Whether you’re relaxing or raving, this unique island paradise has something for everyone; alongside scenery guaranteed to knock you sideways – because there’s way more to Thailand than Bangkok.
As the crystal water lazily laps up against the beach – almost as lazily as the tourists relaxing by it – another plane skims delicately over the treetops shuttling in another selection of holidaymakers and locals from Bangkok.
While slightly less cautious tourists slowly cook in the mid-afternoon sun, and you casually sip on a coconut sporting a colourful miniature umbrella, something becomes abundantly clear. This is the dream island getaway that you always see in Hollywood movies and glossy mags. This is the place to come when you need to escape the 10-7 office culture of 21st century life. This is the island paradise of Koh Samui.
Our base of operations during our time on Koh Samui was the utterly stunning Amari hotel. Fresh from a 12 month refurb and perfectly situated on the Chaweng Beach, the hotel and its surroundings look like they’ve been plucked from Jurassic World – the start, where it’s a stunning island resort, not the end with the velociraptors and T-rex running about. From the enormous and exceedingly comfy rooms to the perfect pools (yes two), beachfront sun loungers and the huge, wonderful, helpful staff it’s very difficult to leave the hotel itself.
But leave we must, for this is Koh Samui, a gorgeous dichotomy of old and new, chilled out and exciting, high energy and relaxing. As you make your way down the beach from the Amari the scene slowly morphs from a quiet island paradise setting to that of a party atmosphere. Music slowly drifts across sunbathers from the bars and clubs that are slowly preparing themselves for another evening of revelry. Street vendors peddle their wares on any part of the pavement still available to them and the smell of spicy and sweet treats lazily meanders on the breeze much like you would see in a Looney Toons cartoon.
The bars themselves almost look too welcoming – it would be rude not to drop into one or two. Be warned traveler, timing is everything when it comes to picking your watering hole of choice. Just off the main drag of Chaweng Beach you can drop into K-Club or Pride Bar Samui, two fantastic little gay spots for an evening’s drinking once the sun goes down. You might not experience the full atmosphere till around 1am though, as the crowds don’t tend to gather until the early hours of the morning – this, we believe, should be your perfect escape if you’re still shaking off that jet lag.
We also found ourselves in, what we cautiously claim to be, one of the greatest bars on the island, Coco Tam’s, located a short distance from Chaweng on Bophut Beach. This bar is favoured by locals and tourists alike, for its exceedingly reasonable prices, comfy beachfront cushions, shisha and VIP hammock service seating. All of this combined with the nightly fire dancing displays and you have yourself one helluva night to remember. As four exceedingly talented, and awfully courageous, fire dancers hurl molten spheres of flammable substances at each other across the dimly lit beach scene, infinitely relaxed holiday makers and patrons enjoy the spectacle, while the boats in the Gulf of Thailand gently bob in the bay.
For you see, this is the wonderful thing about Koh Samui, its combination of high entertainment and partying and its almost zen like state of relaxation. Sound doesn’t seem to travel here in the way it travels back at home – a huge party around the corner of one beach is swallowed up by the calm and placated nature of the next. It’s truly an island of two halves.
If there’s one thing we can’t recommend highly enough during your time on Koh Samui it’s the chance to hop onboard a ship and visit the gorgeous Ang Thong Marine National Park. Ang Thong translates to golden bowl and the group of around 42 islands, which make up a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, boast pristine sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, coral reefs, and young mangrove forests. We travelled with the incredible Boutique Yachting, aboard an exceedingly handsome ship named The Naga. This fine 99ft wooden Turkish Gulet makes its way in style from Petcherat Pier – about 15 minutes from the Amari by car – to the marine park, and those who sail with her can enjoy ten hours of guided tours, sunbathing, snorkelling and fine Thai food.
One of the main features of the tour to the reserve includes a stop at Koh Mae for an adventurous trek into the jungle to witness the famed Emerald Lake. This location, our enigmatic tour guide Rob explained, is where the famous scene from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach was filmed. Unlike Leo however, there is a strict no swimming policy, to protect the delicate balance of the environment. There are, however, stunning views of the lake via a series of impossibly steep staircases and wooden viewing platforms. After that if you’re in need of cooling off you can also take a flying leap off the side of The Naga, before slowly sailing back to Koh Samui watching the sunset munching on the most gorgeous fruit imaginable.
Leaving Koh Samui was possibly one of the hardest things we’ve had to do. Between the stunning service and home base that the Amari offered us, and the perfect beaches and incredible tour around the marine park, we were fully ready to throw our passports in the sea and go and hide in the jungle until immigration officials forgot about us. Koh Samui is most certainly a location we will be visiting again and again – the ideal trip for an indecisive group vacation. Do you want a party holiday? Or do you wish to laze by a beach or pool? Is it history you want? Or possibly the allure of untouched natural beauty? Koh Samui has it all, and a lot more. It is most certainly a jewel in the crown of Thailand and the rest of Asia combined. l
Hayes & Jarvis offer a seven night holiday to Thailand with prices starting from £799 per person, including a week at Amari and return flights from London Heathrow with Malaysia Airlines. hayesandjarvis.co.uk, amari.com/koh-samui.