Paddling In Paradise – Ko Samui – Do you have a favourite holiday destination you keep returning to? Is that little voice in your head getting louder, repeating the thought – I wish I would live here? But then you return to reality, push the dream away and continue your life at home. For Australian born Tammy and her British husband Ian, Koh Samui was that place they kept travelling to. The Thai island paradise captivated their hearts and thoughts until they decided in 2015 that it was time for a change! But how to make a living on the island? Get to know Koh Samui and meet the ex-pats who paddled their way into the heart of the local community!
Paddling In Paradise – Ko Samui – If you have read last weeks post My Ultimate Top 5 – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Islands, you might have wondered why Koh Samui has not been mentioned. The reason is not that the island is not pretty enough but instead Koh Samui deserves its own post.
As the biggest of the three famous islands in the Gulf of Thailand, Samui is the most developed with its own airport and ferry connections to the other smaller islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The island is equally loved by backpackers and luxury travellers, offering a diverse and exciting mix of accommodation and activity options. There are three main beach towns in Samui. Close to the airport on the East side of the island is Chaweng Beach, the probably busiest of the three beaches. A few kilometres further south, you find Lamai Beach, a more relaxed area set against the green hills of Samui. Last but not least, there is Bophut Beach in the North of the island with its stunning resorts and the famous Fishermans Village.
The Current Situation on Samui
Since 15 July 2021, Samui is part of the so-called Sandbox scheme, a Thai effort to bring foreign visitors back. If you want to read more about the Sandbox scheme, read our post Launching Thailand’s Sandbox – Get to know Phuket’s Awesome Hidden Gems.
Under the title, Samui Plus, fully vaccinated travellers may enter Koh Samui either directly with an international flight or by transit via Bangkok on one of the three daily flights. For the first 7 nights, visitors to Samui have to stay in specific Samui Extra Plus hotels. For the first 3 days, all travellers have to remain in their hotel. Between days 4 – 7, they may go on specific sealed tour routes on the island. Only from day 8, visitors may change hotels and move on to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao if they wish. You can read more details on the requirements here.
All Thai Gulf Islands are heavily dependent on tourism and need foreign visitors to return. With vaccinations being administered worldwide, there is hope that travel will return with a more sustainable outlook.
Tammy & Ian’s Story
Imet Tammy and Ian on an inspection trip to Koh Samui back in 2019 while working in Bangkok. We went out for dinner and had a lovely evening chatting about their fascinating story of how they came to Koh Samui and their life on the island.
Their story starts back in Singapore, where they first met. Both had high profile jobs, living busy lives as professionals. In 2002 they took their first trip together to Koh Samui, immediately falling in love with this laid back tropical paradise. Ever since then, they kept coming back at least once, sometimes twice a year, dreaming about a time where they could make the island their home. In the meantime, they relocated to busy Sydney, Tammy’s native home. Here, the couple picked up SUP, short for Stand-Up Paddleboarding. They first learned how to paddle at iconic Sydney Harbour and continued to hone their skills around Sydney’s stunning beaches and bays. No wonder they fell in love with this sport, giving them a good balance to their stressful jobs in the city.
Paddling In Paradise – Ko Samui
A Lifestyle Change
In 2015 they finally decided that it is time to exit the rat race and make Koh Samui their permanent home. And how better to earn your living by doing by what you love most. In this case – Stand-Up Paddleboarding!
Having come here so many times on holiday before, they knew how hard it was to find paddleboards on the island. Therefore, the idea was born to import the equipment and set up their company iSUP Samui!
For the past 6 years, they have successfully settled in Samui as part of the local community while running their company as SUP instructors. While Tammy runs the SUP business full-time, she additionally is involved in several local charity projects. Ian still works part-time for an overseas company next to his work at iSUP. Apart from short trips here and there, Ian can work remotely from home, leaving enough time for his passion for leading paddle groups around Samui.
