Koh Samui, Thailand – Travel Review
By Richard Jones, February 2024
She can’t get around as well as she used to, has lost most of her teeth and can only see out of one eye. However, Sri Nin certainly knows where her bread is buttered – or where her bananas and watermelons are.
As soon as the nanny Asian elephant realised my hands were empty of the refreshing fruit snacks, she flashed a quick smile before moving her wandering trunk onto the next pair of food-laden hands.
Approaching 60, Sri Nin is the oldest animal who calls Samui Elephant Haven in Thailand her home, and during a magical morning, I joined a small group feeding the gentle giants their favourite nibbles and lunch bites.
In addition to joining the elephants at feeding time, we also got to hear some of their heartbreaking stories, finding out how they were rescued from their previous lives logging, carrying tourists and performing in circuses.
Thankfully, they have now settled among the coconut forests and pools at SEH’s vast 23-acre site, where they will spend the rest of their lives in peace.
We also got to meet the youngest member of the herd, cheeky two-year old Haven Moonlight. Although there is no breeding at the ethical sanctuary, his mother was pregnant when she was rescued, and her calf safely arrived a few months later.
“Sapphire blue sea”
In recent years, I’d often listened to my friends raving about the wonders of Thailand – its sapphire blue sea, white sand beaches, tropical forests, friendly locals and delicious food.
And my first trip to the Southeast Asian kingdom certainly didn’t disappoint.
Following a direct 11-hour flight from London to Bangkok with Eva Air, I then had a short layover in the Thai capital before boarding a small Bangkok Airways jet bound for the country’s third largest island, Koh Samui.
If you’re looking for a base from which to relax and re-energise in between exploring the bountiful island, the newly renovated Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort, just a short 20-minute ride from the airport, should be on your radar.
The elegant colonial-style resort retreat is situated at the foot of a tropical hillside in on Lamai Beach and is home to 146 rooms and suites.
“Minamalist and modern”
I spent a few nights in one of their spacious Club Lamai Suites, with a super king four-poster bed, corner sofa, oak floors, and white panelling and blinds shading the bright sunlight peeking through the Juliet balconies.
The design of the bedroom was minimalist and modern, with iPod stations, two TVs, while there were also a few nautical and traditional Thai flourishes, and the grey marble bathroom with its rain shower, bath tub, sink and w/c was immaculate.
General Manager Leah Matters showed me around Outrigger resort’s abundance of recreational facilities including a fitness centre, kids’ club, games room and laser tag area.
Tasty breakfasts are served each morning at the Mala Kitchen, while those who book certain suites get access to the exclusive Voyager 47 club with its complimentary non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, evening canapés and cocktails.
But Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort’s major pull is undoubtably its dreamy Edgewater family beach club and bar.
I spent many an hour on a lounger or beanbag with a slushy or ice-cold beer through the day, and watching the sunset with sundowner cocktail in hand during the evening happy hour.
Edgewater’s food is also mouth-watering, with casual fare like wood-fired pizzas, crispy spring rolls and Thai beef salads for lunch, and Western and oriental-influenced dishes such as Samui calamari skewers, pad Thai and green curry for dinner.
Although I could have easily spent most of my days lounging and napping by the pools, and being spoilt by the friendly Outrigger staff, I was determined to get out and about and make the most of my short time on Koh Samui.
I kicked the break off with a three-hour morning tour of the island, with stops at The Cocoon viewpoint, Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha temple), and the vibrant Fisherman’s Village where I enjoyed lunch at Coco Tam’s beach bar.
“A mix of daytime and nighttime appeal”
The next day, I was booked on an eight-hour tour of Ang Thong marine park.
This series of jungle-covered islands jutting out from the Gulf of Thailand’s azure waters are said to be the inspiration for Alex Garland’s cult classic novel, The Beach, and subsequently, the 2000 Danny Boyle film starring a fresh-faced Leonardo Dicaprio.
Following an extremely bumpy speedboat ride (the waves were particularly rough), we stopped off at various islands for a spot of snorkelling, kayaking, hiking up to the Blue Lagoon on Koh Mae, a buffet lunch, and a spot of relaxation on a pristine stretch of beach on Ko Phi Luai.
I’m a big believer that a good all-round holiday destination should have a mix of daytime and nighttime appeal.
And that’s certainly the case on Koh Samui, with pockets of the island coming alive when the sun sets.
“A magical few days”
Departing Outrigger, you have a choice whether to walk, hop on a moped, flag a taxi or even jump on the back of a songthaew (one of the island’s converted tuk-tuk-style pick-up trucks).
My usual destination was Had Lamai Road, a bustling strip of bars, restaurants, shops, night markets, massage parlours and cannabis cafes. I pulled up a stool in a few of the bars, including Let Them Chill, for a cold bottle of Chang or Singha lager and a spot of people watching alongside fellow holidaymakers and ex-pats.
For those that fancy somewhere even more lively, Chaweng is Koh Samui’s entertainment capital, although it caters more for the younger crowd.
Following a magical few days in Thailand, it was with a heavy heart that I had to say “Sà-wàt-dii” and bid farewell to my new friends in what had already become one of my favourite holiday destinations.
“One more surprise”
Leaving the island for my flight to Bangkok, there was one more surprise as I got to spend an hour in what has to be one of the coolest and friendliest airports on the planet.
Strolling around Samui airport and relaxing in the departure lounge, I chatted with other travellers and shared our highlights of the last few days including, of course, feeding fruit to Sri Nin and her herd.
An elephant never forgets, as the saying goes, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stop thinking about my first trip to the Land of Smiles any time soon.
Richard Jones was a guest at the five-star Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort in Thailand, one of Hawaii-based Outrigger Resorts & Hotels’ properties set in tropical beachfront locations around the world. For more information go to their Asia page on outrigger.com or visit @outriggerresorts on Facebook, Instagram and X.
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