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Delightful Ko Samui (2 / 5) Chaweng Beach Road And Services



In Chaweng, you can easily spend weeks just on the sandy beach, never hitting any asphalt at all. But wasn't there something else I had heard about? I set out for the beach road.

Chaweng Beach Road

Ko Samui is an island in the gulf of Thailand, measuring about 20 by 25 kilometers; the population once was 40.000 chao Samui only. I walk three minutes from the quiet beach bungalow and enter one of the craziest roads I ever saw. Compared to Chaweng Beach Road, any tourist strip in Bangkok or Pattaya invites for meditation. Chaweng Beach Road is construction everywhere with noisy hammering and sawing. There are way too many cars, busses and motorcycles in two directions, pickup-taxis honk for customers in a fast beat, open-air girlie bars right on the main road blast out music at noon time, loudspeaker cars aggressively announce foam parties in the Bauhaus Club or DJ nights in the Reggae Pub, and CD stalls add in to the noise. (Request "happy hour" to get CDs for 60, not 100 baht.) The pedestrian's walk is full of construction rubble, dirt, dogs and dogs' shit; apart from the trash, shopping stalls, rental motosais, electric poles and hawkers for restaurants, tailors, taxis or ladyboy cabarets block your way. Advertising billboards scream everywhere. Don't plan any relaxed strolling and window shopping there – Pattaya beach road is a peaceful retreat by comparison. Every second shop offers tour booking plus car rental plus internet access. The other outlets sell beachwear. McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, The Pizza Company, Starbucks, Black Canyon, Swensen's. The newsstand boasts more Euro tabloids than any kiosk in Ibiza or Pattaya. One part of the strip is so ripe with tailors that you get the lower Sukhumvit Zoo nausea and want to escape via Sky Train. Whenever a taxi stops on the narrow road, the whole traffic is blocked. Whenever a cement truck meets a swimming pool supply truck, the whole traffic is blocked; there are many taxies and many trucks. According to the papers, several private and public international marinas will be built in Samui's south; top resort managers demand a second airport.

Chaweng Beach road has super stylish dinner places like the Italian "Prego" on the northern edge, part of the trendy Amari Palm Reef resort. But here you are on decrepit Chaweng Beach road. The posh places either put you in a chilly air-con box; or you sit outside next to the broken third world strip, partly flooded, where late-night construction noise, honking pickup taxis and stray dogs play the dinner tunes for your homemade gnocchis and imported meats. Fuming trucks and kamikazing drunk farang motorcyclists add to the live entertainment.

Chaweng Beach road has heaps of internet shops. Everywhere in town it is one baht per minute, and most services claim to have ADSL with 128 to 512 kB/s. Within 50 meters I stumble through about ten places that sport Windows XP and USB plugs. But I am not allowed to use my USB stick there – very different from anywhere I have been before.
Then I find the air-conditioned girlie bar "Chez Pierre" with three USB-ready terminals; my USB stick is welcome here – maybe they mistake it for something else? Heck, to send back a few e-mails and pictures, Ko Samui forces me to sit down between pseudo naughty seminude sex-hungry Thai girlies at lunchtime! I don't include that in my message to Mom. I get a few juicy looks from the flesh division, but finally am neglected in favor of beer drinking Brits watching soccer. The pages come down real fast. But then, upon my second visit, there is no line at all. The weathered Farang behind the counter might be Pierre; he moans with a French accent, "Excusez-moi, I pay 27.000 for this connection, while everybody else in town only pays 5.000. My connection is the fastest – but it doesn't work!" So I pull off the USB stick and walk out again past a row of girlies luring regretfully. (What did they expect of my USB stick? I am not the Stick-Man! And while the USB stick can actually get hot, my name is still Pothole, not Hotpole.)

This time I am forced to make it to the other end of the strip; through sweat-flooded eyes I finally discover some kind of huge sterile e-mail institute with long rows of terminals along endless white walls; they are USB-friendly. But then, upon my second visit, there is no connection at all. "Please wait one minute or one hour", laughs the service girl, "I have no idea what to do now". I want to walk to my personal internet center a third time. But I walk past it – I notice my mistake only two kilometers and two liters of sweat later. I walked past it because everything on Chaweng Beach road looks same-same – for maybe five kilometers there is no change at all, just the default frenzy of tourshops-internetshops-restos-rentals-exchange booths all over and again and again. Even later I discover a USB-friendly internet and tour shop very close to my resort; but upon my second visit, there is no line at all, "problem with Bangkok, please come back, sir". When I want to come for the third time, I enter the wrong internet and tour shop because from outside it looked the same. I begin to learn not to walk the beach road. Instead, I walk on the beach itself and only cut into town where required.

