Lying in the south of Thailand, Koh Samui is one of the most well-known of the Thai islands. Its climate is slightly cooler the mainland’s and its main town, Chaweng, is lined with rows of souvenir shops, bars and cheap restaurants all competing to draw in tourists with low priced goods.
Take a walk down the main high street of Chaweng and you’ll be approached by an array of colourful characters each with their own rehearsed spiel to draw you into their outlets. It’s a typical tourist resort, but it borders a richly forested landscape and its shores provide the gateway to beautiful islands like Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan.
We descended into the island in the morning – the lush, coconut tree-filled surroundings shrouded in mist; a stark departure from the scramble of traffic we had just left on the streets of Bangkok. On arrival we were quoted 500 baht (£9) to be driven to our hotel (about 15 minutes away) which, after paying the same amount for an hour’s taxi ride to Bangkok airport, we figured was too expensive. So we hauled our luggage out of the airport grounds and hailed a taxi which quoted a slightly lower price. One thing we learned pretty early on was that cab drivers in Koh Samui don’t like to turn their meters on. So that was one of the last times we took a taxi on the island!
After walking up and down the main Chaweng high street a few times, we realised that the vehicles beeping at us intermittently were a kind of alternative to taxis. These trucks with open backs that you can just jump into (after discussing a fee with the driver) are much cheaper – we paid 100 baht for both of us to drive almost the entire length of the street – because, after a feast and a few cheap cocktails, the last thing we wanted to do was traipse down that seemingly never ending road!
Our first trip out of Chaweng started on one of these bus trucks and it was to the monthly full moon party that has brought infamy to Koh Phangan. We booked the speedboat trip with a travel agent we found on the high street because taking a ferry would mean we wouldn’t be able to leave the party until 7am the next morning!
The return trip cost 700 baht (£13) each and included return transfers between our hotel and the harbour. Apparently the boats get quite full between 9pm and 12am so we left early – I wasn’t keen on getting on a packed speedboat in the very rough sea. It had already thwarted my attempt at swimming earlier that day, November is still the rainy season by the way!
When we got to Koh Phangan we had to buy wristbands to gain entry to the party (about £2). Food and cocktail stalls populated the entire length of the beach and, in among them, tarot reading and UV tattoo painting stands gave early arrivals like us ways to fill up the hours before the throngs descended onto the beach.
People jumped over fire skipping ropes while professionals stood nearby showing off their honed fire-spinning skills. Music from each of the bars blared out at full volume. It was everything I had imagined it to be, and with buckets of alcoholic concoctions going for 150 baht (under £3), it’s no wonder that by 7pm, a lot of the party hungry travellers were already wasted.
After being covered in UV paint and getting my fortune read by a very friendly woman who spoke very little English, we headed for the dance floor of one of the bars which, by 10pm, was packed. When we left the bar the beach was heaving with 10s of thousands of people dancing like there was no tomorrow. It was a great experience!
A couple of days later we went ziplining with Treetop Tour. The price included transfers to the site, which was up in the hills in the centre of the island. We gave our phones to one of the staff members before being strapped into out harnesses and hoisted onto the first line. When we finished my phone was full of photos and videos of us whizzing through the jungle. It was a good way to spend an afternoon, but I spent the drive back deleting the millions of photos that had taken up almost all the memory on my phone!
Another trip we did was to Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan by speedboat. We were told that if the weather was bad we could rearrange it for another day. Unfortunately, we were running out if days at this point, so we didn’t have much of a choice. We went on the trip, despite the dark clouds looming over the island which were clearly warning against it.
It was a bumpy ride but it was worth it to get to the islands. Koh Nangyuan is exactly as it looks in the photos – gorgeous. We snorkeled there for a while but all we saw were lots of tiny jellyfish which just bounce off your skin if you come into contact with them. Koh Tao was better for snorkeling. There were a lot of sea cucumbers and colourful fish under the surface. I also saw a shoal of what looked like tiny swordfish swimming right at the surface of the water which was quite unnerving at first, but soon realised that they weren’t in the least bit interested in me. We spent an hour gazing at the sea floor before getting back on the speed boat and being hosed down with cold water by one of the skippers. That was weird.
We ate a large proportion of our meals at the Chaweng night market where we could feast on curry, fried rice, noodle dishes and more for under £3. We drank our weight in coconut smoothies. In fact, I had coconut everything – ice cream, soup, curry, cocktails, just plain old coconut through a straw out of its bloated husk – I couldn’t get enough. Coconut is one of the island’s main exports and you see evidence of this everywhere you go. And most of the coconut farmers train monkeys to climb up the coconut trees and twist the fruit of their stalks with their tiny hands before allowing them to fall onto a heap on the ground. Coconut oil is also sold in many of the shops as an aid for sunburn and heat rash.
We were also lucky enough to be on the island during the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals, when lotus-shaped handmade baskets are cast off into the rivers and ocean and lanterns are set off all over the island. We sat on the beach and watched as dozens of lanterns floated above us. We even got to set one off ourselves – people walk up and down the beach selling them during the night of the festival and the nights leading up to it. It was touching to see the lady who sold it to us watching and clapping with pure glee as ours climbed higher and higher in the sky.
Our time on the island ended with a “City Tour” which included visits to Big Buddha, one of the main attractions on the island, and the mummified monk, who sits in a glass cabinet wearing a pair of shades.
It was great to see some other parts of the island and we got to eat lunch at this restaurant called Mumthong in Nathon (in the west of the island), where I made the most of the abundance of coconut-flavoured treats and tried a coconut soup – it was delicious. It rained a lot of the day but I kept dry by wearing a very en vogue disposable rain poncho.
So there you have it, a week in Koh Samui completed by visits to the island’s most extraordinary landmarks, highlighted by the amazing Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals and filled with enormous portions of green curry and tall glasses of coconut-flavoured concoctions. If I return, it’ll be during dry season!