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A Taste Of Thailand

11.06.22

Jane Slade explores Tongsai Bay Resort, a secret, serene, hideaway on Thailand’s third largest island

In the north-east corner of Koh Samui, far from the- glitzy Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons hotels is a quiet, sheltered enclave where the odd sailboat carves through the turquoise sea, and beaming staff clasp their hands in prayer to greet you.

It really is a magical spot. Here a gentle breeze wafts through the frangipane to the two-acre organic garden a five-minute drive away; where herbs and spices are cultivated in sunken baths alongside jack fruit, pineapple, cucumber, bananas, peppermint, watercress, green mango trees, beetroot, and jasmine.

This is where Tongsai’s chefs collect fresh produce to use in the food served in the resort’s three restaurants. It is also where chef Panyawut Pengsuk (we called him Joe) picks herbs and spices and delicacies for his cookery classes.

My hubby and I joined one of them during our stay. We were allocated a baby ceramic hob each and instructed to chop and heat a prepared mix of vegetables, fruit and spices for our four-course menu. We made King prawn spring rolls with fresh garlic and white pepper corn; pork in green curry and chicken soup with galangal. We mixed palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind juice for pad-thai and blended pumpkin and sweet potato with a coconut cream and cooked it with a Pandanus leaf.

It was heavenly to create authentic Thai dishes under the watchful eye of a Thai expert. Then, best of all, gather together to consume our efforts. We were even awarded a certificate of excellence. Even better is to watch fruit sculptor Khun Pu carve fruit and vegetables into various shapes at the resort’s fruit and juice station. Khun Pu has been at the resort for 31 years and is known as the Fruit Lady.

Samui (Koh is the Thai word for island) is Thailand’s third largest island. It is populated with the top branded hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, and Six Senses but Tongsai Bay doesn’t fit this scene of opulent grand standing. In fact you cannot imagine anywhere more different, where a calm, discreet, understated luxury reigns.

Our villa, hewn from dark wood, had its own pool overlooking the secluded bay. We stepped through billowing muslin onto a huge terrace with a view of a crescent-shaped sandy beach and glinting ocean beyond.

We took early morning dips to watch the sun rise and listen to the birdsong – 67 different species of birdlife inhabit the surrounding vegetation, and watched the sun set at Wat Phra Yai where a golden Buddha graces the headland. The resort is just 15 minutes from the little airport. And is as unspoilt- now as it was when the owner first discovered it in the 1980s.There are family cottages and a family pool and golf buggies to transport you from your villa to the lobby and beach.

There are complimentary paddle boards, canoes and wind surfers for water-sports enthusiasts but no noisy motorboats or jet skis. We followed our stay at Tongsai Bay with a few nights in Bangkok. We reckoned you can’t come this far without experiencing the Thai capital. We stayed just outside the city at the Siam Hotel on the Chao Phraya river in the historical district.

The five-star Siam, built just 10 years ago, is set apart from the typically grand city hotels of Bangkok; tranquil and secluded and surrounded by lush gardens. It’s packed with wow factor wrapped in a dramatic Art Deco monochrome colour scheme. There are just 39 rooms; a mix of suites and villas. We had a stunning villa with a private pool in a tiled courtyard. The Siam has a palatial feel, so it is fitting that it should be so close to the historical Royal Grand Palace, the home of the former royal family.

The hotel’s crowning glory is its stunning three-storey, glass-roofed atrium which has a central water feature of giant tropical palms. It’s a quirky place too. There’s a Muay Thai boxing ring, a Sak Yant studio offering spiritual tattoos, and some 5,000 curios, antiques and Hollywood memorabilia.

It also offers cookery classes with chef Peter, which involves a trip to the local wet market and cooking on stoves outside on the riverbank. We spent a fascinating morning exploring Bangkok’s hinterland sourcing spices, herbs and produce for our culinary experience.

Chef Peter guided us through the menu he had created for us, which included Phad Krapoaw Moo; chopped pork,  vegetable stock and oyster sauce served with jasmine rice; Phad Thai Goong a tiger prawn dish and a banana and coconut milk desert; Guay Buad Chee – all washed down with a home-made cucumber Kaffir Lime Fizz.

The best way to travel into Bangkok from the Siam, which offers a river shuttle service, is on a sunset cruise. There is nothing like viewing the city from the water, especially the golden temples of the stunning Grand Palace which are floodlit at night. We arrived in time for the musical fountain show at the Icon Siam shopping emporia and then explored the huge fashion malls trying to decipher the fakes from the originals.

The next day we leapt onto traditional tuk tuks for our historical city tour, exploring the magical Grand Palace with its colourful pavilions, courtyards, gardens and Temple of the Emerald Buddha; where we arrived in time to hear the rhythmic chanting of monks at prayer. A mesmerising experience and fitting conclusion to our wonderful taste of Thailand.

Destinology has a seven-night stay in Thailand, comprising of three nights at The Siam, a five-star hotel in Bangkok ina Siam Suite, including breakfast and four-night stay at the five-star The Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui, in a Cottage Suite with breakfast. Price starts from £2,395 per person, based on two adults sharing and includes private transfers and return flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airways and return economy flights from London Gatwick to Bangkok with Qatar Airways.

 

https://www.destinology.co.uk/

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