I need a shorts from one of the many beachwear stalls. They ask for 350 baht. Ridiculous, I offer 80, intent not to pay more than 100. They go down to 280, and I increase my bid to 81. They don't want to listen to my shopping Thai, but hack all prices into a calculator. As we arrive at 120:85 baht, an American buys a similar shorts for 350 baht without any bargaining; so I set off without the shorts. The next day, when I pass by, the same item comes flying at me – "one hundred, OK sir?" I fish for my wallet. A bit of negotiating is part of the holiday fun, and I do it with a smile and mild ambition on Chatuchak, Banglamphoo or Pratunam markets in Bangkok. But an asking price of 350 for a 100-baht-shorts is a nuisance, and I feel both sides lost face here.

Fun and Entertainment

Compared to Soi Green Mango, Chaweng Beach road invites for meditation. Soi Green Mango, named after one pub there, goes off Chaweng Beach road and brings you back to the main road in a U-turn. Soi Green Mango includes dance pubs, girlie bars, gogo bars, live music pubs and a few stalls with Thai food, all walkable in ten minutes. It is easy to take a look and walk inside the establishments, they are all open-air and spacy, except for the two tiny gogo places. All venues compete with an incredible noise surpassing anything you could hear in Bangkok or Pattaya. Even the "Hello Misteeeeh"s from the girlies don't ring through. Some of the dance venues have cute designs, a fusion of neanderthal grotto, temple and airport; but then again there is the box-like, all empty, air-conditioned "Mint" pub that looks like a shop waiting to be filled with furniture. They mostly play speedy tekkno stuff for a young farang party crowd awaiting the next full moon party on neighboring Ko Phangan island. Funny tiny "Moobar" mostly has no roof at all, customers dance on something like a parking lot in front of it. "Sound", an open-air pub with a cute design, sports dull western live rock; it is deservedly empty. "Revolution", a Thai oriented disco, has dull live rock too, this time Thai; later their DJ plays Thai pop.

A block north on Chaweng Beach road, at the end of another soi, there is the Solo Pub, one more semi open air place with a nice design and no customers. As I walk up towards Solo, there are a few gay bars with very obnoxious male whores. I flee to the other side of this soi to find a line of self-declared "massage cafés". Downstairs they basically look like cosy bars; on offer upstairs is Thai massage for 200 baht per hour and boomboom for 1300. The price goes down quickly, "because I see you good man". For the massage and boomboom cubicles there may be air-con on offer. But then again the air-con machine may be dripping with water, so you move to the next massage box. No direct air-con here, but you still can enjoy the air-con from the adjacent room, as the wall is only semi-high. This is fun if your buddy has his own wellness thing going on next door.

I take a motorcycle taxi to the Reggae Pub on the edge of town. The seven minute ride costs "40 baht, sir, everybody pays that". So of course I pay 30 only. Reggae Pub is one more huge, interesting, stylish dance grotto; only at this party place I see a truly mixed Thai-farang crowd. I never hear Reggae, though. Walking back towards town, I pass yet another line-up of little-visited girlie bars. One open bar seems not to be operating, except for a lone, sweet ladyboy sitting on a pool table with a coquettish eye move. "Hello misteeeh", he/she chirps at me. – "You sleep here", I ask? – "Oh, I lost key to my looooom, cannot go home!!!" – "Okay, sleep on the pool table, not too bad!" – "No, have moscitoe too much!!!" – Before he/she can demand asylum in my place, I jump over the next puddle and into the dark.

Stumbling home, two girlie bars right on the main beach road are heaving more than any other area. Sexy Khun Lek from Nakhon Sri Thammarat wants to share my pillow tonight and asks for 700, plus 200 for the bar. Her price quickly drops to 500, "because I see you good man". I replay my old joke, "sorry, boomboom already". She is not disheartened and flexes her biceps: "No popemm, I very strong lady." Not sure if Lek understands all about us men, I tiptoe down the muddy lane to my resort alone.

Lodging

My prebooked "bungalow" at Chaweng Beach Garden is actually part of a row of linked rooms with a terrace; it costs 1000 baht without breakfast, but is most central for the nightlife strip. At 4 a.m. there is a partying farang crowd outside my room. The room is very dark anyway, to change the air-con you have to climb onto a bed, and a record number of mosquitoes roams the limited air space. I decide to move.

