The tastiest Thai food at Busaba

Enjoying Thai food at Busaba

Today’s rainy summer day started with an amble down Oxford Street. The street of myriad shops, frenzied tourists getting in their retail therapy and streams of London buses slowly making their way. I love a bit of time in Oxford Street, but a word of advice – go in the morning – by afternoon it can get unpleasantly packed.

On one of my first meanders down Oxford Street I was surprised that I couldn’t find one of those famous London pubs I’d read so much about. I was too nervous to go off the main drag in case of getting lost! In fact there is one pub on the street which is right near Tottenham Court Road tube station. It used to be called The Tottenham but has recently been renamed The Flying Horse. Not sure why. But of course if you step down any of the side streets off this great London thoroughfare there’s no shortage of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants to enjoy.

And as London’s restaurant scene gives you the opportunity to enjoy the whole world’s cuisine, just a hop and a skip off Oxford Street is Busaba where you can tuck into the flavours of modern Bangkok. It’s a beautiful, contemporary space with large tables and benches for convivial sharing. We tucked into some tasty, crunchy prawn crackers served with sweet chilli sauce while we pondered the comprehensive menu.

Busaba: prawn crackers

A bowl of crunchy crackers with a sweet and spicy sauce

What’s on the menu

There are several sections to consider – snacks, small plates, stir fry, wok noodle, curry, chargrill, soup and salad – and everything sounded delicious. A hard place to make choices but it had to be done.

We started with the Pandan chicken – tender, fried chicken pieces wrapped in pandan leaves and served with dark soya and sesame dipping sauce. It’s amazing just how tender and flavoursome this chicken was – and I do love the pandan leaf idea, it’s like unwrapping a gift. A very tasty one, too.

Busaba: pandan chicken

Delightful little chicken parcels

Busaba: inside chicken pandas

The luscious parcel contents

A different take on prawn tempura – where the prawns are tossed in Thai-seasoned mayo and topped with chopped mango and chilli. A wonderful combo of textures and flavours with quite a serious chilli bite.

Busaba: prawn tempura

Crunchy prawn tempura and creamy Thai mayo

From the stir-fry section we chose the ginger beef. Strips of bavette in garlic and ginger sauce with mushroom, Thai pepper, fresh chilli and spring onion. The beef was lovely and tender and the sauce packed plenty of gingery flavours.

Busaba: ginger beef

Tender beef in a zingy ginger sauce

I do love a Thai curry. Today’s was one with a difference – red mullet, pineapple and betal leaf -with the fillets poached in the light red coconut milk curry. Mullet is so sweet and tender and goes perfectly with this creamy sauce.

Busaba: Red mullet curry

Double reds: mullet and curry

Busaba: red mullet curry

Sweet fillets of mullet atop egg fried rice

We enjoyed our mains with a fluffy portion of egg fried rice.

Busaba: egg fried rice

Perfect fluffy egg-fried rice

As a regular consumer of Thai food I was happy to discover that the menu offered some interestingly different dishes. And there’s a vast selection of Asian beers and Thai spirits – perfect for cocktails. I didn’t get round to any cocktail sampling this time around, think I’ll have to go back for a refreshing guava bellini or how about an Asian mojito with kaffir lime leaves? Yes please.

To finish off, here’s a shot of the stylish room through our delicious wine. Why not?

Crackers and wine to get started…just perfect

 

Today’s price point

Our two courses cost £38 without drinks or service.

Wine starts from £17 a bottle.

Cocktails are £7.50 and there’s a wide range of fresh juices starting from £2.50.

Busaba is at 52-53 Eastcastle Street W1, just off Oxford Street. Oxford Circus tube station is a few minutes walk.

There are twelve branches across London, so there’s bound to be one near you.

Where to stay in Phuket: La Flora Resort and Spa in Khaolak

I fell in love with Thailand on my first visit, many years ago and that love affair grows every time I return. It’s very appropriately called the Land of Smiles – there’s always plenty of smiling going on – which is extremely catching. This was my third visit to Phuket (my first to Khaolak), which makes it my favourite Thai destination – so far anyway.

