Delightful Ko Samui (4 / 5) – Waterfalls And Hills
Delightful Samui (4 / 5 ) – Waterfalls And Hills
For weeks I fancied them, the attractive green-clad hills of interior Samui. Especially when dipping on Chaweng Noi beach, they look very close and inviting. The maps show a few roads all through hilly dense central Samui, but I have no idea if those roads are can be easily found, if they are ok for my Honda Dream or if they do exist at all. The Lonely Planet doesn't reveal much here. I decide to visit a few of the popular drive-in waterfalls and see if one could venture further into the boondocks from there.
Na Muang 1 waterfall is just off the ring road in southern Samui, between Hua Thanon and Nathon. As I bump along the driveway, I pass an open meadow with a makeshift desk right in the grass; there a bossy Thai barks me to stop. Am I to pay entry fee? I am not aware of that. Would I like to ride an elephant, he asks? I decline and am allowed to drive on. Despite lots of snack stalls, it is a pleasant, shady place if you can share nature with a bunch of Thai and Farang tourists plus a lively school group. About 42 years and one month before me, HM the King stopped here for lunch, too. It is just a simple pool with a little water coming down the cliff – but come back at the end of the rainy season, it should be more impressive then.
Nam Tok Na Muang 2 is not far away, but this waterfall requires more effort. I walk up a dirt trail not knowing if I'm right or wrong. I am wrong, I learn, when I first hear, then see a bunch of noisy tourists descending on the other side of the local slope. Again, there are some sort-of check posts blocking the trail; I am requested to sit down – but all they actually demand is that I buy cold drinks. What I like more is an unknown fruit which they use to fix a map on a table. When I ask for the price, I am told it is free; I ask again, but the fruit remains free. Stunned, I take it with a khop khun khrap and trudge further uphill, munching on complimentary vitamins; or did they expect me to buy a coke with it?
After 20 minutes a nice steep waterfall appears. A few local Thais hang out in hammocks between the trees. They tell me further uphill I can take "ab nam" (shower), only to continue: "You go with me, I take care you ok." I say "no need", but they insist it is "dangerous to go alone". I'd like more information about how far and how difficult it is to reach the natural shower, but I don't want to feel obligated to them, so I trot off alone. One of the wannabe-guides follows me – will he try to charge me for unwanted services? I try to not even ignore him, I don't like the situation, but after some time he is no longer there. Now on this steep, challenging trail I meet a few tourists who look strong enough, but obviously can't walk one more step and seem in high distress; fortunately, they are already taken care of. I crawl over very steep rocky slopes and along muddy hill sides; more than once I desperately cling to a bush, praying to Buddha I won't slide back down all the way I just managed to come up. Still, I'd say, you can reach the rocky pool above Na Muang 2 in standard Samui attire, i.e. shorts and flip-flops; just be smarter than me and bring insect repellent, plaster and disinfectant along. And yes, sometimes it is difficult to make out what is the path and what is NOT the path. One time I stand between some trees like a forest ghost, unsure where to head next, until I hear, then see a British tourist group being guided uphill by my previous Thai wannabe tour-guide: oh okay, the path is 100 meters over there.
If you finally reach a dirty slope full of tissues and human excrement, you already walked too far. Go back and find the rocky pool a bit west of the trail; there will be a crowd anyway. The natural pool with delightfully cool brown water is so small that Chaweng resort investors wouldn't consider it; still it is deep enough that I can't walk everywhere. And yes, at the end of the pool a few rocks form to some kind of chamber closed on three sides; inside water thunders down. It is a bit scary, but you can cling to the rope there, make it through narrow rocky walls to the natural shower and get yourself a chilly water massage. Meanwhile, the English tourist group that helped me find my way back to the trail is having a few problems: I hear them discussing that their Thai guide demands 100 baht, and they are unsure if that is ok or not (walking up from the lower waterfall with a guide should take 30 minutes one-way). And right in the pool, a twenty-something Brit boy loses the friendship ring he got from his on-site Brit girlfriend. He tries to retrieve the ring on the muddy, rocky grounds for about 20 seconds, then gives up; a young Thai shows more effort, but with no success either. The blond girl friend sits sadly on her rock like a fat chips-and-fish-fed mermaid; is she moaning the loss of the ring or the lack of endeavour her guy displays?
