Thailand’s top new trends – golfing and nature safaris

Think Thailand and images of golden buddhas, temples, paradise beaches and green curries spring to mind. All of these attractions are available to savour in Southern Thailand, but the region is enjoying a renaissance in less stereotypical Thai experiences too, from world class golfing to pink dolphin spotting. The golf scene in Phuket is buzzing, with eight courses offering enough of a spread of manicured tropical perfection to satisfy the most experienced and discerning golfers.

Award-winning Blue Canyon Country Club is celebrated for its notably plush club house, top rate cuisine, and sumptuous changing facilities with an immaculate steam room, spa and Jacuzzi. Its two 18 hole courses have hosted the Honda Invitational and the Johnnie Walker Classics. Red Mountain Golf Club is one of the newest entrants to the scene after its official opening in 2008. With one highly challenging course across a variable terrain, the second course on the site, Loch Palm, offers a less energetic but equally picturesque activity.

On the Eastern coast, Santiburi Samui Country Club opened in 2003. It is globally renowned, playing host to annual professional tournaments, and Koh Samui’s only 18 hole course. The landscaping of Santiburi Samui forms a key part of its attraction, with sweeping views of coconut palm forests and Koh Phanghan island on the horizon. The island’s other course, 9 hole Royal Samui Golf & Country Club has panoramic views from its setting at the peak of a mountain, and is ideal for those seeking a recreational golf experience. Thailand’s perfect climate ensures a high quality golfing experience virtually any time of the year.

If golf represents the most exciting new development in Thailand’s cultivated landscapes, there are many emerging opportunities to see the wild side of nature in Southern Thailand too.

Thailand’s elephants are iconic, and there are plenty of opportunities to get up close with pachyderms around the major Thai beach resorts. These days animal welfare at the forefront of the minds of most global luxury travellers seeking wildlife breaks. Phuket’s Siam Safari is proud to be the only elephant camp in Southern Thailand that has received formal recognition from the government of Thailand. The camp runs an elephant conservation centre and assists local orphanages and schools. For those who just want their quick elephant fix, there are 30 and 45 minute elephant safaris, but there are also numerous longer tours which offer the bolt-on opportunity to learn more about Thai cooking, rice cultivation or traditional wooden junk boat sailing.

Perhaps even more excitingly, there’s an increasingly sophisticated range of offerings around other Thai wildlife besides the elephants. About an hour’s speedboat ride from Koh Samui lies the Angthong Marine Park. Full day tours typically take in the diverse ecosystems of islands such as Wua Talap and Mae Kho: the latter boasts the beautiful natural feature, Emerald Lagoon. Sea kayaking is one of the best ways to begin to explore the scenic beauty of the marine environment, with snorkelling and diving on offer to get really up close and personal with delightful reef residents including groupers, angelfish, butterflyfish and even black tip sharks.

Well worth a more adventurous ferry trip from Koh Samui or Koh Phanghan, the pleasant little fishing town of Khanom has a very unusual attraction – pink dolphins. A two hour morning boat ride is normally enough to ensure securing glimpse of this rare and stunning albino dolphin variety.

For a wide-ranging adventure holiday taking in golf courses or nature safaris, the most luxurious private villas in Phuket and on Koh Samui are astonishing, and offer the dream bolthole after a day of vigorous activity. Koh Samui has fabulously spacious options, from the 14 person capacity Villa Riva to the extraordinary Villa Kalyana, where up to 26 guests can enjoy peerless privacy, staff and facilities on Samui South Beach. In Phuket, it’s hard to imagine a better way to cap off an elephant safari than returning to Villa Sumalee, with its fantasy setting in a mangrove forest. Also in Phuket, Villa Silk’s home theatre and infinity pool are guaranteed to ease aching muscles any after 18 holes.

Thailand’s first class ability to reinvent and expand its appeal lies at the heart of its incredible success as a destination, with Bangkok beating even London to be the most visited city on the planet according to Forbes in 2013. With the quality of the new leisure opportunities in Phuket and Koh Samui, Thailand is well on the way to being recognised as a world leader in golf and nature treks as well as spas, beaches, dining and nightlife.

Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande is Director of Passepartout Homes Ltd.

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