Today we’re heading an hour’s drive north of Phuket International Airport to La Flora Resort & Spa in Khaolak.

The hotel’s set in beautiful gardens with two pools, overlooking the golden beach of Bang Liang and those perfect Andaman Sea vistas.

Here’s what I loved about La Flora.

The beach

La Flora sits on a beautiful bay framed by palm trees. The beach is perfect for long post-breakfast meanders before settling down for the inevitable sunbed session. I was often the only person paddling through the beautifully warm water and watching the lone fisherman in action.

The sweeping beach is perfect for sunny meanders

The heavenly view from my subbed

Colourful boats alongside the beach

The drinks on the beach

There’s great beach-side service at La Flora. From frothy cappuccinos, fruity shakes and daily cocktail specials, all delivered to your sunbed for you to savour.

A mango shake makes beach life better

Cucumber gin and tonic overlooking the sea

The pool-side rooms

We upgraded from a regular to a pool-side room. And what a good idea that was.

Our spacious and comfy room offered all the facilities on my really-want list: a fridge, kettle with coffee and tea, a safe, good air conditioning, plenty of fluffy towels and great wifi. The bathroom had a huge shower and a magnificent spa bath complete with lights that changed colour as you submerged yourself in clouds of bubbles. Very indulgent.

The comfortable, huge bed in our stylish room

The room opened out onto a deck complete with two sunbeds (a lot of sunbed action going on at La Flora, you can see). One more step and you were in the sparkling blueness of the pool – private for those lucky enough to be living alongside it.

The pools

Step out of your room for an early morning dip, swim up to the central pool bar or expend some energy doing lengths in perfect peace. The sparkling water and fluttering palm trees made a fantastic scene to open the blinds to in the morning.

Living the pool life – steps from our room

And here’s the jacuzzi. Simply press the button and enjoy some relaxing bubbles on the top step.

Our own personal jacuzzi right outside our stunning room

You’re spoilt for swimming choice at La Flora as there’s also the main pool adjacent to the beach. You’ll have to be up fairly early if you want to  nab one of the overlooking sunbeds. It’s an active pool with swimmers, paddlers and those simply enjoying the view.

The main pool is right on the edge of the beach

The food

How I love the breakfast buffets in South East Asia. The colourful platters of tropical fruit make for a delightful start to any day. My three favourites – the combination of Ps – Passion fruit, Pomelo and Papaya. All made to taste even more delicious by eating them overlooking the beach. And that’s just the start.

The perfect way to start the day

Gotta love a multi-course breakfast. The Asian selection was quite intimidating – all that decision making first thing in the morning. A couple of times a week there was a huge dim sum offering which I dived into.

Lift the lid to reveal myriad dim sum

The restaurant had tables right on the edge of the beach which we always headed for whatever the meal. You couldn’t find a nicer eating environment. For lunch we often tucked into starters from the a la carte menu, all of which were delightful, like these chicken satays.

Eating chicken satays overlooking the sea

On the beach just to the side of the hotel was a street food cart. Or should that be a beach food cart? Corn piled high, large, luscious spring rolls, satays and my favourite Thai salad – green papaya made in front of you.

Beach food delights right next door

We ate dinner several times off the a la carte menu which offered a great choice. And twice a week the hotel set up an incredible buffet spread showcasing a wide range of Asian and Western dishes.

It’s also worth mentioning that there was a decent selection of good, well-priced wine on offer which is not always the case in Thailand. As wine drinkers it made our La Flora experience just that little bit more enjoyable.

The service

Thailand is known for its friendly service and La Flora didn’t disappoint. Waiters made an effort to get to know you and make you feel welcome and everywhere you went you were greeted with a cheery sawsdee ka. One night the manager even got an extra table set up for us overlooking the beach when they were already all reserved.

