Wednesday, 18 December 2002

THE JOY OF TRAVEL - 7. SAMUI



14/12/02: Get boat to Koh Samui; get pick-up truck to Lamai, in the rain, to find accommodation; go to town, back for food; return to town and make an ally with a Japanese guy along the way; drink at Bauhaus and Fusion.

15/12/02: More rain; hang around, check emails, eat lunch, sink a few drinks, then head to Churchill’s for tea; Live Music Bar – although there is no such thing at the time of visiting – with my companion, who has suffered a bit of a funny turn; then back to drink with J, H and S with the ‘Dogfords’ – two Doberman Pinscher style canines who follow us around a lot – on J & H’s veranda. A rather quiet night.


After nearly two weeks spent in just two resorts on Koh Phangan, it was time for us to move on. M and E had already split a couple of days earlier, but J and H were willing to travel with me, my colleague and S to Koh Samui, after announcing their intent in typically spontaneous fashion the evening before. Their escort was to be short lived, for Samui would deliver the same kind of conditions that drove them away from Hua Hin three weeks prior.
We embarked on what was to be an almost 10 day tour of Samui in good spirits. After narrowly escaping a soaking in the back of an open-top pick-up on our way back to Thong Sala, we were pleased to discover that the next boat due for Samui was a very modern affair, as opposed to the decrepit vessel that had delivered us. Riding atop the bow, we reached Samui in no time, getting a bit wet in the process not from the rain but the boat’s tendency to hydroplane.
Nathon, the port of destination, seemed more substantially built than Thong Sala, and perhaps more sedate too.  There was the anticipated melee awaiting us on our arrival but with J and H in tow I really didn’t have to worry about things like that. Hungry, we bypassed the braying mob and went straight to the restaurant across the road for what was a very welcome meal. I then purchased a wooden ornamental owl for my mother from the tied in gift shop, before slipping out the back into the second pick-up truck of the day, arranged by J, to take us on to Lamai.
            It rained almost from the start: tropical storms that would whip in off the sea, painting the sky almost black. Then there was the rent which was significantly higher than I’d become accustomed to, despite our bungalows being some of the cheapest we could find. Admittedly, they were bigger, better built and more comfortable than the wooden piles we had dossed in on Phangan, but such luxury was offset by the good 15 minutes’ walk into town, built as they were at the very end of the resort’s shore.
Only our first night offered any real taste of the local action. Lamai’s bars are gathered on the middle section of the road running through it, so there’s no vibrant beach scene here, and although reaching them via the coast was possible, it was too dark to do so by night. Consequently, we were obliged to circumnavigate the beach and head town-wards via the main road.
Our female contingent picked up a young Japanese guy called Hitachi along the way, who accompanied us to a few bars. A keen dancer, he put on a bit of a show in one of them, pulling in the punters and ingratiating the bar-staff, who rewarded him with a free drink, before cutting his foot quite badly on a stray shard of glass. Our female contingent provided medical assistance and Hitachi offered tantalising tales of Laos, which was on our agenda, in return.
            The night ended with a spot of teenage Thai kickboxing and – fighting over – the chance for the female contingent to muck about in the empty ring, treading on the amassed red ants in the process, punishing them for their japery – how the male contingent laughed! This excursion – deemed a success – was as close as we got in Lamai to the persistent socialising that had fast become the norm.






The next morning was idly spent on the beach before popping into town in the afternoon, where upon we ate at an establishment run by an expat bearing an uncanny resemblance to the ex-England, Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur manager, Terry Venables. We followed this up with a swift drink in the rather forlorn Live Music Bar next door, before opting – our expenditure in need of some serious control – to buy a few cheap beers from the local store to consume on our porch, with Daniel and Deidre Dogford keeping sentry.


16/12/02: Yet more rain – J and H leave; shave off nascent beard; walk to Lamai and find The Manneg(?) Arms; get songthaew to Chewang: Déjà vu, the Frog & Gecko, Legends and Full Cycle.

My skin has been looking particularly radiant of late. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had to worry too much about the condition of my epidermis – pimples are mere aberrations, and I tan quite readily – but the constant stream of sweat coursing through my pores is a real boon to one’s complexion.
My facial hair follicles aren’t quite so compliant: patchy and of a varying hue, my previous attempts at beard growth have been entirely unsuccessful. But the hassle of shaving in cheap accommodation, using only shaving oil and cold water, has encouraged me to give it another go. Alas, after four or five days, my sketchy stubble itches and prickles to such an extent that I am persuaded to reach again for my blunt razor.
            Talking of beards, I’ve not seen many about. I suppose it’s the heat.


