A surprisingly comfortable overnight sleeper train plus a two-hour ferry ride took us from Bangkok to Ko Samui (Ko means Island). Samui is the biggest island in the Gulf of Thailand with about nine beach towns within. It takes about 90 minutes to go around the island by car. We stayed at Chaweang, the most popular beach of Samui. Although Adam and I seem to always enjoy everywhere we go, Ko Samui is geared more towards a romantic get away at a 5 star resort then a backpacking/site-seeing travelers.
It is low season at the moment (June/July) so we took the risk and arrived there with out a room reservation. After asking around we found a nice place called Lucky Mother for 800 baht (around 28 dollars). It was one of the few mid-range beach bungalows in between all the upscale resorts. The food on the island in general was overpriced compared with everywhere else in Thailand, but I cannot complain about a 8 dollar dinner at a beautiful white sand beach.
We stayed in Lucky Mother three nights. “There is plenty of sun!” all the travel guides enthusiastically advised us, okay… maybe too much. It was so hot and humid that we didn’t feel like leaving the a/c room during the peak of day. The nights were nice though. Along the beach, all the resorts would set out tables in the sand with candles and torches. They would display a variety of fresh fish and other sea creatures that you can choose from for a nice and fresh grilled meal. A romantic scene.
The main road was madness. We found lady-boys inviting you to see their shows in the cabarets, food stands, loud music coming out of bars, restaurants, spas, pick up trucks driving by with loud speakers announcing the next boxing fight, and many people walking around like lost ants. We had been out for a long walk waiting to get hungry for dinner when through the madness we spied a sign for Gringos Cantina, a Tex-Mex restaurant. Siii! We ended up staying there until midnight talking to the Canadian owner and Victor, a Colombian musician that plays guitar at the restaurant a couple of nights a week. We talked about the challenges of an ex-pat business owner in Thailand, locals, their culture and the Colombian mafia in the 90’s.
The following evening we went to explore Lamai, the next popular beach south. Our first stop was to see some unusual shaped rocks named Grandpa and Grandma. These peculiar rocks look like the male and female you-know-what parts. Legend has it that an old couple was sailing to the neighboring province of Prachuap to ask for the hand of some girl for their son. During their sea journey the boat was wrecked and both died, turning into rocks. The story doesn’t make much sense for the shape of the rocks but then, what legend does?!
After the penis rock we made our way to the center where we coincidentally ran into Victor, the Colombia guitar player. We hung out with him at the Barrio Latino restaurant eating tapas and listening to his acoustic Latin jazz melodies. We spent the rest of the late night walking a bit more and got to see some of Thailand’s well-known dark side: the ex-pats with young Thai prostitutes. It was a bit depressing to be honest.
The next day we visited the Big Buddha Temple which was really nice. It has a 15 meter tall statue of the Buddha. The stairs along the way to the statue are adorned by colorful snakes. At the top there are traditional Buddhist bells all around. It was an enjoyable quick stop before catching the ferry for the next island: Ko Pha Ngan.
Notes for fellow travelers (as of late June 2012):
– Don’t expect the same prices as the rest of Thailand. Gulf islands are more expensive. An average lunch will be 150-200 baht (5-8 dollars). Average mid budget accommodation 800-1200 baht (28-40 dollars) in low season.
– Taxis don’t go by the meter. They have set prices and it’s expensive for Thailand standards. For example, a 10 minute ride to the ferry from Chaweang will cost you 10 dollars!
– If I would go back I would stay in Lamai. It is smaller and nicer than Chaweang. And I would not come back in June or July. It’s too hot!
– I wouldn’t recommend it to low-budget travelers (although everything is possible).
– To relax: an oil massage on the beach is a must! If you are hard-core and like it intense, get a Thai massage.
– Have other questions? Feel free to ask.