Tammy and Ian have made their dream come true – living their best island life in Koh Samui while earning money with what they love most. The ultimate Slow Living Dream!
iSUP – can you SUP? – Paddling In Paradise – Ko Samui
In case you have never tried Stand-Up Paddleboarding yourself, the concept is easy to understand. All you need is the board, which looks like a thicker, oversized surfboard, and a paddle. With a bit of balance and some elbow grease to propel your board forward, you are having the best time exploring the magnificent coastline! Getting away from the noise of the land, you can admire the island’s beauty from a different angle. Plus, you stay active and work some muscles. For the slow travel lover, it’s the perfect slow sport!
Koh Samui has some ideal conditions for paddleboarding with mostly calm, warm water all year round. There are many protected beaches to find your feet and gain confidence on your board. The worst that can happen is that you lose your balance and fall into the warm sea.
The company is based in the North-East of the island, starting their tours mostly from Choeng Mon, Bangrak (near the Big Buddha temple) and Bophut Beaches. Ultimately, the wind and swell decide the location for the trips to ensure the safest paddling conditions for the groups.At iSUP, all instructors have been certified by the Academy of Surfing Instructors (ASI) and are qualified to teach anyone over 7 years old how to SUP. The equipment is from Starboard, a world-leading brand based in Bangkok. The premium quality of the equipment ensures the best possible experience. The boards are extremely stable, which makes them perfect for beginners as well as SUP yogis.
What is the best SUP trip for you? – Paddling In Paradise – Ko Samui
The tours are usually conducted in small groups with a maximum of 8 people. You can, of course, always request private tours or lessons for you and your family or friends.
The Sunrise and Sunset Paddle Tours are the most popular ones, being the best way to start or end a day on the island. Enjoy the calm of the morning or evening with stunning views in a special light. The tours take about 1.5 hours and cost 1,500 THB per person (about 38 EUR or 46 USD).
The sunset paddle can also be booked as a Sunset SUP and Cocktail Tour! Here, you paddle for about an hour across the bay to one of iSUP Samui’s favourite cocktail bars! The well-deserved cocktail is, of course, included in the rate of 1,800 THB (about 46 EUR or 55 USD).
Another highlight iSUP Samui offers are the SUP Yoga tours. These tours run with a maximum of 4 people, giving you the chance to improve your yoga skills on the sea. Learn how to balance on your board and soak in the tranquil atmosphere.
If you are an experienced paddler, you can also book the 5 Islands Longtail SUP Tour. This tour takes from about 8 am to the latest 2 pm, taking you to the little known surrounding islands, exploring by traditional longtail boat and, of course, SUP. Get to know a different side of Samui and explore the stunning nature on your trusty board. You can find all tours and rates here.
Being Part of the Community
Living on a tropical island often looks like a piece of paradise without any problems or hardship. Unfortunately, the reality looks very different, with many local communities struggling with poverty and social issues. Especially now during COVID times, where tourism, the island’s primary source of income has nearly entirely dried up. Having a solid place within the local community in Koh Samui, Tammy and Ian like to give back. They are involved in different projects and charities, doing their bit to improve the lives of the less fortunate.
One of the long-standing projects iSUP Samui supports is Charlies Children’s Charities (CCC). This foundation focuses on improving the lives of disadvantaged children and mentally handicapped people by organising events to raise funds and other needed items. CCC aims to bridge the gap between people in need and people who are willing to help.
iSUP Samui participates since 2015 in CCC’s annual Kids Day On The Beach, an event for a local orphanage. With donations from businesses and assistance from volunteers on the ground, this annual event is the one day a year where the children can be thoroughly spoiled. For Kids Day, the iSUP team transports their boards from Samui to Khanom to spend the day with the children, offering them fun experiences on the water.
The other charity Tammy supports is called Sisters on Samui Foundation. It’s a non-profit NGO founded in 1997 by a group of women living on the island, organising fundraisers to support local projects in Samui. With the rise of COVID 19, the Sisters on Samui Foundation made it their aim to assist local Thai and Burmese families who lost their income on this tourism-dependent island. There is little government help, especially not for the foreign Burmese workers, having no income now to support themselves or their families at home. Tammy and the ‘Sisters‘ organise food packages containing rice and some essential food items for the hard-hit families. The #FeedSamui initiative is supported by local businesses, Samui residents and distant friends. If you love Koh Samui and would like to help, please feel free to contact any of the charities to see how you can best get involved. If you had a great time on the island, why not support the community in return.
