Delightful Ko Samui (5 / 5) – The North And West
Delightful Ko Samui (5/5) – The North And West
Many of my trips out of Chaweng have been to the south – a few times to Lamai, but mostly to the backwaters south of the ring road, to the waterfalls and to the hills between Hua Thanon and Nathon, also in the south. Now it is time for the north.
Around the North
The small promontory just north of Chaweng beach is charged with Farangs' destinations: airport, Big Buddha, Choeng Mon beach, Wat Plai Laem, several holiday villages. You won't go hungry exploring the roads there, a restaurant waits on every dusty junction. And what would be Thailand's non-descript noodle stall no. 56.789 elsewhere, on Samui they post "AUTHENTIC THAI CUISINE", provide table cloth and triple up prices.
Facing a row of hospital-like dwellings that form Choeng Mon Bungalows resort, I park motosai once again at a beach resort just to make it to the beach somehow. Fittingly, the cappucino at Choeng Mon Bungalows tastes like medicine, still I order a second one as my circulation is down after an unplanned lunchtime nap. The waiter wants to charge for three drinks; I claim I had only two – their third cappu would have killed me (every medicine becomes poison when overdosed). After ten minutes of yakk-yakk between kitchen and waiter they believe me. Maybe they were just angry that I bought food from a beach hawker in between.
Choeng Mon beach is only about five kilometers from Chaweng and very close to the airport. The sand is delightful enough, and it is very shallow – you can wade far through lukewarm waters. Choeng Mong beach is quite a small crescent, so when I check there are only three resorts, among them the curious Imperial Boat House Hotel, where bungalows, pool and even the inevitable tailor shop are boat shaped; oh, and the boat-shaped pool has cannons, too. The last empty, northern lot on the beach is just being noisily closed by one more resort construction. All buildings stand right on the tree-sand-line, more dominantly than on Chaweng beach; so Choeng Mon looks more developed and spoilt. Almost no hipsters here, it is a family place, but not as sedate as Chaweng Noi. I see a beach football match with two teams equally formed of Thais, black and white westerners, while reggae booms out of the boxes. Later they all hang out in the water. I enjoy a sweet sunset on Choeng Mon, even though you can't see the sun touching the sea. There are several independent restaurants, not attached to the resorts, and they fight hard for costumers. Some places look quite inviting with bamboo furniture right under the casuarina trees; others put 20 beach chairs in a circle and light a fire in the middle. With the waters gently slapping nearby, this looks peaceful. Walking back to the Honda, I hear an absolute rarity: A resto plays Thai pop – the only farang-oriented place to do so all over Samui.
Several little beaches stretch out on Samui's remote northeastern most tip. No surprise, there are bungalow resorts and Farang dream villas. Seeing those tiny curvy bays on the map, with the Farang property attached, I dream up some delightful, Caribbean-like, intimate boutique beaches. I park motosai and see: a stinking mud pond, full of slippery rocks, slimy greenery and noisy dirty wet dogs. The villas there look like dolls' houses, fenced up neatly, the grass is cut meticulously. I don't meet one Farang, but I watch Thai caretakers watering gardens, BMWs and finally themselves with a hose. Reader, if you have property there: Does it smell a lot at low tide? Do the beach dogs pop along for your barbecue?
Smelly or not, the bonanza is in full swing. On the rough roads in the northeastern corner, I meet lots of trucks full of construction materials and construction workers. I see coconut groves that have been separated into tiny lots by ropes; pick your dream place and say goodbye to the trees. None of these up and coming resorts has a beach suitable for swimming. But that's as well true for most properties that sell now in the southeast, south of Lamai beach.
Have you seen him from the airplane? Not far from the real estate boom, on a mini-island reached by a causeway, 12 meters high in open air, he is overlooking northern Samui from a pagoda complex. Big Buddha and his temple are quite a peaceful destination, even though the monks pipe canned new age music. For 20 Baht, you can write your name on a brick that will be used for the next temple; I see mostly Thai names.
