April 5, 2012
On our last stop on our ocean voyage between Sydney, Australia and Singapore we visited the island of Ko Samui in Thailand. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, it is the third largest island in the country after Ko Chang and Phuket. We had been to the neighboring island of Ko Pha Ngan eight years ago but only to Ko Samui to drive from the Ko Pha Ngan ferry terminal to the airport to catch a flight back to Bangkok.
On most of our port stops our first priority is Internet. It was no different here in the Ko Samai capital town of Nathon and we quickly found a coffee house with free Wifi. We sat outside in the heat and humidity checking email and answering questions, while watching the world go by. We kept seeing Songthaews (tuk-tuk style of open bed pick-up truck shared taxis) going down the street. The route they traveled was in colorful letters at the top of the truck. One simply said Big Buddha as it went back and forth to the big temple on the island. Still others designated different towns and beaches. One such beach, Chaweng Beach, is considered to be one of the best on the island.
Since we had finished our Internet activities ahead of schedule and had no other plans for our time here, we decided to take a tuk-tuk to Chaweng Beach and perhaps have lunch. As we paid our bill at the coffee shop we asked how much to expect to pay to go one way to Chaweng Beach. Armed with the fact that it should be 100 Thai Baht each (about $3.25 each), we were able to easily discern that we should not be charged 250 baht each when we inquired at the first tuk-tuk we saw. When we moved on to another tuk-tuk and asked about the price there, we received the 100 baht quote. So we hopped in. There were just two other people besides us in the tuk-tuk at the time.
The vehicle made its way slowly around Nathon until it was full – ten people in all. Most were Thai and we had just a few Westerns riding with us. The tuk-tuk population constantly changes. People may ride for just a mile or two. When they are ready to get out, they press a red button above our heads. Almost immediately the truck slams to a halt. We found this out quickly and made sure to hold on tight whenever someone pressed the button in the future.
After we were at capacity it was full speed ahead around the perimeter of the island. The beach is on the east side and we started from the southwest coast in Nathon so it took us 45 minutes to make the trip. We were the only ones to go from start to finish. Along the way we passed several small villages with little shops along the road. Our favorites were Dr. Chan Fishs and Chips (their spelling for this restaurant) and Mr. Notebook (a computer repair place). We also had our share of sudden starts and stops and swerves to avoid other traffic so it was an adventure in of itself.
Finally we reached a large town that we took to be Chaweng Beach. The tuk-tuk wound through street after street and we craned our eyes for any sign of an actual beach and where to get off. Then the driver motioned that we were at the end of the line so we had to get out. From there we asked a Brit vacationer where the beach was and he pointed down an alleyway. It twisted and turned and finally we set food on Chaweng Beach.
It was a long beach with shallow light turquoise water and beautiful white sand. We turned left and walked about 10 minutes, passing small bungalow hotels and pricy resorts, side by side. Soon we came to an area that contained several waterfront restaurants and found one for lunch. We sat at tables in the sand, 15 steps from the water and enjoyed chicken satay and vegetable spring rolls, while under a tree to provide some shade from the midday heat. It was a relaxing lunch and the view of the water made up for the few sand fly bites we got while eating.
Soon we had to retrace our steps back to the alley and out to the street. We flagged down a tuk-tuk going back toward Nathon and paid 100 baht each for the 45-minute return trip. Our few hours of Thai paradise on Ko Samui and adventures on the tuk-tuk made for a great day.