All posts by Jim St. George

Breakfast at Vana Belle, where they offered us champagne to start the day. Occasionally we would accept.

We closed our three-week holiday on our favorite island in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui. We’ve been here a number of times and always consider the beach absolutely one of the best in the world. And we loved it again this time, though it wasn’t quite perfect. The first day we were there the sea was so rough you couldn’t really go in safely. I tried and before I got more than a few feet out a big wave just knocked me on my butt. As I stumbled to get up another came and knocked me back down again. So I left and waited until things calmed down the next day.

Then a few days later a pretty big storm blew through one evening and the next two days there were red flags out along the beach: don’t go in at all. The sea was really rough and so that was the end of that.

Our view from lunch. Normally we’re eager to get away from a resort for lunch, but the food was so good and varied we ate every lunch here, then went out for dinner. And with a view like that, there’s not much not to like…

Again, lots of reading (I finished the full three-volume biography of Teddy Roosevelt!), lots of lounging, another great hotel gym to stay at least a little active in, and lots of good food. Some great beach time before the weather turned. But I learned two things over these three weeks.

Local fish and calamari, one of many low-key but great meals. You know you’re not home when you notice the ashtray in the picture!

The first is more cool than important. We flew in and out through Singapore, which is almost exactly half-way around the world from New York. So the day of a flight out of New York, for instance, Singapore Air looks at the weather conditions and decides whether to fly northeast across the North Atlantic and over Europe, or northwest over North America and down the east coast of Asia.

On our outbound they flew us the northeastern route over Europe but on the return weather conditions were such that we flew northeast out of Singapore, up over Alaska and down across North America. So in fact we went around the world on this trip. How cool is that?

Dinner our last night at The Boudoir, our favorite French restaurant in Samui. Right – who has a favorite French restaurant on an island in the Gulf of Thailand? Turns out we’ve been there each of our last few visits to the island and it’s this little sliver of France off on a remote road. Since we were last there, though, a younger French couple started running it and it’s maybe not just quite as great as it used to be. Still good though.

Here’s the other thing I learned: three weeks of lazing on a beach in luxury resorts is just too much. I never thought I’d say that but by the end I was just a little bored with it all. To be sure, that is not the worst problem a person has ever had. But we both had the sense that we don’t need to do that again.

The good news is that we’re already getting excited about doing a winter vacation next year in Vietnam that would include some resort beach time but also probably some trekking in Sapa in the north, cruising in Halong Bay, urban time in Hanoi, and so on.

Hard to imagine getting bored on a beach like this, but somehow I managed it

If you had suggested on the LONG flight home from Singapore to New York that I would even consider another east Asia trip so soon (oh, and to make everything even more miserable I was sick on the flight, presumably from something I ate the last day in Thailand) I’d have been clear that wasn’t going to happen. But here we are just a few days back in New York with a Lonely Planet book sketching out what you could do next winter with five weeks or so in Vietnam. I’m already getting excited!

Bamboo Bar was a fun, colorful place maybe five minutes from our hotel and a nice place to stop for a pre-dinner drink

Enjoying a calm day in the sea

These were our chairs, under great branches that provided shade all day long

Another view from lunch

What’s the problem with a little late-afternoon storm if you’re already wet?


An elegant plate at The Boudoir

Finally, this is the wine list at The Boudoir. I saw that chalk board and had to pull up the blog Return to Koh Samui from a previous visit. Sure enough, if you click on that link to our 2015 visit – eight years ago! – there’s the same chalk board down at the bottom. Nice to know that some things don’t change.

Mark loved his lounger in the shallow part of the pool, with a view over the beach chairs and across to Phuket

Stop Two on our winter voyage around Thai beaches was Naka Island, a small island just off the east coast of Phuket (which is itself, of course, an island). If it seemed there was little to do on Phuket, one might expect there would be even less to do on a much smaller island. In fact, we did pretty well for five nights there.

The resort there was on the west side of the island, meaning you faced Phuket across a pretty modest channel. That meant the water was much calmer than an ocean-facing beach. Mark liked that; I was less impressed. And while the resort was very nice, the grounds were certainly not as lush as what we’d had on Phuket.

Speaking of things to love, on our first morning on Naka Island I went to the breakfast buffet and found … a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. How cool is that?!?

Still, there was plenty to like and plenty to do. Reading, eating, and swimming, of course, took most of our time. There was one little town on the island, just a 10- or 12-minute walk from the resort, with one little restaurant aimed at guests of the resort. The prices were probably no more than 20 percent that of resort prices and the food was every bit as good … or better. And these days I’m mobile enough that the walk was no issue for me.