North of Big Buddha, I walk along an empty beach with white sand and impressive palm trees as a backup; but the water is too shallow for any dipping, rubble and sand banks peek out everywhere. A few locals walk around in the flats, looking for crabs maybe; others scratch the sand with spoons to collect very small shells; I understand they are used to flavour nam prik, the chili sauce that comes with many Thai dishes. The beach has a few stunning private luxury homes, one with even several pools, a pool table and a gorgeous window front. Both places seem empty at the moment. They have a smallish "private" sign, but that's all – no fence, no guards, completely open to the public beach. Once again I think, security is not a big issue on Samui. I could walk into the gardens at least, maybe right into the buildings; or do they have security on the palm trees, ready to fell intruders with intelligent coconut missiles?
This beach is moderately scenic, but offers no swimming. So I find only one single smallish bungalow resort. It seems empty, but at their beach bar they can fix me a fresh nam manao, lemon juice. I ask the waiter, how many farangs choose to stay here. He says they only get pre-booked tour groups; I wonder if these tourists know they end up on a deserted beach with no swimming and no dining or shopping diversion. But this strip of sand at least has one thing to go for, and that's sunset: Only five kilometers away from east-facing Chaweng beach, you get a full-on sunset with or without romantic palm trees in the foreground.
Following the north coast westward, soon after Big Buddha I reach Bophut, aka Fisherman's Village. There is a charming row of brick and wooden houses right on the waterfront; they even employ a few elder Thais to lounge outside on platforms for more Thai village atmosphere. Apart from the exotic locals, this tourist place brings back memories of San Francisco's Ashbury Heights: Hippie shops offer batik clothes, health food and yoga courses on the inland side; chic eclectic restaurants with seaside verandahs face the water. It is definitely a good place for a romantic, yet affordable ocean front dinner, and you can see Ko Phangan half an hour to the north. When I walk along, the cooks fry potatoes on the street front, but most tables are empty. Even though a tourist show, Bophut does have style, it developed slowly over decades and without the mindless craze of Chaweng. Strolling and window shopping are possible and pleasant here. Walk five minutes on, and you can sit down in the sand and even splash. The beach doesn't convince me, though, as there are too many boats parked, and they have a boat pier, too. The sand is ok, but not at all of Chaweng splendour.
Just the same is true for endless Mae Nam beach. Numerous bungalow resorts with very individual styles line up here, but again the water is full of yachts and two piers. Boats for Ko Phangan and Ko Tao islands call here; this doesn't make for a relaxing everyday beach. Mae Nam is often recommend for tourists who would like a few bars in the evening, but abhor the craze of Chaweng or Lamai beaches. Just consider that Mae Nam beach has no beach road; it is directly attached to the fast, noisy ring road; this has bars, shops and restos – and the air of an industrial estate. The distance between beach and road here is bigger than elsewhere, so to get out of your resort and see some shops or taxis, you have to walk or drive further than say at Chaweng or Choeng Mon. Of course you can walk on the beach itself and check out all the bars and restaurants in the many resorts; they look interesting.
Nathon, the Authorities and the West Coast
I dive deep into my travel bag. Didn't I possess long trousers, when I arrived on Samui? Didn't I wear decent shoes, back then? Finally I discover some semi-civilized attire, squeeze myself into the inconvenient cottons and board the Honda. First I stop at my motosai rental and convince them to give me my passport, but I have to bring them a photocopy and sign it. I set out for the ring road, I pass Tesco Lotus and the hot, long, boring stretch along Mae Nam beach, I roar up the steep hill before Nathon, then follow a noisy farting truck all through this port town and stay on the ring road one more southbound mile, until at a junction I turn right. The free "Samui Guide Map" did its usual excellent job, and I found my destination without any backtracking; there it is: a big sign indicates "Koh Samui immigration office".