When we awoke on the 16th, J and H were gone, purportedly for the north of the country again (although I think they actually ended up off the west coast somewhere; it’s not important). There had been some talk the evening before of us meeting again in Laos in about a month’s time, but that seemed a long way off right now. In the meantime, the East Coast Crew were now required to make its own arrangements.
We had envisaged spending Christmas on Koh Samui, and maybe even the New Year. However, this plan was contingent on us spending a similar amount of time in Lamai as we had just done in Haad Yoa or Haad Rin, and the same again in Chaweng.  Anything more than a third night in Lamai was going to be a real effort, especially now that our numbers had been depleted, so it was time to reappraise the situation.
The three of us strolled into town to look for inspiration. What we found was something approximating an Irish Pub – or an English/Thai interpretation thereof – complete with draught beer and leather upholstery, which provided comfort for my abraded nerves (on the television, PJ Harvey’s Good Fortune never sounded so comforting). The price of European beer on tap dissuaded us for hanging around too long, but we established our next move over a pint: that evening we would hitch a ride to Chaweng, check out the scene and maybe find somewhere we could stay a while, with the intent of moving there the next day.

I have never been on a club 18-30 holiday – and nor do I want to – but that’s what Chaweng felt like. S and L, who have visited some of the more debauched pits found around the Mediterranean, could make the connection. Déjà Vu, Gecko, Legends and Full Cycle – just some of the bars we managed to take in before heading back to Lamai for a post-mortem.
The next day we packed our things and moved to Chaweng, despite what we’d found there the night before – it was either that or sit it out in Lamai for another night.


17/12/02:  More rain; move to Chaweng into very basic accommodation; walk into town for something to eat; drink back on our veranda; Scream bar & Déjà Vu.

General observations of the Samui Archipelago:

1 - If Thai folk generally drive like madman then the islanders in particular need sectioning.
2 - The long haired locals are suspiciously laid back.
3 - If bungalow construction continues at the rate it is then in 10 years’ time that is all there will be.

Tourism has turned Koh Samui into a freak show. Suspiciously laid-back locals, pushy prostitutes and automotive maniacs are rampant, and the less said about the tourists the better. The problem rests within the twin demonologies of Lamai and Chaweng and the sort of behaviour these resorts attract. Lamai is tolerable, despite being mostly inhabited by Hua Hin rejects, tattooed skinheads and lascivious middle-aged men with a penchant for the ladies of the night. Any tension is eased by a steep, clean beach that induces impressive waves, abetted by the sudden storms that often creep in from the Gulf.
Chaweng offers no such solace. Pizza Hut, Boots and Burger King all stake their claim to a town that has taken the bait of mass tourism hook, line and stinker. It has its advantages, mind. The roads are certainly more formidable than the quaint excuses on Koh Phangan, and the songthaew drivers seem to have no regard for the 45km per hour speed limit, which, after a few beers, makes for an exhilarating ride home.


Being in Rome, we’d drunk fairly heavily the night before, a habit that was beginning to take its toll, and after eating mostly fried-rice based dishes (and tuna rolls) on Phangan, I’d begun to develop a craving for Western food. In such circumstances, you can do a lot worse than eating out in Chaweng.
I’d already gorged myself on a roast chicken back at El Tel’s place, and now I aspired to eating pizza. Like tuna, pizza normally goes down well when my stomach’s feeling a bit delicate, so Pizza Hut should do nicely. Unfortunately, it is not to be. I can’t finish my pizza for fear of throwing up, which saddens me. I think I really need to address my growing drinking problem.
Ostensibly, I like where we’re staying. It’s centrally located and, like at Haad Rin, the path from our front door leads straight down to the beach. The problem is the people we’re sharing with. At Haad Rin, the clientele were pretty well behaved, by day at least. Here, there’s a licentious air that pervades on an almost perpetual basis. Folk seem rougher, too, and I get the sense that not everybody here is actually travelling, that they might be here for a two week vacation, perhaps?
I get stuck in early: I can’t be sober in an environment like this. We still haven’t decided how long we want to stay in Chaweng but already I'm entertaining the possibility that we leave tomorrow.
We’ll move up Chaweng Boulevard and work our way back down, stopping off for drinks where we see fit. It is still early so the bars aren't as hectic as they can or will be, and this exposes just how charmless a lot of these hang-outs really are. Did we really travel to the other side of the Northern Hemisphere for this? Do other people travel across to the other side of the Northern Hemisphere for this? I've never seen anything like it: a complex of clubs, it’s like an alcoholics’ Christmas market. We eventually settle on the Scream Bar, before returning to Déjà Vu because it’s the most innocuous place we can find.
I've reached that stage now where it’s an effort to get drunk, so I don’t really bother.  I think my colleagues are experiencing the same frustrations as I, and after a brief assessment of our situation it is agreed: we will make our excuses and leave tomorrow.


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