Just walk along the beach and into any resort you fancy; it is easy to shop for lodging that way. But do it in the afternoon or evening; only then you will know if the nondescript stall besides your bungalow turns into a noisy tekkno bar. In mid-May, all places have a lot of vacancies. From Chaweng Beach Garden I switch to another lower-midrange bungalow cluster further north; for 1350 baht I get a freestanding bungalow with air-con and ceiling fan right on the beachfront. Some days/smiles/eyebrows gymnastics later the price goes down to 1300, 1200 and finally 1100 baht, after which I don't ask for more. While many resorts have blocked the sea view from their bungalows with huge restaurants, keeping the cottages more inland, I found a bungalow with windows and terrace fully facing the gulf of Thailand. But come one of those horizontal showers, everything on my terrace is soaked. Also, my terrace is exposed to the noise from the neighbor's air-conditioning. There is no swimming pool, and I have no TV. Beach chairs are a bit thin on the ground; if I really need one, mostly after dark, I kindly invite myself to the comfy seating of the generous luxury resorts next door.

There are a few more sea front bungalows, but I don't like them because they are too exposed to the beach public, or too close to noisy restaurants, bars or swimming pools. Many beachfront bungalows have a very small outdoor sitting area with no sun protection, while my place has a relatively spacious private terrace with a generous roof. (At the expensive Chaweng Regent, you get your own Sala next to your bungalow.) Souvenir hawkers may try to attract your attention while you laze on your porch. One day the wind carries a strange familiar melody over to my place, played by a lone flute. After some musing I identify Debussy's "Prélude à l’après-midi d'un Faune"; a beach hawker selling Isaan-style khaen flutes blows this impressionistic Old World tune as he is walking along.
One time I sit on my terrace, hacking into the laptop with the beach behind it, when another tourist sees my computer. He asks me how much memory it has. I hold my hands twelve inches apart and say "about that much, on good days". He looks at me and tells me he has about the same machine, his one has that much memory, and what happened to him just yesterday on the internet; after about one hour about his laptop he walks off.
My company is not in the Fortune 500.000, and I am not directing two businesses in three continents. I am a Cheap Charlie, flying to Asia on economy class because they don't list sub-economy. At 1100 baht, my bungalow is maybe the cheapest air-con beachfront place on Chaweng. The resort even has cheaper, smaller huts inland, some fan-only digs go for 500 baht; so when I mention my resort's name, I look very cheap to other Thais and westerners. In Isaan towns like Khon Khaen, Nakhon Phanom or Ubon Ra', or in a sleepy mainland beach town like Songkhla in the deep south, 1100 baht get me the best hotel in town, sometimes about 3-star-quality, and big face with the locals.

While in Isaan and Cambodia, I am used to hotel rates not changing one satang, cent or riel over the years. Whereas on Samui, prices and conditions float daily. As an example, I copied the USD internet rates for double occupancy of a "superior room" at Amari Palm Reef hotel; tax etc. not included:
30/06/04-14/07/04 90 1 free dinner
15/07/04-15/09/04 135 No breakfast
16/09/04-23/12/04 95 1 free dinner
24/12/04 308 No breakfast, compulsory gala dinner included
25/12/04-27/12/04 160 No breakfast
28/12/04-30/12/04 No breakfast
31/12/04 336 No breakfast, compulsory gala dinner included
01/01/05-02/01/05 160 No breakfast
03/01/05-15/01/05 No breakfast
16/01/05-14/04/05 120 1 free dinner
15/04/05-14/07/05 90 1 free dinner


In several of those periods, they require a minimum stay of five nights. My own, cheaper place seems to be Chinese-managed: The bungalow is very clean and unusually useful: Each of the three beds has bedside plugs and its own lamp. When I remove the key tag, electricity is cut, but the fridge still keeps working; so with this plug you can charge laptop, camera or cellphone, too, while frolicking about anywhere else.

But with it's white tiles, pink curtains and blank neon lights my shack exudes less than zero atmosphere. There are a few sad plastic roses; one even drops its blossom after some days. They covered the walls with a few ugly Chinese-style landscapes – and an assortment of laminated print-outs. Those messages are quoted here as seen on location: "Don't turn the temperature air-conditioning below 15°, or higher than 25°C, it will cause air-conditioning not work. Please adjust about 20°C – 25°C is fine." – "Do not burn the mosquito coil or smoking cigarette on any tables in bungalow therefore, you have to pay for the damage." – "Do not separate the key from the key tag of our bungalow. In case, you lost the key, you have to pay 500 baht for this." – "The key of Safety Box is important to us. If you lost it, you will have to pay 300 baht for the fine." – "If you have any problems with the toilet flush not stopping please go to information and tell us quickly. Otherwise all our water supply is used up."

