Daily Wanderlust: Rainbows in Koh Samui

Koh Samui can be described in one word: paradise.

Yes, this gorgeous island located in southern Thailand offers paradise to travelers in need of a break from the crowded Bangkok, the land-locked Chiang Mai or even the backpacker loop of SE Asia.

Here, you can unwind in adorable bungalows, sip exotic cocktails, party like you’re underage and just chill out. During my time in Samui, I chose to just chill, and let me say this: it was freaking awesome.

Destinations

Beach Republic: a lesson in boozin’ it up

There are two things Beach Republic, located in the northern part of Lamai on Koh Samui, makes very clear:

You’re on holiday (!) — drink, drink and drink some more.

And, you, too, can own your own little slice of paradise on the island.

The exterior of Samui's Beach Republic

There is no escaping either of these two messages. Even in the hotel room, a daily “Manifesto” arrives each night, detailing what’s up for tomorrow. A brilliant little piece of marketing to reinforce the brand, the newsletter includes reminders of the Happy Hour special, a featured drink of the day, and a reminder that visitors can own their own spot (or share) in the property.

When I arrive to Beach Republic, it’s late in the afternoon on Sunday, and the daytime revelers seeking out one of the island’s best brunches (or so it is noted) have already departed as the clouds begin to roll through and the wind picks up.

Suite Style

I head to my suite, a spacious room on the second floor, ready to unwind.

A room at Beach Republic on Samui

The room is nice, it is sleek and modern with few accessories. But, it is also lacking a certain warmth I expect from a luxury resort on a tropical island — namely a view. My large patio overlooks, well, nothing really. There are palm trees to remind me I’m in a tropical place, but there are also power lines. When I sit outside on the patio, I can hear them buzzing.

Then, there’s the bed. It’s nice, although the pillows are far too squishy for my taste. (Note: the afternoon I leave, I notice on a table at reception that there is a pillow menu (!), something I would have loved to indulge in had I known about it.)

Instead of hanging around my room, I decide to explore the property.

I leave the main building, which houses the hotel rooms, and head down the paved path to the beach, passing large, white walls with wooden doors masking the posh villas with private pools from the view of the public and guests.

Passing the villas at Beach Republic

I can only imagine the luxury oozing in those rooms.

Signs at Beach Republic

The signage en route to the beach and pool is kitschy. The property has created the “Ministry of Information” and encourages readers to go, chill, drink and dine in the self-contained party environment.

Pool parties

The pool at Samui's Beach Republic

The pool area is gorgeous. Outfitted with plenty of plush lounge chairs, couches and large, canopied beds, it’s easy to see why people would flock here for a Sunday brunch party.

When I arrive, there are a few stragglers, but it is close to sunset, and most of them have likely partied enough for the day and headed to their rooms.

The pool at Beach Republic on Samui

In between the two pools, a DJ continues to spin chill tunes.

At first glance, it reminds me a lot of the Vegas pool scene, just void of the scantily clad, gorgeous bodies and drunken antics which seem to be out of control in the City of Sin. Here, it is far more relaxed. At least on this evening.

And then, of course, there is the beach.

Beach at Beach Republic

I settle into a seat at the restaurant and order a veggie burger and a Singha. It’s two-for-one beers, so the 120 baht price tag for one doesn’t hurt me as much as it would if it wasn’t a special.

Staff is friendly enough, they come up to me, chat, smile and make sure I get my beer and food.

Al fresco dining

Dining and chilling at Beach Republic

The food is another story. Dinner is OK. It’s a veggie burger, and you can’t really mess up veggie burgers (unless you go to one place by my house in Chiang Mai which contends a veggie burger is merely a fried hunk of mashed potatoes), and I love that there are pickles on the sandwich. Is it anything to write home about? Not really.

Breakfast the next day is similar. The morning buffet, which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. has heaps of a la carte offerings and a selection of fruit, cereal and cheese, plus fresh-squeezed juices. I order poached eggs and sauteed potatoes. The eggs are fine, but the potatoes are served in a little pot and smothered in … cheese? I can’t tell. But, being someone who isn’t a huge fan of cheese, I try a little and decide to just sip my coffee and take in the killer view of the pool and sun-soaked white sand below.

