Ko Samui In The ’70s
Koh Samui In The '70s
This submission may not interest most of the Thai nightlife types. It's just basically a reflection of a place before the tourist boom. I had the fortune of visiting Koh Samui before it became a huge tourist resort. Back then, it was possible to take a Thai navigation boat down the Gulf of Thailand to this island. I had been staying at the Atlanta Hotel in Sukhumvit. This place used to be a farang center and I made it my headquarters in Bangkok. This was my first visit and it was possible to live on 100 baht a day, including meals. Pad thai in a restaurant was 6 baht and Coca Cola was 1 baht. Backpackers could afford to stay in the Sukhumvit area, unlike today. We had heard about this fabled island in the Gulf of Thailand and decided to pay a visit. We sailed on a rickety old cargo ship from Bangkok and was told that it would take about two days to get there. Well, the boat trip was not very relaxing, as the damn ship had a tendency to roll back and forth sideways despite the ocean being relatively calm. It was hotter than hell as we only had deck class and no cabin. This was back in my backpacker budget days. I hardly ate for two days as I had sea sickness from the constant rolling motion of the vessel. I just tried to sleep most of the time. There was no shower or bath and just a cubicle with a squat toilet. The onboard food consisted of a sort of rice soup with a few vegetables and meat.
Needless to say, we were so relieved to get off this ship. In front of us was this beautiful island, Koh Samui, the spitting image of a typical tropical island, with a small village and dock facing us, and beautiful, sandy beaches fringed by coconut palms. The ship was too big to get closer so we got on a small boat to be ferried ashore. I was here with a couple of "friends" (young single backpackers) and I wound up staying almost three weeks. I was on my way to Singapore where I would take a boat to Australia to work, after being on the road for almost a year. Being on Koh Samui was one of the most relaxing and idyllic times in my life. There must have been only a total of 6 other farangs on this island. We met a couple of Swiss(?) girls and an American fellow. Hotels there were something like 15 baht a night (25 baht for a dollar) and with two beds. So we doubled up and shared the cost. There were only two hotels in the small fishing village (which is now that big noisy town of today). The town had only three streets and few eateries. The market place had the freshest seafood and everything was so cheap. We often just bought some stuff and asked the cook in the restaurants to cook the stuff. He just charged a few baht to cook the lot and never seemed upset that we didn't buy his food – which we did many other times, any ways. The dock area was very clean and the water was pristine; no pollution like today, with hundreds of those damn plastic water bottles that don't seem to get recycled, lying all over the place. Sometimes, we fished off the pier. The water was so crystal clear and you could see all kinds of brilliantly coloured tropical fish. Often, we caught a few fish and then walked over to the local Chinese restaurant, where the owner happily cooked them for us for a few baht. We were his captive customers any ways., and ate and drank there daily. We could even dive off the pier and swim in the warm, clear water. The local Thais were a bit reserved, however, friendly just the same. I think many of the islanders were of Chinese ancestry. There was a regular boat service to Suratthani every 3 or 4 days and it took around 12 hours.
What did we do daily? Well, it might seem boring to the folks who now come here for the nightlife etc but much of my time was spent in the water, as the ocean was just so warm, clear, and calm. Figuring out what to eat for dinner was sometimes problematical due to the variety of seafood, here. I don't think I bothered with meat during my stay. I befriended some of the locals and it seemed that very few spoke any English. Many spoke Thai and some Chinese dialects. The local Thai Government office consisted of a single building with a young Thai fellow in a navy type uniform. His job was to keep an eye on the shipping passing through the area but I rarely saw him doing anything because there was nothing to do. We became friendly despite the lack of language skills (my Thai was rudimentary and his English was just as bad). He had a small motosai and offered to take me on trips all over the island. Free, by the way. I was never asked for a single baht for anything. However, I always treated him to beer and food. At this time there were only a few roads but they didn't extend around the island. We basically travelled through the jungle over small trails and it was tons of fun bouncing around all over the place. He took me to Chaweng, Mae Nam; etc and we visited the other villages on the other side of the island. People were curious more than friendly.
The Swiss girl had complained that the local guys had tried to touch / molest her and her girlfriend on the other side of the island where they were staying. These two girls actually pitched a tent and slept on the beach. After a few days of unwelcome attention from some Thai guys, they moved back into town and stayed in the hotel.
My friend and I visited the waterfall and cooled off in the water. He took me to visit his friends who owned coconut plantations (the main business before mass tourism). We watched trained monkeys climb the coconut trees and twist free coconuts for us to enjoy. The liquid in a young coconut is very refreshing. At this time, you could just walk down any beach and there would be monkeys collecting coconuts. The villagers would just come up to you and offer a free coconut, so we never went thirsty. Life was relaxing and every couple of days my friend would take me to some other place by motosai. Half the time we had to walk as there were no roads in the jungle and some of the pathways were barely passable. I was luckier than my other friends, mostly from Europe, who mainly stuck to themselves. I think the girls were a little wary of the Thai guys.
