“See you next time when it’s drier.” That was the message we received from Poom, a Bangkok resident and family friend who had graciously agreed to host us, gently telling us that—in the face of Bangkok’s “worst floods in fifty years”—it probably wasn’t the best time to come for a visit.
We obliged and decided instead to extend our stay in Koh Samui, Thailand’s third largest island (where we had planned to go after a couple of days in Bangkok). Flying out of Bangkok, we were stunned to see how severely swamped much of the land was below. I’m happy to say that 10 days later, when we flew back over Bangkok, things looked significantly drier. Our hearts go out to everyone there.
Koh Samui has long been a backpackers’ paradise and was off the masses’ vacation radar until more recently. The sense we got, though, is it has now looong been discovered (e.g., a W Hotel had just opened not far from the mom-and-pop B&B bungalow where we stayed).
Overall, the vibe on the island is definitely more international than Thai. In addition to the tourists, there are ex-pats galore. The husband (of the husband-wife team) that ran the B&B where we stayed was a Flemish-speaking Belgian, and Patrick bought a tank top from a man from Manchester (England, that is). Jude made friends with a local boy at a water park (Coco Splash—nice place owned by a French couple) whose Dad is Irish and mother is Thai. We even saw a Czech restaurant on the island. The ex-pats we met all first came as vacationers and fell in love—with the island, and some with locals—and decided to move permanently to paradise.
Although we were on a very touristy island, we were determined to discover some actual Thai culture and authentic food while we were there, especially as Koh Samui would be our only stop in Thailand. With that in mind, on our first Friday night in Koh Samui, we headed out to the Fisherman’s Market (basically a long, narrow street leading to the beach) to seek an authentically “Thai” experience. On Friday evenings, the Fisherman’s Market is closed to cars and is packed to the gills (no pun intended) with vendors, selling everything from bras to deep-fried crickets, to both locals and tourists. (Although we were tempted by the deep-fried critters, they were only sold by the bag full—which felt like too a big commitment, so we chickened out.)
Instead, I started off with some delicious and unidentified leafy greens and red flowers straight out of the deep fryer. Next, and after some lengthy promenading (made slightly less relaxing by pushing our stroller through the crowded street), we settled down at an open-front restaurant near the head of the market, away from the beach side. Interestingly, the restaurant had two menus, one offering street food, and one offering food from the restaurant’s kitchen. Both were cheap, but the street food was of course cheaper. We ordered 66-cent pad thai off the “street menu,” which was prepared by a vendor stationed about five feet away from us, cooking for the restaurant and to-go orders for passers-by. Delicious. Fresh lime, chilies, and spring onion dominated our senses.
Notes for Anyone Considering a Trip to Koh Samui:
We stayed on Big Buddha Beach, on the north shore, which we had picked because of its reputation as a family-friendly beach and because it supposedly had calmer water. In fact, although it was very beautiful in its natural state, wide-spread litter detracted from its overall appearance. (Even if you don’t stay on Big Buddha Beach, go check out the Big Buddha—a gigantic Buddha statue attached to a temple on the north-east corner of the island, marking a fantastic place to watch the sun set over the ocean.)
After spending most of our time in Koh Samui hanging out on Big Buddha Beach, towards the end of our stay we did some research and discovered that Chaweng Noi beach (on the island’s east coast) was heralded by those “in the know” as the island’s best beach. We headed over by taxi and were not disappointed with what we found: a glorious white-sand beach with clear turquoise water, relatively few other tourists, and no litter.
Although if we went again we would probably stay in Chaweng Noi, our B&B bungalow on BBB was still a good choice for us on this trip: it boasted a huge collection of toys and plastic vehicles, which Jude enjoyed for hours, playing alongside the owners’ young son.
A final note: the Thais themselves were extremely warm and hospitable people. Nearly everyone we met was great with Jude, friendly without being over the top. Dang, the matron of the B&B where we stayed in Koh Samui, exemplified this spirit. For instance, one day we ordered fish for dinner. Within half an hour, a member of her staff had run out to the market, bought two white snappers, and Dang had prepared them herself and served them to us steaming hot with yummy garlic sauce and a couple of limes on the side. Drinking a cold lager, and watching the sun set over the beach, we thought that life didn’t get much better than this.
ALL PICTURES FROM KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: here