The next day, I try out the french toast which boasts a sweet scattering of cinnamon, honey and other tasty ingredients. Again, it is just OK. I can’t really taste any of the sweet.

Spaghetti at Beach Republic

Lunch my last day was the best — a simple spaghetti aglio y olio with heaps of garlic and soaked in olive oil.

Location, location, location

Because of its location at the north end of town, there isn’t much to do in the area other than hang out at the pool and beach. So, that is exactly what I do. My last night, I head out of the property and into town. In the late afternoon, songthaews are scarce and the price taxis want to drive me 10 minutes down the road makes me roll my eyes. I opt to hop on a motorbike taxi for more than I would pay for a tuk tuk in Chiang Mai, and meet my friend for dinner and drinks at Black Pearl Restaurant.

The following day, the person at the front desk gives me a gorgeous little treat — a late check out to the tune of 4 p.m. But, not before telling me I can book a taxi back to the airport for a whopping 700 baht. I decide to skip the taxi and try my luck on the main street (which grants me a savings of 300 baht).

The bottom line

Would I stay here again? Yes —  if I had friends at the property and a wallet stuffed with baht to indulge in the boozing beachside. But, as a solo traveler who isn’t going to rage it up alone? Not likely. It just isn’t close enough to the city for me. Then again, I don’t think Beach Republic is made for those traveling solo looking to simply chill. It fosters an environment of true holiday spirit — fun and sun. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hell, I almost want to go and scoop up my friends in Chiang Mai and whisk them down south with me for a sweet weekend of debauchery.

It is nice? Absolutely. The staff, the rooms, the property itself are gorgeous and presented well. I always felt comfortable and welcome. I would have liked to check out the spa, but I didn’t even find it until the last day of my stay, tucked behind the restaurant with a lone sign pointing somewhere.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was courtesy of Beach Republic, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

Dining Resorts Reviews

Under the sea

I sit on the long tail boat, snorkel gear in hand, strapped into a grimy orange life vest. I turn the gear over in my hands, looking out onto the serene blue water and the jungle-covered mountains poking from its depths.

Around me, other long tail boats have dropped anchor, too, and their passengers eagerly jump into the cooling water on the hot Koh Samui morning.

They all look like they have having a blast.

As the other girls on my boat begin to drop into the water, I linger aboard, letting myself feel the gentle effects of the rocking from the water ripples below.

Get in the water, D.

I’ve snorkeled once before. Well, not really snorkeled. I tried to snorkel. About 12 years ago. In the Florida Keys. Armed with a kiddie snorkel set, my friend and I jumped into the crystal clear water and dunked our heads under. But, I freaked. Panicked. Couldn’t get my breathing right, and when water flooded the goggles, I threw my arms up in the air and decided to not risk my flesh being eaten by the evil-teethed barracuda and opted for the sanctuary of sand instead.

“What’s in the water here?” I had asked Martin, the general manager of Amari, my first night on the island. “Are there any, you know, stinging or biting things I should know about?”

In Croatia, it’s the sea urchin. In America, it’s the bastard jelly fish. Always something to give me a reason to not get into the salt water and stick to the safe confines of the chemically-treated pool instead.

“Nope, nothing really,” he assures me. “Just these little black and yellow fish that are fed bread so they swim up to you. Occasionally, they may nip at you if you don’t have any, but that’s it.”

Now, perched above the water, I see those little black and yellow fish. They swarm like the fish in the old movie “Pirhana,” devouring the soft bread before it breaks into fluffy, water-soaked pieces.

I don’t want them touching me.

I survey my surroundings. It’s paradise, and I’m letting some fear — although I don’t even know what I am afraid of — to keep my on board the long tail instead of experiencing what I came to the island to experience — the water.

Do it, D. Just do it, you chicken shit.

I gather my courage and being to climb down the ladder and dip my foot into the water. I look down … nothing really in the water to eat me.

Then, I’m in. The water rushing over my swimsuit clad body.

