Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Tongsai Bay

There are not many resorts in Koh Samui or even in the Samui archipelago that can boast that it has its own private beach. Off the top of my head, there is the Santhiya  Resort and Spa that has a small (and mostly unused) beach next to Thong Nai Pan Noi’s main stretch of sand. And there is Charm Churee Village in Koh Tao that has a private beach just south of Sairee beach. Add to this list the Tongsai Bay. It is a resort that names itself after the beach where it is placed. The hotel is eponymous.

However, both the Tongsai Bay Resort and the beach at Tongsai are of an equally high standard thus the two deserve to be treated together. The beach is fine white sand flanked by rocks at both sides. Behind the beach the land gently inclines and is covered in coconut palms and tropical vegetation. It is one of the most picturesque beaches in Koh Samui.

One of the major attractions of the beach is that it is very peaceful. There is no traffic noise; there are not hundreds of sun loungers lining the beach. There aren’t any beach vendors patrolling the sands; there isn’t a row of bars competing with each other by turning up their sound systems. It is just tranquil.

The Tongsai Bay is set in 25 acres of tropical land. At the front of the resort, next to the beach is a large free form swimming pool with little islands of shade. Behind is a hotel accommodation block and spread out to either side are individual villas.

In total there are 83 rooms in the resort all with sea views. Each room features air-con, hot water, satellite TV, mini bar and private balcony. There are cottage suites and beachfront suites with baths with views over the bay. At the top end are private pool villas.

The Tongsai Bay has 3 restaurants, 2 bars, a fitness center and a spa. There is also a tennis court. Guests are given unlimited free drinking water and have access to babysitting services. The resort is very much self-contained. There is even free golf buggy transport within the resort.

One of the secrets of the Tongsai Bay is that the management are also the owners. In this way they keep their eyes firmly on the ball and try to ensure customer satisfaction. They even host a free cocktail party twice a week.

Tongsai Bay and the Tongsai Bay Resort are located just north of Choeng Mon beach in the north east corner of Koh Samui. To get a better notion of the place, have a look at this video below.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thong Tanote and Phangka

These are two of the least visited beaches in Koh Samui. They are situated on the south-west peninsula in an area that has escaped the uncontrolled development that has marred the beauty of places such as Chaweng and Lamai. Both Thong Tanote and Phangka are in a region where you can still see the traditional wooden houses of fishermen used as such not turned into expensive boutique shops (as is the case in Bophut).

There are few bars in this area. The restaurants are small local affairs where you can sample authentic island food at prices far below those on the menus in other parts of the island.

Thong Tanote

Thong Tanote is a small secluded beach with palm trees leaning towards the water. It is a narrow beach behind which is plenty of open space. The sea here recedes quite far at low tide. At high tide it is suitable for swimming. The sand is not the finest on Koh Samui, however this is made up for the fact that if you stay at Thong Tanote there is a good chance that you will be the only person around when you venture down to the beach. Thong Tanote offers idyllic seclusion.

There are few accommodation choices at Thong Tanote. At the cheaper end of the accommodation spectrum is Jinta Beach Bungalows that offers fan or air-con huts that start at 600 THB in the low season. Jinta Beach Bungalows is run by a local family. The resort includes a small pool and a restaurant.

The best place to stay in Thong Tanote is Coconut Villa Resort and Spa. It has hotel style rooms and has a pool with swim up bar, free wifi access, a restaurant and a spa.

Phangka

Just around the headland and facing west is Phangka beach. It is also called the Emerald Bay. It is without doubt one of the most remote spots on the island. At Phangka there is a small fishing village where you can still witness traditional island life. Here you can hire a longtail boat to take you out to the two small islands just off the coast called Koh Mutsum and Koh Tan. These deserted islands are surrounded by coral reefs that are great for snorkeling.

The resorts at Phangka are fairly well self-contained as there are few facilities in the area. The stand out place is Elements Boutique Resort and Spa. It features private pool villas with direct access to the beach. It is a very stylish place where the staff pampers the guests with luxury. Check out their promo video below.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Phangka has probably the best sunset on Koh Samui. It is an ideal spot for honeymooners who want privacy and a beach to themselves.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Coral Cove Bay



Coral Cove Bay is interesting in that it is sandwiched between the very popular beaches of Chaweng and Lamai and yet it is a quiet and peaceful beach that gets very few visitors. Many of the people who do book a resort in Coral Cove Bay are slightly mislead. They read the address of the resort as ‘Chaweng Road’ and erroneously conclude that the resort must be on the edge of Chaweng.

