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Samui Mood

Samui Mood

The Samui Mood

Story by Ron Emmons


Once upon a time, there was an enchanting island which lazed away the days in the Gulf of Siam. Its mountain flanks bristled with coconut palms and its waters teemed with fish, providing a natural livelihood for the people of the island. One day, an adventurous backpacker arrived on a fisherman's boat and promptly became enchanted. Some time later, his friends showed up, and the same thing happened. Years passed, and, things being what they are, word got around. These days this enchantment is known as the Samui mood.

Samui Island no longer slumbers through the long hot sunny days. A road/racetrack now borders its picturesque perimeter, and planes screech to a halt in the coconut plantation. Around the coast, the tap-tap of hammers rattles constantly. Yet Samui caters for all tastes, and quiet corners still exist for those craving a restful vacation. And when it's time to leave, there is a wistful, starry-eyed look about many visitors as they shuffle around the jetty waiting for the ferry, or the airport waiting for the plane - a sure symptom of the Samui mood.

It's difficult to define the Samui mood, since it comes upon people in different ways. It might strike while snorkelling around the delicate corals, while eating a subtly spiced Thai dish, while dancing with a dream partner at the disco, or simply doing nothing on the beach. The effect is of sighing with delight, of being glad to be here now.

Samui is the kind of island you might dream up on a bored day at work - dense, untamed jungle rising to over 600 metres; a fertile coastal strip thick with the scent of coconuts; smooth, surreal rocks protecting pretty bays; at 250 sq km, not too small to get crowded nor too big to overwhelm.

The most famous beaches, Chaweng and Lamai, sit almost side by side on the East coast. The former has powder-soft sand and a protected bay, while the latter has coarser sand and stronger surf. Choosing between these gems would be difficult enough, but at least a dozen other beaches around the island present alternative versions of paradise. On the northern coast, Maenam, Bophut and Big Buddha beaches stretch forever, and are peppered with bungalows and resorts of varying standards. Further off the beaten track, spots like Laem Thongson in the northeast and Laem Set in the southeast are comparative hideaways.

The dizzying range of accommodation on Samui guarantees that just about everyone finds somewhere suitable—from 5-star international hotels to small, family businesses with half a dozen basic bungalows. The Thais are natural hosts, and although some speak only a little English, many visitors feel like part of the family within a week's stay.

Down on the beach, apart from in the quietest corners, a permanent theatre of life parades past, people of all nationalities moving stage left to stage right or vice versa. Mingling among them, local vendors sway under the weight of their fruit baskets suspended from a yoke. Squatting in the shade to make a sale, they uncover pineapples, coconuts, bananas and other fruits in season, maybe bringing the chance of a totally new taste. Masseuses also wander the beach in search of stiff bodies, which they knead with a relaxing rhythm, leaving the bodies' owners grinning inanely at the mat on which they lie—more victims of the Samui mood.

Some restless souls, however, cannot simply do nothing, and many rent a jeep or motorbike to explore the island. Wherever you go on Samui, you're surrounded by coconuts - receding lines of trees, mounds of husked fruits and the rich aroma of roasting nuts in the air. Before tourism, coconuts formed the basis of Samui's economy, and these days a few simple copra factories keep the tradition up. The clever locals have even trained monkeys to do the awkward work of clambering up the trees to pick off the nuts.

Samui holds plenty of surprises for the curious. Some of the most visited natural sights are the rocks 'Hin Ta' and 'Hin Yai', so named for their resemblance to the male and female genitals. They are on the coast at the south end of Lamai and make a good start to an eye-popping day. A few miles inland from Lamai, Na Muang Waterfall splatters down the rocks to form a refreshing pool, tempting most visitors to hop straight in. The south and southwest coasts are the least developed on Samui, harbouring sleepy fishing villages and isolated resorts, perfect for seekers of silence. While the beaches here are not good for swimming, they do have superb sunset views.

Na Thon, the island's only port and town, is by Samui standards a buzzing metropolis. Situated near the north of the west coast, it is a curious mix of new and old – air-conditioned currency exchange counters rubbing shoulders with mobile stalls selling pickled mango and other local favourites. Na Thon is also the starting point for trips into the Samui Highlands or out to the Ang Thong Marine National Park, where a maze of small islands makes the perfect setting for a tropical lunch.

Thai boxing and buffalo fighting, exotic and alien sports to western eyes, take place on the island frequently, as do temple fairs. Parades and processions come around the corner when you least expect them, good reason to have your phone to hand. One classic Samui image that is not difficult to capture is the Big Buddha on Koh Fan at sunset. The sky presents a different backdrop each day, guaranteeing an original shot for all.

Once the sun is down, night action tends to concentrate around Chaweng and Lamai, where the bars and discos draw out the party spirit in everyone, though Bophut and Maenam also feature atmospheric bars on the beach. Some spots seem as sophisticated as any city club, with partygoers raving till the dawn and sleeping all day. For something different, check out the cabaret shows and try to tell the difference between the boys and the girls.

More sedate alternatives do exist, however. The romantically minded might settle for a steak or seafood dinner on a terrace overlooking the moonlit waters of the Gulf, followed by a barefoot stroll on the beach. And when sleep comes around, whether it's nine o'clock or midnight or dawn, all over the island there are telltale smiles on the faces of those who have fallen under the sway of the Samui mood.

Getting Started - How to go The easiest, and most expensive, way to reach Samui is to fly by Bangkok Airways to their private airport in the northeast of the island. A cheaper alternative is to fly by Air Asia to Surat Thani, then take a bus to the pier and cross to the island by ferry, which adds another four hours or so to the journey. A slower option is to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, then hop on a bus and ferry. Cheapest of all is to go by bus, leaving from Sai Tai Mai terminal in South Bangkok. The ride to Surat Thani takes 10-12 hours and then it's just an hour and a half on the ferry to the island.

When to go Samui is delightful at any time of year, except when it is hit by typhoons or tropical storms, which can happen in October/November. The high season is December/January, when it's most crowded and room prices reach a peak. It's worth considering an off-season holiday, for example in June or July, when room rates are cheaper. Though rain may fall for an hour each day, it is hardly a problem and the atmosphere is very relaxing.


Text by Ron Emmons; Photos by Ron Emmons and David Henley - CPA Media