About 1.5 kilometers east of the Na Muang falls there is another road leading inland; a few more low-key water cascades should be there. The road lifts me up in every sense: As the tiny strip winds skyward through magnificent palm trees, there are gorgeous views back onto the Samui coast and the glittering sea. You look through palm tree tops down to the ocean. A few distant islets ringed with white sandy beaches kind of twinkle at me in all outstanding splendour. For once I understand why Samui is all the rage now – the panorama is breathtaking, and no doubt you can get it on many hills around the island. I stop the motosai and soak in the views. This hill has even got a breeze.
Next comes a woodsy booth that announces Wangsaothong waterfall. I don't know why they have the right to charge 20 baht admission there, but I am not going to argue either. At least it includes some kind of guarded parking. I am shown into a mini-valley full of gigantic boulders, huge exotic trees and mammoth spiders. I see a few signs for directions, but there is almost no convenient trail – I stumble across slippery rocks, muddy flats and small creeks. They built a few wooden backings and stairs, but those ones might as well disintegrate as you set foot there. This is the dry season, so I can't find a waterfall; or did I crawl up the wrong cliff? On the way back, there are a few big bee nests on the trees. All in all, it is a pleasant, shady world on its own, and after about two hours I scramble back to motosai and the inevitable cold drinks shack.
Honda takes me further up the road. One mile beyond Wangsaothang, a huge display announces "Khow Yai Waterfall", which is in no map or guide book. Now this cascade is different: They do have water trickling down a rock, but mostly it looks like a low key botanical garden with neat concrete stairways, lots of planted flowers, butterflies and delightful shady picnic banks and salas. Another great view from the top, and guess what, they charge 20 baht and do sell cold drinks. On the top level I follow the creek that's feeding the fall and walk into the bushes. There I encounter the ubiquitous blue hoses that bring water to the fruit orchards all over the isle – and here they are used to fuel an artificial waterfall over a previously dry rocky wall. What do you think, do they pump in the water at business hours only? Heck, waterfalls seem big business.
Into the Hills
There is only about 1,5 liters of gasoline left and a long way back home, but I keep driving uphill. The views back to the coast are too rewarding. Along the steep road, there are more businesses. You can pay ten baht for entering another view point sala – and I do, as I really want to see the scenery from every possible angle. But construction noise from other, half-finished salas disturbs the peace.
Motosai, don't stop now! On the very steep road, Honda and I noisily crawl further up in low gear, in search of the ultimate view. Red dirt replaces the asphalt, and then I am up there – on first floor Samui, about 500 to 600 meters above sea level. I've reached peaceful grassy flowery meadows that remind me of springtime in the Californian High Sierra or in Switzerland's Berner Oberland. Bees and other creatures are humming busily, and the palms gave way to mostly fruit trees now. I pick up a familiar vomit-like smell – durians seem to be a major crop on Samui's top. They grow other fruit, too; I can't name it, but I can eat it! I feel quite alone. The default blue water hoses criss-cross the orchards, but there are very few houses. For some time I don't meet any people, then just a few field workers with a shy smile in a curve. Busy westernized lowland Samui seems like a distant crazy world, seen from up here. For miles on end I don't encounter any tour-internet-rental shops and no spa retreats either, which adds to the almost un-Samuian air up here.
I discover a small guesthouse on one of the highest hills; they serve delicious steamed coffee on a rooftop-terrace with gorgeous island-wide views. Hey, they even rent, and after inspecting the rooms, I decide to come back to Samui's higher grounds for a night tomorrow. It looks squeaky clean, so for once I will try to cope with a shared bathroom and no air-con. Depending on who you ask, it is 400 or 500 baht without breakfast, but I am willing to pay any price for a break from Chaweng beach.
