Leaving Bangkok, I hopped a flight to Surat Thani province and caught a ferry to Ko Samui. Sitting at the front of the boat, I and fellow travelers enjoyed the best seat in the house and watched the sun set over the course of the hour-and-a-half long ride.
I stayed at a great bungalow (replete with chickens, toads and geckos), located a short walk away from Lamai beach, which is a smaller version of Chaweng, but equally sleazy. The first day and a half a torrential downpour (announced by a typhoon in the distance; cool!) kept me sheltered and reading a novel; not a great way to start off the island visit, but forced relaxation isn’t so bad, no?
Ko Samui has been a mixed bag for me — my goal has been to meet fun young people and chill out on the beach. Instead, Lamai greeted me with sleazy go-go bars and offers of sexy massages. Staying away from the nightlife would have been fine had I not been alone (the secluded location of my guest house is perfectly intimate for couples), and meeting people among a sea of middle-aged couples simply wouldn’t happen here. I had better luck in Chaweng the following night, where I shared beers with a lovesick british guy, who had left his girlfriend in London to clear his head; it turns out that the phenomenon of twenty-something web developer escaping across the globe to find himself is an international one. We talked politics and lamented the overdeveloped atmosphere in town for a couple of hours; but when the local hookers began overzealously helping me in our connect four tournament (boy am i bad at that game) it was time to call it a night.
The following day, having had enough of the rip-offs, runarounds and general ineptitude of the local motor-taxi mafia (one guy let me off 2.5 km from where I’d tried to go, and nobody could point out where I was on the map.. it’s their fucking island!!), I opted to rent a 150cc scooter. Best decision I’d made thusfar, though someone please explain to me why the gear shift is exactly opposite the way it is on a motorbike?!
A note about driving in Thailand: there are very few rules, and those that exist are very much broken all the time. Mopeds, pedestrians and cars alike squeeze themselves into any opening they can, with no apparent road etiquette. It is the motorist equivalent of the little Chinese ladies with sharp elbows pushing their way onto the 31 Geary bus. There are several warnings in the guidebooks against renting a motorbike, and they are all warranted, especially for the inexperienced rider. The windy hills that make up island riding are very much like my morning commute up Franklin Street. But with more dogs. And gravel. And frogs and coconuts. Not to mention that they drive on the wrong side of the road to begin with.
Escaping the trappings of the more popular resort towns, I headed north to see the Big Buddha Statue (of 1972). Overlooking a bay, it serenely blesses the flightpath into the local airport. The town there, Bo Phut, had a much better feel to it (though admittedly still geared to westerners) — a two-street village with character and eateries, overlooking the water. Perhaps I will stay here next time.
I finally met up with my elementary-school friend Sonia and her boyfriend Sean in Chaweng. We caught up over drinks along the beach, enjoying the ridiculous farang scene. Now, the atmosphere is pleasant enough, but one is endlessly accosted by hawkers selling everything from the requisite bracelets to photos with cute baby monkeys, to paper lanterns which, once lit, fly off into the heavens. I’m certain this has some sort of meaning and tradition behind it, no doubt spiritual, but no explanation was offered; only the pricetag.
The worst offenders were a gang of 9 year-olds who walk the tables pressuring drunk westerners into 100-baht games of connect four. They succeed in getting you to play with their cuteness and puppy dog eyes, and quickly rob you blind. Surely they must hone their skills at the local connect four academy, before they hit puberty and learn Muay Thai (I reckon their quick wit at puzzle games must translate well into martial arts.) If ever there was a world-wide connect four championship these kids must get sponsorship.
I feel that there is more to the island than I have seen — besides the buffalo fights, coconut groves and Muay Thai fights, beyond the Starbucks air-con and Baskin Robbins ice cream headaches, there must be something deeper that keeps people here, or coming back (the proprietor of the Green Villa where I stayed, a Frenchman, has been here for three and a half years.) Alas, that something has eluded me. Most likely my own doing, I am a bit fed up with this place. Though I will probably give it another go one day, I am off to Ko Pha-Ngan with Sonia and Sean, who seem to share my sentiments.