Snorkeling in Samui, Thailand

I stick the breathing part of the snorkel in my mouth and bite down on it, hard.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Holy shit. I’m doing it.

Carefully, I being to let my head go under the water. I blink my eyes a few times as it hits me I am breathing under water. I. Am. Snorkeling. I did it. I want to grab onto one of the other girls and wildly gesture to show her I am doing it, but no one is around. Instead, I channel the excitement and look at a world I normally wouldn’t see.

Around me, those gorgeous little black and yellow fish swim by, their bodies moving so smoothly. The dusty pink coral rests below my feet.

It really is another world. And, I cannot believe I actually wasn’t going to try it. This snorkeling thing? It isn’t so bad.

I proceed to swim around for about 10 minutes, dunking my head under as my body floats on the surface, looking wide-eyed at the remarkable life in the water below.

“Eel!” One of the girls yells.

“What? Where?” I respond, happy I am nowhere near where she is investigating.

“Just over there,” she says, pointing even further away from me.

Thank god.

But, then I start to think about the eel and its slithering about.

Yeah, it’s time to get out.

I climb back aboard the boat and smile. Snorkeling? Done.

Asia Blog Thailand

Rejuvenation at Breeze Spa

The Breeze Spa at Koh Samui's Amari

Joy, my massage therapist, rolls the hot rocks gently over the back of my legs, sending a jolt of electricity through my body.

I’m laying, face down, staring at a bowl full of flowers, breathing the aromatic scent of lavendar and other essential oils, as she slowly works the stones into my muscles, using them as a replacement for the kneading her hands would normally do.

Amari's Breeze Spa

Deciding to try the hot stone massage was easy. The day before my appointment at Amari’s Breeze Spa, I took a few minutes to sip a sugar-rimmed tropical drink, sit with a spa consultant and fill out a quick form to narrow down what treatment would be best for me.

After less than five minutes, it is decided: I want to relax (naturally, I’m on vacation) and come away from my treatment feeling rejuvenated. She gave me two choices for a massage, and I opted for this one.

Unwinding at Amari's Breeze Spa on Koh Samui

As an expat living in Thailand, I get massages all of the time. I’m not exaggerating. During lunch breaks at the office, I’m known to skip lunch and head to a local massage joint to get an hour-long head, neck, back, shoulder and arm pit stop. At night, you can find me at the open-air massage shop on Loi Kroh. I live for these massages.

Breeze isn’t like these though, it is a true spa versus a place where you go and lie down on a mat and put your head on a pillow.

As relaxing music fills the dimly lit room, I let myself go. I clear my mind of everything — elephants, Chiang Mai, America, you name it — and I give in to the overwhelming calm that begins to envelop my body.

The massage isn’t all hot stone. A good portion of it utilizes just Joy’s powerful hands.

Towards the end of my treatment, the stones go away and she begins to work on my head. Applying just enough pressure, she provides the best head massage I have ever gotten. To say it is the crowning glory of my treatment is an understatement. It is perfection.

The after-massage goodie at Amari's Breeze Spa

At the end of the treatment, I head back down to the reception area of the spa and am handed some hot water lilly tea and a marshmallow dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut.

A sweet ending to an even sweeter treatment.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was courtesy of Amari Palm Reef, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

Reviews Spas

Party like you’re underage in Chewang

It’s a humid night on Koh Samui when I head out from Amari to meet two of my friends in the heart of Chewang. I’ve got no idea what to expect, but once I start walking, I begin to imagine the bars in Chewang will be similar to the backpacker enclave I so loathe in Chiang Mai, home to Zoe, the Reggae Bar and other little, non-descript bars where the name of the game is two-fold: get super sloppy drunk and get laid. Perhaps it is the visitors to the island clad in the “Same Same” and “Chang” shirts, complemented by the fisherman pants or short, brightly colored shorts. Or, perhaps it is the onslaught of flashing lights and menu boards advertising their drink specials.

As I walk down the street, shop owners hassle me.

“Hello, miss, where you from? You buy [dress, purse, massage, etc.].”

Annoyed by the constant hassle, I grab my headphones and put them in my ears. There’s no music playing, but the act delivers a great excuse to ditch the BS conversation and head down to where my friends are staying — across from the main drag of bars in the city.

