Travel: Koh Samui
This is the thing, choices and more choices. Where should we go on holiday from NZ?
First checked the time of year, what the weather was going to be like - too hot, too cold, … rain, sun, wind, what is there to do there? Five star hotel, one star motel, beach-hut. Is it way out in the sticks, or close to civilisation. All-Inclusive, or eat where the locals eat. A bewildering array of words on the screen on my PC. It is a perpetual, complex quandary. Until we had booked the tickets, anywhere is game, as long as it's new to us. A place in the sun.
We've finally chosen to take a break in Koh Samui, Thailand, where the seas are shimmering green and turquoise. A sense of excitement gripped me. Was it the hype that sells a holiday, or is it as good as they say? Balmy seas and golden sands? – couldn't wait to get there.
We arrived at our hotel of choice. Nice, intimate, casual; room to move and plenty of toiletries. Just outside into perfumed gardens, down the road was the main downtown area, it was quite cosy. We generally pick a hotel close to the beach if not beachfront as it is a challenge (stroke) with walking if the hotel is too far from the main beach and sights. Despite being beachfront, the hotel did have a small swimming pool. Our preference was for beach, coconut palms overhanging the inviting lagoon.
This is Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui's largest, longest and most popular stretch of powdery white sand. Lined with coconut trees, it enjoys year long, warm, emerald-blue waters in the Gulf of Thailand. Chaweng beach offers plenty of water sports, dining and accommodation options. The beaches gently slope into the water - perfect for swimming.
From beachside institutions to sophisticated cocktail bars, Chaweng's nightlife is streets ahead of anywhere else on Koh Samui in terms of choice. The views from Chaweng Beach are spectacular and include two small islands near a natural reef. It is a shallow-ish lagoon, with many hotels right on the beachfront. The island/reef on the other side is close enough to be reached by a strenuous swim or the via paddle/sailboats, or, you can simply wait until low tide and walk across to explore.
Breakfast was included. Lots of little patisseries, cooked eggs, whichever style you preferred, and fresh fruit in the mornings. Sitting by the pool, it was lovely to watch the early morning fishermen out, and some energetic people going for a jog on the beach. Hawkers on the beach selling bracelets, sunglasses and pareos. There are chunky teak massage plinths on the beach outside big hotels, little shacks on the beach, each offering great rates for the service. All along the beach, were other hawkers touting swimsuits a fraction of what you'll get in the actual shops if you went downtown, the latest offering in videos and CDs and all manner of trinkets and items. Ticket touts wandering up and down the beach offered water sports, trips.
And one favourite hawker was the very old Thai couple who wandered up and down the beach selling grilled corn. Not pre-cooked and out of a carry box, but something a with a little more local flair. They slowly ambled up and stopped in front us. The woman stood to the side carrying a backpack and a small cooler bin. The mans' shoulder strap held a strange box the size of your average microwave, covered with a canvas flap, slightly behind his left arm. The box had a scrawled sign on it, in English, proclaiming “Corn – 10Bt”.
Murray said in English, “Yes please, we'll have two”. The man blinked. Ah, only the sign is in English. Murray then held up two fingers (the correct way around).
He nodded and swung the box around to the front to plonk it down in front of us, then his wife on cue squatted next to it and plucked a basic palm leaf fan from nowhere. By now we could see the box was gently smoking – you're kidding me... a mobile charcoal burner in a chunky timber box, and it's permanently ON? Hope he doesn't trip between point A and point B. And, not sure I can see the longevity in that product. Let's see how this goes.
Lifting the flap clear, her right hand furiously fanned back and forth and the embers took off.. from black to red-hot charcoal in a matter of seconds. Systematically, her left hand reached into the backpack and whipped out two corn cobs on skewers, then proceeded to turn and grill them whilst the right hand kept the charcoal at the red end of the colour chart. Where was the husband all this time? Sitting down having a cigarette of course. And at a distance too.
Corn grilled to perfection, then dipped into the cooler box; a bag of ice kept a block of NZ butter at the right temperature. 20 Baht for the best corn we've tasted. Which is about 80 NZ cents. Bargain.
Flap down, charcoal back to idling, wheels up, and they're off to the next customer. Oh, and please don't trip. We hope to see you tomorrow. (And we did).
Close by, cafes and restaurants, great shopping, internet and wifi, hawker push-carts. Nightlife was a sight to behold, night markets, more food. And what about Doctor Fish? Who is that? Not who, but what. Doctor Fish is the marketing name for little shops that specialise in an unusual beauty treatment.
You are seated and dangle your legs in small fish tanks of little Garra Rufa fish about the size of guppies. The fish nibble on your dead skin, creating beautiful smoother skin. One night we watched, transfixed, mesmerized, when other people had their feet done.
Not for the faint-hearted or the ticklish amongst you, I would hazard a guess. Fairly expensive, but possibly worth a try? Very good watching as a passer-by, just rivetting.... better you than me.
We had fun exploring the various cuisines on offer. Of course there were lots of bars and pubs. And there was even an Ice Bar. Then the eateries, cafes and restaurants; dinner with cultural shows included at some open air restaurants. A veritable feast for a reasonable price on offer. Night shopping was something you did while walking off the amazing dinner you'd had. And Thai boxing matches.
Then, there were the ladyboys. Thailand's katoey or the 'third sex' are world famous with a colorful history going back thousands of years; they are an essential part of the community. Some Thai ladyboys in Samui also work in standard positions, such as hotel receptionists and restaurant servers. ... it's no wonder that many Westerners can't tell the difference...
In Koh Samui, Ladyboy Cabarets might not be everyone's cup of tea but on Chaweng Beach you can enjoy a sparkling evening form of different entertainment. A typical show involves song, dance and fabulous costumes: glamour and glitzy costumes and elaborate make-up. The artists themselves are dressed and coiffed sensationally! Spectacular and heart-stopping performances of the Ladyboys; music, dance and striking costumes that will surely give a memorable experience in Thailand.
From Paris' thrilling Moulin Rouge dance routines, Brazil's Latin-groove Samba and hip grinding Lambada, to Bollywood dances of India, Spanish flamenco, the traditional dance of Korea, and the artistic and elegant Thai dance artform. Amazing.
Languid days, thawing-out in tropical heat rather than enduring the midst of cold winter in NZ, it was a wrench to get back on the plane. Koh Samui has grown up a lot since the days when nobody, except the locals, knew of its existence.... but it still is a charming place for a tropical beach side holiday.