Our resident villa expert Max Vee has stayed in over 100 private villas on Koh Samui, Phuket and Bali to review, research and feedback on on the facilities and services on offer to guests. Recently, we sent him to Bang Rak, the oceanside village that backs Big Buddha beach on Koh Samui's peaceful north coast to give his views on the villas and highlights in the area.
About the location
Many people arrive or leave Koh Samui from Bang Rak. Two piers that service ferries to nearby Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, but it is still one of the island's less crowded beaches and therefore a great spot for those looking for relaxed convenience. The views out across the channel to first of the aforementioned island's are among of the best on Samui, and the beach, while a little narrow in places is great for swimming and watersports. The main road that runs behind the beach offers easy access to the airport and Chaweng to the south and Bophut Fishermans' Village north, all reachable in less than 20 minutes or less by car. The local shopkeepers and business owners are friendly and there's quite a large expat community living on and around at the beach area so there's a more of a community feel than you will find in the larger tourist centres — even many of the tourists in this part of the island are regular visitors and often start for longer than the average guest.
Why choose this area?
Big Buddha beach has a bit of everything and it's so close to many of the island's other popular spots (and the airport) that you can use it as home base to explore and enjoy the island.
What stands out as special?
The views are amazing from the beach with the other islands so close and the huge, golden Big Buddha statue standing guard at the southern end of the bay.
Where would you eat?
Apart from eating at the villa (the chef at Upnidunya is excellent), three places stand out for their delicious dishes. Very popular for upscale Mediteranean cuisine is Ocean 11 right on the beach, while for home-style Italian food Antica Locanda is a winner and Haveli serves great Indian cuisine. The tiny Shambala Restaurant on the roadside is a great Thai cafe with one of the best Massaman curries on the island.
For a big night out?
Big Buddha beach has more of laid back island beach vibe although there are lots of small local bars along the strip for a pre-party drink or a beer while you watch a bit of sport on the flat screen. A long established favourite for live music is Secret Garden bungalows, which recently revived its regular Sunday afternoon beach sessions — popular with locals and tourists for the mini outdoor festival feel.
What keeps you busy?
It's easy to just lie by the pool all day and take in the incredible views but the beach is long enough to stretch your legs with a daily walk along the sand — especially pleasant at sunset. The team at One Hundred Degrees East offers top class dive training and snorkelling trips to the marine park and you can easily jump on a ferry to visit Koh Phangan or Koh Tao for a day or two. The Big Buddha temple at the end of the bay is definitely worth a visit and there's a modest craft and clotted market outside the temple with some interesting souvenirs. You can walk around the base of the statue and ring each of the bells that surround the platform for a little extra good fortune.
What about the villas?
Though relatively modest in size, Big Buddha beach is home to a good selection of private beachfront villas with a range of sizes and designs. Easy access to the buzz of Chaweng's nightlife and the more laid back culinary delights of Bophut make these villas a good choice if you like to combine a peaceful private escape with a little out and about time.
Upniduniya is one of the most spectacular villas on the island and holds pride of place in the centre of the Big Buddha bay. It's an extravagant contemporary beachfront pad that accommodates up to 18 guests in 9 luxurious suites, with a wide beachfront terrace and pool to make the most of the views. It's also a great place to host a dream wedding or party for the jet set.
Baan Tamarind is less grand than its newer neighbour a little further up the beach, but still offers a spacious and comfortable private retreat. One of the first villas to be built in this area, there's an established, homely feel to the place and landscaped tropical gardens surround 3 pavilions with 5 bedrooms providing luxury accommodation for up to 12 adults. The sea is only a step down from the garden but there's also a large private swimming pool.
Baan Had Sai is one of the larger villas on Big Buddha beach with spacious two living rooms opening onto a wide lawned beachside garden and pool. The villa's seven pavillions are spread through walled, landscaped tropical grounds. Another good choice for a private wedding or party, but also great for groups because there's enough space to scape to privacy when you need to. There's a great sound system too with hidden speakers in the garden rocks.
Baan Dalah is a smaller property and therefore ideal for a family or two couples sharing. Spacious private accommodation here with great amenities and a convenient location. Contemporary Thai designs and a full range of handy facilities makes this a comfortable and convenient private holiday home.
Bacaya is another of the island's rare smaller villas and therefore in huge demand from couples and families looking for a comfortable private space to enjoy some quality time away from the crowds. It's right on the beach just beyond the main village and enjoys stunning views, which are made all the more constant thanks to a proliferation of windows and generous private outdoor areas.