Interestingly, Naka Island is a Muslim enclave in Thailand, which is 95 percent Buddhist. Somehow we managed to survive a lunch with neither pork nor wine. It can be done.

Mark and Jim enjoying their very local off-resort lunch

One oddity about our stay on Naka Island was that we timed it really badly regarding the tides, and every day we were there it got worse. Low tide would hit in early afternoon meaning that much of the day the beach was pretty ugly and not really worth swimming in. Given that the pool was nice, that wasn’t the worst problem we’ve ever faced.

From here we cross back onto Phuket and then head north up onto the mainland for another resort. Nothing to be unhappy about so far!

Mark on our walk to the nearby local village. We sometimes fear that staying at nice resorts we will miss these incredibly local experiences. Fortunately we still manage to get out and about.

Another view of our walk

On the other hand, the resort has some good food, too. I have to say, though, I don’t ever remember seeing a branded hamburger bun like this. I was impressed.

A highlight most nights was an after-dinner jaunt up to the Z Bar where they celebrated Happy Hour from 9:00 to 10:00 every night. That meant you could get two shots of rum or scotch for the price of one. In practice that meant you got a normal sized shot for a normal price. I’m OK with that.

Another shot across the pools, the beach chairs, and on to Phuket

I may be the only tourist in the world who rates resorts based on how easy it is to hang laundry out to dry. On that basis Naka Island was a total ten!

A picture from the boat ride from Phuket to Naka Island

And finally, there has to be a kitty picture, right? This cutie lives at the little lunch restaurant. She seemed quite well fed, but just in case I made sure she didn’t go hungry the day of our visit.

Mark at the pool. One thing we LOVED about the resort was the adults-only quiet pool. No cell phones, no pounding music. It was nice.

We’ve flown off to spend three weeks in Thailand. There’s really just one reason: we’re escaping the end of winter, and what better place than Thailand? Based on our somewhat more-than-modest world travels Thailand has among the best food, best beaches, and kindest, friendliest people in the world, all at bargain prices. So we’re spending three weeks on the beach here, not returning to New York until March.

One note about the flight over here. We flew Singapore Airlines from JFK to Singapore, connecting directly to Phuket. The JFK to Singapore leg, at 18 hours and 40 minutes schedule, is the longest flight in the world. There – another box checked off!

Our first stop, for four days, is the island of Phuket. We’ve been on the island before but always on the very southern part of the island where the city of Phuket and most of the people are. This time we’re way up at the northern tip of the island. Mostly just a few resorts and miles and miles and miles of beach. And that’s working out for us pretty well.

Lunch at a lovely resort a mile or two from ours. That counts as cultural travel on a vacation like this.

The resort we stayed at – a JW Marriott – is a beautiful property with really lush, tropical grounds. We’re not fans of really big resorts and this one is pretty darned big, but it was beautiful. Oddly though, we felt surprisingly distant from the beach, even though it’s a beachside resort. Presumably because of local laws (I’m just guessing but it’s as good a guess as any), there are no beach chairs or umbrellas on the beach. You can go down to swim and all that but for the most part you spend your days at the beautiful pools and just don’t go into the ocean that much. Thus you will note there are no pictures of the beach even though it was epically beautiful, just miles and miles of white sand.

That’s OK, though, as the pools were really beautiful. And the times I did go in the ocean were a little scary. There was nothing unusual about the surf but I’m still recovering from surgery on a couple toes and had a really hard time fighting the tide getting back to shore.

The quiet pool was really beautiful

And that’s it. Hours enjoying the pool, reading, recovering from jet lag. As for reading, I have my work cut out for me. I’ve been saving it up for a while until I had the time to really dig into it but I’ve started Edmund Morris’s magisterial three-volume biography of Teddy Roosevelt. The 2,400-or-so pages will keep me busy these weeks. And based on other experiences I’ve had I will for ever more connect Thailand with Roosevelt.

The one downside of staying in a place that’s mostly about the resorts is that there weren’t great off-resort food options, or at least many that we could get to with my still-limited mobility. (Note about recovery: I was still using the walking boot on the flight over, to make sure I could get around the airports and all that. By day three in Phuket, though, I was getting everywhere I needed without the boot so it stayed there when we moved on. YAY!) The food at the resort was OK, but we hope to pick it up a notch or two as we continue through the area.

On our last night we walked just a tiny bit up the beach to a little local restaurant that had pretty good Thai food. It wasn’t the kind of local restaurant we crave – it was clearly aimed at people like us staying at a resort but tired of resort food. It was good enough, though, and fun to sit on the beach in a decidedly low-key environment.

I had to get a picture of this kid who was bussing tables. I just loved the Classic t-shirt … with the Fuck You in big letters.

And since there are no photos of the beach, one more of our favorite quiet pool