42 hours after leaving the comfort of our London-town abode we stumbled with rucksacks off a long-delayed catamaran, pale, windswept and exhausted. Our first experience of Thai Culture? Why, taxis of course. (By the end of the trip we were both sorely tempted to purchase the t-shirts with loud slogans saying ‘No, I Don’t want a f***** suit, massage or Tuk Tuk!’) Of course being Thailand, a taxi is never simply a taxi...
After piling into the car he started shaking our hands saying ‘You my friends yes? My name Mayo. My friends. Yes? Police Police!! We all friends. Friend long time. Yes?’ Then we clicked: This was in fact not an actual taxi. Just a bloke with a car - the realization set it that we were probably getting horrendously ripped off. Awesome Thailand! Our need for sleep set in and overcame our fears - we smiled at the police roadblock and eventually made our way to our little home for the week: ‘Frenchy’s’.
A cute place just off the main road in Bangrak, near the Big Buddha Beach, Frenchy’s is actually a restaurant serving both western and local cuisine. The owner, Frenchy (so creative with names you see), converted three huts at the back into hotel rooms, rented out for around 600 Baht a night. Far from our expectations of ‘roughing it’, which we had planned when deciding on this trip, Frenchy’s had a luxury shower, cold air conditioning and a flat screen TV. It also had incredibly low celings and doors – even I at a mighty 5ft3 hit my head – imagine how the 6ft2 boy managed!! Plenty of bruises, that’s how.
|The Room: courtesy of TripAdvisor (We had no camera at this point!)|
The Big Buddha:
Now when you think of ‘The Big Buddha’, you think – hey, it must be big. Well that it is. This sacred statue towers across the beach, seen for miles around. Below this temple shops line the streets, as do mangy sad looking dogs lounging across the pavement. I was surprised at first how so many shops and street sellers had set up on this iconic grounds, somewhat overshadowing the Buddha itself. Then I was surprised that I had been surprised at all! Everywhere in Thailand is like this - the country thrives off the tourist industry - relics such as the Buddha and the Mummified Monk have become such hotspots that their religious value has been almost entirely lost. Instead of finding spirituality I was met by rip-off watches for £10 and a fear of catching rabies.
Backpackers don’t tend to get the chance to sail away to a private island, but we were no ordinary backpackers this week. We had my Father, who loves to talk, and therefore learns all of the tricks of the town within days. So off we went at 8am to spend a day on a private beach. We had a ice box full of wine, beer and salad. A couple of smiley Thai friends. A canoe and a fishing rod. What more could you want?
This island was owned by the hotel my father was staying at – they hadn’t yet found a way to market it and this was their first day trip with guests. We explored the island, one side beachy paradise, the other rocky wilderness. Wildly interesting shells lined the beach, including one with a cannabis leaf pattern imprinted – an animal we thought. From the cliffs we looked onto Phangnan, the beach back to Samui. The longboat took us around the back of the Big Buddha and right around Bangrak bay.
Supposedly the Island had residents many years ago back when the previous owners looked after it. There were wooden structures that resembled bars and housing, but all of these had fallen to complete disrepair over the years, battered by the SE Asia storms. While a part of me thinks that it is a massive shame to let such a stunning island go to waste, another is relieved that there are still parts untouched by the tourism that has so clearly destroyed Samui itself. Either or, the day was heavenly. And how many people can honestly say they have visited a private island with no human contact for many years.
One way to explore thai culture – or any culture as a matter of fact – is by visiting the local market. I don’t mean the weekly clothes/fake gadget/art markets like you see in the cities that draw tourists like flies. I mean the local food markets where Thai people buy their food and sell their goods. We managed to find a local market just up the road from Frenchy’s nestled perfectly between us and the big buddah. The smell was overwhelmingly fishy, the people were unbelievably friendly and there was quite literally, everything. We chose some fried chicken pieces, some gloriously pink cherry tomatoes and a few other bits and bobs. Also, we found luminous pink eggs. Never did find out why they were pink…
Almost every place we went we found a reggae bar. That was without even looking. Laid back, cushions on the floor, burn-your-mouth strength cocktails, walls plastered in Bob Marley posters – you get the idea.
I wont say that I didn't enjoy Koh Samui - that would be a lie. But it was by no means our favourite place. Overrun by tourists and culturally void (not entirely, only in comparison to what we were hoping for/came across later), Samui was undeniably beautiful. Far from the worst, but also far from the best. It was here that we vowed to find more remote, quite spots that drew us for the following 8 weeks.