What I would like to have is a foot mat in front of the bungalow door to remove the sand that the foot shower outside can't remove. Also I don't like the ceiling fan: it constantly blows into the left part of the room, even thought it should rotate and meet every area for a moment. So on day 2 I talk to reception: I request a foot mat, and they promise I get one; they also promise to check the ceiling fan for me. On day 3 I find the desired foot mat at the room door, but the fan hasn't changed; so on day 3 I talk to reception again. On day 4 the extra foot mat is gone again, the cleaning ladies took it, and the fan is now blowing to the right side only, instead of rotating; so on day 4 I talk to reception again. On day 5 I meet the cleaning ladies and explain I need the extra foot mat on the door – "oh, sorry sorry", and I get one; hey, and the fan is now blowing in all directions; so on day 5 I don't talk to anyone at the resort. On day 6 the fan is still blowing in all directions as desired, but the extra foot mat is gone again; but on day 6 I give up.

The towels they provide look really plush, but don't absorb anything; they are only meant to spread the water more evenly on your body. The asthmatic air-con coughs up very little coldness – which is instantly heated by the fridge's glowing walls. The shower is either too hot or too chilly, and it switches between those stages without me touching anything. The receptionists, cleaners or gardeners never ever smile, which is rare even for Chaweng.

(My dress and behaviour are inoffensive.)

My resorts invites anybody to use their laundry service. A big sign advertises a price of 50 baht per kilo (without ironing). This sounds reasonable, as some Bangkok places charge 30 or 40 baht for one single T-shirt. I can't comment on the quality, though. The cheap streetside guesthouse next to my resort also invites anybody to use their laundry service. A big sign advertises a price of 30 baht per kilo (without ironing). I can say the quality is good there.

After an afternoon and a sweet tropical night on the beach, I hesitate to go to sleep. In Isaan, Bangkok or anywhere in Indochina I am often relieved to retreat to a clean, safe, undisturbed, air-conditioned room for the night. My Chaweng bungalow is clean, safe and air-conditioned, too – but for once the air outside is even more pleasant. Wouldn't it be nice, listening to the sea and to the palm trees while gently snoozing away on the terrace or right on the beach? Yep, and the mosquitoes would like that one, too. Sadly, my bungalow has mosquito netting only on one of two rows of windows, so you can't get the wind blowing through your place without inviting the airborne bloodsucking brigade. It is a turnoff to enter the room after a day and an evening on the beach. None of the many tourist bungalows I checked around Samui relies on natural cooling. I see big glass fronts, but no windows with movable mosquito screens. Samui in the night is wonderfully cool, but your bungalow will be hot.

One afternoon I see a lot of dark brown smoke rising up from my resort's restaurant. They caught a fire, I guess. No problem, I never liked the place. I just wonder if they can control it before my bungalow is lit up, too? I walk over and see it is not a fire – a man is spraying brown smoke into the grass with a strong machine. A few receptionists stand by, but I still have to ask for explanation. "Kill mosquito", I learn; he will fume around my place a little later. So I hasten back and close all windows as much as possible. While on average nights, I had to kill three or four mosquitoes before going to sleep, after pest control only one or two blood suckers keep me jumping up the walls.

Another day when I come to the reception to pay a few more nights, there is a strange atmosphere. Very quiet. All of the four girls are looking down, some shaking their heads. I look around, and suddenly an elderly bare breasted Farang bursts into screams: "SO WHO IS TALKING ENGLISH HERE!!! WHAT IS THAT!!! I REQUESTED -" The daunted little Thai girl besides him might be his girlfriend, but happy she is not. Actually, he has quite some accent, and I don't understand more than half of his rantings. Whatever he wants, I just hope the choleric bugger won't turn up in any bungalow near mine. Fortunately I never see him again.

