It has much to offer the South African traveller. No visa is required, the exchange rate is still quite favourable and there are destinations ranging from the sensory overload of Bangkok to the cool jungle, to the breathtakingly beautiful islands and beaches - available for tight budgets all the way up to “money’s no object”.
Every photograph you’ve ever seen of crystal clear waters and snowy white beaches is the truth - no filters, no Photoshop required. The spectacular sunsets, which are a riot of oranges, pinks and purples, are the rule rather than the exception.
Add to that delicious food, friendly people full of smiles and a climate which rarely requires long sleeves or pants (other than when visiting temples), and you have the perfect holiday.
On my recent whirlwind trip, which was never going to be long enough, I spent a night at Belmond Napasai, on Koh Samui. The island is a one-hour flight from Bangkok, operated almost exclusively by Bangkok Airways, which delivers plane-loads of locals and tourists, almost hourly, throughout the day.
There are other ways to get there, but they are long and tedious and solely for the younger traveller who can still see the romance in hot ferries, buses and trains. I’ve done it that way and I heartily recommend you suck up Bangkok Airways’ fare monopoly and spend more time on the beach.
As you arrive at Belmond Napasai, you might do a double take when you see the water buffalo grazing - more surrealism. You arrive at the main building, to be checked in with a bowl of coconut ice cream and a cool drink of water, after which you’ll be escorted to your villa - one of 45 sitting between cashew and coconut groves, hibiscus and bougainvillea.
Built on a slope stretching into the trees, you enter the villa up a short stairway with a very nifty “Do Not Disturb” device - a rope to close off the top of the stairs. A veranda is furnished with a table and chairs, with a view of the sea through the palm trees.
Inside, teak furnishings, bamboo and traditional weavings bring the feel of nature.
The “lounge” has two day beds facing the television, a platter of fresh fruit - always cut artistically - close at hand. Through this room is another of equal size where you’ll find the bathroom, vanity and dressing area - with all the amenities like robes and slippers, tea and coffee and lots of water, which is replenished as required. Everything is decorated with purple orchids, which are as common as daisies here and the bed was like a giant marshmallow cloud.
Once you are at the resort, you have some difficult choices, the first of which is “do I lie by the pool or on the beach?”.
I opted for the latter and a nice young man swiftly prepared a lounger and umbrella for me and an island-style cocktail materialised soon after. Mynah birds hopped around, demanding attention and I contemplated the water gently lapping at the sand.
If you want to actually swim you’re going to have to wade quite far out. I settle for going thigh deep and then sitting down in the interests of saving some time. Several water activities like stand-up paddling and kayaking are included in your stay.
Other complimentary activities include yoga, massage classes, muay thai, bicycle tours, as well as various food classes - from fruit and vegetable carving to Thai sweets. You’ll get your printout of all these weekly activities when you check in.
In addition, the hotel can arrange all sorts of tours and day trips for you to explore Koh Samui by land or sea, and also offers more extensive activities which are for your account. I squeezed in a cooking class which was designed for a successful outcome, although I was responsible for my own final seasoning so I’ll take credit for that when I tell you the result was four spot-on delicious dishes.
Later that evening, there was a “barefoot beach buffet” which I took literally - at that point, even the flimsiest of sandals seemed redundant as I fully embraced the island lifestyle. Tables are set up on the sand, and the palm trees festooned with fairy lights and lanterns. It was so magical that I could have wept with joy.
Besides the beach restaurant, Napasai has the Lai Thai restaurant where you’ll be able to tuck into traditional Thai dishes, as well as the Infinity Eatery & Bar for casual pool-side refreshments.
If this is still not enough, there is a fitness centre where you will receive complimentary coaching, a spa and tennis courts. If you simply must work, there is also a business centre.
Honestly, why would anyone want to leave?