For the majority of visitors to Samui, this tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand is all about sunbathing under swaying palm trees by day and getting dressed up for partying by night.
Since the pandemic, however, businesses have pulled down their shutters by day…and by night, leaving the once-thronging Chaweng and Lamai beaches with their dust-gathering neon signs and vulgar architecture looking worn and frankly pretty tragic. Without the vibrancy of people and the bright lights of amusement, these over-developed beaches look like forlorn and ugly shells of cement, plastic and scaffolding, neglected and abandoned in anticipation of the day the world reopens.
Yet there is one beach in Samui which is coming into its own; even thriving.
Bophut to the North of the island is perhaps not one of the ‘best’ beaches on the island – its sand is coarser than most (upside: great exfoliate) and when the beach meets the sea it drops immediately into a trough that isn’t as elegant as the island’s gentler-sloping beaches. Yet, it is in part because these slight imperfections have allowed Bophut to maintain its authentic charms, that Bophut has managed to become THE Samui destination over the past year.
The main attraction of Bophut has long been its Fisherman’s Village with its well preserved Sino-Thai wooden shop houses lining the main walking street and the warren of little sois which cluster around the old pier. Bophut first became well known in the late eighties and nineties when the majority of tourists who came through the then-bucolic Fisherman’s Village were the Full Moon partiers who would take the ferry or speedboat from the Bophut pier to Koh Phangan’s Haad Rin, shuttling between the islands night and day under the scorching sun and bright full moon. But over time, as the island developed and beach-front land became scarce, Bophut began to attract hotels, resorts, restaurants and other businesses, eventually becoming known as the wholesome family-friendly destination it is today; something which a large number of domestic travellers during these pandemic days are looking for.
Bophut beach is clean, quiet and a perfect spot to while away many lazy days. Having positioned itself for couples and families, Bophut has weathered the last year admirably and enjoys a steady stream of visitors who come for the chilled vibe, fabulous restaurants, great bars and live music as well as superb accommodations.
Only a quarter of an hour from the airport, Bophut’s beach is lined with resorts from the grand five star Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort to cheap and cheerful rentals. The beach also boasts some of the best restaurants in the gulf, either along the beachfront such as the absolutely can’t miss Koh-Co Beach rustic French restaurant or the authentic and elegant Supattra Thai Dining. The Anantara’s own Full Moon restaurant has also been selected by Thailand Tatler’s Best Restaurants 2020 as one of the best ‘Upcountry’ restaurants in the country. From Indian to Mod Oz, Italian to Indian, the choices are as international as the many visitors who come here.
Then there is the night life, which has to start at the most popular destination on Bophut, the internationally famous Coco Tam’s bar, a beach-rustic themed but yet very trendy beach bar where each sunset people come to laze on giant beanbags or lofty netted hammocks, order cocktails, sway to the beats from the revolving DJs and watch the nightly shows. And these shows are spectacular; whether it’s the fire shows where troupes of performers create fire visuals to blow the mind or it’s the world champion fly boarders who bend the mind with their air/land/sea gravity-defying acrobatics.
After the show it’s a short wander into the Fisherman’s Village for a bite to eat or a night with friends, dancing to any of the few live bands performing in the pandemic-friendly open-aired bars each night.
The Fisherman’s Village’s clutter of old wooden houses, many of which have been updated into chic and hip cafes, juice bars, spas and shops are also great fun to explore throughout the day.
While popular destinations such as Phuket’s Patong, Pattaya’s Walking Street, Bangkok’s Khao San and Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar have stood stark naked and empty over the past year, it is interesting to note that destinations such as Mae Hong Son’s Pai, Loei’s Chiang Khan and Samui’s Bophut have thrived. Perhaps it is because those of us who enjoy travelling during these domestic-bound times are trying to recapture that sense of discovery, of authenticity and of culture that these places offer – our wanderlust temporarily satiated.
“Bophut is a family oriented place, not a party place like Chaweng,” explained Cindy Delhomel General Manager of Anantara Bophut Resort Samui. “Thais and locals are not looking for crowds and parties now. Bophut has the Fishermen’s Village which is different from any other place on the island and when people come here they feel as though they are experiencing something different with real culture and local flavour.”
“Our guests come to Anantara Bophut to truly unwind,” she continued. “We have a luxurious spa, we have Full Moon, our fine dining restaurant with sweeping views of the beach and the sea, many of our rooms and villas face and front the quiet beach and yet we are just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Fisherman’s Village and all the entertainment you need.”
If you are looking for a beach escape over the coming months of air-pollution, then it’s only a few hours from your door step in Chiang Mai to Bophut and all of its charms.