In order to get away from convenient, happening, but un-Thai Chaweng beach, I look for accommodation about everywhere across the isle. Every second coconut tree boasts a sign with "house for rent"; these can be lousy shacks, always inland. They go to foreigners for about 3.000 to 10.000 baht per month, while Thai people would only pay 1000 or 1500. Some people in the south build complete new teak family homes on their grounds, hoping for Farang long-term renters, often with outdoor kitchens and separate toilet houses. Some of the families who rented out in south Samui where very very friendly and warm-hearted to me. They would be delightful neighbours; I leave their places with a motosai basket full of mangos and passion fruit from their gardens, but still without an agreement.
Also I see several brand new small tourist houses that look like a one- or two-bedroom apartment inside. Ten or 15 of those small bungalows are lined up in two rows like trailer parks, on grounds that looked like previous parking lots. One such place is ten walking minutes inland from Chaweng beach and one place is 15 walking minutes inland from Mae Nam beach; this one has a swimming pool, too. Kitchen and living room are combined, and while the bedrooms do have air-con, the living rooms with kitchenette come without cooling – I understand that air-con and Asian cooking do exclude each other. The Mae Nam place costs only 700 baht per day, without kitchen use a mere 500. At Chaweng they charge about the double price. The rates fall dramatically if you rent for more than a few days.


Eating

Coming from Bangkok and Isaan, where quiet relaxed open-air dining with a breeze is not always easy, I quickly fall for Chaweng beach's restaurant tables piled into the sand, sometimes with water slapping right around your feet. The fanciful multicoloured dinner lamps – including shining stars, hearts and flowers – here are pleasant for me, I see it as Thai holiday style; many pagodas are lit up more kitschy, aren't they? Some restos blast music with a very good sound system, turning the beach into a movie set. But sad, it is mostly fast-paced dancing stuff. Anything from Rachmaninov to Villa-Lobos to Stan Getz or even the otherwise ubiquitous Eagles or Ottmar Liebert might fit in better; and of course Thailand itself has countless homemade records that would suite the mood of an evening dinner on the beach. The soulless computerized dance beats do not go well with an outdoor feast.

I settle in "Da Papa's" beach chairs, they want do the upmarket Italian gourmet thing. A vegetable pizza is 200 baht here. It is good, but definitely not wood fired. "Da Papa's" menu features mineral water at 150 baht – "imported from Italy". I'll yet have to try this delicacy.

There is this big group of Thais on the tables next to me. They compare westerners and Thais: I hear a lot of "khun Thai" and "khun farang" in their conversation, but I don't understand anything else. What do they talk? A waiter asks me "Arroy mai khrap?" (Delicious?) "Arroy khrap," I answer, that much Thai is easy. Suddenly all the Thais on the other tables fall silent. After my one-word-answer in Thai they assume I understood all of their Thai-farang-comparison. They pay quickly and disappear in the dark. What did they talk?

I like dining on the beach at night, with a breeze and gurgling waters around me. However, as a solo restaurant customer, I often feel shy to occupy tables long time because I might block out other customers. But here at "Da Papa" there are still enough free tables, I don't disturb their business, so after finishing dinner I like to stay longer even without consuming anything. I fish for the subnotebook, chip in the flash card from the digicam and download the pictures I took today. I do a slide show of my first Samui pictures, and it looks really great on a beach table: The laptop is almost beaming not only with TFT light, but with sheer Samui tropical beauty. A breeze is blowing, the waters are gurgling, a late moon looms over it all and every 20 minutes Bangkok Airways' lit-up ATR-72s fly in deep enough to check the menu billboards. Suddenly I notice talk right behind me: "Svay maak! Kheng! Ko Matlang, chai mai?" (Beautiful; excellent; Matlang island, isn't it.) Three waitresses have lined up behind my chair and watch the show with delight. Soon we are in a discussion about the details, now is this Ko Matlang or a promontory of Ko Samui, this cute bungalow does it belong to Corto Maltese or to Relax Resort?
The restaurant closes, and I am really tired by now. Two male waiters who like my tourist Thai and Isaan-Lao appear with a bottle of whiskey which they want to share with me. I decline politely and say, "sorry, sorry, I must sleep now, yaak pai nohn". They look quite embarrassed. When I say, "sorry, mee beer Singh laeow" (already had Singa beer) they can accept my refusal more easily.

On later days, I get horizontal. A few restaurants put picnic mats, Isaan-Lao style floor pillows and whole wooden platforms right into the sand. You sit or lie down, eat from low tables and are welcome to stretch out and take a nap. After trying this once, it is difficult to go back to a civilized situp-table. I even swallow the dull dance floor music that sometimes goes along with horizontal splurges.

The busiest and maybe best of the restaurants with lie-down eating is the Ark Bar. According to the story on the menu, it is managed by a young Austrian named Mario, who was head cook on a cruise ship before. I always get very good food there, western or Thai, and also I hear Thais praising the place; the mats are clean, and the service mostly doesn't forget me. Only two times my bill shows items I never ordered – they are removed with a "sorry, sir". Fried rice is about 60 to 90 baht there, a small beer Singh 60, and Euro schnitzel stuff starts at about 220 baht; cocktails are mostly 100 baht. It is just too nice to finish your meal with tiramisu and mai tai, both great, and then stretch out, dig the head into the pillow, watch the moon, the stars, the airplanes and the hipsters; take a nap and later stumble home through the sand along the waterline.