These people should not be disappointed. Coral Cove Bay is a gem of a beach. It is the perfect spot to relax and escape the crowds of Chaweng to the north and Lamai to the south. The beach at Coral Cove Bay has just as good sand as its more famous neighbors. It is also just as good for swimming.

The one advantage that Coral Cove Bay has over its bigger and more famous neighbors is that it is better for snorkeling. There are numerous giant boulders in the sea that form a haven for corals to form. It is a very short swim out from the beach to find great snorkeling spots which hold a colorful profusion of fish and corals.

The beach at Coral Cove Bay is only 200 meters long so there are only a few beachfront places to stay at. More accommodation can be found at the edges of the beach set on dramatic cliff locations. One such example is the Kamala Samui. It is a luxury resort that boasts private pool villas with stunning sea views. The Kamala Samui has boutique interior design, a communal pool that features imported Balinese stone and a restaurant that serves fusion cuisine. The resort also has a private pier. They offer guests free fishing equipment, snorkeling equipment and kayak use. Guests at The Kamala Samui might initially be disappointed that they are not staying in Chaweng but on the Chaweng Road, but will soon come to appreciate the gorgeous scenery and luxury atmosphere of the Kamala Samui.

At the other end of the accommodation spectrum are Coral Cove Resort and Hi Coral Cove. These two resorts are also on hills. They have communal pools and offer both air-con and fan bungalows; the latter for as little as 500 Thai Baht a night.

If you are in Koh Samui and looking for something near the action of Chaweng but don’t really fancy staying on a beach with thousands of other people then Coral Cove Bay is a great option.

Coral Cove Bay is reached via the main ring road on the island. The turning for the beach is very easy to miss so drive slowly when you get south of Chaweng Noi.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Choeng Mon

 
Choeng Mon is the name of a beach on the northeast peninsula of Koh Samui. It is an area that is blessed with some of the best and most peaceful beaches on the island. It is also an area that is ideally located near a number of good beaches, transport hubs and shopping areas. It is no surprise therefore that some of the best hotels in Koh Samui are located in Choeng Mon.

The beach at Choeng Mon is wide and sweeps in a crescent around a bay on the peninsula. It is blessed with the same fine white sand that is found at Chaweng and Lamai. Unlike many of the beaches in Koh Samui, especially in the south and west, the sea bed is sandy and free of dead corals that can cut the feet of swimmers.

The atmosphere of Choeng Mon is very different from the nearby beaches of Bophut and Chaweng. Despite the high quality of the beach the area is free of an urban center. There a few shops and bars but nothing that really qualifies as nightlife. This is not an area where men prowl for sex workers or young people go to listen to dance music. The peace and quiet along with the great beach are the great draw cards for Choeng Mon. Residents at Choeng Mon have the option to make the short journey to Chaweng or Bophut if they want bars, live music and other night diversions.

The location of Choeng Mon is another noteworthy point about the beach. Not only is it close to Chaweng and Bophut it is also just 10 minutes from Samui Airport. Other transport hubs nearby are Big Buddha pier (ferries to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao) and Maenam pier (ferries and speed boats to Haad Rin and Thong Nai Pan in Koh Phangan). Luckily Choeng Mon is not under the flight paths from the airport, unlike Big Buddha beach.

Choeng Mon is also not far away from Big C supermarket and Tesco Lotus supermarket that have a wide variety of products for sale at very reasonable prices. Tesco Lotus also has a cheap food court with lots of Thai dishes on offer.

Also Choeng is very close to the iconic Big Buddha statue in Bang Rak. It is a 12 meter high golden Buddha statue at the top of a wide staircase that has become one of the strongest symbols for Koh Samui.

Cheong Mon accommodation is some of the best in Koh Samui. The best hotel is the Sala Samui Resort and Spa that features some of the most stunning architecture and interior design on the island. Sala Samui has taken the best of modern Thai design to make an exclusive resort that features pool villas with open air baths. The resort has 2 communal swimming pools, a boardroom, floating massage salas and 80 meters of private beachfront.

Not as architecturally successful but very ambitious is the Imperial Boat House Beach Resort. The theme is rice barges. All the accommodations are shaped as boats. The large central pool is also in a boat shape. The effect is like a fishing fleet that has been flung into the jungle by a tidal wave.