The entertainment

We enjoyed listening to the duo from the Philippines who sang on a few of the nights, took requests and could perform a mean version of Candle in the Wind. Plus one night we were treated to beautifully elegant traditional Thai dancing. Here are the lovely ladies.

Beautiful, graceful and colourful traditional Thai dancers

The nearby town

Okay, this isn’t actually about the hotel but the fact that it was set just back from a charming little town is definitely worth a mention. Five minutes walk up the street to myriad massage opportunities, rustic al fresco restaurants and bars and shops for all your necessities. Oh and a marvellous array of street food, too.

The street food is great in Khaolak

An array of tasty skewers to dazzle

La Flora Resort & Spa is the perfect get-away-from-it-all spot for a relaxed beachside holiday with beach walks and plenty of swimming, delicious food and warm service. They do offer a range of excursions if you’re inclined to explore the area more, but as ever I found it hard to drag myself off that perfect beach.

 

The taste of Thailand in Covent Garden

I love Thai food, there’s so much variety  and everything’s bursting with flavour. I visit Thailand whenever I get the chance and my favourite part of the trip is trying different dishes every day. I have established some firm favourites over the years.

So today I’m delighted to be combining some of my favourite food with my favourite part of London. Thai food in Covent Garden – gotta love the international flavours of London Town.

SUDA Thai is tucked away in a beautiful courtyard just steps away from the hustle and bustle of this popular area of the capital. It’s a real haven and you feel even happier with the warm welcome you’re given. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles and I discovered that the Thais have thirteen terms describing different types of smiles – a bit like the eskimos do for snow. You’ve got to understand there’s plenty of smiling going on in Thailand, and there also certainly is in SUDA Thai.

The menu is impressive, and pretty huge, taking some paging through. We were directed to the section headed E-Sarn Classic – dishes from north-eastern Thailand – which include different versions of green papaya salad (som tum), which I eat large amounts of on Thai holidays. We went for the classic version which comes with cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, dried shrimp and chilli.

The green papaya is shredded, mixed with a zingy, spicy dressing and topped with the other ingredients. It’s a crunchy, chilli delight of a dish and even eating on a cool autumn London day, the flavours transported me to the beach – well, one of the many beaches I’ve enjoyed this dish on. Now I know where to get my fix in London

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Classic som tum – spicy green papaya salad

We found ourselves drawn to the Grilled and Stir-fried section for our next choices. Fish works so well with Thai ingredients, and the sea bass was amazing. It came in crispy batter, drizzled with sweet and sour chilli sauce and accompanied by a fresh salad.

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Sweet sea bass fillets in a delightful sauce

Our third choice was the black pepper beef. Beef tenderloin was served with a coating of black pepper sauce, crunchy onions and peppers and little stems of green peppercorns to bite into. Perfect served with a bowl of fluffy, tasty egg fried rice.

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Tender beef, crunchy veg and a peppery sauce

SUDA is the perfect place to pop in for a light lunch, as we did, though it was hard narrowing down the choices. Next time I’d like to go with a large group of friends so we can really do the menu justice and try loads of their delicious offerings. The selection of small bites looked particularly enticing, and then of course, there’s all the curries…

Today’s price point

SUDA is really good value. Our food today cost £36.25 and was a satisfying lunch for two.

Wine starts from £18 a bottle.

SUDA Thai is at St Martin’s Courtyard, off Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2. It’s a short walk from Leicester Square tube station.

The joys of 2015: the experiences that made my year

Travel adventures abounded for me in 2015. Yes, I know how fortunate I am. It was a year full of amazing journeys, discovering new countries and revisiting old ones on three continents. Here are some of my favourite bits.

March

My Blue Train odyssey

It’s always been my dream to experience one of the world’s great train journeys. And this trip from Cape Town to Pretoria lived up to every expectation. Top quality service, amazing food, the comfiest of cabins and of course the ever-changing scenery on a journey through the majesty of South Africa. 27-hours of pure magic.

