Koh Samui, the Island of Smiles

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March 16th 2012
Published: March 30th 2012
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We had arrived in Koh Samui in the dark late at night and so next morning it was a lovely surprise to emerge into the gorgeous fragrant tropical gardens of our hotel, with the heavenly scents of frangipani and the colourful hibiscus and lotus flowers in the ponds. Then to wander through to the beach and see the classic sweeping bay of perfect white sand, fringed palms leaning towards the waves.

Koh Samui is a typical tropical island blanketed in palms. It ships huge numbers of coconuts to Bangkok. The island is mostly uninhabited and pretty mountainous in the interior; most buildings are around the coastal fringe. There are many western style hotels, mostly well camouflaged, in our strip of coast anyway at Choeng Mon, one of the smaller beaches on the island. The local ‘samui folk’ have very poor houses on wooden stilts, or corrugated iron, but even so, one we were invited into still showed the occupants had a flat screen TV and the daughter in the house with a laptop merrily messaging friends on FaceBook! They all seem to have the latest mobile phones too. We saw some nice waterfalls such as at Namuang, where the water was surprisingly icy cold and the mosquitoes rife! The beaches are beautiful, but we did feel a few stingers in the water.

We stayed in a beautiful hotel paradise, The Imperil Boathouse Hotel, which has rooms made in Chinese teak barges. Forty of these boats were towed to Koh Samui from China, hauled on to the land and carpenters then turned them into rooms with ensuite and lounge. The island cuisine is very dominated by the coconut and fish and I attended a Thai cookery lesson with the hotel chef. I was lucky enough to visit the kitchen garden of the hotel in which we stayed – as I enjoy my allotment so much it was great to see the equivalent here with galangal, limes, papaya, lemon grass and some familiars like mint and basil. Having picked the ingredients fresh it was so much more enjoyable to prepare the food, and I was happy to find that the way we cook thai food at home was just as I was shown today, but the quality of the ingredients so much fresher and better - the smells were fabulous. But fresh seafood is what this island does best and so as a seafood fanatic it was a dream for me. I even got to have lobster on my birthday (actually what we call crayfish) sitting at a candle-lit table on the beach with sand between our toes. Bliss!

We had a lovely trip to nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park, a string of 40 tiny islands in azure blue water just west of Koh Samui. They are the typical karst limestone islands with sheer cliffs and smothered in dense vegetation – the beautiful views prompted Ellen to describe it as ‘screen saver land’ as it was so picture perfect. We had a short sharp steep climb to the summit of one island which provided spectacular views of the other islands and of the Emerald Lake, a fully enclosed lake in the centre of the island. We explored some islands by kayak, myself Ellen, & Adam in one and Michelle in one with the guide as she was unable to hold a paddle due to her plaster cast. My boat was first in the water and apparently we made it look very easy and glided off towards the island from our tour boat. However, we were not followed for some time and hung around for ages- evidently the next people who tried to enter their boats were promptly capsizing which caused great hilarity! Once the group was finally gathered though, we paddled along the base of steep cliffs and it was so nice to be close to nature and we saw monkeys close up feeding in the trees over hanging the water. They were the sweetest little things, with white panda eyes – called the dusky langur (or spectacled leaf monkey).

The tour guide had been actually diving when the tsunami hit Koh Phi Phi seven years ago. It was amazing to hear him describe first-hand the events of that awful time and how he was tossed around under the sea whilst the waves passed. He said people had noticed earlier that day how animals were silent and missing, such as monkeys and even ants. He had to spend two days in a decompression chamber, but was of course lucky as so many of his friends and family had not survived. He took a liking to Adam as did most Thais and he really made our trip special.

For Michelle’s birthday she chose to go elephant trekking and so we all duly joined a bumpity open-top jeep to reach the part of the island those rides were offered in. We seemed to strike lucky as the mahouts we had were very lively and a lot of fun! They larked around and allowed us to take their place and drive the elephant rather than just be a passenger in the seat. We did not get very far but we had a lot of fun! We also saw a variety of other animal shows which were sometimes a bit bizarre – like the snake charmer who put a 12 foot pythons head into his mouth and down his trousers (!) and the crocodile trainer who out his head in the crocs mouth – a bit weird to see. The children all enjoyed cuddling and feeding the baby tiger though.

I also treated myself to a couple of Thai massages – goodness, these were incredible! I was twisted and turned, stretched and deeply massaged, kneaded and pummelled and despite the occasional pain it was amazing. They pulled my ears, cracked my knuckles and stretched me backwards arching me into the ‘cobra’ position. It gave me a new revived feeling and the knots which I have had for years in my back and shoulders have gone. All for £8. Thai massage is a traditional form of medicinal healing – I am definitely going to look out for it at home if possible. But somehow it won’t be the same as on the beach, with the rain gently falling and the waves rhythmically lapping up the beach.

As a keen scuba diver BC (before children), I had wanted to show my children some of the joys of the coral reef and after a disappointing session at Ang Thong where the water was too cloudy I had to find somewhere else. So we drove down to the southern tip of Koh Samui where I’d heard there was some good snorkelling/diving to be had on a small uninhabited island close off shore. All we had to do was to convince a local fisherman to take us, which we did without problem. It was fun to blitz across the short stretch of sea in a genuine long boat and plunge over board with E, M & A – sure enough there were plenty of brightly coloured tropical fish although the corals were disappointing. But it was a little adventure we all enjoyed very much – despite Ellen feeling slightly hysterical when the fish were nibbling at her! I later found out that Koh Tao island, to the north, is the best place to go and so I have pencilled that in for our next visit.

We met quite a few frustrated young travellers who were expecting to go the notorious full moon party on Koh Phangan, only to find that the date of the party had been changed! Huh? How can the date of the full moon be changed? Turns out that it clashed with Buddha’s birthday and so was deferred for a day!

All in all we enjoyed a very relaxing week on this small Thai island which has the friendliest, smiliest people you could hope to meet, in perfect weather, mostly just relaxing and swimming together. A gorgeous end to a truly wonderful adventure.

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31st March 2012

Think I want to go back...
Hey honey - great final log for your wonderful journey, bet it feels like you were never away already! Still, you get a couple of days off next weekend and the weather has been brilliant since you got back! Have a great weekend, Love Rose xxx

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