Despite hearing very few enticing reviews about Ko Samui and though we heard how built up and touristy it is now, we still, unanimously decided to start our tour of the Southern Islands here.
We had agreed to visit Ko Samui under the provisory that we would stay off the beaten track but would have one day where we would do the touristy-day-trip-thing around the Island.
We landed, through pure luck really (oh and the internet!) at Lacoppola Bungalows on the far south-east side of Ko Samui. The area is called Taling Ngam and it is a quiet fishing village, quite far from the hustle and bustle and lively colour of Lamai and Chaweng Beach. It was absolutely beautiful with its expanse of warm shallows that stretched for what seemed like miles and its stunning sunsets that were different each night. It was lovely to stay in a more remote, quieter area but I must say our day of sight-seeing was pretty spectacular!
We hired a driver with a mini-van to take us around and show us the sights and I marvelled, more than once, throughout the day, at the skill of our driver. She was a tiny little lady peering over the steering wheel but she sure knew how to drive and manoeuvre the van through tight spots.
We started at one of the temples a stunning golden pagoda set against the backdrop of the sea and then moved on to visit two different waterfalls. We were so excited when we first pulled up and saw the elephants and signs for trekking but the excitement soon faded when we saw that the elephants were chained to the ground with huge iron cuffs and a tiny length of chain that restricted their movement to a couple of steps in either direction. We purposefully walked up the steep hills to the waterfalls.
After the waterfalls we travelled for about 10 minutes to the site of the mummified monk – kind of creepy and interesting – in a creepy way. Loung Pordaeng is Ko Samui’s most famous monk and his mummified body is kept upright in a glass case on display at the Wat Khunaram Temple. It is said that he was an excellent teacher of meditation and that he predicted his own death. It is also said that he requested if his body decomposed he was to be cremated but if it did not he wanted his body to be kept in the glass casket as inspiration for future generations to follow Buddha. The site is surrounded by flowers, candles, incense and fruit offerings.
From the mummified monk we went to the south of the Island to see the famous and strange rock formation jutting from the sea. Known locally as the Hin Ta and Hin Yai rocks, legend has it that the formations are all that remain of an old couple washed ashore, hence the rocks are also known as Grandfather and Grandmother. The sight draws huge crowds as the rocks look an awful lot like male and female genitalia. It was so sunny and the sky so blue when we arrived that the whole view was spectacular.
The last stop on our tour was the glittering Big Buddha. Our driver had told us if we didn’t see The Big Buddha we hadn’t been to Ko Samui. So under sweltering temperatures – by this point in the afternoon it was about 35 degrees – we climbed up the stairs, each step burning as we had taken off our shoes, to pay homage to the huge golden statue. It was worth it!
The ‘official’ tour ended and our driver left us at Lamai Beach to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. We sat at a street-side cafe for a late lunch and were treated to the choreographed work of vendors as they worked meticulously, and what seemed like in synch, to set up stalls and BBQs, displays and tables ready for the night market – it was by chance that we happened to be touring the Island on a Sunday, which is Lamai’s big night market. The street had transformed from relative quiet to a busy market preparing for its night – what we didn’t know was how INSANE it would be once it turned dark!
We had spent the remainder of the day at the beach oblivious to the crowds that had swarmed onto the streets of Lamai. Once the sun had said goodbye we decided we’d pop over to see what the market was like. We had no idea what to expect but it certainly wasn’t what we saw. The quiet street from a couple of hours earlier was transformed into a snake of people winding themselves through the stalls. There was literally nowhere to move except with the throng.
The first street was packed with clothes and knick-knacks – everything from cheap cotton to knock-off bags and sunglasses to electronics to obscure little toys such as pet lobsters in a miniature cup! Our favourite part was turning the corner and being assailed with every sight, sound and smell you can imagine. It was senses overload! The street we had been sitting on just hours earlier had become a giant outdoor eating court.
Despite it being difficult to navigate through without losing one another we decided to walk up and down the street once to decide what we wanted to eat – way too easy to jump in and order the first amazing looking treat only to see something equally or more delicious next door. In the end we pigged out anyway – no way to resist the sushi, the seafood on a stick, the dumplings, the pad thai (yeah the pad thai!)
We practically had to push ourselves out of the crowds to make it to the barriers at the end of the street so that we could get a taxi to take us home. This was when we realized we really were off the beaten track as the first driver we asked had no idea where Taling Ngam was and the second one got lost about 20 minutes in to our 20 minute drive! Through pure luck Abigayle was able to pick up a Wifi signal at one of the resorts we passed and with that she was able to get vague directions to at least get us to a part of the road we recognized.
Amazing day of discovery and wonderful to come home to peace and quiet!