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.

Miles of sandy beach

From Naka island we returned to Phuket and then took a car to its northernmost point and over a bridge onto the Thai peninsula. An hour up the peninsula is the area known as Khao Lak, yet another part of Thailand blessed with miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches.

We once again found ourselves in a nice resort, though it was bigger than we like, and we tire of resort restaurants. But just steps down the beach was a nice string of little private, fairly rustic restaurants. So we had nearly all our lunches and dinners in these little places we love. I guess I could say that rustic little restaurants on sandy beaches is our happy place in Thailand.

One signature trait of these beach restaurants is that they tend to have pretty silly names. Our top choice among them was the place called “Be Friend.” And the runner up had the incredibly inauspicious name of “Andaman Seafood and Massage.”

Not a whole lot more to report from Khao Lak. Just five days of beach, reading, and cheap and delicious food at beach restaurants with silly names.

Getting ready for lunch at Andaman Seafood and Massage

Lunch at Be Friend

A wave coming in

Me out in the water that is always the perfect temperature

Yet another lunch at Be Friend

The perfect weather is sometimes briefly interrupted by a fast, powerful afternoon rainstorm. This is our little private pool under sheets of rain.

Jim ordered this beautiful fish one evening at Be Friend

One evening we were extra adventurous and took a jitney into town for dinner. I loved the crazy bright colors. No filters here!

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.