Koh Samui – Thailand’s Contradiction Island!
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
Marco Boscaini is a wanted man.
But Italy has been unable to repatriate this popular executive chef because he’s being held on the paradise island of Koh Samui in Thailand. However, maybe the clue is in the word ‘paradise’ since this particular Italian isn’t being held against his will, he’s just not that enthusiastic about finding his way back to Milan!
“I ‘av no real reasons for going ‘ome these days,” he says in endearing broken English, “because my family, zey are ‘ere and I am passionate about Prego.”
Prego is the Italian restaurant he set up 15 years ago in conjunction with the Amari Koh Samui Hotel just opposite, setting out to bring a dash of Italian cuisine to this popular island, long before it was truly fashionable and when the closest you could get to a carbohydrate- heavy meal, was a bowl of sticky rice.
Cleverly the Amari chose to keep the sophisticated eatery separate from its nearby hotel, mindful that non-guests can be uncomfortable about straying into a hotel restaurant when they are not resident.
Consequently Prego, which is located on Chaweng Beach Road, is now a hive of activity all year-round, attracting both holidaymakers and locals from across the island. Boscaini has come to know thousands of them and, in a decade and a half, has popularised an eatery now famous for its culinary experimentation.
The Amari, meanwhile, is a beautiful family hotel and the perfect base from which to explore this interesting ‘fusion’ island. Equipped with top-class facilities, including its own beach area, superb rooms, spa and splendid dining, it is minutes from the town’s main centre and a perfect place in which to relax.
Many would argue that Koh Samui is best described as a ‘fusion’ island because it juxtapositions two opposites. On the one hand there is a nightlife that would put many places to shame. Hooters bar with its serving ladies, competes for air time with cabaret shows, tattoo parlours and loud-hailer vans urging people to buy ringside tickets to the Phetchbuncha Thai Boxing Stadium.
However, walk 500 metres across the road and Chaweng Beach, with its glorious sands and stunning views, will leave you believing that you have just strayed into a remote paradise island. These two ‘flavours’ sit side by side comfortably, forming part of the same tourist menu.
As the Greek chap sitting next to me on the way back to Manchester later confided: “I love Samui,” he said. “I came 15 years ago and never went home. The people are so friendly and the lifestyle laid back. I am not rich but I am happy.”
And that Thai happiness is infectious and quite disarming. Here, when you smile, they smile back!
Away from the bars and the beaches much still beckons including the Mummified Monk, Namuang Waterfall, Big Buddha, the Secret Buddha Garden or Hin Ta & Hin Yai Rocks. And, for the tour enthusiasts, a trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park is well worth the investment.
But, if you have a sense of adventure there is a different way back to Bangkok other than plane. A short ferry ride from Nathon Pier will bring you to Donsak Pier on the mainland and, it was from here, that I made my way to Surat Town and took the five-hour train bound for the city of Hua Hin ahead of my final push for the capital and home.
Hua Hin is certainly not the number one port of call for Europeans, it boasts many of the top hotel brands and a chocolate box train station to die for but, currently, it is a weekend getaway spot for Thailanders in the know but, no doubt, will soon be discovered by more Westerners.
Whilst there I stayed at the Amari Hua Hin, a different proposition to its Koh Samui stablemate but, nevertheless, a great property from which to explore this interesting centre; don’t forget to check out the Shoreline Beach Club & Restaurant which is romance on drugs, dinner by the sea. Despite denials to the contrary, women will love it and men will score brownie points!
With its night markets and myriad of tours including Sam Roi Yot National Park, Hua Hin is an intriguing place, worthy of exploration and, from here you can prepare yourself for one of Thailand’s great ‘must sees’, the Phraya Nakhon Cave.
However, it is not for the faint-hearted, requiring of a boat ride, a steep climb up dozens of mountain steps, and an equally steep descent to enter this amazing cavern with its green trees and truly wonderous Phra Thinang Khua Kharuehat, or Tetrahedron Pavilion, built in 1890 by King Rama V. No matter how many people tell you about this place – and there won’t be many in Yorkshire - it does not prepare you for the sense of wonder and privilege you feel as you descend into the cave’s main chamber.
There is an overwhelming sense of privilege at having witnessed something that few will ever see and, for a moment, I was Howard Carter opening the tomb of Tutankhamun and Sir Edmund Hillary as he summitted Everest; I had just been part of something special because Phraya Nakhon Cave truly is a special place.
Thailand deserves a place on your bucket list but plan your trip carefully, not because you run the risk of getting lost in Bangkok, but because you risk staying in the capital too long and doing the same old same old. This is a country with many twists and turns, undiscovered wonders, lovely people, kindness and a tourist agenda that will surprise you. Make time for Thailand because its people will make time for you. Your moments are precious, use them wisely and any investment made in this glorious country will be paid back with wonderful memories……and never forget, money can’t buy those at the graveside.
QUICK TIPS / CONTACTS
Travel Tips Thailand
Fully comp travel insurance recommended.
Check policy covers motorbikes, diving or adventure pursuits.
Passport:- You will need six months validity on your passport to travel to
Thailand, as well as two blank pages.
On a British or Irish passport, you are visa exempt for 30 days.
Take a pre-loaded travel money ‘cash’ card.
This will save on bank / credit card fees.
Quickly cancelled if lost or stolen. Try Post Office’s multi-currency card.
Be aware that some retail outlets still try and charge you 3% for using a ‘credit card’.
It isn’t a credit / debit card so stand your ground!
The currency used in Thailand is baht. It is a good idea to exchange your
money in Thailand as you get a better rate.
UK Post Office nearly 39 baht to the £1. In Chiang Mai nearly 43 baht!
Cash definitely works in Thailand!
Don’t drink tap water. Buy bottled.
Temples – men and women are required to cover shoulders.
Men should have over the knee shorts.
Women a long skirt / sarong.
Pack as if you were going to enjoy an excellent English summer!
Take a hat, a light waterproof and a small umbrella if there in the rainy season.
Take a plug adapter for your electronic devices……and lots of sun cream!
www.tourismthailand.org - Official site of Thai Tourism
www.destination-asia.com - The company that set up this trip
www.bangkokair.com - Internal Flights
www.airasia.com - Internal Flights
www.cibtvisas.co.uk - Visas
www.thaiembassyuk.org.uk - Travel Help
To make the most of their Bangkok stay, guests can plan ahead using Destination Amari
Top Tips - Transpenine ‘Manchester Airport’ Trainline
On your outward journey to Manchester Airport the train is a definite gain if you can’t get a lift from a friend or relative:
- Advance tickets up to 43% cheaper. I paid £35 return (economy)
- Download the App & its ‘Price Prediction Tool’. Tickets sent to your smartphone.
- App’s BusyBot feature will also tell you where you are most likely to find a seat.
- Reserve your seat in advance in case the train is full.
Manchester Airport - Pre-Flight ‘Escape’ Lounge
Consider booking the Airport’s Escape Lounge for £20 on the day of your outgoing flight. Best money you will ever spend. You will be relaxed as you board your flight, not stressed by airport crowds! Includes all food, hot / cold drinks, internet and newspapers etc. Book in advance online.
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Koh Samui – Thailand’s Contradiction Island!, 18th May 2018, 10:02 AM