Find out more about The Blue Train by clicking here.

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The stylish Blue Train leaves the Mother City, heading north

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The Blue Train has arguably the best breakfast menu in the world…and also the best eggs Benedict

June

A spontaneous short break to Barcelona

One of my favourite cities in the world, Barcelona has everything going for it. Amazing architecture, friendly people, great shopping, a huge beach, endless bars and restaurants serving amazing food and wine. And this trip was even better as it was a last-minute booking, an escape from a chilly grey London to the energy and blueness of a fabulous Spanish city.

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Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the most stunning unfinished building in the world

And of course there’s the Boqueria, probably the best food market in the world – I know I should calm down with the superlatives. I reckon I could spend a whole holiday in here alone, with the mission of tasting something from every stall – a challenge I’d embrace whole heartedly.

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One of the tempting tapas bars in La Boqueria

July

I embarked on a cruise around Northern Europe with my brother Ray, nephew Zak and niece Maxi. And our mascot Sigmund (the toy baboon, reflecting our African roots) who we took everywhere with us. It was a real adventure, visiting new countries like Estonia and Finland and starting off in wonderful Copenhagen where we spent a few days. There were three real standout experiences in a wonderful fortnight where we made new friends and discovered new lands.

Discovering the beauty of Copenhagen

This charming Scandinavian city was a revelation. Truly fabulous restaurants – we devoured course after course at the Michelin-starred Studio. We also shopped up a storm, caught up with old friends, ambled around picturesque Nyhaven and took in all the tourist sights. And the cherry on the top was that Elton John was playing in the world-famous Tivoli Gardens – and we got tickets. What more can I say?

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One of many amazing and delicious courses we tucked into at Studio

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The very little mermaid (she’s very beautiful, too), with our travelling companion Sigmund

Marvelling at St Petersburg

I hate the phrase bucket list – maybe it’s because (if I had one) I’m sure it would go on forever and be way too intimidating to tackle. Having said that I think St Petersburg should on everyone’s…from the grandeur of the Hermitage, the sheer scale and amazing design of the city, the majestic buildings and the somewhat brutal history. Oh and the caviar. When in Russia!

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The Church on the Spilled Blood has to be the most stunning church I’ve ever visited

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Sampling caviar with Zak and Maxine, and Sigmund of course

Sailing down the Thames through Tower Bridge

The cruise ended in London, I mean right in the centre of London – we sailed down the Thames with the city’s landmarks getting closer and closer until Tower Bridge opened up to let us through. I’ve lived in London most of my life and truly love the place. When the crowds lining the river cheered us through I had tears in my eyes. We spent our final night on the river overlooking Tower Bridge, The Shard and the Tower of London. Just perfect.

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The unique view of London’s landmarks from the River Thames

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The beautiful lights of Tower Bridge at night seen from our ship

August

Loving the beachlife (and everything else) in sun-drenched Spain.

I visit La Manga in Spain every year and explore more and more of this versatile region each time. It seems there’s always something new to discover. The markets with their fabulous fresh produce and bargainous clothes, bags, shoes and jewellery, the many beaches lined with restaurants and bars serving delicious Spanish fare, the welcoming people and the sunshine and blue skies, how I love those Spanish skies.

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Early morning on the beach in Cabo de Palos, heavenly!

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A break from sun worshipping and swimming for a chilled Rose

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The purple light of a summer night in Spain

September

At the end of September I embarked on another cruise. This time starting in Rhodes in Greece and sailing around the island of Symi before heading into Turkey. Our eight-berth Turkish gulet, the Muhtesem A was a joy to live on for a week in harmony with nature with endless seas and skies of blue. There were two highlights in a week of chilled-out happiness.

Our beautiful boat in the blues of Greece

Our beautiful boat in the blues of Greece

Absorbing the delights of  dreamlike Symi Harbour

My love affair with Greece continues. On the island of Symi you inhale the wild herbs at every step and the panoramas are endless. A hike to the top of the hill at sunset finished with my first taste of Retsina, a trip to the local herb man to stock up (of course) and a feeling of joy at this picturesque town.

