When I think of something beginning with the letter K, I usually think of a Thai island. Koh is the Thai word for island, and I was lucky enough to stay on three of them during my visit last year, and made visits to several others during day trips and snorkelling swims.
I visited Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui for the last part of my adventure, which sadly ended a year ago yesterday. Koh Tao is commonly known as the dive island. It is beautiful but there is little to do there besides learning to dive, and it’s where people from all over the world head to for a chance to see rare whale sharks and other underwater species. Koh Phangan is the party island, famous for its Full Moon parties each month. I loved it here too for the people I met and the experiences I had, but it’s hardly a place that needs more Internet attention.
If you ask anyone you meet in Thailand which islands to visit, many of them will advise against staying on Koh Samui due to its relative peaceful state, translating as boring. But I ask, if you don’t want peace and tranquility from a Thai island, what do you want?
Upon arriving on Koh Samui I wasn’t sure where to head to. I had no accommodation booked and asked the driver of a motorbike taxi for a recommendation. Well, it was someone sat on a motorbike, wearing a baseball cap with the word ‘taxi’ embroidered on the front anyway. They took one look at me and somehow in that moment assessed my personality perfectly. I hopped on the back of the bike and a twenty minute ride along the island’s coast later we pulled down a small side street. I had arrived in a personal heaven. On this street off the island’s main road was a small art gallery, three beautiful independent cafes and a few quirky little shops selling handcrafted stationary and other crafts.
The driver pointed me towards a set of bungalows, and at the reception (a small wooden table and bamboo bar on the beach) sat a group of friends who owned them. They told me I could have a private bungalow with double bed and mosquito net for £4 a night, before making me a vodka and lemonade. The sleeping set-up might not sound particularly luxurious, but after three months of dormitories of up to 30 bunk beds, this was heaven.
Koh Samui became a place I didn’t want to leave later that night, however. After a beautiful solitary walk along the beach I went to find a cash machine, and to my horror, found that my one and only debit card had been cancelled. Several urgent emails home, very expensive phone calls to an unhelpful bank and discovering I had around 30p to last four days and get me back to Bangkok for my flight home later, I panicked. I really didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even buy a meal that night. I went back to the bungalows and found everyone staying there was having a drink together on the beach. Seeing my tearful face, a woman asked what was wrong and I told her my situation. I half expected that I’d be asked to leave if I couldn’t pay for my room, but in actual fact the actions that followed are the most generous I’ve ever known.
The woman told her boyfriend to give me some money, and they handed me £50. This might not sound like a lot of money to some people, but after months of Thailand and getting used to what people lived on there, it seemed a small fortune. They were both leaving the next day and didn’t expect to get the money back. Just knowing that thanks to the generosity of a pair of strangers I would be able to eat, sleep and get the transport I needed for the rest of the trip was the best thing in the world. I enjoyed the rest of the night getting to know new friends, going for a midnight swim in the perfectly calm and warm sea and having a few more vodka and lemonades.
Thankfully, I managed to get through to my bank and had my card reactivated so was able to give the money back the next day, and spent the rest of my time enjoying relaxing breakfasts and my own bedroom at the end of the night.
This experience could have happened anywhere, but it might not be anywhere that I’d have been in such a fortunate situation like that, and combined with the setting and ambience of the island, it made Koh Samui my favourite Thai island. Others might think it’s boring, but if that does anything to preserve this type of place for others, then so be it. I love it and I can’t wait to go back someday.