We arrived on Ko Samui last Wednesday. Ko Samui is a rather large island at about 10 miles by 10 miles across. Backpackers started coming in the 70’s and 80’s. Up until then it was mainly devoted to harvesting coconuts. At this point, the best beaches we all heavily developed. There is a 4 Seasons here along with a couple of other similar level luxury resorts. There are also a large number of backpacker accommodations on the island. Phuket is the number one destination in Thailand for package tourists, Ko Samui is number one for independent travelers like Shannon and I.
I don’t remember Ko Samui as a top destination on my first trip in 1997, even though I was not that far away in Ko Tao, an island just north of Ko Phangan, which is just north of Ko Samui. So I missed seeing it before it was as heavily developed as it is now.
There are a number of beaches around the island to stay and I researched several of them as I was planning this trip. I ended up deciding on Chaweng beach, which is the most highly developed of the beaches on the island. I chose it for the same reason it has been heavily developed, it is the nicest beach.
As I discussed in my previous post I normally base where we stay on location. I did exactly that when we figured out where to stay. I booked us at Chaweng Garden Beach Resort. Resort is one of the terms that I always take with a grain of salt in a hotel’s name. Trip Advisor is a resource I still use pretty heavily. The reviews of the hotel were pretty good, along with a few complaints. You never know how to take low ratings and complaints from people. They very well could be justified, but in many cases I have found that my experiences have been good even when there are complaints.
The one concern I had before we arrived is that this hotel is right next to a hotel/bar called the Ark Bar which is one of the more popular destinations for the DJ crowd. If you want the Thai version of the Ibiza experience on Ko Samui, the Ark Bar is the place for you. I did read a few reviews that complained about the music from the Ark bar keeping people awake until 2:00am.
Fortunately for us, this wasn’t a problem and we love the resort. And in the end it is kind of resort like, to the extent that I like resorts. If it was any bigger I probably wouldn’t like it (I would guess that it has 40-50 rooms). It is right on the beach. None of the rooms have beach views, which is ok with me. The pool and restaurant are right on the beach. The paths between the buildings are sand covered and the landscaping is nice and luscious without being overly done. The included breakfast is the best I have had outside of being at a major resort or in a western chain hotel with eggs to order, a selection of breakfast meats, pancakes, French toast, waffles (all very important to Shannon), the makings for an English breakfast (fried tomatoes and bake beans) and a varying array of Asian dishes (Pad Thai, curries, fried noodles are all examples they have had). It is probably a 3 minute walk for our room both to the beach and the Main Street that runs along the beach.
Chaweng beach is about 5 miles long. Every inch of it is developed. Hotels line the beach. Have have wandered the beach a little and I ran part of the beach a few days ago (in Thailand everything from the high tide line down is public), our hotel is at one end of a reef that runs north. North of us the reef total breaks the waves, so the waves that actually break on the beach are just a few inches high. Here the waves are slightly bigger, so you actually get the sensation that you are swimming in the ocean and not a saltwater swimming pool.
Where as I originally had plans to rent a car one day and go explore the island, those thoughts died quickly. On past vacations it has taken us both a while to wind down and get used to the concept of relaxing. One of the reasons I decided on coming to Ko Samui, instead of going to a more remote, less developed and potentially more authentic destinations is that there is more activity here and that we could wander out and go shopping and have a wider selection of restaurants within walking distance. While we have taken advantage of both, neither of us really had any problems just spending time on the beach.
We both had pretty much adjusted to the time change by the time we arrived. Our days have been pretty similar schedule wise since we got here. I wake up 6:30-7:00 and will go read/spend time online until Shannon wakes up which is 7:30-8:00. We will get ready and go to breakfast and put our towels down to ‘reserve’ the beach chairs we want. The pool, restaurant and rooms are all elevated from beach level. The area just between the beach and the pool has trees that provide shade under which are beach chairs that are in pretty high demand and we enjoy instead of dealing with direct sun and/or umbrellas.
Several days we have spent most of the day from about 9:00 to about 4:00 next to the pool overlooking the ocean. It has been at least partially overcast every day, which I think we both prefer. It is much cooler than it was in Bangkok. Where as Bangkok was in the low to mid 90’s, it has been low to mid 80’s here. But it is even more humid. We have gotten rain a couple of times, but not for that long.
They do massages next to the pool so that is something we have done several times. We have had a wide variety when it comes to the level of quality of massages in SE Asia. Many of them have been in street side businesses where the woman performing the massages have not gone through any sort of training program but just on the job training. They are enjoyable as more of a relaxing experience instead of a therapeutic one, but they are cheap at about $6. At the other end of the extreme is true Thai massage. We have both had massages at Wat Po in Bangkok whee they run a Thai massage school. It is a very different style where you remain fully dressed, you are on a cushion and they move you into different positions, using different parts of their body to apply pressure and stretch you.
A couple of the women here really know what they are doing. I have had two different Thai Deep massages by two different woman and parts of them have been excruciating. I know that there are several parts of my body that are normally tight and every one of them was pointed out to me very clearly. My calves are one area that I have a difficult time rolling with a foam roller and I have not been good about using a lacrosse ball on them. On both of the massages the woman used her elbow and a lot of force in several different places on both sides of both of my calves. One calves dealt with it ok, the other did not either time. It was truly horrendous during the massage but I have to say that several days later it feels much better and it was well with it.
During the day we spend time reading and people watching. Ko Samui has the most diverse tourists I have ever seen. In SE Asia you normally see a decent number of Australians (we had dinner next to an Australian couple tonight at dinner), Canadians and people from the US. It wasn’t until like 2 days ago that I heard someone from the US. The other day I was thinking that I hadn’t seen anyone that I knew was from Russia. That night we were seated at dinner next to a Russian couple. The one thing that has changed is that China’s middle class is now traveling. There are a lot of Chinese tourists here. Their economy might have problems at the moment, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the number of tourists here.
This leads to interesting people watching at the beach. Lots of men in speedos that we in their 60-80’s. Every body type and age in bikinis. Lots of people taking selfies. We watched a Chinese threesome do a whole Swimsuit Illustrated photo shoot that they filmed both with their phones and a Go Pro. Lots of vendors selling ice cream, bikinis and floaties. The water is just the right temperature and pretty clear when there is no wind.
A couple minutes walk in the opposite direction is the main road. It is narrow, with just enough room for one way traffic and some parking. It is a couple miles long, with lots of restaurants, bars, pharmacies, tailors and various tourist oriented souvenir and clothing stores. At night there are a couple of corners that have ladyboys all dressed up trying to get you into their cabaret shows. There are also several advertisement trucks that have sign boards on both sides and loudspeakers advertising their particular business. There is the one advertising the reggae bar, another advertising an indoor skydiving and cart track. My favorites are the Japanese Nuru massage (for some reason I think the sort of massages they offer aren't legal in the US) and the shooting range. The advert for the shooting range announces in a Thai accent ‘shoot a real gun with real bullet’ as gun shot sounds come from the speakers.
The food has been good. We found a couple of good Thai restaurants (one, the Green Bird, is very good and inexpensive). We also found a really good Italian pasta restaurant.
We have enjoyed our time here, but it is time to move on. Tomorrow we get up for a 6:30-7:00 pickup for a trip across the peninsula.