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Our boat berthed in Symi Harbour, picture perfect

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I couldn’t leave Symi without buying plenty of herbs from the charming Stavros

Sleeping under the Turkish stars.

Our idyllic days began with yoga and continued with absorbing the ever-changing landscapes, swimming in the crystal clear sea and eating delicious local food. They turned into starlit nights where I clambered on top of the boat, wrapped in a fluffy blanket and slept tight under the stars, waking to the sunrise, the bleating goats on shore and the early morning bread delivery by boat. A once-in-a-lifetime experience – one I hope to repeat!

You can find out more about Mediterranean Fitness Voyages by clicking here.

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Perfect pinks and blues get the day off to the best start

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The bread man turns up just after dawn with freshly baked goods

October

Living the beach life Thai-style in Koh Samui

Another of my favourite places, the islands of Thailand call me back again and again – well I am a beach baby, after all. The Land of Smiles is the ultimate place to re-energise with warm, crystal-clear waters, laid back shopping days, beautiful scenery wherever you look, the myriad of fruit shakes and cocktails and all those tasty Thai dishes…I ate seafood every day in many different styles and it’s all such great value. Thailand rocks.

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Welcome to Koh Samui with a cocktail on the beach

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My favourite Thai salad – spicy green papaya with prawns. Yum!

Well, what a year. Happy new year to you all, wishing you lots of adventures in 2016. As one of my favourite sayings goes: “Travel is the only thing you pay for that makes you richer.” How true is that?

Where is the best place you went in 2015? Where should I go next? I’d love you to inspire me with your travelling tales.

Fabulous authentic Thai food at Erawan in Cape Town

I love Thai food…regular readers will know this. I’ve been to Thailand several times and cook Thai food frequently, too. So I was excited about visiting Erawan in Chelsea Village in the Southern Suburb of Wynberg in Cape Town for the first time.

Chef Noom graduated from the prestigious Dusit Thani Thai School of Cooking, so that’s a good start. And the name has an intriguing Thai connection. Erawan is the Elephant God and the name refers to the rain clouds and lightning that result in rain sent down by the god Indra as he rides the elephant god Erawan across the heavens. According to Aryan legends, Erawan is huge, white and has 33 heads. Each head bears seven tusks and for each tusk there are seven lotus ponds. Each pond has seven lotus pads, each pad has seven lotus blossoms and each blossom has seven petals. On each petal dance seven angels and each angel has seven ladies-in-waiting. So there’s a lot going on there then!

A bit like there is on the comprehensive menu. There’s a wide range of sushi, a dim sum section, a good salad selection, chef’s specials and stir fries. Luckily you’re promptly presented with the prettiest bowl of prawn crackers I’ve seen in a long time to munch on while you carefully make your decisions.

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Prawn crackers in pastel shades served with a selection of dipping sauces

We started off with a couple of dim sum delights. The Goong Tod – deep fried prawns with spring onion in a crispy wonton pastry came with a sweet chilly sauce. Jam packed with tasty minced prawns and beautifully crunchy.

Plump and crispy prawn dumplings

Plump and crispy prawn dumplings

Steamed spicy beef dumplings were stuffed with mushrooms, coriander, ginger and garlic and served with soya and chilli sauce.

More plump dumplings, this time filled with spicy beef

More plump dumplings, this time filled with spicy beef

All mains can be ordered mild, medium, hot or Thai style (beware!). As it was my first visit I cautiously went for mild just in case of disaster, next time I’ll confidently ramp it up to medium

There’s a lovely chef’s special choice from which we had the prawns cashew. Six sweet and juicy queen prawns were stir fried out of their shells in a light curry sauce with garlic, coriander, roasted cashew nuts and fresh vegetables.