Living like a local – Tammy’s Samui Favourites – Paddling In Paradise – Ko Samui
Samui is a favourite amongst tourists for a long time with some well-known highlights such as the Big Buddha or a day trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park.
The best thing about knowing a local ex-pat is picking their brain for some off-the-beaten-track tips and hidden gems! Where do the locals go? What are their favourite things to do, where do they like to hang out and where do they eat?
We asked Tammy about her favourites on the island and we were lucky enough for her to share the love. So, next time you travel to Koh Samui you can live and enjoy the island like a local yourself!
Favourite Things To Do
Sunrise Paddleboarding at Choeng Mon beach & Sunset at Taling Ngam or Lipa Noi Beach
With paddleboarding being Tammy’s greatest passion it’s no wonder that the Sunrise and Sunset paddle tours are on top of her list of things to do. There couldn’t be a more serene way to start or end the day than by soaking in the tranquillity of the island, just a few metres off the coast. The sky is illuminated in different shades of pink while you paddle in the calm warm sea of the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a lovely experience in a small group and such a different way to see the island, away from the busy hustle and bustle on land.
Day Trips to Koh Madsum – the Piggy Island!
While I was on Koh Samui, I had heard loads about the awesome day trips to Koh Madsum or pig island as it is also called. While I unfortunately never got the chance to go, Tammy reckons it’s one of the best day trips off Koh Samui.
You might have seen pictures or footage of the swimming pigs in the Bahamas – on Koh Madsum, it is the exact same thing. It’s a tiny island a few kilometres south of Koh Samui. The owner of the local beach restaurant gave a few pigs a new home and brought them back to the island. The piggies love the beach home and now roam the island freely. Within a short time the pigs have become the biggest attraction on the island.
You can take a day trip by longtail boat out to the island to meet those free-spirited pigs roaming the beach, minding their own business. You spend the day snorkelling and enjoying the beautiful island. Treat yourself to lunch and a few drinks at the beach restaurant while watching the piggies frolicking in the waves. Visiting Koh Madsum makes for a memorable day trip and comes highly recommended.
Yoga at The Yogarden
Back in 2019, when I met Tammy, I also met Bonnie from The Yogarden, a local yoga studio owner our tour company worked with.
Bonnie is originally from the US but has lived and brought up her family on Koh Samui for many years. The original Yogarden studio was set in a beautiful traditional Thai house in a lush tropical garden in Bophut. An absolutely stunning and tranquil place. Bonnie and her team of professional yoga teachers offer any type of yoga you might be interested in. Apart from classes, The Yogarden also offers multiple-day Detox retreats. During these retreats, you enjoy a detox friendly diet and spend your days with yoga and meditation classes. Bonnie runs a fantastic operation, popular with locals and international visitors alike.
COVID, however, also affected the Yogarden operations. The studio has now relocated from their tranquil backyard location in Bophut to FitKoh in Ban Tai. FitKoh is a fitness and Muay Thai Boxing studio set on Ban Tai beach, overlooking the sea. It could really be worse than practising yoga with a view over the azure blue sea. FitKoh also offers lovely accommodation, the best place to stay for the detox retreats.
If you enjoy yoga regularly or would like to give it the first try, the Yogarden is the perfect place to enjoy your practice.
Foot Massage in Fisherman’s Village
Thailand is the land of good massages! You can get them anywhere, anytime and you will feel like a new person afterwards. Therefore, it is not surprising that another one of Tammy’s favourites is getting a professional foot massage in Bophuts famous Fisherman’s Village.
Tammy favourite spas here are the Sakura Spa and Cyan Spa. Both offer nicely airconditioned rooms overlooking beautiful Bophut beach. What could be more relaxing than getting your feet rubbed while looking out over the stunning Thai sea?
If a foot massage is not your favourite, there is a full menu of other treatment options available. Don’t pass up on the opportunity for this absolute treat-yourself-moment.
