I had to spend the whole night cramped in a cab and travel over 800km in order to get to what is considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand….
There we were the day before, in a low-key Pattaya restaurant, the gang groggy (with hangovers), and all of us downing fresh bottles of Heineken (to get over the hangovers). Pattaya had left us dazed and exhausted, and we were wondering where to go next. This was one of our mini round table meets for deciding the next destination. In contention were Bangkok, Samui, Phuket and even Laos. We weighed the resources in hand, ran through a cost-benefit analysis and finally eliminated all other destinations to arrive at Samui (hey, we were MBAs after all). Sorry Loas, maybe next time! Ko Samui was always on the cards even on my first Thailand trip; but we had skipped it owing to one of those impulsive itinerary changes. There was no missing it the second time.
So, we had this brilliant idea of booking a cab directly from Pattaya to Don Sak pier, because strangely, there was no public ferry transportation available between the eastern and western gulf coasts of Thailand, flights were too expensive and there were no direct buses between the two places. Yeah, I know. this was like reaching your ear from around the back of your head. But we did not have a choice, did we?
The cab agent informed that it would take around 11-12 hours for the trip. We got ourselves adequately ready for the overnight journey. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Tick. Pizzas, Tick. Pepsi, Tick. Empty Stomachs, Double Tick. We started off at around 10pm from Pattaya, and after gorging on our supplies, I gradually fell asleep listening to soft Thai music occasionally being woken up at stops. Our driver had this habit of stopping in the middle of nowhere and taking off without a word and returning after 10-15 minutes. There were major communication problems between us; he neither spoke nor understood a single word of English. Overall, the overnight ride went smoothly and even when we woke up in the morning, we did not feel any tiredness; Thai highways were so good! 50km to go and we realized that our driver was as clueless as us about which direction to take when he started stopping the car and asking passersby. However, we managed to get to the pier on time and take the next ferry to Samui island. We tipped the driver 200 Baht for the smooth ride and bade him farewell; it was the only time we saw him smile.
The ferry ride between Don Sak Pier and the island took an hour and a half. Ko Samui is part of an archipelago of 80 islands and some islands were visible during the ride. They were small, green, uninhabited islands jutting out of the water and adding to the natural beauty of the place. There was even a large statue of Buddha on one of them. It is said that the first backpackers arrived in Ko Samui in small coconut boats way back in the 1970s. Then the tourism boom of the 1990s happened and nothing was the same as before. After arriving at the Na Thon pier on the island, we took a cab to Lamai beach, the second largest beach on the island after Chaweng beach. Chaweng beach is the Samui equivalent of Pattaya’s Patong – overcrowded with hotels, shops and tourists. We figured Lamai would be more ideal for chilling out. As always, we relied on the taxi driver to take us to a guesthouse which suited our budget, and we crashed in ‘Sea Breeze Bungalow’, one of the many guesthouses along the Lamai beach strip. We wasted no time in changing and heading to the beach straight into the water.
In the evening, we set out to explore the island by renting a couple of bikes. Samui is almost circular in shape and when I saw the island map, I only saw a green shaded circle with a yellow circular line drawn along its circumference signifying the main road. The middle of the island is covered in thick forest and the interiors are mostly inaccessible. Do we need a map for this? We decided to just keep heading north along the main road until we get to Chaweng beach. It turned out to be a wrong decision because we ended up getting lost for the next 2 hours. We could not find the beach at all. Instead we went through crowded market places, one-way shopping streets and even around a lake twice. Finally, we managed to find a detour which took us to the Chaweng, but when we got there, we were greeted with the darkness. It was the Chaweng all right, but there was not a speck of light in sight. Apparently, we had missed the ‘party’ side of the beach and had ventured into the ‘sleepy’ side. Already tired and resigned to our fates, we left for our guesthouse as it was already late. The night ended on a happy note with Bailey’s on the beach with lots and lots of pizza. Lamai beach was also dark and quiet; Relaxing on the beach chairs, staring at the moonlight, sipping Bailey’s and talking about life was the moment of the whole trip.
One of my friends was to leave for home a day early. So the next morning, I got up and dropped him on the bike at the airport before sunrise. The Ko Samui ‘Airport’ turned out to be nothing but a runway and a couple of huts, one for handling arrivals and the other for departures. The airport was originally built by ‘Bangkok Airways’ as a private airport but later, Thai Airways also started operating flights to it. It looked more like a beach shack than an airport. A fence separated the runway from the road, and I actually had a speed race with an airplane! I again lost my way back to the guesthouse, but I did not care. Riding on the empty roads in the cool early morning weather was very invigorating.
I somehow managed to get back to the hotel and then headed to the beach to put my photography skills to use. I could capture a few good pictures. Slowly, the beach started filling up with sunbathers desperate to get a tan from the morning rays. I was already as tanned as the colour of the T-shirt I was wearing (which was black), so I returned to the room. We had a proper ‘American’ breakfast with sausages and all.
It was finally time to bid adieu to the place. Our flight to Bangkok left from Surat Thani on the mainland and we had not thought about how we would reach there yet. We had to go to the pier, find a ferry, go to Don Sak, and then to Surat Thani airport from there. This would take atleast 4 hours. We went to the nearest travel agent office and asked the lady at the counter about our options. She was livid when we mentioned that our flight left in 5 hours and immediately started her own enquiries. After a tense 5 minutes, we got a breakthrough. Our Madam could arrange a car, a ferry and a bus for each part of the journey that would drop us directly to Surat Thani airport. It was a fair deal and the lady seemed more relieved than us. She instructed us strictly to leave in an hour so that we could reach there on time; that was Thai hospitality for you! We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then she asked us how long we were on vacation. “1 week” we said. She was surprised. “1 week? 1 week?! What will you do in 1 week? You have to stay here atleast 2 months”, she exclaimed. Her response spoke volumes about the kind of travelers who come to the islands of Thailand for months together. They come to relax, to chill out, to recharge; to forget their mundane lives back home. I wondered whether I could ever afford the luxury of a 2 month vacation in the rest of my life. We assured her that the next time would be a much longer stay.
Our excitement in Samui had not ended yet. When I went to return the bike, the rental shop was closed; I had to leave in half an hour and I had given my passport as collateral for the bike. There was a slow sinking feeling in me but I quickly collected myself and managed to somehow obtain the shopkeeper’s contact number. The shopkeeper answered sleepily and I calmly explained to him the situation. “No Problem, No problem”, he said, “I will send someone to open the shop”. His girlfriend, I presume, came after 10 minutes, apologized, opened the shop and returned my passport for the bike. I heaved a sigh of relief and returned to the hotel to pack. But wait, it was not over yet. I realized that my camera was missing; I had put it in the bike basket. I literally ran to the shop again and was relieved to see the lady holding my camera. We managed to catch the car, the ferry and the bus on time to reach the airport and catch our flight. Whew! Enough thrills to last me a month.
On that note, my trip to the island of coconuts (as referred to by the foreigners visiting the place) ended. The coconuts grown here are supposed to be very tasty but unfortunately, I could not taste any coconut water. Also, bike riding was considered to be dangerous on the curvy roads of the island. But in the end, I would remember Samui for the two completely differing bike ride experiences I had (along with our private beach party in between). I can now proudly strike another place off my ‘must-visit islands’ list!