One time a bunch of Thais took me out in their boat to go fishing and we travelled all over the area and stopped at some of the outlying islands, probably Koh Pangan (which was more or less empty at that time). We'd just dive off the boat into the crystal clear waters (visibility probably a few hundred feet). All kinds of exotic creatures could be seen. We came back with a few assorted fish and they cooked them in a portable wok. The taste of freshly caught seafood is really something else and all washed down with beer or fresh young coconut juice. I was fortunate to be invited along a couple of times and these fishing trips weren't really about catching lots of fish but just taking off (like we do in our cars on the highways). I love those Thai long-tailed boats with the moveable engine with the propeller blade on the end. They let me handle the boat for a while but I fell off trying to steer the boat as it was speeding across the ocean. They all laughed their heads off including me and they kept on getting me to drive the boat. They just wanted to see the clumsy farang fall off. It was fun since the water was warm and I love swimming any ways. Those Thai guys must really have good balance to be standing and holding the motor because sometimes the ocean can be rough and the waves a metre or more high. Often, we'd be just bouncing across the waves, and the vertical rise and fall would be at least a metre and a half. I'd be bouncing up and down but the Thai driver would be standing, seemingly glued to the boat, and they never seemed to lose their balance.
The days went by and soon my money was running low. I had to get to Australia and look for work. I think we were living on about two dollars a day. Before my time was up, the local Thai introduced me to the local brothel. Actually, it was in the other hotel. The girls were housed in a room in the hotel and you just went in and chose one. They weren't particularly good looking and seemed to come from elsewhere, probably Isaan. The other farangs had a look and except for one of the other guys, unanimously voiced their disapproval at this business. I was trying to get friendly with one of the farang girls but wasn't having much luck over the past few days, besides, I wasn't trying very hard and I was enjoying my excursions with the Thai folk. These girls spent most of their time sunbathing in the nude or writing letters to back home. Any ways, I was really curious about the brothel and the Thai guys told me it was very cheap. Something like 20 baht ST. In the evening, I sneaked over there (didn't want my ethical friends to catch me). I chose a young girl (looked like 16 but she said she was 19), and she took me into a separate room. She stripped and proceeded to massage me in all the right places, then we had pretty good sex. At that time, any sex would have been good, since I had spent the past few months crossing Pakistan, India, and Nepal (a time of no sex). I visited this place every day for the next three days and tried several of the girls. Nobody got mad if I tried another girl. The only other customers were the local Thai. Then, often we would all go down to the local Chinese eatery and order a bunch of Thai dishes. Us guys would divide up the bill and pay whatever, the girls would get a free meal. I was almost going to stay longer but I just had to get moving. The boat to Suratthani was arriving the next night and the next boat would be 4 days later. My other farang friends were sort of looking at me, especially the girls. I wasn't behaving ethically, I guess.
One of the guys, who I suspected felt the same as I did, started asking me about my experiences. Next thing I know, he is in the brothel, too. Farang women are strange to say the least. I, obviously, didn't seem to interest either of them and I certainly wasn't going to get laid by them. In fact, I don't think they had any sex while on this island, as we were all living in different rooms and the other farang guys were also trying to woo these girls, with no luck. But on our last night on Koh Samui, one of the girls told me that she was really disgusted and disappointed with me. Now, I did actually like her, and felt some sexual attraction for her. She was slim and I did have a thing for blonde haired women at the time (started with Brigitte Bardot, the famous French actress). I asked her why, since she obviously didn't feel any attraction for me, and why should she be concerned about my sex life or lack of it. Any ways., I got a long lecture about the evils of women selling themselves and that us buyers of sex are the main reason for the existence of the business etc etc. She said that most men are like dogs and would fuck anything with a pussy. Anyhow, I had a good laugh and we did have a long talk about such things. I asked her what I should do, since I hadn't had any sex for the last few months. Then, I half jokingly said how I had been attracted to her and would sometimes fantasize about having sex with her, but that I couldn't seem to elicit a similar response from her. Since, I felt that I didn't have any chance, I took the easy route and went to the Thai brothel. She told me that she thought that only when people love each other, they should have sex. I asked her, what happens if you are not fortunate enough to find love, or have to wait 20 years to find your true love, or never find love? I told her that sex is just sex and that I felt that you don't have to love someone to have sex (although that would be a bonus). It is something that should be mutually enjoyable between man and woman and should not be only for procreation. Any ways, I did agree with her that us guys think with our dicks. Since the conversation was quite open I took the liberty of asking her if she would like to have sex with me. I can't believe I did that cause I'm a little on the shy side. Must have been the beer that loosened my tongue. Her face turned red and she blurted out that she might have considered me before (yeah, right) but the thought of having sex with me after I had been with the Thai girls made her sick. Any ways, I didn't care nor expect to get into her pants any ways.
Shortly after, I returned to the brothel for another quick one (actually I was feeling horny just talking to the farang girl). I was surprised to see that all of the better looking ladies weren't available. Usually, they were just sitting around waiting for customers – this wasn't the busiest brothel in the world. Lo and behold, one of my Thai friends comes up and says that all of the girls have been taken by my farang friends. I had a good laugh, considering what some of these guys had said to me a few days before. I waited a while before finding my favourite girl and getting an embarrassed look from one of my farang friends who had vowed he would never stoop so low as this or pay for sex. Later on, we were walking back to the other hotel to pick up our gear to catch the boat to the mainland. The farang girls saw all of us guys coming from the same direction, laughing and talking, and there was a strange look on their faces. We did get some sarcastic comments from them as to the source of our happiness but we just told them how good the food was at the other place. Needless to say, for some reason conversation was a little strained on the boat trip to the mainland. After arriving in Suratthani, the girls went their way and us guys headed down to Hat Yai on the way to Singapore. The Thai guys had told me about this place so that's where I was headed and the other farangs decided that they'd like to come along too.
I've returned to Koh Samui several times over the past two decades but this particular visit was the most enjoyable by far. There is something about the "first time" and although I always enjoy my visits, the magic is not the same. I guess it has something to do with the novelty and the innocence of that time.
Yep, the first time is often the most memorable.