Koh Chang - The New Year Eve 2010 in Amari
New Year's Eve in Koh Chang - 2010!
So many times in my life I was grateful to my travel gods for giving me the opportunity to meet the New Year in a different place. There is a brilliant feeling of freedom when you are in a warm garden looking at a spectacular firework display and thinking that everything indicates a Happy New Year. This year Brian and I were in the Amari Emerald Cove in Koh Chang with my brother Victor and his wife Lena. We loved having them. This is their first trip to Thailand and to Asia too. Our little family circle made the celebration exotic and cosy at the same time.
I have been looking at the Amari for a long time. If you use the Trip Advisor, it is amongst the top hotels in the popularity index, the same thing happens if you use Agoda. Reviews are numerous and mainly positive, with some (justified) outbursts about expensive this or that. The Amari Cove is a good hotel in many ways. It is based on a beach with enough wooden benches available, none of your waking up at 6am to book a beach bed
The benches have thick mattresses and large bottom towels. Am I being picky? Not really. If you travel a lot like us, you don't want to spend time running around organising where to sunbathe.
The beach is lovely, not in a Carribean way - full of sand, but in a wild sense, with palms hanging over the water and an odd coconut swimming past you. The water is warm and gets warmer in the evening. Victor and Lena swam early in the morning and said that the water was divine. Amari has a great 50m long Olympic-type swimming pool too. There are seats and chairs of various kind scattered around and people can spend their happy hour (5-6 pm, 2 drinks for the price of one) lounging and looking at the sunset. The garden is pretty and clean, the rooms are comfortable, although there is no doubt that this is a 4-star, not 5-star hotel, as advertised on some sites. Normally you would pay around $150 per night, if you use Agoda, but the New Year is a financially ruinous period and the hotel charges $300 a night, that is if you are lucky to find a website that includes the gala dinner (Agoda did). Otherwise you will have to part with $125 per person. I have to say that the evening was enjoyable and food was lavish. Actually it was too much of it. The traditional hits like smoked fish, oysters, lobsters and duck were popular and people quickly stuffed themselves, forgetting about a thousand other dishes, international and Thai
We had some gorgeous brie (only those who live in Thailand understand the importance of good cheese - it is the price of gold here). We had to pay for our drinks though (expensive). If you have your own bottle (Victor brought a delicious Shiraz), expect a corkage charge of B500. The show was ok, but fireworks - spectacular. We danced and went to bed at 2am very merry.
Victor and I are massage lovers, but we did not try the hotel spa. Although they have offers (1.5 hours for the price of 1 hour, 3 people for the price of 2, etc.) if, like me, you live in Chiang Mai and pay B150 an hour, B1000-2000 for a massage feels outrageous. Neither the price is a guarantee of quality (I had a very ordinary massage in the Rayawadee - a $500-a-night hotel, with massages $120 +++ per blow). If you walk along the beach to your right, there is a massage outlet which is sublet by the Dewa. It charges B250 an hour and the masseuses are excellent. Try Pong - she is outstanding. One little hint - take your own towel, since a little towel on their pillows has seen many sweaty faces during the day. Another hint - give a tip. Masseuses get paid 50% of the massage charge (in this case - $4 an hour). Tips are very important to them and an extra dollar will not break your back. Some Prada-clad glossy foreigners seem to forget tips. Don't.
Where to eat? We liked the Koh Kitchen restaurant outside the gate
I think it is the second restaurant on the left. I always look with suspicion at restaurants near expensive hotels. But this one was genuinely delicious. Try steamed fish in garlic and lemon juice - Lena thought it was the best thing she has ever tasted in Thailand. The Asia online recipe is given below. Typically they do not have enough staff to cook, so prepare to wait. Off season the wait is shorter, but the Amari customers find this place very quickly and patronise it very actively. Brian's dish was forgotten so he was going quietly mad, but next to our table was sitting a tall man with his small daughter. They waited so patiently and elegantly - I must learn how to do it.
