Tranquility and happiness: The Thais call it sabai, and it’s a perfect description of your honeymoon on Koh Samui. Floating in the Gulf of Thailand, this destination exceeds clichés like remote, island and paradise with dazzling sunshine, luxurious accommodations, and a genuine welcome from the locals.
Untouched by the devastation wrought by the 2004 tsunami on Phuket and other west-coast destinations, Koh Samui’s five-star resorts are beautifully sophisticated. Spa pampering, gourmet dining and nightlife all take place under a canopy of palm trees and banyans. No matter where you choose to stay on the island—all areas are connected by a highway that winds through coconut plantations—Samui is an unforgettable and exotic choice for your first vacation as newlyweds.
BY DAY: Start your morning with luscious pineapple and mango—or even dim sum— while you overlook the glassy Gulf of Thailand. After a quick kayak ride through the shallows, hop a songtaew—a truck kitted out with benches and roof—for a trip to Wat Phra Yai. (Hail one carrying an English sign that says “Big Buddha Beach.”) The sacred gold-tiled statue is a classic landmark on the northern tip of the island, near the Fisherman’s Village. On Sunday evenings, join the party at the Secret Garden Festival on the beach. The barbecue with live music by local and guest musicians begins at 5 p.m.
After a busy morning, de-stress with a couple’s beach massage at Ban Sabai, a Big Buddha Beach favorite. Thai massage is an athletic art form. Surrender to gentle experts who thoroughly stretch and soothe every muscle. Samui’s warm, calm surf is perfect for a swim, but the pristine nearby Mu Koh Ang Thong National Marine Park—the name means “golden bowl of islands”—offers Technicolor waters, brilliant parrotfish, stingrays and blacktip sharks. Book dawn-to-dusk excursions for snorkel and scuba through Planet Scuba, or arrange them through your hotel. For golfers, Santiburi Samui Country Club offers the island’s most spectacular 18 holes.
BY NIGHT: Night markets, a Thai tradition, thrive in Chaweng; stroll and bargain for silk, sandals and Buddhist artworks. Treat each other to pairs of $1 Ray-Bans or knockoffs of other luxury goods. Then cheer Thailand’s national sport at muay thai box- ing matches at Phetch Buncha Arena. End the evening at the Reggae Pub, a thatch-roofed mansion booming with international music acts, outdoor pool tables, and an entry lane lined with smaller stand-up bars. For the adventurous, Full Moon parties on the nearby island of Koh Pha Ngan—monthly beachfront blasts at Haad Rin—pound with pumped-up dance music and flaming jump ropes. (They’ve been described as “Ibiza meets a Phish show.”)
WHAT TO EAT: The tantalizing scent of southern Thai favorites like som tam (spicy shredded green papaya salad) and tom yam goong (spicy and sour shrimp soup with lemongrass and galangal) wafts through Koh Samui’s markets. Don’t speak Thai? Just smile and point. Even small cafes usually have picture menus that will give you a clue. Wash down a spicy dish with local lagers: Singh and Chang beers are favorites. For more elegant din- ing, try the international tasting menu at Betelnut on Chaweng Beach, or the Bali- nese flavors at Poppies; finish with sweet banana fritters with coconut ice cream. Create your own kaew niew muaung— yummy sticky rice with coconut milk and mango—with Anantara Lawana resort’s Chef Coco, who begins his cooking classes with a trip to the colorful Lamdin Market.
WHERE TO STAY: Among the international resort chains on the island, Anantara’s lush beach properties, Lawana and Bophut, cater to honeymooners (anan- tara.com). Anantara Lawana’s pool villas offer complete clothing-optional privacy and luxurious outside showers. Join other couples at the infinity pool overlooking the island’s longest white-sand beach. Anantara Bophut offers pool villas as well as deep two-person tubs; nearby Fisher- man’s Village, with coffee shops, water- front cafes and a popular burger place, the Shack, is just a stroll away. Despite wi-fi and air-conditioning, these modern properties have a sustainable vibe: Both are certified as Green Globe hotels, con- serving water and energy, reducing waste, and providing opportunities to local arti-ans and performers.
WHAT TO PACK: Bring—or buy—a big shady hat. The average temperature on the island is 86 degrees. No jackets required here, but a luxurious caftan cover-up or chic dress is appropriate with your flip-flops.
BEST TIMES TO GO: The island’s high season is mid-December to mid-January, with good weather until April, when temperatures spike. The rainy season lasts from October through mid-December, but even during the monsoon, downpours are brief.
NEWLYWED NEWS: Book a private sala, or pavilion, for a fantasy banquet for two in a banyan tree. Anantara Lawana’s elegant Tree Tops restaurant features eight tables high in the tropical canopy, with a natural soundtrack of ocean waves and sleepy frogs.
GETTING THERE: From Philadelphia, total flight time to Bangkok is 18 hours. (Most flights include a brief stop at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.) From ultra- modern Suvarnabhumi International, connect to one of Bangkok Airways’ doz-ens of daily one-hour flights to Koh Samui. The open-air airport is a little slice of tropical heaven, where surreys instead of people-movers zip through palm trees. While car rentals are available, many resorts offer airport shuttles; request one with your room reservation.
— Christine H. O’Toole