Sunday 8 September 2013

Koh Samui

The Big Buddha

"Thailand stinks," says Barry, an English ex-pat who's lived here and loved it for six years.

"You'll walk down the street and go fwooar, what's that pong? It's the sewers leaking or someone's taken a dump in a bucket behind the shops."

"But the next step, it's frangipani on the breeze, or sizzling prawns over hot coals, fantastic!"

Barry is trying to sell my wife and I on a holiday club, but soon realises we're immune to his pitch and is just having a good natter about Koh Samui with us.

He describes the enterprising nature of the locals.

"There's a place I pass by regularly which has a sign - genuine antiques, made to order - sums it all up, really."

This is where the first world comes to holiday in the third world, taking advantage of the cheap local currency to vacation in relative luxury.

And why wouldn't you? It's warm and exotic, the food is fabulous, and everyone speaks English.

There's plenty of accommodation, from your basic backpackers to four star places like the one we're staying in.

Kanda Buri resort

These big resorts are clean, comfortable, and have fantastic service - labour is cheap so there are plenty of the lovely locals to wait on you.

But in the next block, it stinks. And it's not just the durians - a tropical fruit that pongs so badly that the local taxis have specific "no durians" signs.

Koh Samui was developed quite suddenly, almost unexpectedly, so the infrastructure underneath our feet is nowhere near big enough to cope with the multi-storey tourist traps going up on every corner.

In short, they still have dial-up sewer pipes, but they have broadband toilet output. Something's got to give...

In many places, you can't flush toilet paper - after you use it, it goes into a little basket.

Koh Samui is like that all over, the shabby hand in hand with the chic.

But that's the price you pay for the price you pay for everything else.

Because its all cheap - food, accommodation, clothing, alcohol, taxis, the awesome beach-side massages, the various carvings and gewgaws being sold at the little stalls everywhere.

Samui is small, so it's easy to get around. We caught a cab halfway down the island, from north to south, and it cost us 500 baht - around $15 AU.

You can also hire a car or one of the ubiquitous scooters.

The roads are busy but not crazy. They do use their horns to communicate - over to the left, scooter! - but it's the gentlest beeping I've ever heard, barely a touch on the steering wheel.

The food is fantastic everywhere. We've been lunching at whatever hole in the wall we walk past at midday, never to be disappointed.

And each night we walk along Chaweng beach, choose one of the restaurants, and sit at a table right on the sand.

They display locally caught fish and prawns on ice. You pay by weight and then choose how they'll cook it.

I loved red snapper in pepper and garlic, and my wife got to enjoy it on my breath for two days afterwards.

Samui's not really set up for children, in the way that Europe and Australia are. There are no playgrounds or multiplexes. (Though they're building a mall and cinema as I write this.)

But there are plenty of things for kids to love -  beaches, crazy plastic toys, elephant rides, etc.


And the Thais love children. They have been incredibly sweet and friendly to all of us, but especially nice to my little boy.

Maybe it's because he's a blue-eyed blonde, which is so unusual in Asia. Certainly some of the tourists from Japan and China seem to be just as fascinated with him.

For the grown-ups, there's lots to do. Shopping, fishing, water sports, kick-boxing, and some cultural attractions like the big Buddha and the mummified monk.

The Mummified Monk, with glasses from Bono.

There's also a thriving night life here, powered by cheap booze, loud music, and the pretty bar girls.

The girls make some money from being bought expensive watered-down drinks. Or you can chat one up and negotiate to take her home, paying a "bar fine" to the mamasan who runs the place, as well as cash directly to the girl.

(Let me assure both you and my wife, that this information is purely theoretical for me.)

There are plenty of single men visiting here, but also plenty of young women - usually in pairs or groups - and lots of couples.

For our little family of three, it's been a rest stop in tropical paradise.

We go out in the day to explore or take a tour, return in the afternoon for a reviving dip in the pool, then one of us stays and plays with our son while the other wanders down for a massage by the beach.

Throw in a cocktail in a coconut and coal-cooked fish for dinner, and it's a very pleasant way to end your day.

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1 comment:

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