Friday, October 26, 2012

Ko Samui, Our Week in Thai Beach Paradise

Postcard perfect Lamai Beach, Ko Samui, Thailand.
The word "Samui" means cold in Japanese, but I doubt that is what this island's namesake means in Thai!  While "Ko" means island in Thai, "Samui" may actually be named after a native tree called mui or after a Malay word, saboey, meaning "safe haven".  This island in the Gulf of Thailand is very tropical and definitely not "Samui" or cold.

There are so many nice islands in Thailand, it was difficult to choose where to plant ourselves for a week.  Ultimately, we chose the ever popular Ko Samui for its ease of access (if you consider a 12-hr train ride, 1.5-hr bus ride, 1.5-hr ferry ride, and hanging off the back of a songthaew truck, easy...), beautiful unspoiled beaches, and a variety of activities. 

As with most islands, there's the busy side and a more quiet side.  The area called Chaweng is the main tourist hub with plenty of bars, restaurants, hostels, and resorts.  It's gotten busier with the convenience of an international airport, and we hear some cruise ships have started docking here.  

Ko Samui is also popular as a departure point for the famous Full Moon Parties on nearby Ko Phangan.  Tens of thousands of partiers make a trek to this island every month to party all night under one of the most beautiful views of the moon.  

Just off the northeast coast is Angthong National Marine Park, a series of 42 unique islands, and was the inspiration for the movie, The Beach.  This whole area is a diver and snorkeler's dream as well.

It's nice to have access to all the modern conveniences, but we like to be away from the party crowd, so we decided to stay on Lamai Beach.  Even in Lamai, most beach front properties have been overtaken by resorts, leaving the guests of little bungalows and hostels to walk a ways for an accessible beach. We didn't want that. 

It was difficult to find actual beach front lodging on a budget, but we prevailed.  For $44/night, we are staying at Samui Beach Resort.  It's just a series of bungalows with a common pool and restaurant, right on Lamai Beach.  The rooms are basic and clean.  We thought the price was great for beach front without forking over hundreds of dollars a night at a nicer resort.  We could've kept to a lower budget and found plenty of decent places away from the beach for less than $20/night, but what would be the point of that?

Right now, it is still the tail end of the rainy season and the lull before the tourist high season; so we expect a very quiet week of just hanging out, hopefully avoiding too much rain, getting some sun, and researching our next trip into Cambodia.   

Here's what we've been up to.

The best way to get around the island is to rent a motor bike.  It costs about $7/day and ~$3 to fill up the tank.  Note the "Hello Kitty" license plate (so Asian), and the gasoline is sold in recycled whiskey bottles all along the road.  We love the wooden scooters for kids instead of wooden ponies that we're used to!  Start 'em young riding these mopeds...

Views from the island...

Just because we stayed at a budget resort didn't mean we couldn't indulge at the nicer resorts.  We hung out at the nearby Dinky Rock Bar and Hotel.  It was a very swanky resort that stands for "Dual-Income-No-Kids". Not a family friendly resort, but friendly to "no-income" couples!  Cash is cash.  

Our resort is also situated right next to the infamous "Grandfather-Grandmother Rock" or Hin-Ta and Hin-Ya.  Both are natural rock formations with amazing anatomical likeness to the male and female parts.  As you can imagine, it's quite the tourist attraction.  

We also splurged on a gourmet Thai dinner at Eat Sense Seafood Restaurant on Chaweng Beach.  The ruby red fish dish and stuffed calamari were to die for.  The standard Thai condiments include Thai fish sauce, chili infused vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes.  No mustard and ketchup in these parts!

One activity we (okay...mostly Akiko) really wanted to do was stand up paddle boarding.  Living in the Midwest, it's been difficult to find someone who rents out boards to try.  We found Wilfrid with Samui Windsurfing at Lamai Beach who rents out SUP boards so we made an appointment for a quick lesson.  Fortunately, the ocean waters were quite calm on our first day so that we actually succeeded in standing up for lengths of time.  The next day was a stormier, rougher day so there was some white water waves breaking near the shore, which made for a challenging time.  Overall, SUP'ing was a fun activity for enjoying the view of the island and getting some good exercise and sunshine along the way.  Akiko is addicted and will certainly be looking for more opportunities to SUP!

Waking up to watch the sun rise is a must when we're on the ocean facing east!  The storm clouds rolled in almost daily, so the sunrise was a series of ominous looking clouds casting an orange glow in the grey blue sky.  Very beautiful and one of a kind.

And, of course our blog wouldn't be complete without more food and drink pictures.  Thank goodness we left our mediocre wannabe American food at our resort restaurant to find 2 authentic Thai places just down the street.  As if we didn't have enough Thai food already, we enjoyed some of the best Thai fried rice, Tom Yum Gai (Thai hot and sour chicken soup), Thai beef salad (could be water buffalo salad...), Mekong whiskey sauce chicken wings, fresh coconut juice, and on occasion, it's just too darn hot to drink beer straight.  It's a lot more refreshing over a glass of ice.  Sorry.  We're also highly addicted to Som Tum, spicy green papaya salad.  

Oh, and at the end of all that...a Thai massage in a bamboo hut by the beach for less than $10.  Now that is paradise (sans the mosquitos, of course).  

Well, that sums up our fabulous week.  The only thing missing was being able to hang out with our friend, Jeremy, who we thought would be able to escape his job from China for some beers and relaxation in Thailand, but alas, it didn't work out that way.  

What next?  We've been reading books on the history of Cambodia and re-watched the Killing Fields to prep ourselves for our trip through Cambodia, coming up soon.