Favourite Places To Go – Eats & Drinks
Secret Garden Beach Resort
The resort doesn’t just offer lovely accommodation for visitors to the island, it is also popular with locals. Located in Bangrak, Tammy recommends the Secret Garden’s awesome beachfront restaurant overlooking the sea. The restaurant offers delicious food Thai as well as Western food served in an all-around good atmosphere. The food is well priced, ranging from about 140 THB for light meals to 200 – 250 THB for the main meals. If you enjoy live music, come to the Secret Gardens Sunday Sessions featuring local and international bands playing. Rumour has it even Mick Jagger played a set once at the Sunday Sessions! If you want a good night out on the island, add a visit to the Secret Garden to your To-Do list.
Treehouse on Silent Beach
The Treehouse is a cheap and cheerful sweet little spot on the beach in Maenam! The Treehouse offers well-priced bungalow accommodation right by the beach. Locals love to come here for the great food and exotic cocktails at reasonable prices! The Treehouse prides itself on offering not only delicious but also healthy Thai and international dishes. Cocktail lovers have a field day here! You could spend a whole night trying all their delicious cocktails. They offer 10 different types of Mojito alone, not even having counted the other cocktail specialities! The Treehouse is a lovely hidden gem, successfully staying true to themselves for over 20 years already! Do yourself a favour and come here to watch the sunset over Silent Beach with a delicious cocktail in hand.
The Nature Samui
If you are looking for something really different, visit The Nature Samui! This little gem is for once not situated at the coast but located about 2.5 km inland from Bophut Beach. With their farm to table concept, the restaurant only uses freshly harvested crops from their gardens for their delicious food. The hidden location of the place is just unreal, set amongst some majestic trees overlooking a pond covered in lotus flowers! Spending an evening here is like being transported into a different world. If you enjoy delicious Thai food made from fresh local ingredients, The Nature Samui is a Must-Visit!
Sweet Sisters Cafe
Another great place for healthy, slow food is the Sweet Sisters Cafe in the south of the island! Set along the main road between Lamai and Thong Krut Pier, this little place is truly a local hidden gem. The Sweet Sisters proprietors pride themselves in making some of the best healthy, organic food around. If you take a drive to the lesser-visited south of the island, make sure to stop by for their delicious food and to peruse their little gift shop!
Bang Po Seafood Restaurants
In the very North of Samui, next to Maenam, you find Bang Po Beach. In recent years Bang Po has become a more popular spot with bars, cafes and restaurants dotted along the beachfront. The area is popular with Thais and ex-pats alike, enjoying some drinks, fresh seafood and lovely views. If you are looking for a good seafood dinner in a typical Thai restaurant and a beautiful setting, come down to Bang Po Beachfront. One of Tammy’s favourites here is Tacho Seafood, offering some authentic Thai seafood on the beach!
Cocktails in the Air Bar of the Intercontinental Resort
If you plan a special evening with some of the best sunset views available on Samui – treat yourself to cocktails at the Air Bar of the Intercontinental Resort. Situated on Taling Ngam beach, this fancy 5-star resort is the perfect place to relax after a great day on the island. Splash out that night and enjoy some delicious cocktails with views of the Five Islands in the sunset. An experience not to be missed!
Some Final Words…
Koh Samui is an amazing place to discover beyond the tourist trails and truly worth a visit! Everyone who has been to Samui has probably another 20 tips right at the tip of their tongue.
I hope you enjoyed the look behind the scenes of Samui, seeing a bit of a different side and exploring it from the view of an island local. As you see, life on the island has just as many challenges as elsewhere, in some ways even more. I hope that tourism to the Gulf islands will resume soon to bring jobs back, especially to the most vulnerable families on the island.
Abig Thank You to Tammy for taking us by the hand to show us her Koh Samui and sharing her story! I always find those personal stories the most fascinating and it brings me joy when people pursue their dreams. If you are on the island, treat yourself to a SUP trip with Tammy and Ian to see Koh Samui from their point of view!
If you like some more inspiration straight from the horse’s mouth, go to Instagram and check out isupsamui. Also, get some more local inspiration from #rediscoversamui. The local tourist businesses association Skål International Koh Samui has set up this new hashtag campaign to bring domestic travellers back to Koh Samui. Domestic or international – who cares! Follow the hashtag to get some great ideas for your next visit to this tropical island paradise.