The breakfast in the Amari is good and solid. Do not dream of getting the hotel booked without breakfast included - you will get a very nasty surprise when the bill arrives. The cocktails are fine and the wine is tasty. Happy hour is between 5 and 6 pm, when you buy two drinks for the price of 1, which makes everything a decent value. To give an example - 2 glasses of papaya shake are B188 (£3.50) and two glasses of wine B300 (£6). This will give you an idea if you should have them outside the happy hour. But then you might be richer than me...
Our ice cream experiment was a disaster
I wrote to the management that if you charge $3 per scoop, the least you can do is to give some good ice cream. If you remember your disgusting welcome drinks served in many Asian hotels - this is a frozen version. Beware of the charming small bottles of water put on your bed tables. For the first two days we blindly opened them as they are so conveniently placed. On the third day Brian, who reads everything including bus tickets, read the label and discovered that these tiny bottlettes are B140 each ($4). There are 4 bottles of free water in the room, but not so conveniently placed. Find them.
We engaged ourselves in a hotel boat trip. We joined the divers and decided to schnorkel during their two 45min dives. The trip is by a speed boat and takes 4 hours. It is organised by a good guy called Sasha and his staff from the Dolphin Divers. The Swiss Sasha is a very experienced diver (what else would you expect from an Amari sub-contractor) and runs his own diving school. There is another British guy - Andy, who runs his company of the outdoor activities in UK and has an outlet in Thailand.
The visibility for schnorkelling was not fabulous, but we swam from a real desert island with the emerald water and golden sand - the one you dream of in February in London
Beware of the fact that the boat stops in the wide sea over the diving spots. Lena, who gets sea sick was not enjoying her wait and had to stay in the water for 2 hours. Make sure that you are a good sailor.
We rented a decent saloon car just outside the gate in the village at B1200 a day and drove to Bang Bao to eat in the fabulous Buddha View restaurant. Everything is good to eat there. Book for the evening. We could not get in. We also went to the Khlong Plu Waterfall - well worth a visit, but go early before all the buses arrive (B200 each for foreigners). You can swim there and the water is fresh and delicious, but be careful on the rocks. Brian fell down whilst going across a little bridge and Victor fell off a slippery rock (to a great delight of all the Thais). It would have been funny if he did not have his mobile and money in his pocket. The mobile eventually returned to life after a couple of days of drying in the sun, but Victor thought he might never be able to speak to anyone again (not a bad option in many eyes).
I wish the Amari was less expensive, otherwise it is a good place to relax. We will certainly be back.
Thai Country-Style Steamed Fish In Garlic Lime Sauce
Yields: 4 serving(s)
* 1 pound(s) whole fish — trout, sea bass, perch
* 4 fresh green chiles — diced
* 6 cloves garlic — chopped
* 2 tablespoon(s) thai fish sauce (nam pla)
* 4 tablespoon(s) lime juice
* 1/2 cup(s) chicken stock
* 2 green onions — cut in half lengthwise
* 2 stalks lemon grass — (heart section only)
* Cilantro sprigs — for garnish
* Scale and clean fish, then rinse with cold water
* Pat dry with paper towels.
* Make diagonal slashes almost to the bone 2 inches apart on both sides of fish.
* Set fish on a heat-proof plate that is at least 1 inch smaller in diameter than your wok.
* Mix together chiles, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice and chicken stock.
* Adjust for a predominantly sour taste.
* Pour over fish.
* Scatter green onions and lemon grass over fish.
* Fill wok with 2 inches of boiling water.
* When it comes to a full boil, set fish plate on rack or trivet.
* Cover tightly.
* Reduce heat to medium-high and steam for 12 minutes.
* If meat by the bone is opaque white, fish is done.
* Garnish fish with cilantro and serve with cooking juices.
* Accompany with steamed rice.