Inside, it is quite a scene, and I have to wait. There sits a blond western lady, sobbing; a female Thai officer talks to her in strict, yet motherly tone: "And on June 1 you exit, ok? You understand, June 1, go out, ok?" The Farang lady nods desperately; she must be in love with someone or something on the isle. A smart white guy talks to an officer, obviously about some kind of long-term stay. "You work here", asks the officer casually; "no", protests the westerner, "have money already!" Both of them grin.
Finally it is my turn and I get the form I have to complete. I request 15 days extension for my usual tourist visa. From what I know, normally you get only ten days, for which you pay a whopping 1900 Baht; that's quite a nasty pricing, considering that Thais charge overstaying with 200 Baht/day at the airport. From internet newsgroups I had learnt that on Samui you get 15 days for 1900. First I had considered a visa run from Samui; the travel shops offer visa runs to either Malaysia or Myanmar for 1250 to 2000 Baht, start 4.30 a.m., return 9 p.m., leaving several days a week. But that sounds tiresome, so I try my luck with the immigration office. And it's no problem: I hand in form and passport, wait about 30 minutes in the tiny shack, then I get the passport back without any questions asked – but 15 days more stamped in.
That one off my chest, I slowly roll back to Nathon. The harbour town looks by far more Thai than any other settlement around the ring road. There are markets, small roads, food stalls. Near the harbour, where the big ships from the mainland dock, it has of course restaurants, hotels and internet-tour-shops. I spot a nice semi-chic café right in front of the pier; funny, no problem to find parking there. I sit down with a drinkable cappuccino and watch the hubble and bubble.
When the car ferry from Don Sak on the mainland docks, the road is suddenly blocked with rows of cars. A policeman in brown directs the traffic. Now my motosai stands in a very stupid place, it disrupts the flow of cars. Actually, only now I notice that where I park, the kerbstone is painted red and white – I quickly finish my cappu and jump back to motosai. The police man on the junction has just waited for me to come out of hiding. He points at me, blows his whistle and shouts "You wait!" He marches over eagerly and tells me with a bossy tone that I can't park at red-and-white kerbstones. "Khor thod khrap, mai luh khrap", I lament (sorry, I didn't know). "Mai luh, mai dai", he replies ("don't know" is not possible). Another police man takes over, so that #1 can get back to his junction. #2 walks my Honda to a legal parking place, removes the key and gives me a paper: "You contact police station over there." I walk to where he pointed and find the district administration; after touring this building with lots of informative Thai signs, I discover that the police office is 20 meters north. There again I tour several rooms with very unhappy Thai convicts, until I find a counter where someone would take care of me. How lucky: Thanks to my visa business before, at least I have decent clothes and the passport for show-up at the police station. Before policeman #3 announces my punishment, I must answer several questions including "name papa you??" and "name mama you??" First I can't believe this, then I offer to write down the names for him, but he doesn't care and scribbles my parents' names with Thai letters. We are both shy with each other and talk with a lot of polite "khrap"s. Finally I see a paper that states I have to pay 400 Baht, so I fish for the wallet and receive the stamped form in return. I trot back to motosai, which I find on the street – unguarded, but with the key ready to go! I thought the Honda was in police care – but here anybody could set off with my rented machine and bring me in real hot waters! Again, security is not an issue on Samui. Should I roar off now? I've paid the fine, but I guess the street cops still want to see prove of this? I walk around one more corner and see them on the far side of the street. I wave my receipt at them and they signal me I can go. Next time I won't pay, but wave with toilet paper, it must look the same from that distance; or did the get news about me by radio?
I am free again. I try to keep up my holiday mood. Yes, police man #1 had been arrogant and seemed happy to order a Farang around. But I can't see a real scam. And of course, I was stupid and careless, and I paid for it. Lesson learnt, and now for the beach!
