Almost without fail, I usually return to England every year to celebrate Christmas with friends and family. However, having already returned to England earlier in July, I decided to break tradition and have a warm Christmas instead. After a lot of deliberating, Koh Samui was chosen.
Below are some of the places we ate at, visited and stayed at whilst on the beautiful island and I wanted to share experiences we had!
I hope you enjoy!
Sandalwood Luxury Villas
Despite the astounding views and good service, the worn and tired decor and high price made for an average stay
Located on a hilltop overlooking Chaweng beach, Sandalwood has vistas to die for. We stayed in the Malee Villa which boasted an infinity pool looking into the sea and an outdoor jacuzzi. The pictures speak louder than words, just have a look. It's genuinely beautiful.
That view comes at a price which is steep however. Its about 580 USD per night for the spa package (8 nights in total). Considering the price, the value proposition isn't that great. Service whilst good overall, was lacking in areas. The amenities were not a high end, luxury brand but rather a no name variety. Whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing, you'd expect the more from the amount of money you have to fork over.
One small but particularly annoying point worth mentioning was the lack fresh slippers. All they provided was worn slippers to wear inside the villa, which is just unhygenic and cheap . When even a hostel can provide at least disposable slippers, it's a mystery why Sandalwood can't.
The furnishings are starting to show their age, with signs of wear and tear visible. Compounding this is the slightly gaudy mix of traditional Thai and modern furnishings which doesn't mix that well and gives the place a slightly less than premium feel, despite the premium price.
As much as I would want to recommend this place (I like small, boutique resorts), I can't. What Sandalwood is offering isn't bad by any means (I did have a pleasant stay), it's just for the price that you pay, you can't help but feel slightly disappointed - there was just no 'wow' factor. For the same price you can have a room at the W or Anantara and get more bang for your buck. As gorgeous as the view is, they are asking too much for it.
P.S. One good thing about Sandalwood is the brilliant night sky (it's far enough from the light pollution from Chaweng), which allowed me to try astrophotography for the first time. Unfortunately cloud cover obscured most of the nights but I was able to get a good shot of the Orion constellation (can you spot it?). The Milky Way remained elusive however.
Located somewhat further along from the main area of Chaweng, getting here necessitates the hiring of a scooter or a 15 minute walk from the main centre. It's beach front restaurant with an emphasis on seafood - you can enter the restaurant through the beach or roadside entrance. It had live music without being so loud to inhibit conversation, so that was a nice surprise. The food itself was rather pleasing if not exactly overwhelming. The chefs special eat sense platter is a dish worth going for, as it had a nice wide variety of appetisers to choose from. Other than that, just a nice restaurant, nothing more. However, definitely better than some of the restaurants targeted at foreigners located in the centre of Chaweng.
If you take a scooter anywhere around Koh Samui, you'll most likely drive past a sign pointing you in the direction of this playfully named restaurant. It's signposted everywhere.
Nestled inside Fishermans Wharf, the restaurant offers both a seaside view as well as an indoor option. The sea view is by far the better view, as its perched higher than the beach so there's no sand blowing in etc and its a great place to watch the world go by.
The Thai food was surprisingly good (I was expecting something tuned for more western tastes rather than an authentic Thai experience) and quite reasonably priced onsidering the quality and quantity. Their Chicken Satay, Phad Thai and Omelette were super tasty! Well worth a visit.
Roadside Phad Thai
50 Baht for a no-thrills, authentic Phad Thai enjoyed by the locals - what more could you ask for? By far the best Phad Thai we had in our trip and it cost less than a bottle of water in Singapore. Do yourself a favour whilst you're in Koh Samui and try the road side food - you won't regret it.
Tai by Red Snapper
A fusion Japanese restaurant located at Central Festival, an unusually large shopping mall for Koh Samui located right in the middle of Chaweng. The restaurant has a modern wood aesthetic and focuses on fusion Japanese food. The food is quite good but unfortunately is priced like it was in Singapore. We had the sharing platter with genuinely very tasty, if lukewarm, food sticks. Their lychee mock tail however was divine! Overall slightly pricey for Koh Samui but not a bad choice if you want a break from all the Thai food.
Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks
Hin Ta and Hin Yai rocks in Koh Samui are named so due to rock formations looking like male and female genitalia. If you look below, you'll be able to see the 'male' rock. Personally, it wasn't the most exciting of locations to visit in Koh Samui. Apart from the numerous stalls selling snacks, the rocks can get pretty boring, pretty fast.
Chaweng Stadium - Thai Boxing
This was my first ever live boxing match that I've ever seen and it didn't disappoint. The matches are kinetic and powerful - you can really get a feel for the amount of pain which is dished out. The fights start out with youngsters, possibly 14 year olds, which can actually be pretty jarring (who wants to see kids flail their arms about wildly?). Once you get over that, the fights between the more seasoned fighters is intense and you can't help but get drawn into the atmosphere of it. The tickets however are pretty steep but it's worth it considering the quality of the fights (although, as this is the first fight I've ever seen, I've got nothing to judge it against). You can see more photos of the fight over at my flickr page (the link is at the bottom of the page.)
Depending on your own personal views, your mileage with this will vary. Not much to say apart from the fact that it's a really big Buddha. Also, for girls, they have to cover up - beware the guard isn't particularly polite in telling you that you're wearing the wrong clothes. You do get to borrow a blanket to cover yourself up though.
★★★☆☆ (★★★★☆ if you're on a party trip)
A huge bar located on the Chaweng beach, it's often quoted by locals as *the* bar to go to, and it's clear to see why when you get there. It has an audience, atmosphere and ambiance unmatched elsewhere in Koh Samui. They have a quite an epic setup on the beach; with a pool, a beach dance floor as well as a stage in the water displaying flame acts. You can see it in the video below. The beach also allows you to walk to other bars, so you can bar hop if Arkbar gets too much - but none are of the size or spectacle of Arkbar.
It's worth a visit for the atmosphere alone and if you're in Koh Samui to drink and party, you couldn't find a better place to start at than Arkbar.