2 -7 October 2013
We spent a couple of days in Karon on Phuket and four on Koh Samui, Thailand’s third largest island. We worked out it was our seventh trip to Phuket in just over ten years so we must like it, although in reality, we have tended to pass through Phuket while sampling the delights of the surrounding Andaman Sea. Phuket itself, Patong in particular, seems to get a bit more crass every year.
We stayed in Karon, at the Front Village Resort. The facilities were excellent, particularly the pool whcih was one of the best I’ve seen. The location was also great, with only a short walk to the main areas of Karon Town and mini-marts etc also close by. It wasn’t well named though, because the only thing it fronted was a shallow lake situated between the hotel and the sea itself. In our case, this wasn’t really an issue because the weather was definitely not beach weather. The rain that had annoyed us on Phi Phi seemed even heavier in Karon. On one occasion, the Thorsbys went off elephant trekking while we stayed in. We ended up really staying in because it poured non stop for over three hours. We felt sorry for Chris and Carol but on their return we found that they hadn’t seen any rain. Go figure.
The Thorsbys were much more into night life than us old has-beens. The two kids in particular made good use of the Patong night scene. We tried Patong one night but half an hour in a pole dancing club was more than enough for Christine. In the street, we were invited to Ping Pong Clubs (not the sporting kind), offered photos with snakes, lemurs or iguanas drapped over us and generally pimped every kind of human sin imaginable. The streets were crowded, with Aussie accents prominent. We came, we saw, but didn’t sample.
We all caught a tuk-tuk down to the Karon Beach seafood stretch, one of our old favourites. Here we organised a couple of Karon barbecues, charcoal fuelled devices which are a cross between a steamboat and a barbecue. You cook little bits of seafood on a central cone and eat it with the broth and vegetables from the moat around the outside. Fun and delicious.
Koh Samui is on the opposite side of the peninsula to Phuket, in the Gulf of Thailand. The climate seems slightly drier with rain restricted to the afternoon by and large. The Bangkok Air plane flight was only about half the airport waiting time and had us in Koh Samui by early afternoon. The island is beaches all the way around but the main tourist area seems to be Chaweng Beach, on the North East coast. Protected from swell and prevailing winds, it is extemely calm and very beautiful.
Our resort, the Impiana, was probably a further from civilization than desirable. It has a gorgeous private beach but we like to be able to walk to some cheap eats and markets. From the Impiana, a taxi or shuttle bus is really needed. Still, the resort grounds and beach are exceptionally good and the costs of drinks etc is not too bad. On our first afternoon, Christine and I walked about a kilometre or so down the beach, checking out the various establishments, having a beer (of course) and sampling a roadside pancake stall.
All was wonderful until we decided to follow the inland road back to the hotel. Just after we were committed to this action, the heavens opened. We darted from one shop to another to keep dry, eventually setting out on the climb over the jungle hill when all seemed ok but we got caught in the worst rain so far and had to take shelter amongst the creepers and thickets along the way. At one point, we were stopped by a large black scorpion barring our way on the road. It was very aggressive and seemed keen to stab our toes through our open sandals. We made out way around it and soldiered on, now totally soaked. Chris Thorsby told us later he had seen a dead snake in the same stretch of jungle. Taxis are starting to look better.
One day, we hired a car and driver named Jai to do a tour of the island. At 52km around, it doesn’t take all that long but we had selected a range of things to see along the way. A private car and English speaking driver is always great value because the talk along the way is as good as the sights you see. Jai was no exception and possessed a great sense of humour.
We visited an elephant village and tiger zoo, where we were able to get some photographs with a young tiger and a beautiful leopard. Christine produced our little “lion” and requested a photograph be taken with the tiger. The handler thought this was a great joke and proceeded to taunt the sleeping lethagic tiger with poor little stuffed lion. The tiger was very interested and became much more active, fixing his eyes on Lion and taking a few swipes with his paw. The leopard too showed signs of wanting to eat Lion so I was quite happy when the handler returned our little friend unharmed. Later, Christine tried to put Lion on a fence near where a mother elephant and calf were feeding. Both showed great interest and it was a close thing between Christine retrieving Lion and junior’s trunk snatching him from the fence. Lion certainly lived dangerously.
We all jumped into a 4WD to access a waterfall higher up the mountain. Chris Thorsby and I sat perched on a seat mounted over the cab, a decision we came to regret as the driver decided to thrill us all by gunning the little Highlux down some rather steep gullies. Thankfully, the ride was quite short and on the way down, we climbed into the back with the two girls. The waterfalls themselves were worth seeing, but not really spectacular in the fashion of those in the Kimberley or Darwin area. In fact, given the amount of rain there had been, I was surprised by the relatively small water flow.
Later, we headed to a Go-kart track. Chris had been go-karting in Phuket and was keen for another try. The girls declined so it was just the two of us. In 10 minutes, I think he lapped me around 7 times. We’d opted for the mid-range karts that will do 75km/hr. I hate to think about the Pro carts that managed 125km/hr. The driving is physically demanding and my arms and shoulders were complaining after 10 minutes of hard driving. Two of the bends were very tight and managing the cart around them was a lot of fun. All in all, a heap of fun and worth doing. The next day, Pippa got revenge on her father by giving him a thrashing on the track, that is up until the time she spun out and he crashed into the side of her.
Carol and Christine headed into town for a cooking class, opting for an Indian course with Noori India that included Nann Bread cooking. The chef sounded like a fascinating character, having been a primary school teacher before retraining as a chef then moving to Koh Samui. They returned full of praise for him and with heaps of new ideas and skills that will no doubt add to the already growing kilos. Christine found that there is a huge range of dishes that can be made from the same few ingredients, just prepared differently. She brought home lots of “doggie bags” full of goodies so it was lucky that I hadn’t gone off by myself and eaten. The food certainly was delicious.
For our last night in Koh Samui, we all headed into Chaweng for drinks and a bite to eat, finding a terrific little Indian/Thai place that catered for all our tastes. A bit of shopping for shoes and some suitcases for the Thorsbys and all was done. They return to Oz tomorrow, while we fly on to Bangkok.
Would I recommend Koh Samui? Yes, if one wants a beach resort destination because the beaches here are better than other Asian destinations. If it’s night life and culture that you are chasing, don’t bother. It just seems to miss something that I can’t put my finger on. I think I’d head to Krabi before Koh Samui if in Thailand, otherwise Langkawi in Malaysia.
After two four star resorts in a row, we have both reafirmed that smaller guesthouse type accomodation is far superior. The big places look nice, generally have wonderful grounds and great views, but lack that friendly “one of the family” type feeling that we have experienced in so many smaller cheaper places. One can take just so much piped music and perfumed towels before you start to yearn for some genuine friendly service. Unfortunately, the travel media thrives on glitz and glamour and “great people” don’t sell well in glossy brochures.