Whether you are into shopping, nightlife or simply want to get away from it all, Shuib Taib suggests a trip to Koh Samui
IT is common to take nearby places for granted. This “proximity” makes you feel as though a place is and will always be there to visit later, so when we think of holidays, we choose to go to faraway places instead.
But since I absolutely loathe long haul flights (unless I am travelling business or first class), I cherish short trips to nearby places like Koh Samui in neighbouring Thailand.
I am excited to note that the itinerary of the media familiarisation trip organised by AirAsia and the Tourism Authority Of Thailand to the island will include a trip to Ko Phangan, famous for its full moon party.
However, the party is later taken off the itinerary as the annual event is not endorsed by the Tourism Authority which deems it too wild.
A friend who had attended one several years earlier described the full moon party as “party setan” (devil’s party) and that “when drunk, the party goers would grab whoever is in their way, regardless of whether you are someone’s wife/lover/partner, to make out!”. Sounds barbaric to me.
Anyway, Koh Samui has many other attractions, and missing out on the party does not put a damper on our visit.
AirAsia does not fly directly to the island. To get there, our transportation comprises air, land and sea — all of which takes almost eight hours. But as soon as the blue ocean surrounding the island is within sight, our fatigue melts away.
Some 1.5 million tourists visit Koh Samui each year. The island, inhabited by about 50,000 people, has many luxury resorts and restaurants. Rooms are available from as low as 400 baht (about RM40). For those who place priority on comfort and privacy, there are rooms with private swimming pools that can cost up to 20,000 baht a night.
As there are several things to do and see in Samui (which loosely means gateway), two days here are not enough. But two days are all we have, so we lap everything up eagerly.
Our journey begins from Surat Thani. First is the 80-minute flight to Surat Thani from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang. From Surat Thani airport, it’s a 90-minute drive to Don Sak Pier to board a 90-minute ferry trip to Koh Samui.
Yes, it can be arduous but you will appreciate the fact that you get to see Thailand by air, land and sea.
On land, you will pass small towns and old villages. Certain parts of Thailand feels like Malaysia. So you won’t feel bad if you doze off during the smooth and at times bumpy journey.
The journey by sea is a joy. The ferry is huge and has upper and lower decks. If you want to enjoy the view, pick a seat on the lower deck or work on your laptop while enjoying the sea breeze on the upper deck. You can even catch a nap in the air-conditioned lounge. Some choose to bask in the sun by hanging out on the balcony.
As we pose for pictures at one of the balcony rails, pretending to be Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic, I casually tell AirAsia employee Daphne Cheah how nice it will be if there are dolphins in the deep blue sea swimming alongside us.
At that very moment, another AirAsia staff, Low Ka Kit or KK, hollers: “Guys look! There’s a dolphin in the sea!”
We turn around and gasp in awe to see a dolphin spring out of the sea and plunge right back in. I’m glad we chose not to sleep.
After almost eight hours, we finally arrive at our hotel at 6.30pm. That’s one day gone.
KOH NANGYUAN & KOH TAO
Early the next morning, we board a boat that will take us to several islands of Koh Samui. The ride is sometimes bumpy, making some of us let out excited screams. On the rare occasion, the bump is so hard it literally lifts us off our seats.
Our first stop is Koh Nangyuan, where I lay eyes on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Nangyuan is like Koh Samui’s best-kept secret. It comprises three little islands that are connected when the tide is low. That means you can wade in shallow water and walk from one island to the other.
We climb Nangyuan’s highest peak which leaves us a little out of breath but it is worth it. The climb is not that difficult as there are steps for us to walk on. At the top, we can see all three little islands. There are only two spots here from which we can take pictures.
After lunch, we take the boat to Koh Tao. Once the haunt of sea-turtles, this small island north of Koh Samui is quiet with undisturbed beaches. It has become a magnet for those who really want to get away from it all and for divers who come to view the colourful coral beds. It is perfect for diving or snorkelling.
We put on life jackets and jump into the deep. I see all kinds of fish underwater and even try to touch them. But at the sight of me with my fake fins and snorkel, they swim away!
It is our second night in Koh Samui. After a knock-me-off-to-sleep massage at Melati Beach Resort & Spa and dinner, we head for Chaweng’s night market.
Aside from offering more accommodation options, Chaweng is also a centre for nightlife, with bars and restaurants catering for every taste.
From beach-side institutions to sophisticated cocktail bars, its nightlife is streets ahead of anywhere else on Samui and tourists are really spoilt for choice.
As we walk along the narrow street, we come across happy travellers and revellers with a jug of beer in hand. It is packed with mostly young folk who seem to be alternating between the pubs, dance bars and girly bars.
The main strip is nearly 3km long and smaller centres of activity have mushroomed along the stretch. McDonalds’ is a landmark in the south of town, parallel to Chaweng Lake. Here, locals sell shoes, clothes, food, music, souvenirs, etc.
Chaweng offers the best shopping on Koh Samui and you can find all kinds of shops here. There are a number of skilled tailors who will sew suits, shirts, dresses, winter coats and jackets to order too. There are sport shops, beauty salons and clothing stores along the road.
As usual, don’t forget to bargain when buying from the street stalls. A discount of between 40 and 50 per cent off the original price is possible. In shops and stores, bargaining is not always possible but is still worth a try.
Koh Samui is synonymous with coconut trees. There are plantations all over the island. Before tourism, coconuts were the main source of income for the people.
How does one get the coconuts? With the help of monkeys, man’s best friend. These industrious animals are greatly prized and give a demonstration of their incredible dexterity.
We are in Bophut village to watch a monkey and its owner at work.
According to our tour guide, monkey owners pay 7,000 baht to enrol their charges at “monkey school”. For four to seven months, they learn to pluck coconuts, swim and retrieve things from a river. Why do they need to learn to swim?
“Sometimes, coconuts fall into the sea or river so the monkeys have to go and get them. Sometimes, when we accidentally drop a key in a river, a monkey will help us look for it,” says the guide.
Wat Phra Yai or Big Buddha is one of the most iconic sights in Koh Samui. It is visible from several kilometres away in the northeast side of the island.
Inside the temple are many different shrines and other smaller ornate Buddha statues. There is a small market selling a wide range of lucky charms and other souvenirs as well as numerous food stalls.
The view from up here is amazing. I see part of Samui island and the ocean. There is minor construction going on at the top of the Buddha statue which blocks what should have been a very nice view of the sea.
You have to climb quite a lotof steps to get to the main area, so I wouldn’t recommend it for people with mobility issues. The good thing is, you can still get a good view of the Big Buddha statue at the bottom of the steps.
All tours of the island should include a visit to see some unique rock formations. Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks or Hin Yai and Hin Ta are THE sight to see in Koh Samui, especially for giggles.
Hin Yai Hin Ta is a natural wonder. Whether or not you get excited about the rock formations, it is still worth a visit!
If you happen to be at Lamai Beach or are on your way elsewhere via this beach and in dire need to perk someone up, it may be a good idea to stop here for a few minutes.
Grandpa and Granny offer funny photo opportunities although the curiosity factor may wear off after a few minutes. The Grandfather rock is easily visible but to see the Grandmother rock, you have to do a little climbing down to where the rock sits. The resemblance to the male and female genitalia is uncanny and that’s about it.
Also, the nearby market which sells all kinds of products such as soap, massage oil, traditional Thai snacks, clothes, shoes, sandals, etc is worth a visit.