We have been back home in the cold for nearly a week and I still don't know what day of the week it is. Such is life on Koh Samui, and I really, really liked it.
Just a bit of background on us. We're mum, dad & two teenage girls (15 & 13) who are lucky enough to have travelled a few times to Thailand over the past 8 years but this was our first time to Koh Samui. We've been to Phuket twice and it was a great debate whether we should go there again or try somewhere new and smaller than we're used to. In the end, we chose to check out unfamiliar territory, and are very, very happy that we did. It was a case of same, same, but completely different - in a good way. We flew Air Asia from NZ to Kuala Lumpur then Firefly Airline to Koh Samui.
Rather than a day to day blow of what we did, I'll summarise the main points:
We stayed at the Amari Palm Reef which is in North Chaweng just out of the main boom boom bar area, but only 5 minutes walk either along the street or beach to where the shopping and restaurants are. It was a good choice, we really liked the hotel but there were some negatives and I wouldn't choose to stay there again. I'll do a full review, but basically this end of Chaweng is aweful as far as swimming in the sea goes and it is more than a short walk to the good area. This would apply to all resorts up this end, so if you think that a swimmable area in the sea out the front of your resort is important, go South. Secondly, the resort is long and narrow and most rooms are a looooonnnnng way from the beach front pool and restaurant. There are only a few rooms on the sea side, some superor and deluxe rooms just over the road in the "Thai Village" by the second pool, but most rooms are further back still in another area that I didn't even know existed. I will upload my video of the hotel layout onto youtube for those interested. Requesting specific rooms / areas is a waste of time if they are busy as they put you where they have availability. Aside from this, we did enjoy our stay at the Amari but after exploring the Southern end of Chaweng beach I would chose to stay up that end instead. The pools were lovely, our interconnecting deluxe rooms were well appointed, and the ambiance of the resort made our stay pleasant.
Angthong National Park: We chose to do this day trip with a company called 100 Degrees East as they feature prominently on Trip Advisor with positive reviews, but mainly because they take small groups with a maximum of 12 passengers. They are more expensive than other companies for this reason. We were picked up from our hotel and driven to their offices near Bophut, fitted out with a good set of mask, snorkel & fins and loaded onto their speedboat for our 60 minute journey out to the islands.
We did the circuit that sounds typical of all companies, however we left later so that we missed the crowds from other boats and had areas to ourselves. We went snorkelling first, but to be honest it wasn't that good when compared to other parts of the world we have snorkelled. The visibility was terrible and by the time we had found some fish to look at it was time to leave. We did swim/snorkel thru a cave which was very cool. Apparently Koh Tao is much better.
We then visited the place where you climb stairs to see the Emerald Lake and a view of all the islands of the National Park (not for those who have a bad heart, dicky knees or suffer vertigo). Our third stop was meant to be on a picturesque deserted beach to laze in the sun and eat our lunch. Unfortunately the weather Gods were unkind this day and the sky opened, drenching us with torrential rain. No sun worshipping was to be had. As a consequence we ate our lunch under a little shelter and left earlier than usual in between downpours. At our last stop we did a very rushed kayak trip around a nearby island which I considered to be unnecessary and a pain in the ***. But to be fair, the leader on the boat warned that we may not be able to do it at all because of the rough seas, but they went ahead I suppose thinking it was expected by us. I felt like we were at bootcamp tho' going flat out for a good 20 minutes. There was nobody checking to see if everyone was keeping up and some other kids in our group really struggled. By this point I'd decided that we had been very unlucky with the weather and that the day was a bit of a let down (not that this was the tour company's fault). On the return journey in moderately rough seas, we were instucted to put on a lifejacket (just in case) and the captain did a great job of going slower and riding the swells so that no bottoms left seats and it was very comfortable.
Flying Fox (Zip Lining): This trip was simply fantastic for our family. There are three companies offering a similar thing, we did ours with Canopy Adventures. They are owned by Americans and have an office in Chaweng. Again we were picked up from our hotel and taken on the back of a pick up truck to Maenam then up into the hills, eventually leaving the sealed road and heading off on a dirt track. This alone was exciting and a real highlight for the kids. My eldest daughter now believes she is part dog as she loved sitting up having the wind blow thru her hair. Probably a different story had it been raining!