Ark Bar waiters always ask how spicy you want your Asian food. There is this young, stout and loud American who orders tom yum koong; obviously to impress his mates, he raves to the waitress, "YEAH, MAKE IT REAL SPICY FOR ME, I LIKE THAT". When the soup comes, I see him taking exactly one spoon, after which his tom yum koong remains untouched; it's not the resto's fault.

Every night a few flower selling kids float around Ark Bar. Don't ask me why, but I find flower selling kids always more delightful than snack or souvenir hawkers – from Phnom Penh to Ko Samui, they seem unobtrusive, polite, neatly dressed, just a bit of holiday fun. At Ark Bar, I like especially one cute flower girl about 8 years old; she is in for a bit of chit-chat, but upon a firm "No" or "Mai ao" she will quickly leave you alone. No objections. I am joking and bargaining with this girl, when a western manager of Ark Bar takes her from behind and carries her to the water line. There he simulates throwing her into the water, then he rams her into the sand and walks away. Quite a few tourists watch with disgust. The girls stands there about ten minutes motionless with her face off, obviously crying. She does not come back to Ark Bar any more. On another evening I notice one more western Ark Bar manager chasing a flower selling boy off. Adult rich westerners removing poor Thai kids from a Thai beach. Maybe only westerners can act like this. Never in my travels across the region I saw Asians removing hawkers; they prefer to keep them away in the first place. For example, the expensive Chaweng Regent puts a rope into the sand. On one side of the rope, there lie the topless bored sunbathers from Milwaukee and Paderborn; on the other side, black-faced covered-up Isaan souvenir hawkers. They do not cross the line – except for a few inches now and then.

Occasionally on my way home through Chaweng night, I meet fast walking guys in leather shoes, black trousers and white shirt, carrying a fish or a crab in bare hands. They are restaurant waiters and bring requested food from associated venues; for example, The Island and Al's Hut have the same manager, as well as O.P. Bungalow and P.P. Resort.

In the mornings, I venture out for breakfast. At 8 a.m., the sun is already too hot. I desire a delightful potent buffet table that takes me well into the evening. I don't like to eat in the hippie and dance crowd venues where you order set breakfasts or single items à la carte; with a bit of toast and orange juice, you get well beyond 100 baht and are still hungry like a wolf. The upmarket resorts mostly charge 250 or 410 baht for buffets, not ideal for me budget traveller. Finally, on my hungry trail along Chaweng beach, I discover The Island resort, with a breakfast buffet for exactly 126 baht, served in a low key wooden and bamboo sala. There is enough white bread, muesli, fried rice, baked potatoes, fruit and fruit salad, they heat up an attempted croissant courtesy of Tesco Lotus for you, the coffee is drinkable, the place even sports morning-fresh copies of The Nation, you keep sight of the sea and get a breeze. On the down side, the orange juice comes from one of those bubbling containers and thus is inedible. The waitresses' silk dresses here are worn, and the footwear is sneakers; but then again you don't get that frightful distance between service and customers as in the upmarket places. On my second day here I receive a special welcome back smile and they pour me my personal mix of kaffae nom (milk coffee) without any new instructions. Before long, I know all of the girls' names and can tell who's from Nonthaburi and who's from Korat.

But come one Monday, the beach is void of tourists. The Island does not dish up buffet now, but for the same price you get a set breakfast that is not inviting. I say sorry and now check the upmarket resorts still featuring buffet. I couldn't afford a room there, but am willing to do the breakfast buffets. At Samui Natien it is 250 baht with plastic orange juice and no muesli. They have useful extra-big coffee mugs, but only three small tables with good beach view, and they pipe juicy in-flight music. – Coralia charges only 150 baht and for this they even add soap to your coffee; the orange juice seems to come from a box and is passable; good fruit, but no muesli and no Asian soup there. – At Iyara it is 410 after adding tax. Highlights are the coffee from the espresso machine looking delightful like a Spanish caffe con leche, and the handmade table ceramics. Croissants are kept permanently hot here, which makes them too dry. – A little further south, Chom Talay at the posh Chaweng Regent charges 350 baht for the best buffet I come across. Only this place boasts real fresh orange juice; the glasses are nastily small though, I have to pour about ten times for the desired vitamine overdose. There is lots of good cooked Asian food, plus passable croissants and muesli; the bread looks brown, but is too soft, as always. They present their food in a delightful, yet easily manageable way and not, like elsewhere, in plastic foliage; the pottery and basketry there would be a delight in my kitchen back home. But you sit in a massive concrete sala that does not blend well with the bay. Sometimes they noisily replay old style Thai pagoda music of the tong-ting-yau-yau-pluk-pluk-variety. The waitresses wear complicated silk dresses. They take good care, but a bit robotical, there is no talk. (A rich friend once spent five days in a super posh 5-star-resort on Phuket. About the Thais he said "yes, they are very very polite"; he never understood my Thai addiction.)

