Grandfather clocks weren’t exactly the recurring motif I was expecting to come across in Thailand.
But there they were. Bookending the arched doorways of Buddhist temples, in unsuspecting corners of restaurants and among the inventory of hotel furnishings.
“Buddhists meditate for long periods of time,” our local guide Nikki explained, as we explored Koh Samui’s Suwannaram temple.
“This is why a clock is crucial, as without keeping track of the time, they will meditate right through their lunch break.”
Right on cue, two marigold-draped monks quietly waltzed into the temple and bowed on bent knees, with ballerina-like gracefulness. I decided this was a signal to slow down, stop frantically searching for Wi-Fi and simply allow myself to be present.
Admittedly, this is not such a difficult task in Thailand’s southern islands, scattered across the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. While some areas have a reputation for attracting boisterous backpackers, there are also quiet, untouched corners where you’ll find footprint-free sand, lush rainforest and hidden sea caves. You just have to know where to look.
In the more tourist-heavy parts of Thailand, you can barely walk five metres without spotting a slogan T-shirt. “Same same but different”, “Straight Outta Muay Thai”, and every cliche under the sun. So you can imagine my surprise when strolling through the markets near Koh Samui’s Big Buddha, I spotted a T-shirt bearing the words, “It’s not about how you look, it’s how you see”.
This profound statement seemed so out of place on a fluorescent T-shirt, and yet somehow it encapsulated the diverse culture of Koh Samui: a place touched by a special energy, where centuries-old Buddhist wisdom collides with a burgeoning tourist market and a penchant for good times.
While it’s not quite the same untouched paradise that its maiden backpackers discovered in the ’70s and ’80s, Koh Samui retains a sense of sophistication.
Today Koh Samui is widely known as Thailand’s spa capital, boasting a string of up-market wellness resorts. Enveloping a gently sloping headland at the northern tip of the island, Six Senses Samui’s 66 private villas offer the feel of a luxury treehouse clinging to the cliff’s edge.
As Thailand’s second biggest island behind Phuket, Koh Samui’s neighbourhoods each have a distinct feel and it’s worth putting aside a day to explore. Summon good luck at the Big Buddha, an enormous golden statue perched atop a hill, wander through the markets at Lamai beach and taste “kalamae”, a sticky
caramel dessert, or indulge in a seafood feast at Fisherman’s Village.
Dining on the Rocks is Six Senses Samui’s culinary pinnacle, literally looming over the ocean on a sprawling wooden terrace. With a focus on sustainable fare, executive chef Erik Gremmer presents a memorable dining experience, complemented by fiery sunsets.
“Welcome to the Jungle”, are the words brandished across a large billboard, which caught my eye in a fortuitous millisecond as we careered around Koh Pha-Ngan’s winding roads. A Google search later revealed that the sign was referring to a pre-full-moon party, but nevertheless its sentiment captured Koh Pha-Ngan’s unmistakeable energy, a feeling of having stumbling upon a
In the Gulf of Thailand in the country’s southeast corner, Koh Pha-Ngan has become synonymous with the Full Moon Party. But to relegate Koh Pha-Ngan to that alone would be folly. Worlds away from parties and bars in the notorious Haad Rin area, the island’s northeastern coast presents a sophisticated array of hotels popular with couples and families looking to unwind.
Tucked away in the peaceful inlet of Thong Nai Pan Noi beach is the Anantara Rasananda. Decked out in contemporary Thai style with rich dark woods, its 64 villas are surrounded by thick tropical vegetation navigated via narrow wooden bridges across waterways teeming with giant koi.
Walking from your private plunge pool to the beach takes less than a minute and, should you wish, that’s the most strenuous thing you might do all day. While the setting is ideal for relaxation, recreation and fun are always close by.
For the adventure seekers, there’s jungle trekking, snorkelling, diving, plus an array of island tours and boat trips around the Ang Thong Marine Park, most notably on Anantara’s
20m private yacht, Minor Affair. Those looking to find their Zen can salute the sun to the sound of crashing waves in an open-sided yoga pavilion facing the ocean.
Along Thong Nai Pan Noi beach, you’ll find a sprinkling of bars and laidback eateries within walking distance. If something closer to home sounds more appealing, nab a table at the Beach Bistro just a few paces from your villa. Order the dry red curry of Andaman Sea lobster and yellow fin tuna ceviche, and sip coconut cocktails with the sand between
Koh Yao Noi
There is something decidedly luxurious about arriving at your hotel via speed boat, windswept and with a lungful of salty air. This dramatic entrance, complete with an ancient cityscape of limestone peaks, is all part of the theatrics at Six Senses Yao Noi.
A semi-rural island floating midway between Phuket and Krabi, the appeal of Koh Yao Noi lies in its privacy. Among its mangroves, rubber plantations and fishing villages are just a handful of resorts, many of which have private beaches spilling on to Phang Nga Bay.
In keeping with their “slow” philosophy (sustainable, local, organic, wholesome), the villas at Six Senses Yao Noi are constructed with local teak and crowned with natural palm leaf roofs. Each features a private infinity pool and butler service, plus tropical touches like an open-air shower, spacious pool deck and mosquito nets made from local driftwood.
With Phang Nga Bay just a few strides away, the leisure activities are endless. Go for an island hop in a private long-tail boat, lazing on the deck as the famed limestone islands rise up to meet you. Swap the boat for a kayak and glide through the calm channels of Tha Lane Bay, a pristine mangrove forest which is said to be among the most beautiful in Thailand. Don’t forget to pack your swimmers for a plunge at Koh Hong Island on the return home.
Whiz past rubber plantations, rice fields and buffaloes on a tuktuk tour of the island. Make a pit stop at the local market and try the local pan-fried sticky rice dessert “khao niew song dang”. Or for the ultimate jet-lag buster, head to the spa to sweat it out in a steam sala, or try dangling from the rafters in an aerial yoga class.
Your tastebuds are well looked after here, with farm-to-table European fare, Thai and world cuisine served across various lavish perches, most notably The Hilltop Reserve, where the infinity pool is one-upped by the infinite beauty of Phang Nga Bay. Learn to make Thai classics like tom yum soup and massaman curry in cooking classes led by executive sous chef Kraisorn Kadkla. She sports a perennial ear-to-ear grin, which seems to be the norm at Koh Yao Noi.
The writer was a guest of Thai Airways, Tourism Authority Thailand and the resorts.