By Punam Mohandas
It’s a 45-minute ferry ride to Koh Samui from Koh Phangan , and the journey for me is enlivened by observing my fellow passengers, many of whom are suffering massive hangovers and are noticeably green around the gills – we’ve all just attended the traditional Full Moon party the previous night 🙂 Well, seeing as how we are all packed in tightly on this heaving ship – sardines in a can have nothing on us – and given the choppy sea and strong smell of diesel, I’m feeling pretty queasy myself.
I was last in Koh Samui many, many moons ago and the place has really changed. I’m booked at the FX Resort at Chaweng Beach, which is a new hotel. Good-sized rooms, very decent shower (these things are important you know, to an intrepid traveller!) and all the loo amenities in place. The hitch is (there’s always one, isn’t there?!) the darn place is at least ten minutes away from the beach by bike/tuktuk; now, this is where I don’t trust these TripAdvisor comments and why I’ve refused to pen one myself despite various hotel entreaties. You read one of these things and treat it as the gospel and next thing you know, you’re in some godawful place miles away from the next human. Or, in this case, the beach! After the second day in a row when the kaotey (ladyboy)at the restaurant messes up my breakfast order with this Spaniard, I decide to shift hotels. Here’s an aside on the Spaniard, while I’m about it…apparently there was some goof-up when he was making his reservation online, so he was charged a double occupancy rate inclusive of breakfast, although he was there alone. On reaching Samui, when he tried to explain this to the hotel receptionist in person and asked to be refunded for one breakfast, the management refused. So just to be perverse, he insisted on ordering two breakfasts every day (musta been a jatbhai in an earlier birth!) and this used to throw our poor katoey server in a tizzy, hence the mix-ups.
So off I go, headed this time for Ark Bar Beach Resort, bang on Chaweng Beach. The rate here is far higher than what I was paying at FX or, what my budget as a backpacker, will allow without many twinges of conscience. However, this place came highly recommended by some Brit tourists I met at Phanang, so I’m quite keen to check it out. I bat my eyelashes at the female receptionist, whose name tag says ‘Eyes’ (yeah well, if you reflect that the guy at my condo’s gym is Ball, and the guy who does my travel tickets is Mud and the lady who does my massage is Tit, then you’ll know nothing surprises me anymore!) and so yes, Eyes melts enough to give me a room overlooking the swimming pool.
Ye gads, I musta been outta my tiny mind! The din is absolutely horrific – the hotel belts out some insane music on the beach which goes on till 3am (you bet I checked, I was awake, wasn’t I?!) These fellow travellers assured me the food at Ark Bar was the best in all Samui; hell I should have remembered that what the Brits know about good food can be written on a rice grain L The beach was absolutely crowded, with beach chairs lined up in simply rows and rows so you could be forgiven for dipping into your neighbours’ crisps packet rather than your own. There were so many hawkers selling cheap sunglasses, anklets, bikinis, that my head spun; about the only good thing is that I haggled for a bikini and got it at 100 baht, which same was sold to the next chair Israelis for 350 baht – go, India!!
Chaweng, you should know, is the most popular beach on Samui and hence is a constant cacophony, with entirely too many people milling around for my liking! Lots of shopping, eating joints, tattoo and piercing parlours. I head for the more relative peace of Lamai Beach the next day, which has some of the more exclusive resorts, such as the Kamalaya Spa. Lamai is also home to Hin Ta and Hin Ya, or Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks. These are absolutely natural rock formations in the shape of male and female genitalia, on the edge of the sea. It’s a windy day when I go there, so there are fewer tourists than there would be otherwise, as access to Grandfather rock is barred on account of high tide.
Since I’m here anyway, I decide to do the whole touristy shebang and go on the elephant trail as well. I’ve hired this mobike taxi dude at 400baht and he’s pretty patient while I go off gazing out at the sea or checking out waterfalls; indeed, he proves a blessing, as the elephant ride to the same waterfall was gonna cost me plenty. For 400 bucks, he’s happy to take me to the other end of Samui, where the Big Buddha statue is (if you’re flying into Samui, you can see this from the air as you circle the airport.)
Back to Chaweng and I head for a relaxing massage before hitting manic party time at the beach again! In spite of my grumbling about the noise, I have to say it’s kinda magical sitting here eating dinner with the waves lapping at the beach chair, the cool breeze, the night sky full of twinkling stars like God was playing DJ to the craziest of His creations yet 🙂
I spend four days in Koh Samui and honestly, with all the island hopping I’ve done, this is by far the most expensive island, outdoing even Phi Phi when it comes to food. Lemme give you an example; I hit Pizza Hut one evening, and I’m told the basic pizza is 149 baht, with cheese topping as extra. So I go yeah, I want the basic, in my fractured Thai. My order taker is pretty sure I haven’t got it, so she explains in her fractured English, that this is the basic, minus the cheese, you understand. What, I yelp, how can you have a pizza minus cheese, get me the manager! So the manager arrives. We go through the entire vaudeville act again, and now I get that I’m supposed to pay extra for the cheese, hey, isn’t a pizza supposed to come with the blinking cheese, I mean, aint that the whole idea of a pizza?! I pay 149baht for a Pizza Margerita in Bangkok, I sputter. Chhai kha, she says soothingly but Pizza Hut in Samui cost more. Well, blow me down! Needless to say, I stomp off in a huff, deciding that the mad on-going beach carnival at Ark Bar makes more sense than this! No wonder the Brits thought it was fabulous, it beats hearing such blasphemy, I mean, pizza without cheese – has the world gone mad, or what?!
Can’t leave Samui without giving in to one of the traveller temptations – tattoo, or piercing. I go for the latter and squeal like a stuck pig as my navel is now adorned with a plastic thingummy. Oh well. I’m smiling as I leave Samui. And that’s what matters, innit 🙂
The next leg of my trip awaits. Ferry and bus crossing to Koh Krabi. Which same is another thing, by the way. I thought I was a pretty good haggler, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to bargain for the ferry ticket cost! Or beat a room rate down without aircon and breakfast. Just goes to show you – you learn something new every day!