One morning on the Chom Talay concrete beachside stage, I notice an east-west couple with the lady seemingly a Patpong import. Her black, sexy, but classy dress, make-up and hi-heels distinguish her from the holidaying crowd as well as from the more childish local bar girls. They are met by this breakfast supervisor in silk shorts who likes to ask all the guests for their whereabouts. I hear them talking about "Bangkok", but cannot report more. After this I am unexpectedly asked where I stay and have no better idea than naming my actual cheapie resort; the supervisor floats on with a smile.

The breakfast buffet leaves no capacity for lunch, except for the occasional corn cob from a beach hawker. But an afternoon cappuccino can always be accommodated. My favorite place for that becomes the urban, mundane poolside bar at the Amari Palm Reef resort. The waitresses here don't wear traditional silk or black skirts, but slick khaki trousers and unisex shirts. No bamboo and rattan furniture either, no pretentious Empire seating, but you lounge on puristic, gray club chairs that are neither too comfy nor too spartan, and there are even daybeds. They play chilled, smart music at a very low level. Even though no Vaio or Powerbook, my laptop looks quite sexy here. All the staff at this bar and at the whole resort is always friendly, ready for a "Sabaidee", and seems in a good mood – quite a difference to other places on Chaweng. What annoys me, though, is that they tend to knee down in front of me: they hand me the menu from down below, take my order from down below, serve from down below and present the bill from down below. Cappu here consists of several strong espressos plus milk foam and something else, maybe a cinnamon layer. With that come a cold towel, several very good cookies replacing a full meal, peanuts and other salty snacks and several glasses of iced water. Snacks and cookies change daily. On the menu the cappu is 70 baht; add service charge plus tax and pay 83. From my club chair's springs I watch holidayers splashing in the pool. But I like the place most from five to seven p.m., when the noisy pool fountain is turned off and the ever changing bar lighting gains ground against the daylight.

While I enjoy lie-down dining for some time, the lust for wood fired pizza finally can't be ignored any longer. I have to leave the beach for that. So I work my way down Chaweng beach to the Samui Night Plaza, a big shopping center that opens to the beach here and to the beach road there. At the stairs to the Night Plaza I put on the flipflops and walk hundred meters to reach "Via Vai", an Italian restaurant right on the beach road. Like most places except for the always busy Ark Bar on the beach, it is quite empty. But the Thai waiters here are quite occupied with a neighborhood baby, while the Italian boss and pizza juggler is chatting away with Italian customers, so I have to fight hard for attention. The Thai waiters react annoyed when I don't understand all the Italian on the menu; the pizza is by no means special, while the home-made ice-cream has potential. When I get a grip on the Italian boss, I ask him about the meaning of "Via Vai". I know that "Vai via" means "go away", but that can't be his message? Obviously, "Via Vai" means "busy road" and that is aptly titled: From your pizza table, you watch the bizarre stream of holidayers, ladyboys, occasional straight Thais, taxis, stray dogs and cats passing by in 2 meters distance. A unique show.

Another night I wander down Chaweng beach until reaching "Eatsense", one of the few beach restaurants that's not attached to a bungalow resort. It is still amazing to walk into an expensive venue without any shoes at all – but then again, "Eatsense" has no roof at all. The tables spread nicely over several terracotta-tiled levels; you feel like on stage, but this one is well integrated with the surroundings. Huge paper lamps dangle in the palmtrees overhead. Here you get tom yam koong for 160 baht, with a mini-heap of plain rice for another 35 baht. (I try not to remember Cambodia; Khmer-oriented restaurants there keep you supplied with ice and plain rice at all times, free of charge.) A bunch of mosquitoes has come for dinner, too, as no coils smoke under the tables. The waiter has quite a bossy sound, but when a group of about 20 beer-swigging US men arrives, he exercises his military phrases with them and forgets me. It is a great, romantic, tastefully styled outdoor restaurant; the ok food is overpriced.

