Koh Samui - tranquillity and motor-bikes
ERIC SCOTT November 10, 2012
LAMAI Beach is the main town on the island of Koh Samui, which is just off the coast of Thailand in the Gulf of Thailand and on a visit in September the three things that stayed in my memory were helmetless girls on motor bike, massage shops, and Molotov Cocktails on sale on every street corner.
Actually they weren’t really bombs, but old whisky bottles filled with litres of gasoline - compact fuel containers for those motor-bike riders. I doubt anywhere else on earth is peaceful enough to allow that sort of sale!
But that was how I found that part of Thailand, peace-loving and filled with delightful friendly people who smiled all the time.
All those motorbikes however made me realise how much of a nanny state we live in. There are notices everywhere telling the locals that wearing a helmet is compulsory while riding a motor bike. But I rarely saw one in use, but I did see mums picking up kids from school sometimes three at a time. Somehow they all found space to sit.
Babies were sitting on knees as parents balanced precariously. It all looked pretty dodgy to me, but the locals were all smiles.
I did not see anyone fall off, but I understand accident rates are pretty high, so if you do hire a motor bike for a day or two at ridiculously cheap rates from about $A3 a day – but make sure you get a helmet and wear at least jeans for protection.
My wife and I stayed for seven nights at the year-old Le Méridien Koh Samui Resort and Spa, a unique five star resort on Lamai Beach which is a six minute taxi-ride to the main town or a 20 minute walk across the sand.
This however is not to be recommended without sand-proof shoes because the beach is gritty and my open sandals made the walk fairly uncomfortable.
We did however make the walk to town, which consisted of a few streets strewn with souvenir and T-shirt, shops, bars, restaurants and massage shops, none of which seemed very busy.
One shop however seemed to have a constant supply of customers. It was one where customers sat with feet in a tank full of fish, which nibbled at their toes eating away the dead skin. An Aussie couple we chatted to said it was “weird” and that they had done it for a bet.
Drinks were much cheaper in the bars; you could buy a beer for $A3. The odd thing was though that spirits were much cheaper to buy than wine. But if the prices still seemed high, there is the local Tesco store where a bottle of beer cost a couple of dollars and a bottle of good scotch cost $A8.
Food everywhere was excellent. The only difference in a Thai meal tended to be the price. Quality and taste was always similar.
We ate in on little street side restaurant where we watched the girl cooking our food. We asked for a couple of bottle of local Tang beer, but they only had Tiger, but this didn’t faze the girl. She hopped onto her motor bike and picked up a couple of bottles from the 7-Eleven store.
One day we decided to hire a car and drive around the tiny island to see some of the local beauty spots. We checked the brochure at the desk and were surprised to discover that it cost $30 for a 24 hour hire. We booked a natty-looking two-seater four-wheel drive jeep and looked forward to our day out the following morning.
It didn’t turn out the way we expected. First, the Jeep waiting for us in the parking area looked nothing like the one in the brochure. It was battered and rusty, the tyres had no tread, and the tank was empty.
But we set off, engine complaining all the way, up the hillside to find a waterfall. We were waylaid at the first turn off the main road by the Koh Phangan elephant trekkers. We had never ridden a n elephant before so we paid out our 600 baht ($20) each and, on a gentle but huge Thai elephant, took a half hour wander through an old coconut palm plantation.
It was a pleasant enough experience.
We set out again to find the waterfall, but with no traction from our worn tyres decided to go back downhill to the main road. We followed out mud map only to find that the road back was a temporary no through road: it had been dug up and was being rebuilt, So we had a hair raising trip back the way we came and stuck the circumnavigating the island, which took about an hour.
The island has no true beauty spots, the hills have been turned into fruit plantations, and the perimeter is dotted with villages that looked very much alike, with broken paved streets and posh hotels sitting incongruously in close to the beach.
A couple of nights a week streets are turned into pedestrian malls or “walking streets” as they are known. They are the night markets where you can buy almost anything. They are great for buying top quality leather handbags, clothing and some and very nice watch copies.
There are dozens of food stalls that sell an amazing variety of Asian and European dishes and you can also buy alcoholic cocktails.
It makes for a fascination night out.
We flew to Thailand with Thai Airlines and had a very smooth trip both ways. We also flew economy – and here’s a tip: if you are a couple on a Thai Boeing 777, try to book seats 31 A and B. It is a two-seat row directly behind Business Class and has heaps of leg room.