Ko Samui Island Utopia   (03/23/04)

Last updated 04/13/04                                                                                                                               

Life on Ko Samui, an island off the south-eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, focuses on three things: sea, beach and good food. And that is all you need here, believe me! Clear blue waters and palm trees abound, lush vegetation caresses your eye just as the sun does the same to the untanned farang skin (beware of sunburn, as witnessed by Daria Mehra), and even the airport could be mistaken for a beach discotheque. This place is meant for indulgence and relaxation. Yes, you can hire a kayak for a paddle along the shore or out to nearby small islands, or take a ride to another beach to check out things there, maybe take a look at Grandma and Grampa rocks down at Hat Lamai, get a Thai massage, do some souvenier shopping... but why? All you need is 50 steps away from the bungalow door: sun, beach and the sea. Chaweng beach, where we stayed, also has some decent nightlife and good food selection.

For the restless souls who will, after a day or two of sybarite lifestyle, need to get farther away than the afore-mentioned 50 steps, there are other choices. The one we made was a day trip to Angthong Marine National Park, a group of islands with coral reefs in-between that provides wonderful opportunities for snorkelling and kayaking (swimming and sunbathing as well, but that you could do next to the bungalow more easily). Getting to the islands involves a 1.5-hour ride by speedboat, a bore under the best circumstances (due to its high velocity, the boat bounces enough even on the calmest sea surface to make reading impossible, and there's nothing to see other than water) and a neck-breaking nightmare in rough sea. Every little wave feels like a giant pothole in the road traversed by a motorbike, so you fly off the hard-padded seat and land back onto it  with a slam three times a minute. Two plus hours of whack-and-bang (slower than planned due to the wind), and we swore off taking speedboats anywhere, ever again. The alternative exists, it's a so-called "big boat" that goes somewhat slower but is a lot more comfortable and has a toilet.

Having survived our first and, I hope, only speedboat ride, we got an opportunity to snorkel around nice coral reefs. Since the reefs were not next to any beach, we descended into sea, armed with masks and snorkels, right off the boat, and climbed back on upon hearing the horn half an hour later. At least, I climbed back on... Puneet found himself carried off by a strong current which prevented him from reaching the boat without assistance from one of the boatsmen. This experience taught us the importance of using fins when snorkelling (they help you swim faster with less effort) and wearing a lifejacket, unless you are sure of your swimming abilities. It also helps to practice your snorkelling skills in a less challenging environment first, and only then jump into deep waters next to overhanging rocks... Later kayaking time was a lot more enjoyable to both of us, since nobody got lost or tired, we kept up with the little caravan of kayaks led by a guide, and in such a manner went by lovely islands and between impressive rocks. Other highlights of the trip included climbing up steep wooden stairs and through tight openings between rocks to get a view of an inland sea outlet, a salty lake of an almost unnaturally beautiful greenish color. On that climb I was the misadventurous one: I dropped a slipper off my foot, it fell through the gaps in the staircase and would have been lost for good if not for the foolish gallantry of another tourist who reached for my slipper while almost losing his own balance, and successfully retrieved it. Fun times? Yes indeed, but not an easy trip altogether; we slept like logs that night in our bungalow, and couldn't care less about Chaweng nightlife or the beach 50 feet away.


This is not a beach bungalow but the airport!                Get into the swing of beach life right off the plane                Idyllic seascape                Bored of the island-and-sea views yet? More to come!

  Resting on the beach (in the shade, like a smart boy)                The beach 50 feet from our bungalow                Our bungalow in Chaweng Beach                Free Tibet? Who cares? The beach is that-a way!

Above: the airport and Chaweng Beach area. Below: the trip to Angthong Marine Park.

  The device of torture known as speedboat                Climbing up the rickety stairs to see salt lake                Squeezing through openings between rocks, to see salt lake                Finally - the salt lake

  One of the stops in Angthong archipelago                Kayaks awaiting us                Lunch stop on an idyllic beach                Leaving Angthong: the islands in our boat's wake