Travel: Koh Samui offers some great spots and food options for weekenders
The very thought of Thailand as a holiday destination conjures up pictures of overcrowded beaches with shacks selling everything under the sun. But there are still some pristine and not-so-brutally explored spots in this country, where you can rejuvenate in the lap of nature and Koh Samui is definitely one of them. Our recent luxe trip to the second-largest hilly island of the country, full of whispering coconut and palm groves left us impressed with the natural opulence that it offers. Be it expensive beach resorts, posh spas, ritzy cruises, or gourmet food, Koh Samui indeed has all the trappings of a swish weekend getaway destination.
From the very moment we exited the flight at the resort-style airport dotted with palm-thatched roofs and bamboo structures, we were convinced that the island was going to be way different than its other popular cousins, namely Pattaya, Phuket, Phi Phi or Krabi, which attract a lot of tourists. With a lazy pace of its own, the island — replete with banana and coconut trees — will enthral you with its thick foliage and the soothing fragrance of frangipani flowers. As we reached InterContinental Koh Samui Resort — our home for the next three days at one of the best spots on the island — we were bowled over by the breath-taking view of the agate sea that the pristine white, open-air reception area of this 22-acres of lush green luxury presents. The room rates at this resort — with 79 luxe chambers, suites and villas apart from the seven pools, a ritzy fitness centre, and a spa centre — start at Rs 24,000, but it’s well worth the experience.
The all-white luxe rooms open onto balconies overlooking the blue waters, where you can while around gazing endlessly at the infinite sea with your favourite drink and book for company. All rooms are well-stocked with things you may need and the friendly staff will make you feel at home instantly, despite the occasional challenge in communicating with them. After a wholesome lunch at Amber (one of the four sea-facing diners of the property) — roasted duck breast in red curry replete with pineapple, tomatoes, grapes, lychee and basil, served with steamed Jasmine rice — we headed for some sightseeing. We trooped to the Na Muang waterfalls — a pretty cool spot to amble around. We suggest you take a breather by taking a blissful dip in the waterfall.
Next stop was the Wat Phra Yai or the Big Buddha Temple that almost took our breath away after a climb of 73 steps. But the imposing Golden Buddha in meditation and the panoramic view of the isle from the top was worth the ascent. It was interesting to notice some long flowy dresses and scarves neatly stacked in a corner for those who were not suitably dressed to enter a holy place, and there’s no charge for borrowing the same.
Our final stop for the day was the famed Fisherman’s Village, and before we could get over checking out the artefacts and food on display at the countless promenade stalls, it was time for dinner at the highly - recommended Thai eatery Sabienglae at Lamai beach, which is famous for its seafood platters. We gorged on some incredible Thai preparations including the Mango salad with roasted cashew, fish soup and fried Mackerel in fish sauce and honestly, despite the spike in the number of authentic Thai diners back in India, they still cannot get the same flavours.
Day two began with a Muay Thai training session at our resort’s sprawling fitness centre overlooking the beach, where we learnt a few moves of the traditional Thai boxing style, which requires great coordination of your fists, elbows knees and shins. After a quick breakfast, we headed for the neighbourhood Srifu market to buy some fresh vegetables, fish and meat for the cooking workshop that followed. The inescapable subtext of the visit was that even the smallest markets were spotlessly clean and well-maintained, quite unlike our local markets.
Back to the hotel, we went to Amber’s kitchen for the culinary adventure that followed. Donning the chef ’s hat and apron, we marvelled at our ability to rustle up some lip-smacking Thai entrées, including grilled Phuket lobster tossed with garlic, onion, capsicum and black pepper sauce, wok-fried mixed vegetables with oyster sauce and the eternally favourite Tom Yum soup, which comprised our lunch. But the best part of the meal was the desserts including the traditional mango sticky rice with coconut milk and sesame and the Thai banana poached in sweet coconut milk and sesame, served by the sous chef.
After an hour-long swim at one of the swank pools dotting the resort’s private beach, it was time to pamper ourselves with Siamese Aromatic Body massage at the Resort’s Baan Thai Spa by HARNN. The 60-minute indulgence with traditional Thai aromatic oil and rice bran oil was therapeutic, to say the least. The evening was reserved for a visit to the City Mall, the meeting point for the locals and tourists at the heart of the island city. The shopping mall that’s spread across three levels houses all the major brands, besides a few great local sustainable fashion and accessories labels. After a crazy bout of shopping, we sauntered to a popular Indian joint nearby called Noori. This frills-free resto-bar, which is always buzzing with tourists other than Indians, serves up some very delectable tandoor items, and though their gravies might appear a bit intimidating, they are surprisingly less on spice. We highly recommend it for those who miss Indian food.
We chose to go overboard in indulging ourselves on our penultimate day at the serene island. An energising yoga session at the private pier was followed by a detox diet comprising passion fruit juice and Thai fruits, after which we headed for the much-awaited spa experience at the Tamarind Springs. With no cell phones and camera allowed, this luxury spa retreat amidst mountainous rainforest offers all the privacy, peace and comfort that you may yearn for.
After a detoxifying ginger-tamarind welcome potion, we scrubbed ourselves with fresh pastes of tamarind, coffee and black sesame, before sweating it out inside the rocky steam caves. The bath in the natural spring pools can rob you of all your stress. It was followed by some organic vegetarian snack and fresh juice, after which we were ready for a two-hour decadence called Thai spa at the lap of nature under thatched huts with no air conditioning for a pleasant change. Our masseuse addressed the pressure points with such dexterity that in no time we fell into a deep slumber.
The lunch at Tamarind was no less enticing and we had farm fresh purple rice with free-range chicken and a sprinkling of fresh salad. The entire experience can set a couple back by Rs 30,000 at least. After the rejuvenating session at Tamarind, we headed straight for the beach to embark upon a three-hour cruise on a luxury sailboat to explore the sea around us. Despite the choppy waters, this part of the trip would remain the most memorable one simply because the coral reef below and the strong breeze above almost convinced us to shift base into this part of the world. Like us, you can also take a plunge into the deep blue from the deck of the boat — it’s liberating, to say the least. These rides are in high demand with well-heeled tourists (it costs around Rs 15,000 for 3-5 hours ride) and you will see scores of such boats dotting the coral blue sea.
The rest of the evening was spent in one of the top beach bars, the famed Coco Tams. Located on Bophut beach in front of Wharf Samui in Fisherman’s Village, this cool watering hole with beanbags scattered all over the beach along with cabanas, shishas and a giant projector screen, scores a perfect ten for its chilled-out ambience. We washed down the choicest of pizzas, pasta, pork ribs, squids and shrimps with the highly recommended Dark Passion cocktail made with vodka, passion fruit and watermelon and the classic Mai Tai. It was hard to bid adieu to Koh Samui that would enchant you with all its serenity and spirit but to twist an old cliché, though all good things in life come to an end, you would take a little bit of Koh Samui after you have left it behind.
(The writer was at Koh Samui on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai office)