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A vibrant plate of prawns and veg in a delicious sauce

The stir fry section has a list of sauces to which you can add your choice of fish or meat. I went for the stir fried fresh basil sauce – fresh vegetables stir fried with garlic and infused with fragrant basil and added pan-fried crispy pork. This is one of the nicest Thai dishes I’ve had, genius idea to offer crispy pork, so good I may well have to order it again on my next visit, oh yes, there will definitely be a next visit.

I'm going to be dreaming about crispy pork until my next visit

The crispy pork adds another dimension to this traditional dish

We ordered egg fried rice to complete our feast – it was perfectly done, glossy, light and flavoursome.

Light and tasty egg fried rice to savour

Light and tasty egg fried rice to savour

There’s also a main course stir fried rice and noodle dish section that we didn’t venture into this time.

Portions are substantial (you could easily share a main between two) and it’s really good value with starters mostly under R50 and my delicious pork dish R125 (around £2.15 and £5.40 in English money for any fellow UK dwellers lucky enough to be in Cape Town at the moment).

It’s a popular place with a steady stream of customers refilling tables as they’re vacated. All run with a gentle efficiency – you don’t feel rushed – and smooth service with a smile. Just what you’d expect from anything that’s a part of Thailand. Gotta love a new Thai eatery to add to the list.

Erawan is at 15 Wolfe Street, Wynberg, Cape Town.

 

 

What to drink in Chaweng, Koh Samui

We’ve explored the fabulous food in Koh Samui, but what is there to drink? Nothing quite says Thailand to me than the array of colourful and tasty fruit shakes available everywhere. There’s such a selection the best thing is to start at the top and aim to sample everything on offer during your stay.

In Chaweng, they were often served in console jars with handles attached. Looks really cool and tastes amazing. And a shake on the beach is a great way to start the day.

Like the beautiful yellowy orange of a mango shake at Sabroso on the beach in our little bay.

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The sweetness and vibrancy of a mango smoothie

Or how about the beautiful pinkness and sweetness of watermelon. Sipped here under colourful umbrellas in the aftermath of one of many downpours. I think it’s my favourite…though I am also particularly partial to mango and pineapple too. Oh and the mixed combinations are lovely and fruity.

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A jar of liquid watermelon to savour

It’s always important to find your coffee place when you arrive somewhere new. And we soon gravitated towards The Coffee Club in Chaweng Main Road. The perfect spot for some people watching and the day’s caffeine fix.

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Cappuccino at The Coffee Club

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A piccolo latte – the mini version

Breakfast at our hotel also offered some lovely beverage offers. Like this Bael fruit juice…we also enjoyed lemongrass, ginger and freshly squeezed orange juice.

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Breakfast juice that gives you health

And then of course there’s the gamut of alcoholic options to chose from. Wine is more widely available in Koh Samui than I’ve found in other places in Thailand. A lot of the restaurants and bars we visited sold wine by the glass and had a wine list of sorts. Prices are still pretty steep, expect to pay £20 upwards for a bottle of wine, choices are normally Australian or Chilean.

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Chilled white wine on the beach at Sabroso

Unless you visit the Samui Wine Oasis which has a book of a wine list with a selection from all over the world, including some incredibly high end options. It soon became a regular pre-dinner drink venue when we made the most of happy hour and sipped on a decent glass while watching the world go by on the bustling main road.

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The perfect place for wine lovers in Koh Samui

And then there’s our favourite bar – Your Place – right on the beach with the sea lapping up against your feet when the tide was high.

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The ultimate beach bar

Our friendly local bartender was a dab hand with the cocktails. And it was so beautiful sitting there it soon became a regular pleasure. Go at happy hour for bargain drinks (90 baht, which is less than £2) for a cocktail. This is called Coconut Wonderful, and it was wonderful.

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The joy of Coconut Wonderful on the beach

Or how about a Welcome to Samui.

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Seaside Samui cocktails decorated with an orchid

Or the Sombie was a tasty citrussy combination.

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Artfully made for our drinking pleasure

I bet these pictures have made you thirsty! Happy drinking.