Anyway, after a "bit of a hike" up the hill thru the jungle (not suitable for anyone who isn't sturdy on their feet) we came to our first zipline (or flying fox depending on where in the world you come from) departure point. Now I have a slight fear of heights and honestly didn't think this would be my cup of tea. But I put on a brave face and took the leap (literally). WOW, it was awesome. I felt completely safe at all times as we had harnesses on and were attached to a safety wire at all times. The guys running it were really professional, so friendly and made everyone feel at ease. In total there were 7 ziplines, some longer than others and all in all I felt that it was a great activity to do. Highly recommended.
Car Hire: As much as I really wanted to hire some scooters like everyone else seemed to be doing, I'm just too cautious by nature and the whole lack of insurance just ruled it out. So we hired a near new Toyota Corolla type of car instead from the guys at our hotel for B1300 (including insurance) and cruised slowly around the whole island. It was brilliant! We went clockwise and took all day, getting lost a couple of times, but driving on until we found the main road again, stopping at lots of lookouts, beaches and generally enjoying the freedom it allowed. In hindsight, I think we should have hired it for a second day and explored some more.
Dining Out: We went to a different restaurant every night and I really miss the food and cocktails now that we are home:
- Islander (Main Rd Chaweng): Very busy, good service and nice food.
- Khao San Restaurant: (Main Rd Chaweng, over the road from the Islander). Excellent service, great food and a good price. Excellent fruit smoothies
- Ark Bar on the Beach. I read before we went that some people hated this place, but I couldn't remember why. Anyway we loved the place and thought it was an awesome atmosphere and the food was really good too. The cocktails weren't too bad either. We did go early in the evening so maybe things heat up a little as the night goes on. I love that whole sand between the toes thing.
- Will Wait (Chaweng): Not bad, but not brilliant. It was quite early when we went so it wasn't busy. I asked not to be charged for one meal as it had a hair in it and wasn't eaten. They were happy to oblige and were most apologetic.
- Ninja Crepes (South end of Chaweng): We walked and walked to find this place as the name pops up often on this forum and gets good reviews. Well I can see why if eating cheap food is your motivater. It was really, really busy with a lot of people waiting on the street to be seated. Maybe I had unrealistically high expectations, but I thought the food was mediocre. The service was fantastic, but everything else was a complete let down. But, it is very, very cheap.
- Spirit House: Excellent all round. Beautiful setting, lovely food, brilliant service. And they will come and pick you up if you phone and ask.
- Prego (The Amari Hotel): Probably the best of the bunch, but also the most expensive. Very classy and extremely popular. It was packed out every night.
-Elephant House (Fishermans Village, Bophut): Gorgeous setting above the beach with views out the islands. Lovely food from another popular establishment.
- Pancakes (Street Venders): OMG, I love these!!! I've found the recipe on the net and are going to try and make some. Definately recommended.
Shopping: I was pleasantly surprised as I wasn't expecting so many shops in Chaweng. It was very similar to the Beach Rd in Patong. We also visited Big C which was very worthwhile for fixed price goods, but we didn't get to Tesco unfortunately. The Fishermans Village market on Friday night was also really interesting. We bought the usual tshirts, shorts, jandals, bags, shoes, bags, jewellery, and did I mention the bags? Prices were definately higher than Bangkok and most shop keepers started their prices ridiculously high which was very frustrating after a while. One indian lady even lost the plot with me when I refused to pay 850 baht for a simple pair of sandals which I can buy here at home for less. She threw a pot of water over my legs as I left the stall and muttered loudly after us. Apart from that, we were happy with our purchases and found everyone else to be really pleasant and fun to haggle with. Just have an idea of prices before you start and be prepared.
Sorry I've dribbled on, but it's been good to remember all that we did and where we went. Thanks for listening :-)