Koh Samui is the island for us. Just a bus ride from the pier to our hotel was enough time for us to be completely smitten with the place. Firstly, it’s beautiful. There’s the mix of jungle and beach that is prevalent throughout the Thai islands, but with the curving hills and shadowing cliffs, a postcard view is almost guaranteed with each twist of the road. Yet alongside the flora and fauna is a modern city vibe. We’d have hated this except that Samui has maintained a very Thai feel and appearance. The island offers the luxury of boutique shops, bars to suit every type of crowd and urban coffee shops, whilst with a knowing turn in the right direction you can be amidst the local market throng, engulfed by percussion music.
Even in the busiest areas of Cheweng the beach is still clean and stunning, whilst the capital, Na Thon, offers quality clothes and food markets. The many yoga retreats that you pass are a constant reminder of the serenity of Samui, but if you ever fancy a party, you need not look far. Our friends who live here explained that their love for Samui stems from its mix of characters, religions, scenery, amenities and lack of judgement, describing it as ‘a place to be who you are’. There seem to be fewer scams around and everything (except the taxis) is more reasonably priced.
Just to confirm, it’s love. We’ve ended up staying in total for 10 nights, enamoured by each region of Koh Samui…
Na Thon: Retail Therapy
As the main pier for Samui, Nathon sees hundreds of backpackers travel in and out, but rarely stop, as they head straight for the Chaweng party scene. It’s a small town but the main attraction for us were the affordable markets full of patterned trousers and elephant shaped trinkets. Whilst staying with a couch surfing host, we saw a Chinese festival take place, where the streets of Nathon were full of performers who danced, threw fireworks and pushed metal spears through their cheeks! We also had a full body massage that left us sleepy for the rest of the day, before we feasted on fantastic Thai meals whilst watching the sun disappear into the sea.
Chaweng, though the main tourist area, had us returning again and again; the brightness of the beach, the bars and the souvenir shops drew us in like magpies. There are world class resorts side by side along the front of the bay, but affordable hotels are also easy to find along the main Chaweng Beach Road for about 800 baht a night (between two). The main side street had clubs with dancers on different levels, creating waves of pumping bodies. We spent an unforgettable night dancing around, a drink in one hand and our fake Havaianas flip flops clasped in the other.
Next on the Chaweng checklist was the Starz ladyboy cabaret, a must see for anyone who enjoys a good Whitney Houston singalong. For the price of a large beer, we spent the evening being tickled with giant feathers and laughing hysterically.
Chaweng has a seedy side too, as do most densely populated tourist areas, but this didn’t impact heavily on our exploration of the town – just keep an eye on your wallet…
Lamai was a welcome calm after Chaweng; although the streets are lined with brightly lit bars and restaurants, there are fewer sunbathers by day and fewer drunken crowds by night. Although the town was laid back and friendly, we mostly used Lamai as a base to explore southern Samui. We watched the sun set behind Hin Ta and Hin Yai, accidentally trespassed upon the Valentine’s heart rock and hesitantly examined a 30 year old mummified monk sitting proudly in sunglasses at Wat Khunaram.
Southern Samui is also home to an abundance of beautiful waterfalls. We chose to visit Na Muang 2, as it was listed as the tallest waterfall at 80m high. Heedless of life and limb, and to the slight detriment of our dignity, we scrambled down the rocks in bikinis and threw ourselves under the gushing water.
Bo Phut: Tradition
Bo Phut: the romantic heart of Samui. It’s home to the Big Buddha which sits proudly on a hill above the coast, and Wat Plai Laem, a colourful group of temples and religious statues built in the centre of a lake.
We visited Bo Phut on a Friday, meaning we had the chance to experience the bustling evening market in the Fisherman’s Village. These vibrant streets of stalls sell everything, including every kind of clothing (both cheap and pricey), make-up, typical Thai souvenirs – and the most delicious food. We were mesmerised by the young Thai children playing percussion instruments and performing traditional dances on the street.
It’s with a heavy heart that we wave farewell to this island, moving onwards to Koh Phagnan and its Full Moon Party.
We will meet again Samui…
Charlotte & Sarah x