When I first arrive to my Koh Samui vacation, I don’t envision the hustle that confronts me. From the plane, and then on the ground, navigating the winding roads lines with tropical, flower-toting trees, I get jaded … and quickly. Then, when I realize that this island is the stop before partiers board a ferry and shuttle over to the real party on Koh Pha Ngan, it hits me.

The younger group of tourists here are looking for the same excitement they get during the Full Moon Party, namely the drugs, booze and sex. It’s evident by the throngs of young girls packed together and the groups of similar men, cans of Chang in hand, eyeing them as they pass on the uneven sidewalk.

My friend and I head over to the main bars and decide on an Irish pub. It’s about 10 p.m. and while the streets are beginning to get lively, the bar is still rather quiet. Unless you count the blaring music being pumped from the speaker behind our seat.

Sipping on a whisky bucket

We do what most partiers do when wanting a night out and order a Sangsom and Coke bucket. For 150 baht, it isn’t a bad price considering Samui is far pricier than Chiang Mai. We sit there until the music drowns out our conversation, and then grab a picnic bench at the front of the bar. And another bucket.

By 11 p.m., the bar is crowded and the drunks have come out. From my vantage point looking into the pub, I see a guy, probably in his mid-20s, sit down and then fall backwards on his chair, crashing to the ground. Laughter erupts from his friends as he stumbles up and aims his ass for his seat again, this time making contact and not falling.

“Dear god,” I mumble, looking at the intoxication on display.

Then, girls walk up to them, holding balloons in their hand, and join them at their table. If they weren’t friends before they sat down together, they are now.

By midnight, when my other friend joins the mix, this little street of debauchery has become the place to be. It’s a hodgepodge of all ages with the same goal: to party their asses off in their temporary tropical reality.

We head out to what seems to be a club — it’s got a few empty dance floors, laser lights casting green and red dots on the floor, and high tops situated around — and order up another bucket. The outdoor venue is just getting started, but we opt to continue our exploration, passing the Laughing Gas Balloon stand for 150 baht a balloon. I remember the sweet inhales of my youth and shudder.

It’s like I’m at a Phish show. In Thailand. And suddenly 19 again.

As the early morning begins to take over, we head to one last bar before dipping out and returning to our respective rooms.

When I arrive back to Amari — a 10 minute walk from the madness — I am ridiculously grateful to have my plush bed … and massage at Breeze booked for the morning.

Asia Blog Thailand

Ahh, Amari

I have a checklist for what constitutes my version of paradise:

1. A gorgeous location

2. Something gorgeous to view

3. Someplace gorgeous to stay

4. The ability to tune out the real world and relish all of the gorgeous

Amari Palm Reef in Koh Samui is one example of my paradise. Located in the town of Chewang, it is far enough from the main drag, yet close enough to get to where the action is.

After taking my 130 baht taxi — which really isn’t a taxi at all but a van that shoves as many bums in the vehicle as there are seats and then heads to whatever section of the island the group is going, dropping them off at their respective hotels — and arriving to Amari, I know immediately I am in for a true vacation.

Reception at Amari Palm Reef

The open-air reception and lobby is outfitted with comfortable, beach-y lounges  topped with fresh-cut flowers, and staff with smiles on their faces.

I sit and fill out my reservation form and am handed a sweet fruit drink and scented, cold towel to refresh before I am taken to my room.

And, what a room it is.

The room

A junior suite at Amari Palm Reef

With 188 rooms, split between two areas (the main road intersects the property), I have the prime spot — an airy 45 meter junior suite on the second floor.The wall-to-wall sliding glass door opens out to a magical view of the pool, and beyond that the soft, white sand beach and glistening water.

The view from my junior suite at Amari

Of course, the first thing I ever do when I check into a hotel is try out the bed. Living in Thailand, the beds tend to be a bit harder than I am used to (or would like), but the bed in my room is about as perfect as they come. It’s soft, covered in lush sheets, topped with a crisp blanket and four pillows. I snuggle my head into the pillow.

Yeah.