With toothbrush and reading I return the other day. I don't care that I have to roar up the same steep road again – it is too marvellous, and the ambience changes with every cloud. This time, I share the dinner terrace with a bunch of noisy chain-smoking-drinking dirt bikers, pooping their freshly horsepower-boosted egos all over the place; it is still Samui, after all. But who cares, I go for a stroll. Interior Samui has some of the steepest paved roads I ever saw; I jog up them, and it feels like walking on Jupiter. The cool, dry air is a real treat after my weeks on steamy beach lands; I kind of bathe in the cool air flow enveloping me. Around nightfall I pass a single house between the road and a steep downhill slope. A fat lady sits outside and shouts some friendly words in Thai. It sounds just like some curious small talk with a stranger; unlike Chaweng beach people she doesn't want to sell something. Still I can't really see her face, she sounds a bit bossy, and I don't understand all of her talk, so I just smile "Pai tiao, sabaidee khrap" and loaf on. Around the next bend, I sit down on the paved road to enjoy the cool air. I notice a motorbike's light approaching from very far down, before I realize: The motorbike is actually a glow worm two meters away.
The dirt bikers snore less than expected, and it is a very recreational sleep up there in the guesthouse. I don't use the fan; much better: I keep the window wide open all night long. It is wonderfully cool, and not one insect comes along. The next morning I am none too excited to board my noisy Honda, I prefer another walk in the meadows and orchards. There are a few wrapped up chaps working in the crops who give me an asking face and – upon my smile – they smile back shyly. And I hear them talking Khmer! This is not Surin-style Khmer, they speak like proper Cambodians. With a bit of "Soksabai te", "Suasaday" and some more smiles I get them into a chat. I guess they never talked to a westerner. From what I understand, they work eight hours, six days a week for a monthly 3500 baht. As they have no transport, they have to buy food from their boss (who seems to be quite an impressive local tycoon with lots of property up here). Oh, Mr. Phae'ak from Pochentong and Mr. Phee'ap from Poipet, they would love to see their wives, kids and extended families; but they can't afford to travel home. With some "Liahoay"s we say farewell. A few minutes later I run into the fat lady who had greeted me last night. Turns out she is the boss here and controls sizable parts of upper Samui. Now I understand her Thai better, maybe because of the daylight? She makes a move as if running uphill and puts up an amused face – heck, she watched me jogging up the super steep asphalt roads yesterday! "Khun khamen tamngaan dee", she says, "mai pood maak-maak": Cambodians work well, and they don't talk too much. I learn that the alternative for cheap labour would be Thai people from Isaan; but they talk too much, and they steal tools and crops. According to her. Then she suggests I come back in three months to sample freshly harvested durians, "arroy maak-maak"; thanks for that.
It seems absurd, but finally I am ready to head back to Chaweng after just one night on the peaceful hilltop. Don't ask me why I spend so much time on Chaweng. I plan to cut through Samui's interior. The maps show hill roads leading all the way to Mae Nam beach in the north. A young Thai in the guesthouse confirms that these roads do exist, and that they are okay for my Honda Dream, "mai pen rai, thanon dee". I manage to pay the rent with the family member who always cited a 400, not 500 baht price, and rumble off. It is a very scenic drive through fruit orchards, fields, meadows and various kinds of forests. The "road" can be a smallish dirt path, but on steep sections it is always paved and easy. For a strong rain I stop under some trees that don't let any water through. There are roads in all directions, but few people. I meet a few very shy Thai field workers. They hear my question in Thai and talk away in their language, too. I don't understand much, but try to follow their gestures. The view down to my destination, Mae Nam beach, could be behind any hill and any curve – but it's not. A few times I end up in private drive-ways. For another downpour I have to stop in another shack where smelling chemical fertilizer is kept.
I give up and turn around. Without a local I won't find down on the northern side. I will just use up gasoline and probably wreck motosai in a mud hole. I decide to drive back and to seek a descent on the southern slopes, where orientation is easier.
Under fat black clouds on slippery ground I slowly head back. I meet a guided group of farang mountain bicyclists; yes, once you're up here, it is a great MTB terrain. Finally, near a radar station, I hit the road that's leading down
to Samui's western side, to Ban Sa Ket south of Nathon. I fancy a good meal plus good coffee in Nathon's Sunset Restaurant. Rolling downhill on a very comfortable paved road, there are more splendid sea views. Almost down on sea level
is an army camp, and I have to slow down at a check post. A young soldier waves me through; he beams one of the friendliest smiles I see on Samui.
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
My e-mail: PotholeResearch@aol.com
Time to book a trip to Samui!