabilitation camp but care is taken to keep the elephants in good health and not over work them. While there, take a walk to the creatively named Waterfall 2 where you can cool off in the pool at the bottom of the main waterfall.
Grandfather (Hin Ta) and Grandmother (Hin Yai) rocks off Lamai beach are a popular tourist destination to see and have a little chuckle about, as they resemble the male and female genitalia. The roads leading to the rocks are dotted with little market stalls that specialise in coconut refreshments from fudge and ice-cream to coconut oil and refreshing drinks, so make sure you tries these on your way or your way back. The Magic Gardens Sculpture Garden is also worth a visit. Created by retired durian farmer Khun Nim Thongsuk, it is his artistic reflection of heaven and hell.
If local markets and food is your thing, seek out the night walking streets or night plazas that move around the island depending what day of the week it is. From cocktails and local delicacies to souvenirs and caricatures there is something for everyone but dare to be adventurous and try something different (ok maybe not crickets but you get what I mean!).
As my time on the island draws to a close I’m bronzed and relaxed and feel recharged – ready to take on the world – or my next deadline. I leave, plotting of my return to the palm fringed beaches of this diverse and cosmopolitan island.
Flights daily to Koh Samui via Singapore or Bangkok. Miss B stayed at the Manathai Koh Samui.