It’s the best pillow I’ve ever rested my head on.

946839_10152953963355162_1540540813_n

The decorations in the room are quiet, but evoke an Asian vibe, and its the little details that really bring the room to life — fresh flowers in a sleek glass vase, a sculpture above the bed, decoration pillows on the couch.

IMG_0173

IMG_0176

And then, there is the bathroom. A nice-sized tub is situated next to the vanity (which is stocked with my absolute favorite line, Elemis), and then a separate shower and private bathroom on the other side.

My favorite product, Elemis, in the room at Amari

In the closet, there is a beach bag, an amazingly plush robe, slippers and an umbrella for when it rains in paradise.

I glimpse out the window and look at the clear blue sky as the sun begins to cast that warming golden our glow, then head down to the Bar@C for a quick cocktail before heading out for the night.

When I return home to my room, and for the next two days, I struggle with the choice of staying in my room or heading down to the pool and beach.

I swear, it is actually a hard choice given how in love I am with the bright room, and, of course, my delicious bed.

My last night at Amari, I don’t do anything but relish the calm the room is able to evoke from me. I tuck myself into the soft robe and sit out on my balcony, watching as lanterns float into the sky, stars twinkle, and in the distance, a lightening storm erupts, casting blue streaks through the clouds.

The pool

There are two pools at Amari — one on each side of the road. Because my room is beachside, I stick to that pool. Here, there are plenty of lounge chairs and quick poolside service. One corner of the pool has a whirlpool to sit and relax in the sun. There is also a “water fall” of sorts separating the two main areas of the pool.

 The pool at Amari

The crowd is diverse — kids, couples, friends — and a few balls float in the pool, beckoning vacationers for a quick game.

I spend most of my time at the pool, but that’s only because the water in the pool is far cooler than that of the beach.

The beach

It’s beautiful.

The beach at Amari

It’s got incredibly soft sand, heaps of lounge chairs to lay on, but it’s the water that’s the problem.

The shore at Amari Palm Reef

Because it is so shallow in this part of Chewang, the water is warmer than a bath. I walk out a good distance, and it still doesn’t come up to my calves. The sea isn’t the best for swimming, but the view truly is spectacular.

Bar@C

Beds, couches and cozy tables create an idea of an alternative reality. While the booze is a bit pricey for my Chiang Mai standards, the luxurious lounge immediately gives way to a relaxation I haven’t felt in a long time. Sitting, sipping a cocktail and looking out as the sky turns to night over the water is a fantastic way to start my first night in Koh Samui, and more important, my first vacation in ages.

Beds at bar@c at Amari

During the day, I snack on fish and chips (OK, not fantastic), and by night I meet one of my closest friends in Thailand for a cold, albeit pricey by Chiang Mai standards, beer.

Prego

Chiang Mai has ruined me in regards to wine. The typical wine I can order up north is the Mont Clare box crap. So, when I sit down to dinner and see a multi-page wine list boasting wines from all over the world (hand selected by the hotel’s general manager, Martin Kunzmann), my eyes nearly pop out of my head. Wine! Sweet! Delicious! Wine! In bottles!

The extensive wine selection at Amari's Prego

That’s enough to make me fall in love.

The atmosphere at Amari's Prego on Koh Samui

But, there is more to Prego than just the wine. The open air restaurant situated across the street from the beachside half of Amari, has a chill vibe. And, gorgeous menu packed with Italian selections.

Sure, when in Thailand, eat Thai food. But, when there’s an Italian restaurant with items like Waygu on the menu, damn. Order. It. Up.

Even as a non-meat-eater, there are plenty of options. For my main course, the chef actually whips up a sensational sea bass served with grilled veggies and truffled, yes, truffled mashed potatoes. I haven’t had anything this divine since my Vegas days.

Since I’m so stuffed on the mashed potatoes (plus the smoked salmon app and main course), I can’t try any of the desserts, like the limoncello sorbet — even if my tastebuds say yes. Instead, I get a little glass of grappa to wash everything down.

I walk out feeling delighted, stuffed and blissfully happy.

