Suzhou is called the Venice of China. It is a city about 30min train-ride west from Shanghai, that is full of culture, history and canals. It is also a large commercial center, but there is something about the town that you can really forget about that part. Suzhou has a large number of relics and places of historical interest, and it is the place to visit some tranquil gardens, traditional temples, and stroll narrow roads surrounded by water. It’s a great day-trip destination if you are visiting Shanghai, but you need to go prepared. Here are a few tips to get you started with planning. P.S. No wine tips in this post (Suzhou is not really a wine-city).
Goodbye Koh Samui, Good morning KL! After a week and a half at the beach, we are happy to be in a big city again. I am not expecting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia being a muslim country and all, to have much wine action. However we have read about a blooming coffee scene, and I am looking forward to some yummy Malaysian food. This is not my first time in KL. No, our paths have crossed before when I was an exchange student there almost 10 years ago. My time in KL was far from blending in with the local culture. I hung out with other Finnish students, lived in a hotel on the main shopping street and took taxi to school. Don’t get me wrong. If it would (monetarily) have made some sense to go more local, I would have. However our generous subsidies from the school and the Finnish government did not encourage more monetary efficiency. I had a great time (and maybe learned something), that was the main thing!
What about the past week then? Koh Samui has treated us well. We even had some wine: Vallformosa Brut cava at the pool; and a lot of local beer. It took us a few days, and the realisation that we should rent a car to really enjoy the place. However after some exploring, we found many places worth mentioning on this blog. Perhaps most of the restaurants etc will not get their individual posts, but here is a list of the our top 5 on Koh Samui.
#1 Boy’s Organic Coffee: is a small coffee shop in the south of Samui. There is really no other convenient way to get there than by car, but the south road is calm and quite nice to drive. They roast their own beans and do mainly espresso based coffee. It is the best coffee you find on the Island. M would say its very mediocre in the greater context, but man did that latte taste good after a few days break. They also have some nice teas that you can buy in a cute jar.
#2 Art Cafe by June: has two locations: one in Nathon and the other in Bo Phut, where we were living. They focus on “healthy” food: wholegrain bread, brown rice and raw cakes. It was not only reasonably healthy, it also tasted great. They also make wonderful fruit and vegetable juices and shakes. We spent a good amount of hours at this cafe just reading and enjoying some fresh snacks.
#3 The Hut is located in Fisherman’s village. Otherwise very touristy, the Hut is a fresh breeze of original Thai on the shopping street. We were initially lured in by the local menu that did not advertise any European food (I didn’t come here to eat pasta) and later experienced that the food was excellent as well. Its very popular so we had to actually reserve a table several days in advance for the second visit.
#4 I-Talay Nasai Garden & Restaurant is a lovely cafe on the Taling Ngam beach. It is located right on the rather calm beach. They have some tables with shelter from the sun, and you can just sit there, eat snacks and dip in the water in between. We spent 3-4 hours at this place just sitting, reading and snacking. Occasionally we dipped into the water to cool down. The food was decent (you can’t really screw up a fried rice can you) and the fruit shakes were nice and refreshing (but as always in Thailand do mention you do not want added sugar in things unless you wish to have them overly sweet. It was the perfect spot to spend the hottest hours of the day.
#5 Let’s Relax Spa. A visit to Thailand is not complete without some relaxation at the spa. Getting a massage is criminally cheap and my back has been aching for a good rub down. We opted for something, not upscale, but “better” than your average beach Thai massage. Some of the spas on the island are very expensive, but this road side palace had a decent price level. Both of us took a Relax package with a 45 min foot reflexology and a 120min Thai massage. This cost us around 1300 THB (~€40) for almost three hours of of bliss and pain. When it comes to a proper massage, No pain, no gain.
(#6) Wine Connection, not in my top-5 experiences but worth mentioning because this is a wine blog. It is the only proper wine shop (chain) on Samui. In the greater context it is not a great shop (or at least it is not a great shop for me, as it has a thin selection of sparkling) but if you want to buy some wine, then this is your place. Prices seem reasonable and the wine is kept in acceptable conditions and temperature. Wine connection has a few branches of Samui. One on Chaweng beach, and another one in Bo Phut next to the big Tesco. The one on Chaweng apalso has a wine bar, so that might be your place if you want a good glass of wine on your trip.
After nine days at Samui I can conclude that it was worth it sacrificing part of our vacation to hang out on the beach (we are city people). I am not much for vacationing in the same places every year, but now I would know what to do differently if I would come again. My top recommendations are to look for accommodation either in the south or western beaches as they are much calmer than Lamai, Chawaeng and the newly popular Bo Phut, and rent a car. Don’t be daunted by the left-sided traffic, just keep your eyes open and drive slowly. Without a car, you are at the mercy of the ruthless taxi drivers, and that alone can ruin your vacation.
What to expect next week? We will be continuing with some cafe and restaurant posts from Bangkok, wine shop memories from London and of course wine reviews. We also did a beer tasting on what Samuis stores have to offer and will be posting about. The next Wineweek will be written to you from our final stop and the most exciting wine-destination (with at least some decent wine-bars) in South-East Asia, Singapore.