Our first trip to Samui after having just spent four nights in BKK. Arrived at 2pm on a rain-soaked tarmac and made and got a taxi (600 Baht, pretty steep I thought) to Imperial Hotel, Chaweng Noi. Was distinctly unimpressed with the gap between the advertised room and the reality of what we were given, and after unsuccessful attempts at improving our situation (read more on hotel review section) we cut our losses and left.
After scouring the beachside hotels for an alternative by 7pm we finally checked into the Impiana next door. Great choice. For the next few days we enjoyed the beautiful stretch of beach outside, and the restaurants next door. I was told about Samui's dine on the sand open air restaurants, but I didn't think they'd be this good. There's just something magical about eating dinner with the sand between your toes and the sea washing up next to your table. Our boys, age 3 and 2, loved the experience and especially the lanterns which were set off into the night sky every few minutes. Magical.
Chaweng Noi is a great choice in terms of location - quiet, yet happening, if that makes sense. Coconut palms hang out over the beach and provide a stunning backdrop on the hillside behind the beach. The setting screams tropics, and while the water is somewhat cloudy, it's warm and inviting.
After a couple of days r & r we headed south to Lamai for a late afternoon/evening sojourn and loved it. Never saw a girly-bar (probably because we were home and tucked into bed by 9.30) but we had dinner on the beach and the setting here was also divine. The food was less impressive than Chaweng Noi's Beach Love and Charming restaurants, but the service was warm and the stretch of beach is backed by mystical mountains in the south and plenty of glittering lights in the foreground.
The following night we took the obligatory trip to Chaweng - again, in and out before 9.30pm - and while we wouldn't stay there, it was a pleasant surprise. We could see from our hotel at Chaweng Noi it wasn't as developed as Patpong (our only other Thai island holiday was Phuket, so comparisons are inevitable). Reasonable shopping - cheap Quiksilver shirts for the boys - and we found a good open-air but undercover restaurant to eat while the tropical thunderstorm lashed the beach outside. Again, watered down food compared to BKK, but passable.
The following day we hired a Jeep and took it clockwise around the island. Stopped at Silver Beach a short distance from Chaweng Noi. Nice beach, massive boulders curling around a headland and more cloudy water. A lovely spot.
After Lamai the landscape began to change as we took in the less touristic south and west of the island, passing small villages, snake farms, views towards Ang Thong National Park (I think!) and through Nathon. The beach on the western side really isn't a beach but the food was much better - more real if you like, not watered down for the western palate like most places on the east and north of the island we frequented.
After four days at Chaweng Noi we packed up and headed over to Choeng Mon for our final four days. The beach here came highly recommended, especially for our little boys. We could see why, as the beach gently slopes into a bay of shallow water. A little more rustic than Chaweng Noi, especially the eastern end of the beach where we were staying at Honey Villas, the beach is quieter and more laid back (if that's possible). The water was very cloudy here and rocky in places my toes didn't think there would be rocks, but the sand was mostly powdery.
Dinner on the beach on Friday night was excellent, if a bit quiet for our tastes (no lanterns for the boys to enjoy here). The food was reasonable, but nothing on the food on offer during the day.
The day food at Choeng Mon was without doubt one of the highlights of our Samui stay. Some cool dude named 'Coppy' sold the best tasting pineapple and sweet corn my lips have ever had the pleasure of being wrapped around. He weaved his magic with a knife around a whole pineapple - which normally I don't even eat - and created a spectacular masterpiece for a mere AUD $2. I ate one every single day I was there.
A lovely Thai lady turned up at 11am every day and fired up here barbie. And what a barbie it was. I was charged every time I saw her set up as I knew what I was in for - superb food. Seared fish (not sure what, but it was so succulent and tasty) and divine chicken skewers and this salad she brewed on the spot consisting of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, onions, herbs, green beans, chili, garlic etc was absolutely insane! I sat on the sand by the water and watched her cook up this meal for me and my family every day for AUD $10 a pop and it was by far the best meals we had on Samui. She is a gem.
Given the quiet nature of Choeng Mon at night we went to Fisherman's Village for a couple of nights. It has a pretty setting with restaurants lining the grainy beach. Very touristic of course and this seems to flow on into the restaurants, one of which was expensive and ordinary, but the other was quite good - we had a seafood buffet and enjoyed traditional Thai dancing.
On Monday just past we signed up with Petcherat Tours for a boat trip out to Koh Tao and back, including Ko Nuan Yuang. The operators didn't get off to the best start - 40 minutes late picking us up from our hotel and the promised 'breakfast' at the pier consisted of a few measly bits of cook it yourself toast to shove down your belly in a matter of seconds before hastily boarding the boat. A bit of a shambles and not great when you have two little hungry boys wanting to eat before heading out on the high seas.
Our only other boat tour of this nature was with Simba Sea tours, on Phuket in 2008, to Phang Nga bay. Petcherat were nowhere near as efficient as Simba, but the snorkelling and setting at Nuan Yuang was incredible. Ok, not as many fish or as much coral as our Great Barrier Reef, but the water clarity and colour was the best I have ever seen and the beach, which connects three islands, has to be one of the most stunning on the planet. I savoured every minute of my minimal time here.
We had some rushed lunch (Thai only, pay extra for Western food for the boys) before heading around Ko Tao for another snorkelling session. While the setting was amazing, there weren't much fish and the water clarity and visibility not as good as Nuan Yuang.
A front was coming in so we boarded the boat - which I must say was extremely full and surely not compliant with safety standards - for our crossing back to Samui. It wasn't fun. The sea was extremely lumpy and great walls of water were lashing the side of the boat and battering all on board. Suffice to say I wouldn't have taken my children on such a tour if I'd have known these conditions would greet us, but it was too late. They were brave, but several on board were vomiting and I was just a tad nervous about whether we'd make it to dry land again. Up and down we went for what seemed like forever - about 1.5 hours in reality - until the calmer waters near Samui brought tensions back down to a manageable level.
We arrived back at the pier drenched but safe, and relieved.
The following day, our last, we lazed around Choeng Mon beach and ate, and ate, and ate. I took my oldest boy out on a jet ski, which he's still talking about. And after still not being about to find Just Johnno's joint, I searched the beach and the street behind in vain - Johnno, where the blo*dy hell are you?
After 8 beautiful days on Samui we left on Tuesday 3 August amidst a tropical downpour. Half our days were sunny, the other half overcast, but such is the ferocity of the sun here, an overcast day is hardly a bad thing.
Food wise, we didn't get to the restaurants this forum's regular Elina70 kindly suggested, unfortunately, but the dining scene here for us was a bit of a conundrum for us. Either eat the proper stuff at the road stalls where the locals eat and be merry (in a less-than-satisfactory setting for us tourists) or eat somewhat watered down Westernised Thai on the beach under the stars and the lanterns, which our boys loved. After a long day swimming all you want to do is stroll out your villa up the beach and eat close by, even it does mean not getting the real Thai food we'd rather be eating.
What we loved about the island was the warmth of the people. Whether they want your Baht or not, they are generally smiling and keen for a chat, and always insistent on playing with our boys and getting a laugh out of them. They're never too busy to have fun, it seems, and we loved that about the Thai people in general.
The beaches were beautiful and each had it's own feel. The water clarity or lack of it was a let down really and you do have to paddle out far to get into a bit of depth. That said, the backdrop of coconut palms is mesmerising and the food vendors on the beach, especially Choeng Mon, are worth the trip in themselves.
All in all, a wonderful place and I'd go back again in a heartbeat.