It's of little surprise that most of the Thai villas in this guide are concentrated in Koh Samui
– the Scylla and Charybdis of the kingdom: if one doesn't get you, the other surely will.
In the nicest possible way.
Recognising its qualities as the perfect place for some 'R&R', the Peace Corps was despatching volunteers to Koh
Samui only a couple of decades back, when the island was devoted to raising coconuts rather than succouring tourists. And it's tempting to imagine that the
first backpackers who followed in the volunteers' wake in the early 1970s may now be going back there on a slightly different kind of holiday, toting brand
name luggage and with teenage children in tow, to dally in a beachside or hilltop private villa rather than kip beneath an A-frame. Some place names will be
familiar – Bo Phut
and Big Buddha Bay
, however newer locations such as Lipa Noi
and Laem Set
have an air of exclusivity in their remoteness.
Phuket's progress has been even more meteoric. It now sports international brand names in its malls, an airport hosting visitors from all over
the world, restaurants run by celebrity chefs, world-class golf courses and a cosmopolitan grandeur that have made it a synonym for The Tropical Good Life
around the planet. It's also purported to host a decent party or two.
Due to the vagaries of land purchase and its challenging construction industry, Phuket's villas have evolved rather differently
than those in other parts of Asia, with estates proving more popular than stand-alone properties. The net result is gated villa communities – some very
up-market indeed – predominantly on the sunset coast to the west, starting in Bang Tao
, running down 'Millionaire's Row' around Kamala, through vibrant Patong
and on to Karon
in the south. Just off Phuket Island to the north, meanwhile, Natai Beach
is home to some very exclusive villas.
More than a few visitors to Samui and Phuket (and indeed to Pattaya
, closer to Bangkok, and the more northern Chiang Mai
) have put their money where their
heart is and decided to build here, either spending a substantial part of the year in their Thai pied-à-terre
or at least an extended vacation. Some of the islands'
villas tend to the 'ginormous', begging for a party or for big family groups, while others are more modest. Villa design tends to reflect the personal taste of its
owner, however there's nearly always a nod to the traditional elements of Thai architecture. And common to every location is the glorious climate that makes Thailand so attractive.
How you pass your time once ensconced at a villa in either Phuket, Samui, or up country is very much a matter of taste. Water sports aficionados, sight-seers and shop-aholics are all
well catered for; however the temptation to pull up the drawbridge and play at being royalty for a while will appeal to seven-year-olds of all ages. Of particular
delight will be the Thai cuisine, known around the world for its freshness and selected fieriness, and the staff who are so skilled at looking
after visitors – this is after all the Land of Smiles.
Thailand's variable geography is mirrored by its climate which is very much affected by the monsoons. Both Phuket and Samui
are generally rain-free from late December to April whilst the rainy season is June through November. During the monsoon transitions, the Gulf of Thailand’s
weather is typically gentler than The Andaman coast. The cool season (November – February) is one of the best times to visit (making it an excellent
European winter escape). Between March and May expect the temperature to rise to the mid-30 degrees Celsius. Travelling in the rainy season is usually far
from unpleasant, however, as monsoon rains typically last only a couple of hours. Peak visitor periods (with corresponding accommodation prices) are Christmas and Lunar New Year.
Timing a visit to coincide with one of Thailand's major festivals is a real bonus; Songkran
or Thai New Year in mid-April
is marked with a free-for-all water fight, and celebrated with particular fervour in the more vibrant hot-spots of Samui and Phuket. In November, Loy Kratong
the festival of lights, when candle-lit floats are launched into waterways at night, is especially picturesque. Although December 31st ranks as one of the
best party nights of the year, pretty much every day in Thailand is a cause for celebration. Two Thai words – sanuk
– sum up why so many holidaymakers return to Thailand time and again. Sanuk means 'having a good time' and, whether on a beach holiday or trekking through
malls or mountains, it’s difficult not to have fun here.
Similarly, life's stresses and strains seem to melt away in Thailand: whether you'relying prone beneath a masseur's
fingertips or downing an ice-cold beer poolside at your villa as you watch the sun sink over the horizon, sabai or 'take it easy', is the watchword.