5 p.m. already, time to check what kind of sunset the west coast has on offer. I steer motosai two miles southward to a stretch of the ring road that's called Lipa Noi, turn beachward and park at yet another resort, Sawai Home Bungalow. (Yikes, no red-white kerbstones here.) The manageress welcomes me, a potential customer, with a big smile – no wonder, her place seems as empty as all the other lodgings on Samui this May. I tell her "I just look around", and she still keeps smiling. The beach forms a long, gentle curve here. The sand is soft and pleasant, but not of Chaweng finesse. I step into the very quiet water, but mai sanuk: The sea is extremely warm and evokes all kinds of undesirable associations. Far out, at least 50 meters from the beach, I see Thais walking in the water – it is still less than knee-deep there. It seems you can walk to the mainland from Lipa Noi's beach. At least they do a great sunset with all kinds of yellows and oranges and fishing boats bathing in the golden reflections on the waters. But then, like with so many sunsets and sunrises I tried around Samui, I don't see the sun touching the water: it is hidden behind a small islet. They have too many useless rocks lurking in the waters there.
For once, I don't intend to take dinner on the beach, because this time I have a real town nearby. So I motorcycle back to Nathon. Sunset Restaurant on the harbour road seems a reasonable dinner option: There is a lady on a small stage karaoke-ing kitschy love songs with computerized background music; but this just means the place caters to Thais, right? Hey, see that, there are several tables already occupied, and all with middle-class Thais – by Samui standards in mid-May, Sunset Restaurant is doing a brisk business. A good sign. The place seems to be managed by a handful of young inconspicuous girls with an elderly lady in the background. They really try hard to understand what I want and discuss several menu options with me, before they dish up good food at very reasonable prices. Unlike the expensive tourist joints at Chaweng they do light up mosquito coils, and there are no blood suckers cruising. It is the only place on Samui where I dine among a majority of Thais. I return to Sunset Restaurant whenever my island-wide roaming take me to the west coast; I get attentive service and food prepared exactly to my liking, from coffee frappe to rice creations in coconut shell. The place always catches a breeze, and in the daytime you see the harbour to the north and a sand beach down south. For this I forgive the girls that they tend to replay noisy Lohso "sexy man" music at daytimes.
I Am Sailing
Ko Samui: For great beaches, bitches, hillsides and bits of Thailand thrown in, go there. The perfect setting for your notebook, pocketbook or stream of consciousness, it is here. The best stage for your very finest tattoos, piercings and neurosis, you find it on this isle.
Ko Samui: Gimme one last scam before I sail on. Maybe some more problem with my heavy bags, remember this report also started with my loads. Ok, thank you: I depart via ferryboat from Nathon. The tour shop on Chaweng beach road sells me a ticket for a
bus that should go from Nathon – on Samui – all the way to my destination on the mainland. And I reserve a seat that's on the non-sunny side of the bus. At six o'clock in the morning I grab a pickup taxi on Chaweng beach road; we crawl
the 30 kilometers to the port town of Nathon in super slow motion, always ready to honk at/pick up more passengers. But the bus waiting for me is not going to my destination, it is only going to Donsak, the mainland port. There, they tell me,
I can change for the bus to my destination; and the seat reservation will be valid. So I take that bus, what can I do. After the ferry docks on the main land, my bus stops next to a row of bushes. To retrieve my heavy bags, I have to cut through
the scrub, and then I have to carry the load through the scrub to the other bus that's finally going to my place. There are no seat numbers at all, and the seats on the shadowy side are full. I talk to the conductor; he reshuffles a few Thais,
until I finally get the place I wanted. The bus arrives only two hours behind schedule. They compensate this with one more butcher horror video, and the slaughtered victims' scream over an advanced *****sound system. I always admired the
Thais' sense for quality amplification.
Ko Samui: Been there, done that, got no T-shirt and no intention to come back. I'll miss Mr. Wetman, though.
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
Amazing Samui, Amazing Pothole Research!