After some weeks, I tire of restaurants, especially as I can't find a place that's like home away from home, with caring knowing personal service, convenient furniture and food to look forward to. And what with the nice big bungalow terrace I have, complete with solid chairs and table – I could do a few breakfasts and lunches at home, prepare at least cold food exactly to my liking. Which means, I need bread, more precisely real healthy central European style bread. But it's not there, despite all the farangs around. There are a few self-proclaimed "bakeries" on Chaweng beach road, including the very casual Will Wait place, but all they bake up is the usual light brown wheat cushions – no hearty bites. Supply is not much better at the huge Tesco Lotus supermarket; the croissants there are what they mostly are in Thailand – a white bread in a crispy croissant disguise. One day, dreaming over the "Samui Guide Map" for more pothole research trips, I spot the "Il Mulino Italian Bakery", located on the ring road near Chaweng. I jump onto my Honda immediately, hoping for delightful ciabatta; this is Italian style white bread done with olive oil and way better than any white bread outside Italy. But while Mr. Il Mulino is a 100 percent Italian ragazzo, his ciabattas aren't "amabile" – they taste so tame and lame, they'd never sell outside Ko Samui, let alone south or north of the Alps.

For bread, I mean real healthy central European style bread, my last hope lies on the north coast, where many discerning travellers settle anyway. The ring road off Mae Nam beach sports "Angela's Bakery and Café"; I've seen their ads with lots of delightful baked items plus a delightful baked items selling lady. On location, I meet none of the advertised delights. They just offer the usual flabby light brown toast-like "bread"; it comes pre-packed in airtight plastic – now how can that be something? As I rumble into Bophut aka Fisherman's Village, the chic eclectic Euro outpost on the north coast, there is a "Boulangerie" almost waving at me. I stop by and heck, they have some truly delightful pastries. I grab two of the delicacies and settle on the sand; yes, they are slightly, but not ridiculously sweet, they are crisp and light and not at all slimy or oily – better and more subtle than any sweet pastry I ever had east of Vienna. Even the beach dogs beleaguer me for a bite. I wipe crumbs and sands off and return to my "Boulangerie". Do they have brown bread, I ask the Thai girl behind the counter? "Mee khaa", I am told, and she leads me straight to a baking room in the back. And there it is – a big loaf of most inviting dark brown bread! It is just too big for my needs, so I ask if I can get just half of it? "Dai khaa", I am told, and she cuts the loaf in two. And inside – it is disappointingly white and soft. Just a white bread in healthy camouflage.

Driving back from Bophut to Chaweng after dark, I take the inland road. On a hill I can't believe it, but these days Samui even sports an airport for interstellar space ships. Getting closer, the otherworldly edifice turns out to be the lit-up Tesco Lotus superstore. It must have been quite a change for locals, expats and small shop keepers alike, when this 6000-sqm-monster opened at the end of 2002. I wander through miles of aisles and many Thai and Farang customers. Actually, at least on Samui I have never seen a place where Thais and Farangs mix so equally with equal interests and status – just everybody shopping side by side. Quite a few elderly Thai-farang couples check the shelves. I find the boxed Tipco orange juice that's perfect for breakfasts at my own bungalow terrace. So I queue up at one of the about 200 cashiers – until I notice that the Thai lady in front of me steers a shopping cart with at least 500 items! I see more heavily loaded shopping carts in other rows, too. Obviously, many hotels buy supplies here. I sneak over to a line with only Farang customers, they never carry more than three to five things.

If Tesco Lotus is too busy for you, rest assured that Big C will open soon, too. And of course Chaweng beach road features supermarkets, too; they look small from the street, but are very long inside and charge a few baht more than Tesco. Friendly they are not, but that's Chaweng. For more fresh shopping, I head for talaat Laem Din; yes, they have a real market only one kilometer away from the beach road. It is ok for cut flowers, fruit and cooked Thai take-away food; but Laem Din market is a disorganized, ugly place with much less charm than markets on the mainland.

Delightful Ko Samui (1/5): Chaweng Beach and People
Delightful Ko Samui (2/5): Chaweng Beach Road and Services
Delightful Ko Samui (3/5): Trips to Lamai and to the South
Delightful Ko Samui (4/5): Waterfalls and Hills
Delightful Ko Samui (5/5): The North and the West

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My e-mail: [email protected]


Stickman's thoughts:

Fantastic!