Q Signature Samui is perched on a hill near the beach. It brings a touch of boutique style to its aesthetic using Thai sloping roofs. It is located at the southern end of Choeng Mon Bay.

For those on a budget Choengmon Buri Hotel is a 1 minute walk from the beach and has air-con rooms with hot water, fridge and TV starting at 680 Thai Baht a night.

For convenience, for tranquility, for quality of beach, for stylish accommodation it is hard to find better on Koh Samui than Choeng Mon.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Lipa Noi


Lipa Noi is a beach on the quiet West coast of Koh Samui that makes a great holiday destination for those people looking to relax by a beautiful beach and escape the noise of cars and motorbikes. The banks, markets and other conveniences of Nathon are only a 10 minute car journey away from the tranquil beach of Lipa Noi.

The beach at Lipa Noi is one of the best on the West coast. Not only does it have a spectacular sunset over the sea it also has fine white sand that is free of dead coral. Many of the other beaches in Koh Samui have sea beds with pieces of coral that can cut the feet. This is not the case at Lipa Noi so it is a better spot for swimming. The sea gets deep gradually so the beach is good for people with children.

There are a few shops and local Thai restaurants in the Lipa Noi area. The best place to get food, however, remains the perennially popular Big John Seafood that serves up seafood that is both fresh and well presented.

Along the beach there are a number of resorts to choose from. Places such as Viva Vacation Resort, Lipa Lodge Beach Resort, Rajapruek Samui Resort and The Lipa Lovely Resort all offer rooms with air-con, hot water, TV and fridge with a communal pool. There is also the luxury option of the Kanok Buri Resort and Spa that has private pool and Jacuzzi villas. The Kanok also has a fitness center and a spa.

Lipa Noi attracts families, couples and pensioners looking for a beach holiday away from the egregious behavior on display in Lamai and Chaweng. It is also a beach like Laem Set that draws those people wanting to detox and spiritually rejuvenate. Such people head for the Samui Dharma Healing Center. This is a place where guests undertake fasts to detox and study meditation.

Finally, in Lipa Noi there is the Samui Handcraft OTOP Place. This is a small shop and workshop that produces a variety of bowls, vases, condiment holders and other household products all made from coconut. It is a reminder of how the coconut used to be the mainstay of the Koh Samui economy, and how versatile the palm is.

If you have been to Koh Samui before and you are looking for a beach less hectic than Chaweng but still in touch with the amenities of the island then Lipa Noi is not a bad option.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Sailing in Koh Samui

 
Sailing is a sport that is growing in popularity all the time. There is a certain sense of freedom to be found on the open sea with nothing but the elements all around; the wind in your hair, the sound of the sails snapping; being the master of your own destiny. It costs a lot of money to buy your own yacht, more than it does to buy your own car, and that is why a yacht remains a potent status symbol of the rich and the jet set.

There is a fledgling yachting scene in Koh Samui. The best place if you want to experience yachting in Koh Samui is Saard’s Water sports Center. It is located in Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village next to the ferry pier.

Saard’s Watersports Center offers tour groups on 4 boats. There are tours to Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, and Angthong Marine Park. The Koh Phangan tour takes people snorkeling in Koh Ma off the coast of Koh Phangan then onto the beautiful beach of Thong Nai Pan then Than Sadet (place of a famous waterfall) and finally a short stop at Haad Rin. The Koh Tao tour takes in the famous triple islets of Nang Yuan. Ang Thong Marine Park is a collection of 40 uninhabited islands with many hidden beaches, sea caves, unusual rock formations, an inland lake and great snorkeling spots.

If you want something more private you can hire a boat by the day or the hour. The price includes a captain and a deckhand. There are 4 boats to choose from. The pick of the crop is ‘Kindred Spirit’. It is a catamaran with 3 double rooms. It is 13.1 meters in length and 9.6 meters wide. It has a speed under motor of 7 knots and 12 knots by sail. It is the perfect boat to take off on a journey to explore the nearby Gulf. The cost is 40,000 Thai Baht per day.

There are also 3 boats that can be hired by the day but are not suitable for overnight stays unless you camp on a beach. The fastest is ‘Sting’. It has two 300 HP engines and has a shallow bottom. It can seat 13 people in its air-con lounge.

‘Natalie’ is 38 feet in length can sit 25 people for day trips. It costs 9,000 THB an hour to privately charter. ‘Natalie’ has twin 250 HP motors.