Pizza at Amari's Prego on Koh Samui

The next day, I return to Prego to try one of the wood-fired pizzas. Perfectly crisp and delicious.

The breakfast buffet

Most breakfast buffets I encounter tend to lack veggie options. Not Amari.

The selection is huge and includes fresh-baked breads, an omelette station, cheese, fruit, pancakes, french toast and more — all served on the second floor of the resort’s other restaurant, Merante. With a view of the pool and sea, it is a great place to sip a morning cup of coffee, nosh on better-than-normal buffet items and prepare for a day in Koh Samui.

Breeze Spa

The Breeze Spa at Koh Samui's Amari

The spa offers a wide-range of treatments, including massage (naturally), scrubs and wraps, facials and more. While staying at Amari, I got a hot stone massage and loved it. Consultants meet with each person individually to determine what treatment would suit them best based on their needs, and then from there, it’s game on.

The customer service

I mentioned that everyone at reception had smiles. But, the customer service at Amari goes beyond that. When I want to book a trip off the island, the GM is the one to whip out a map and suggest places to check out. When I decided I want to head to a little island for the morning, his staff actually book me the trip, arrange a private car for me to explore other island goodies, and then slip an itinerary under my door that night with all of the details.

And, when my friend loses her phone, the front desk is the one to get on the phone and speak Thai to places she could have left it. Above and beyond the normal call of customer service, and something we are both grateful for, even if the phone never turns up.

The bottom line

Amari is luxurious without being pretentious; posh without being exclusive.  It’s a place where couples, families and friends can all feel comfortable. The spa, with specials during the low season, is great value for the treatments. Prego is a fantastic spot for a fancy dinner, laid back lunch or just to sip wine (my favorite!). The property is close enough to the party of Chewang without being in the party, and given that transportation on the island can cost a good bit, its nice to know you don’t have to hop in a cab to experience something other than the property. For those in need of wifi, it is fast and log-in is easy. Plus, the entire resort is outfitted with it so you can make all of your friends jealous with those feet-in-the-sand pics on Facebook. Would I stay here again? Absolutely.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was courtesy of Amari Palm Reef, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

Resorts Reviews

Vacation, all I ever wanted

There’s a panic that sets in sometimes. A panic of being stationary. When this panic sets in, I normally high tail it out of the place I am to embark on an adventure. But, this time, I don’t want to do that. I just want a break. 

Some “me” time that whisks me out of my safe haven of Chiang Mai and into the arms of another amazing city.

Airport in Chiang Mai

So, when I am nearly to my one year anniversary of being an expat in Chiang Mai, I do what I need to do — I take a vacation.

Screw you, travel panic. I’m tackling the beast head on.

In the (almost) year I have been in Thailand, I have traveled quite a bit. Just not domestically. And, at nearly one year, the fact I have yet to explore the paradise down south makes me feel as if I am the worst Thailand expat in the universe.

With nary a second thought, I investigate Bangkok Air’s Web site and book flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Koh Samui.

Why Koh Samui?

I am a solo traveler for the most part, but when I am reminded one of my closest friends will be relocating to the tropical paradise of Samui for a brief bit, the idea of sipping icy beers seaside romances my mind. I’ve heard good things about the island … and not-so-good things, too. I decide to form my own opinion and head down to the Gulf for my own exploration.

As I board my flight out of my northern jungle, I can feel the Relax take over my body.

My first true vacation in more than one year.

View over Samui airport

And, when the plane descends into the Samui airport and I spy the lush green mountains jutting out of a bluegreen sea, I can feel my cheeks touch my eyes.

Samui airport is like Disney Land. Seriously.

inside Samui Airport

It has adorable little huts and open-air gates, planes painted with tropical themes and little golf cart-type vehicles to drive you the minute from the plane to the terminal.

Paradise, Samui style.

Once the 130 baht cab drops me off at my first hotel for my trip, I know I made the right decision. While it isn’t a lot of travel time, when I first glimpse the sparkling sea, I feel like I am in a different world. It’s hard to believe this is Thailand. That I’m even on the same continent. I’ve truly entered paradise.

Samui Chewang Beach

Hello, Samui. This is going to be fun.

 

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand