I first came to Koh Samui 13 years ago when it was still a bit of a hippy paradise. It was about the time that the film version of Alex Garland’s book The Beach – starring Leonardo DiCaprio – was released.
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Suddenly there were lots of people all milling around Thailand looking for the perfect stretch of sand and hoping to find a never-ending party.
But while it had undoubtedly changed a lot from the island coconut plantation it had been when first discovered by tourists in the Seventies, it still seemed very authentic to me.
What I particularly loved were the local people, who were really kind and very nice – I remember how much I’d enjoyed that first visit and had been waiting to go back ever since.
This time around, however, I would be seeing the island in style. And I wasn’t simply coming on holiday, I was in Koh Samui for a friend’s wedding, someone very close to me whom I’ve known for 22 years.
A big group of us had flown over: it was a real gathering of friends. There would, of course, be a hen party and the climax would be the marriage ceremony on the beach. While it sounded as if it might turn out to be a bit like a tropical-beach version of the movie Bridesmaids, I knew that it was going
to be a pretty sedate affair.
After all, I was travelling with my two-year-old daughter Betsy, and the trip came just before the start of the series of Strictly Come Dancing in which I was competing. So this was my last chance to recharge the batteries before what I knew was going to be a pretty intense period of work.
In Koh Samui, most of my friends stayed in private homes because they knew people who lived there. But Betsy and I stayed at the W Hotel, and I was delighted because over the years I’ve become a bit of a fan of these establishments.
I’ve stayed at the W in New York and I’ve been to the one in London, which I think is great. I had been keen to visit the W Retreat in Koh Samui because I’d heard good things about it. The hotel’s website paints a gorgeous picture, describing ‘the azure waters of the Gulf of Thailand’ meeting ‘palm tree groves boasting more species of coconuts than any other place on the planet’.
My expectations were high and I wasn’t disappointed. (The Tripadvisor reviews are an endless
stream of unmitigated praise, so I knew I was in for a good time.)
As soon as I arrived, I was astonished to see just how much Koh Samui has changed since my first visit. When I went on that trip with a boyfriend, the island was really not built up at all. There were little shacks on the beaches and the market at Chaweng had little old stalls.
Now everything has become so much more Westernised; there are ‘proper’ shops. I was amused to see that they’ve even got a Tesco there – and, of course, a Starbucks. If I were living on Koh Samui,
obviously I’d want to have a Tesco and a Starbucks, but I could understand how people who remember the island as it was are nostalgic for the way it used to be.
Extract taken from an article that appeared in the Daily Mail
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