The smallest boat in the fleet is ‘Panyawan’. It is 6.2 meters in length and can seat 5 people. The boat has twin 85 HP engines.

If you are interested in yachts or want to find out more about private boat hire then Saard’s is a good place to start. You can probably find cheaper speed boats for hire elsewhere in Koh Samui. What is special about Saard’s is the catamaran it has - surely, one of the most beautiful boats on the island.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Live Cheaply in Koh Samui

 

In the Past


There used to be lots of ex-pats living in Thailand, often on a very informal basis. Thailand is a country that has grown accustomed to over-charging tourists for everything from bottled water to Thai food to taxi journeys. Ex-pats have got around this problem by learning a few words of Thai and making local friends.

It used to be possible to get a series of tourist visas for Thailand by nipping over a border every 3 months. Foreigners worked in bars, dive shops and generally survived on a small budget in order to live next to a beach, in Bangkok or up in the north. Successive Thai governments have done a lot to clamp down on this. They have ordered their embassies in Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia to not renew tourist visas. They also made a few half-hearted efforts to raid dive shops.

Nowadays


Nowadays if you want to live in Thailand you have to marry a local, be sponsored by a company or get a pensioner visa. As a result many of the beaches in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan have lost many of their long term foreign residents.

Cheapest cost to live in Koh Samui


To live a basic life in Koh Samui you need a minimum of 15,000 Thai Baht. a month The cheapest rooms and bungalows have to be hunted out. They are normally privately owned places and can be had for between 3,000 and 5,000 Thai Baht a month.Most of these places are in the quieter south of the island. Don't expect to find them by searching on the internet!

As you can calculate, that leaves between 10,000 and 12,000 THB for living costs. The great thing about Koh Samui is that supermarkets such as Tesco Lotus make it possible to self-cater cheaply. The supermarkets charge everyone the same price.

If you have the funds to buy a moped (about $1,000) you can cut out most transport costs. Taxi drivers in Koh Samui never go on the meter. If you are on a budget they are out of the question.

On 15,000 THB a month it is still possible to go out occasionally to local bars and restaurants. Invaluable places for those on a tight budget are the numerous 7-11s on the island. They have cheap food, drinks and beer. They will also give you hot water if you want to eat a pot noodle.

Other than going to the beach most things in Chaweng and Lamai will be outside this budget.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Nathon has the best markets on the island. They are good places to shop for household goods and fresh produce.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Mummy of Koh Samui


The story of the mummified monk


The mummified body of Loung Por Ruam is the only mummified monk in Thailand and possibly in the Buddhist world. Whereas the Russian Orthodox Church and communist parties have a desire to preserve the bodies of inspirational leaders, the Buddhist faith has been opposed to the idea.

The story is that Loung Pordaeng (monks receive new names when the join an order) was a wealthy resident of Koh Samui. He saw the proverbial light and donated his wealth to charity and joined an order of monks on the island.

In then sat down to meditate. That was 30 years ago. He died and his death was not noticed at first. When it was noticed people were amazed to discover that his body was not decomposing. This event drew notice in the local area and the dead monk soon attracted a following. His death was considered a miracle. Very much against the wishes of the other monks Loung Por Ruam was mummified and put in a glass case.

The Condition of Koh Samui's mummy


Even after all this time the body of the monk looks in good condition: he still has some hair, fingernails and leathery skin. The sunglasses give the monk a slightly comical aspect. I need not remind you that laughing in a temple while not forbidden shows very poor taste when the laughter is directed at an object of veneration.

Where is the mummified monk?


The mummified monk of Koh Samui can be found near the beach of Baan Ban Kao in Wat Khunaram. It is free to enter the temple; as with all temples in Thailand legs and arms should be covered when in the temple.

A miracle of sorts


As a final note I am reminded of the Brothers Karamazov. The grand patriarch that the one religious Karamazov brother Alexei loved was nearing the end of life. In the story it goes that many of the monks were convinced that when the old patriarch died he wouldn’t decompose. Sadly, the story goes that he did. It seems that defying the forces of nature after death is a fairly common idea of a miracle. In the heat of Thailand it seems even more miraculous.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Hilton Arrives in Koh Samui

Introducing the Hilton to Koh Samui


Hilton / Conrad have recently opened their second hotel in Thailand. The first hotel is in Bangkok and this year (2011) Conrad Koh Samui Resort and Spa opened. This underlines the importance of Koh Samui as a destination for the affluent.

