Suratthani, Koh Samui- Thailand


SURATTHANI: Koh Samui

 A Tropical Hideaway with Something for Everyone
 

By Michael Moore

Thailand's third largest island has slowly evolved from a tropical hideaway frequented primarily by backpackers in the 1960's to a place that now caters to visitors from all walks of life and with pocketbooks of all dimensions. The primary reasons for its popularity are its beautiful beaches, easily accessed watersports and the opportunity it provides to simply kick off your shoes and relax.

The island can be circled by car in a little over an hour, on a road that parallels its numerous beaches. Each piece of strand has its own personality and qualities that make it unique and appealing. The longest and most developed beach on the island is Chaweng. It is packed with hotels, ranging from a couple of five-star establishments to rustic bungalows frequented by those on limited budgets. The road adjacent to the beach is packed with shops, bars, dive shops and restaurants of every description. Lamai, the second largest beach, is also highly developed and loaded with places to eat and drink. These beaches, which are on the eastern part of the island, have beautiful white sand, clear water and nearby reefs for those who want to snorkel and do some underwater sightseeing. The beaches on the north, south and west coasts are less developed and provide a more relaxed atmosphere. The water, however, isn't quite as clear and swimming is difficult from October to April. Some of the island's most impressive resorts, however, are located at these lesser known beaches. The Santiburi Dusit Resort, for example, is located at Maenam Beach in the northern part of the island and Le Royal Meridien can be found at Taling Ngam on the island's west coast.

Many people come to Koh Samui for the opportunities it provides for Scuba diving. This can be enjoyed from both beaches and dive boats, including boats that go to nearby Koh Tao. Scuba activities range from ½ day sessions for those who simply want an introduction to the sport to four-day courses that give participants an international PADI license valid throughout the world. For experienced licensed divers there are numerous trips available to the nearby Angthong Marine Park and over 20 sites around Koh Tao.

An increasingly popular activity on Koh Samui is a visit to a spa. Most of the major hotels now have a spa on site that offer a variety of massages, body wraps, skin treatments, herbal steam baths and various beauty services. Independent spas have also sprung up and many of them have taken a more “Eastern” approach offering activities like yoga, fasting, meditation and colonic cleansing programmes.

There are hosts of other activities on Koh Samui. In Lamai you can shoot yourself up into the air with the Jungle Bungy Catapult, an experience sure to get the adrenalin pumping. There is a Buffalo show depicting how life in Thailand used to be, staged in the southern part of the island at 10:00 A.M. and 3 P.M. daily. The Butterfly Garden, Crocodile Farm, Snake Farm and Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo all provide activities that are enjoyed by adults and kids alike. Although not native to Samui, treks on the back of an elephant have become a popular activity and provide a good way to see some of Samui's jungle areas. Kayaking in stable sea kayaks can be enjoyed along shores of Samui or in the Angthong Marine Park. Taking cooking lessons is another activity that many people find rewarding, particularly since it provides skills and knowledge that will last long after a Samui holiday is completed.

There are also numerous natural sights on Samui that many find an appealing change of pace. The Namuang Waterfalls in the south-western part of the of the island are attractive and popular places to visit. Two of Samui's most talked about sights are Hin-Ta (grandmother) and Hin-Yai (grandfather). These stones have been eroded by the elements so that they resemble gigantic male and female genitalia. They have to be seen to be believed.

Although it is a small island, several Buddhist temples are interesting to visit. Perhaps the best known is Wat Phra Yai, home of the Big Buddha. This enormous statue can be seen from miles away and is often noticed by passengers leaving and arriving by air. At night, when it is flooded with lights, it is particularly impressive.

Koh Samui Essentials

Geting There. There are two ways to get to Koh Samui: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is to fly on Bangkok Airways; the hard way is to use any other form of transportation. The reason for this is quite simple. There is only one airport on Samui and Bangkok Airways has the sole right to use that airport. This means getting to the island by any other means requires a boat and some other form of transportation. Generally speaking, the boats are not the most reliable. Moreover, transferring from trains, buses and the mainland airport in Surat Thani to these boats is often tedious and time consuming. Bangkok Airways operates several flights daily from Bangkok and Phuket and a single flight each day from Singapore.

When to Go. If you want to avoid the rains, the best time to visit Samui is during the period from February until the end of June. From July until October, there are intermittent rains and from October to January, it can also get quite windy. During the rainy season, however, prices are often significantly lower.

Getting Around. Pick-up trucks with two benches in the rear and a roof on top are the equivalent of a local bus on Koh Samui. Called songthaews, they operate during daylight hours and have their final destinations marked in English on the vehicle. The price is usually about 20 baht, depending upon how far you travel. There are no official stops; simply hail the songthaew to board and use the buzzer in the cabin when you reach your destination. After normal working hours these vehicles, can be “chartered” for specific destinations, but the price can be quite high, so be prepared to bargain. Metered, air-conditioned taxis can now be found on Samui, but the drivers are often averse to using the metre. Under no circumstances should you simply get in the taxi and let the driver take you someplace without turning on the metre or agreeing on a price beforehand. If the driver refuses to use the metre or you do not like his price, get out and try another taxi.

Renting a jeep or car is an excellent way to see the island. Prices vary from about THB 800 to 2000 per day, without fuel, depending upon the type of vehicle. Suzuki jeeps are the most popular vehicles, but recently more expensive air-conditioned cars have appeared on the scene. You will usually be asked to leave your passport as collateral. An international driver's license or a home country license is required.

Many visitors to Samui rent motorbikes. They are inexpensive (THB 150-300 per day), but present a variety of hazards that must be taken into consideration. Samui has the highest fatality rate per kilometre of any place in Thailand and most of the fatalities arise from head injuries. Although helmets are required by law, people rarely wear them, an omission responsible for dozens of needless deaths each year. You will invariably be asked to leave your passport as collateral.

Accomodations. Virtually any type of accommodation is available on Koh Samui, ranging from five star luxury hotels to simple and inexpensive guest houses. It is important, especially between December and July, to make reservations in advance if you know where you want to stay or are interested in a place adjacent to the sea. An added advantage of advanced reservations is that of being met at the airport by a hotel vehicle. Taxis from the airport are expensive and the drivers are often insistent about taking you to hotels that offer them kickbacks for bringing customers.

Food and Drink. Samui is packed with restaurants serving a variety of Thai and international cuisine. The major hotels all have restaurants and places to drink. Each one of the major beach areas is loaded with restaurants, including chain establishments like McDonalds and Pizza Hut and an array of drinking establishments. For a special treat try one of the island's excellent seafood restaurants and don't forget to try some of the local tropical fruit.

Shopping. Virtually anything available on the mainland is available for purchase on Koh Samui, but it is an island and almost everything offered for sale has arrived on a boat. This tends to make prices a little higher. If you are buying something at a stall or small shop, be sure to bargain, as prices generally are not fixed. Goods sold in hotels and large shops have fixed prices, but these can vary considerably so comparing prices at other shops is always a good idea.

Koh Samui is a tropical island with a remarkable number of options and should be seriously considered as a destination by anyone visiting Thailand. Most people who visit the island have the time of their lives and vow to return once again.

 

 From Benjarong Magazine - Febuary 2003, Volume 6 Issue 2


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