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36 hours in Koh Samui
Publication Date : 21-12-2012
Half a century ago, it was home to nothing but coconut plantations and a few small fishing villages. Today, Koh Samui is firmly fixed in the tourist psyche as a tropical retreat with white sandy beaches flanked by swaying palms and an azure sea, a place to chill with cold coconut juice served in its shell and a gin and tonic as the sun goes down.
Tucked away in the Gulf of Thailand, this premier beach destination draws everyone from animal lovers to jet-setters. The island, with more than 10 beaches stretching out from Chaweng to Nathon, is home to a wide range of accommodation, ranging from stylish boutique resorts to international hotel chains. The best place to feel the island's pulse is Chaweng, the island's longest beach, where nightspots, shops and restaurants serve up the true tropical beat.
3pm, luxury in Lamai
Check into Le Meridien Resort and Spa on Lamai. This stylish resort made its debut last year taking over the premises once managed by the Langham. Replacing reserved English ambience with Parisian chic, the resort offers a sophisticated French lifestyle that idolises the arts, culture and fine food. The 77 guestrooms and villas are designed with a contemporary Chinese courtyard house ambience that's inspired by the Chinese community who lived on the island in bygone days.
7pm, hanging in the Cliff
Many restaurants come and go on Samui, but the Cliff hangs on, perched on the cliff between Lamai and Chaweng. Before the Cliff served its first dish back in 2004, the restaurateur travelled to Portugal, Spain and Italy to find the right combination of herbs, spices, olive oils and recipes to create the finest dishes for Samui. Orchestrated by Italian chef Sergio Martelli (who has been with The Cliff since day one), the restaurant is famed for grills, seafood and Mediterranean dishes with a view to die for. Open from midday until late.
9pm, the magic of Marley
The long Chaweng strip features the island's most popular bars - maybe too popular if you walk into the deep soi where the show girls and gays ply their trade beyond half-open curtains. For something a little less hardcore, go to The Reggae Pub. Bob Marley may have died 30 years ago, but his soul and spirit live on by Chaweng Lake where live bands and great music are the norm. During the black moon, new moon, half moon and full moon, this huge, open-air pub is jam-packed with revellers. So get up, stand up, stand up for whole night.
9am, unusual wake-up
Wake up with heavy eyes? Take a shower, find your way to Latest Recipe restaurant at Le Meridien Resort and Spa, and ask for a good eye-opening cocktail. Created by celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the cocktail is an unconventional mix of cherry lemon black pepper, mango chilli lime and raspberry and pineapple Clove. It's not quite a hangover killer, but this elixir brings half of your life back at the blink of an eye.
10am, praying time
Part of the Unlock Art programme, Le Meridien Resort & Spa has created a local art partner, providing its guests with access to contemporary cultural centres around the world.
In Koh Samui, the resort grants you access to the old Guan-Yu Shrine (077 418 854). Revered for his bravery and honesty, Guan-Yu was a warrior in the Three Kingdoms of China back in the third century. Here, in Hua Thanon, Guan-Yu Shrine was constructed at the turn of the 18th century. The Unlock Art key card gains you admission into the shrine, along with a complimentary gift of fruits to present as an offering.
Noon, Southern comfort
If the Cliff is a bay leaf, then Krua Chaobaan (literally local kitchen) is a kaffir lime. While Martelli and his team horsed around the Med searching for the right herbs for Samui, Krua Chaobaan makes the best of the island's resources - holy basil, coconut, lemongrass, green lemon and "rat-shit" chilli - that's capsicum frutescens linn, for the botanical purists.
The results are sensational dishes, often of the blow-your-socks-off variety, among them kaengsom pla krapong (sour snapper soup with young coconut crown), plamuk kua kapi (pan-fried cuttlefish with shrimpaste) and tomyam thale (hot and spicy seafood soup).
Spicy Thai food makes you sweat and is the perfect antidote to a late-night party. It also goes well with beer, another well known antidote. Krua Chaobaan serves the food under a thatch-roofed canopy. The world-class view and ocean breezes are not added to the bill.
3pm, spa escape
Nobody seems to leave Samui without having a massage: even the scruffy backpacker manages a foot massage along Chaweng strip. But Samui, from Chaweng to Bo Phut, has more to offer than foot packs and fish pedicures. Absolute Sanctuary on Bo Phut is among the best in Samui's pampering industry. With a range of choices from Absolute Rejuvenation (90 minutes) to the Ultimate Spa Experience (375 minutes), you lay face down on the bed and put your worries in the magical hands of the well-trained therapists.
8pm, chasing the moonlight
Several years ago, a small group of beach lovers threw a party on the crescent-shaped beach of Haad Rin to celebrate the full moon night. Tales of the party spreads far and wide and today the monthly Full Moon Party draws more than 30,000 revellers from around the world to Koh Pha-ngan for what many say is the world's best beach party.
Rowdy and psychedelic, the beach party conjures up images of spring break debauchery. But you will be fine as long as you stay away from trouble. Pha-ngan is a short boat ride from Samui Island. Look at the night sky, or check out at www.FullMoonParty-Thailand.com, for the party of a lifetime.
1pm, dog day afternoon
Dog is man's best friend, says the old adage, and you should prove you're dog's best friend. Animal-loving German expat Elisabeth Feigl provides a safe haven for needy canines - soi dogs to be precise. Her dog sanctuary Elfes World started with Boomer - a street dog she adopted. Madam came next, then Vicky. Now there are more than 240 dogs, plus 29 stray cats, and the numbers keep changing, going higher rather than lower. Leave Feigl and her charges a message at her Facebook/Elfes World page, pay her a visit and spare some cash for her needy pals before flying home.