Chaweng, Bophut,Lamai and Bangrak
Arriving at Koh Samui
Koh Samui airport was unlike any airport I had seen before, privately owned by Bangkok Airways, it looked more like a holiday village than an airport. With open arrival halls covered with thatched roofs, the atmosphere of a tropical getaway was already in the making.
First stop – Lamai Beach
Our first stop in Samui was at the Spa Garden in Lamai, some 15 kilometres south of the main resort of Chaweng. We were pre-warned that travel was costly on Samui, and getting there cost us 700baht by taxi, a journey that would have cost no more than 150 baht in Bangkok.
Despite the driver claiming to know where he was going it soon became clear this was not the case, fortunately we were armed with google-maps and were soon checking in at our hotel.
The rooms at the Spa Garden were large, and clean, and the bed was large and comfortable, strangely there we no clothes hangers in the room, but these were available on request???
We were on the ground floor and our room was furnished with a patio door, which was something of a security concern as this could be lifted off its latch even when locked, and opened. The resort did however have a security guard, and laptop size safes in the room, so we were not overly concerned. The only real problem with the room was that the walls were paper thin, you could hear the occupants of the next room talking as clearly as if they were in your room. The hotel grounds were well manicured, and the pool area was inviting. Annoyingly the entire pool area was devoid of shade, rendering it useless unless your goal was to receive 3rd degree burns. In fairness there were 2 umbrellas, unfortunately both of these were broken, so basically there were 2 canvas covered posts.
The life in Lamai, along with the beach were both a kilometre down a narrow road from where we were staying. The road we were on was primarily devoted to motorcycle repairs and old refrigeration equipment.
We found Lamai “proper” to be a pleasant resort, hosting a reasonable mix of Thai, and international shops and restaurants, and as it transpired, we were either very lucky with our choices, or Lamai is where you should head if you’re looking for great food, notable mentions, Brown Sugar, for authentic Thai food, and El Dorado for excellent Mediterranean food.
The resort is built up around a single road, Had Lamai Road, which runs parallel to the beautiful beach. Though the sand is grittier here than in neighbouring Chaweng the beach was much cleaner, quieter, and certainly towards the southern end, much, much prettier. The resort concludes with the Hin-Ya and Hin-Ya Grandfather, and Grandmother stones, famous for their genital representations. The “male” stone was obvious, but I’m still unsure which of the stones was supposed to represent the female bits. And before you point and laugh, my wife was with me so that’s no reflection on me.
Every Sunday night the northern end of Had Lamai Road is occupied by a night market. A bustle of stalls selling tourist trinkets, and authentic Thai street food, surrounding a central stage, which, on our visit, hosted a Rolling Stones tribute act for those who hate the Rolling Stones.
We found Lamai to be a good base, and transport wasn’t as expensive as we first feared. Decked out pick-up trucks acting as mini buses (Songtaews) circle the island and will transport you between the main resorts for around 100 baht per journey, and despite the numerous blogs we had read saying this didn’t happen, we found taxi drivers do negotiate on Samui, just not the ones at the airport.
Heading north – Bophut
After 5 days in Lamai we moved north to the Samui Bamboo Garden Bungalows in Bophut, though this turned out to be a temporary situation. It’s fair to say that we have become accustomed to a certain amount of luxury, and it transpired that this was a step too far. I’m sure many would find the bungalows cute, and quaint, and would relish the experience. We found them way too small, and without anywhere secure to store our valuables, wholly inadequate for our needs. The next morning, after being kept awake the majority of the night by an impromptu music festival that had set up directly behind the bungalows, we checked out.
I don’t want to be to hard on this place. The owner, and the staff were lovely, and graciously refunded our unused nights when we checked out. The place wasn’t bad we had just learnt a lesson. Osprey packs do not maketh the traveller.
This is where we go off the rails a little. Instead of a slight upgrade we check into the Bandara Spa, a beautiful 5 star resort. It’s kinda like we crashed and rebooted to our most recent backup. This definitely did not fit within our travellers budget, but that said, I’m glad we did it. We are old dogs, and its going to take time to learn new tricks, we were smashing the budget, but we were starting to enjoy ourselves, something we hadn’t realised that we weren’t really doing up to this point.
The Bandara Spa was just what the doctor ordered. A big room, a comfortable bed, power shower with consistent water temperature a lovely pool area (well, actually 3 lovely pool areas), plenty of sun-loungers with shade, and free beds on the beach, with towels.
A 5 minute walk took us into Fisherman’s Village, the main resort area of Bophut. It’s a beautiful area of old Chinese shop houses converted into bars and restaurants, many of them with tables on the seafront. It’s easy to fall in love with Fisherman’s village. If you’re looking for an authentic Thai experience, or looking after the pennies, its probably not for you, but as we sat at our seafront pew at the Happy Elephant drinking pineapple shakes, and picking at a Thai platter, we knew we had found our little piece of heaven. Fully fledged travellers we may not be, but happy we are.
Outside of Fisherman’s Village there wasn’t much to Bophut. The main road that ran through the resort had a smattering of Thai restaurants, and shops, and a number of the larger resort hotels, as you head north towards the neighbouring resort of Mae Nam, a tiny resort with a decent beach, hosting the Lomprayah ferry pier for onward travel to Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao.
Back in Fisherman’s Village we found the food in the restaurants to be of a high standard, if a little pricer than back in Lamai. A couple of worthy mentions, Sabeinglae serves excellent Thai food, and we enjoyed the Mediterranean fare at Link, and Gusto’s.
After 4 nights in Bophut we were due to be catching the Lomprayah Ferry to Chumphon, with onward bus travel to Hua Hin at 8am the next morning. However in a moment of weakness, no doubt fuelled by Chang beer & Cocktails we decided we weren’t done with Samui just yet, and hastily made a booking at the Lanna Hotel in Neighbouring Bang Rak.
North, part 2 – Bangrak
Lanna was another, budget be damned choice, a beautiful hotel, possibly even nicer than the Bandara Spa. The rooms were huge and included a large seating area, and were impeccably clean. The only slight gripe was that despite having a smorgasbord of lighting and cooling options, non of the controls were anywhere near the bed, so on a night you had to navigate your way back to bed in the pitch dark.
The hotel throughout was well manicured, and the service was excellent, had the hotel been 300 meters closer to the beach it would have been perfect.
As a resort Bangrak is unexceptional. The beach is decent, like neighbouring Bophut the water is a little murky, but it shares the picturesque view across the narrow bay to Koh Phangan. There are a smattering of bars and restaurants at each side of the main road, but nothing stands out as a must see. A little way further east stands “Big Buddha” known locally as Wat Phra Yaia, a 12 meter tall Buddha seated atop a platform on a rocky island. Connected to the mainland by a causeway, big Buddha can be seen from several kilometres away. Around the base of the temple are a number of vendors selling amulets, snacks and t-shirts as well as other touristy wares. Don’t visit Big Buddha without following the main road a little further east to the Wat Plai Leam Temple. This is a really beautiful Temple complex, and all the better for the lack of notoriety. We almost had the place to ourselves.
We really enjoyed our time on Koh Samui, its a beautiful island, and despite the popularity its easy to escape the crowds. There are also plenty of activities available to those looking for excitement. For us it was an opportunity to us to relax and regroup, and maybe just start to realise what type of travellers we are going to be.