Saturday 11 December 2010

Still on the hippy trail in Samui

As we drive up through the backblocks of Lamai into the Varinda Resort I do a double-take. It seems like Alice in Wonderland has dropped an acid trip. Or Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali have just been here on a huge beach-side bender.

Mermaids and goats poke from the undergrowth. Bicycles hang from trees. Multi-hued rocking horses eye me from the pathway, jing jing.

Everything --and I do really mean everything -- is in bright, bold, primary colours. In your face.

In the lobby I do another double-take. Literally. Owner Yindee (Noi) and her daughter Varinda (Oil) could almost pass for twins although there is 20 years between them. Oh, and they're not mother-daughter; Noi is the aunt, being Oil's mum Chanida's sister. Goddit?

In their tie-dyed tees, sarongs, and wildly coloured bandannas, you immediately realise this is not the Hyatt Regency. "You don't come to a hotel in Samui, you are coming to see Noi your friend," she beams. "It is very humble but this is our house and your home too."

Noi sees herself as a hippie and dresses like this everyday ... even when on corporate roadshows. A far cry one suspects from when she worked with UNESCO for 14 years. "Samui talks about 4 star, 5 star, but we are here for the backpackers. Twenty years ago, this was the place for Aussie hippies to party."

And a nice spot it is too, on a promontory affording long views over Lamai Bay. "We are not on the beach but we have access through the family's property next door."

Family is a recurring theme with the artistic Noi. She's a painter, and so's Oil, hence the colourful splashes on every surface in, on and around the main buildings and the villas." The latter studied in the UK, and Chanida''s son is about to study hotel management in Switzerland. "But I told him you will not change anything here, we like it like this."

There is lots to love about the low-key laid-back environment.  All the balcony railings and all the furniture in the restaurant, are all hand made from wood from the property's orchard. It is rustic and enchanting compared to many of its newer modern generic neighbours. And when you're in the poolside sala overlooking the bay, nirvana seems somewhere just over the horizon.

"Samui is great because there's no low season," she says with those eyes sparkling again, laughing. "Great isn't it? Amazing!" Just then the rain slices in over the bay, sending diners ducking for cover.

"You can go to Bali and the beaches are great, too, but in Thailand ... it's the people," she says, touching her heart. "Next time come, and we'll go crazy, have a BBQ ..."

They don't teach you that at hotel management school in Switzerland. But they should.

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