Conrad Koh Samui Resort and Spa is located in the Taling Ngam area of Koh Samui in the south-west. The resort consists of 80 free standing villas facing west and overlooking the tranquil beach of Aow Thai.


Private pool villas with sunset views


The villas are cleverly arranged to fan around a hillside so that they all have sea and sunset views. There are 65 one-bedroom villas, 14 two-bedroom villas and 1 Royal Thai Villa. All the villas feature private plunge pools with sea views.

As would be expected of a Conrad / Hilton each villa is stylishly appointed and feature LCD flat screen TV, iPod docking center and wireless internet. The rooms are in a contemporary Thai style with unique art work, Thai silk and tropical hardwood floors.

The Conrad Koh Samui has private cellar dining as well as cliff top dining at the Jahn Restaurant. There’s also Mediterranean dining at the Zest Restaurant. Sunset cocktails are available at the Glow Lounge.

The resort also features a cutting-edge designed spa that offers a range of holistic treatments, a fitness center and a floating pier.

The Conrad Koh Samui Resort and Spa is definitely one of the leading places to stay in Koh Samui. It is 28 kilometers from the airport.

The downside


The only downside to the Conrad Koh Samui is that the area of Taling Ngam is a quiet one with very little to offer in terms of nightlife. Moreover, the beach is nothing special. As with so many of the luxury hotels in Koh Samui they seem to be about trapping guests in remote spots so that the resort takes the lion’s share of the guests spending on food, drink, souvenirs etc.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Laem Set


Laem Set is both a quiet beach and a beach with plenty to do and see. This is unusual for Koh Samui (and much of Thailand) where the main tourist hubs are also the places offering the most entertainment. If you want to see animals while in Koh Samui then Laem Set is the place to go. It is also a popular place for those looking to practice yoga and other healing arts.

Laem Set is located in the south east of Koh Samui, 20 minutes from Lamai. It is a beautiful beach area with plenty of nature to enjoy. There is a coral reef 100 meters out from the beach that offers snorkeling opportunities. The beach has high tides and the best swimming is between April and October. At other times the sea doesn’t get deep for a long distance out to sea. Also there are lots of dead coral in the sand that can cut feet. Some resorts offer free plastic shoes for the sea.

For those interested in water sports there is a place next to the Samui Orchid Resort that offers kite boarding.

One of the biggest draw cards for Laem Set is the Samui Aquarium and Tiger Show. It costs 250 THB to enter per person and hosts aquatic shows as well as the island’s biggest aquarium. There is also an aviary. For children the Samui Aquarium and Tiger Show is no doubt a winner. Where else can you touch a tiger? Naturally people who voted on Trip Advisor gave the place a 96% thumbs down. One has to question the living conditions of the tigers and why they are so placid for the tourists.

Accommodation in Laem Set


Laem Set has a few mid-range and luxury accommodations. The biggest resort is the Samui Orchid Resort. It has hotel rooms, private villas and private pool villas. There are 3 pools and 3 restaurants. Pleasingly enough they also don’t insist on you buying a Christmas or New Year dinner like many other places on Koh Samui.

Shasa Resort and Residences will appeal to those put off by the thought of staying at the Samui Orchid. It is a stylish boutique resort that offers well appointed apartment style accommodation with 24 butler service. The restaurant ‘The Z’ is the coolest spot to have dinner on the beach.

The other notable place to stay in Laem Set is the Kamalaya. It combines luxury accommodation with lots of resources for wellness. On arrival guests are given a ‘wellness’ consultation. Also one on leaving. The Kamalaya has rooms and private Jacuzzi and pool villas. As you would expect there’s lessons available in yoga, pranayama, tai chi, chi gong and Pilates. They have a far infrared ray sauna and a fitness center with personal trainers on request. The Kamalaya also has a large communal pool and restaurant that caters for all dietary requirements. It is one of the leading wellness centers in Koh Samui.

The other thing of note about Laem Set is that on the hill behind the beach is The Butterfly Garden. It is a large garden under netting with a profusion of butterflies to admire. It seems more humane to cage butterflies than it does tigers. This costs 120 Thai Baht a person.

Laem Set thus offers snorkeling, a quiet beach setting, wellness treatments, tiger shows, kite boarding and plenty of butterflies. This makes Laem Set one of the quirkiest beaches in Koh Samui.