Koh Samui’s remote charms have waned and it is rapidly emulating Phuket with its innumerable hillside and beachfront resorts. While the traveller in me hankered after discoveries I might make trekking in Chiang Rai in the north, the islands of the south had a predictable yet perfectly good bundle of offerings (golf courses, restaurants, beaches) and creature comforts conducive to a family holiday in the sun.
The Thai run their resorts with Swiss efficiency and their own formula of visitor spoiling — friendly service, massages, sublime fresh cut fruits and curries and entertainment on tap. This is clearly a place to unwind and have a break not too far from home. And there are resorts that will make you float on air, fitting every budget for all age groups. The well-established beaches Chaweng and Lamai on the eastern side of the isle have a Goa like feel, with endless open fronted shops, bars and coffee nooks. Young couples on motorbikes breeze through the countryside and the night markets come alive, this time with kickboxing and ladyboys making a special appearance.
On the beaches, they’d added a dash more to the usual jet skis and boat trips by bringing in the next generation of toys — Zorb Balls where you step into a bubble and walk on the water, Sea Bobs that propel you like a swordfish through water, and the impressive but impossible Jet Lev, where you actually levitate above water, powered by a jet.
I found myself peering into Spirit Houses, charming replicas of homes placed on the threshold, a tiny abode for the spirit of that piece of property. But there was little else. The ring roads are built up, and views are hogged by resorts.
Full moon party
A smaller, laid back Island, Pha Ngan is a 20 minute boat ride just North of Samui. Hedonism is its hallmark, with over 50, 000 revellers act in unison at the famous Full Moon Party which took place a couple of days before the New Year. It was a truly unique experience, definitely worth experiencing once. As people arrived, they looked sillier by the minute, donning colourful neon hats, beads, flowers and hair bands. Artists painted intricate glowing neon patterns on the generously exposed body parts. Kitted out, people bought alcohol, served in mini buckets and sipped with straws.
The throng headed to the beach where DJs and dancing platforms had been set up all along the strip. From then on, it was about selecting the favourite music, sipping and dancing into the night under the Full moon and balmy skies. The place transported everyone to another world till the boats hauled everyone back in the early morning. For some, remembering where to return became a challenge.
Ang Thong Marine Park
Another day, we hired a boat and sailed two hours north to Ang Thong, an archipelago of 42 islands. Jagged karst rock islands covered in foliage jutted straight up from the water. There wasn’t a spoonful of cement, just nature that stilled the soul and made us regret the fact that our species has messed so aggressively with the earth’s natural canvas. We decanted from the big boat into a zodiac and on to the shallow waters and soft clay sand of an unnamed isle that seemed to disconnect us from humanity. On the foliage clinging to the rocks, I discovered thousands of white butterflies milling around certain shrubs. Their revellery was not very different at all from what I’d seen at the Full Moon Party.
Plan your trip
When to go: Feb to April for post Monsoon sunshine.
How to get there: Fly from Delhi to Bangkok and take a connecting 45-minute flight to Koh Samui.
Stay at: The high design, top end W Resort with its famous Woo Bar. Also Four Seasons, an elegant hideaway.
Eat at: The Library (Chaweng Beach), Lantanya Restaurant (Four Seasons), The Cliff, (Lanai Beach).
Also at Sea View, Kama Sutra and Jussa Pizza at Fisherman’s Village.
Drink at: Woo bar of the W Resort, the coolest spot on the Island with magnificent views.
Golf: The beautiful Santiburi Golf course is set in a tropical rainforest.
Diving: Get a PADI license at the small Isle, Koh Tao, north of Samui.