Koh Samui, an exquisite hidden gem of Thailand

For many, an immediate association with Thailand is the bustling city of Bangkok, where waking up with tattoos on your face and missing fingers is the norm (demonstrated especially well by the 2011 comedy, The Hangover Part 2).

However, there’s a small island called Koh Samui about 750km south of Bangkok, with just over 67,000 residents. Considering Norwich populates around 142,00 people, to say this island is small would be exactly right.

Despite its size, Koh Samui is no stranger to tourists during the summer season, yet it’s quite remarkable how quiet and tranquil it is if you’re in the right place. In 2016, I stayed in a modern, James bond-esque villa, located about 20 meters from the sea (a very handy feature as temperatures average around 30 degrees C). Inevitably, swimming took up a lot of my time, as well as walking up and down the beach trying to forget about the scorching sand between my toes.

On the days that showed some mercy in terms of the heat, we ventured into the busier areas of the island where beach bars, market stalls, and street food were swarmed with people.

I can’t help but mention my £5 Ray Bans (200 Thai Baht), purchased from a very convincing ‘designer’ sunglasses stall. Ignoring the fact that they broke not long after, and that fixing them with superglue became a repeated habit throughout that summer.

After buying my new ‘designer’ sunglasses, a pancake stall caught my attention. The classic lemon and sugar crepe had tasted especially good sitting under shelter, watching the sudden torrential rain pour and rush down the street. Eventually, the rain cleared and a lady sat at a table making jewellery lured me over. After choosing your band colour and charm, she would measure it up to match your wrist and have it ready in no more than 5 minutes. Strangely, the stall next to this was selling fried crickets and cockroaches, something I walked past swiftly.

Instead of bugs, the more traditional Thai food was unforgettable. Small restaurants, shacks and bars were dotted up and down the coast line, giving plenty of choice each evening.

The quaint and basic features of these establishments led to us naming one of our favourites, the ‘spicy soup shack’. This particular place did an amazing pad thai wrapped in a layer of egg as well as adhering to its ‘spicy soup shack’ title, as the tom yum soup showed no remorse to mild spice.

Then about a 15 minutes’ walk in the other direction along the shore, a restaurant called The Som was always thriving with hungry customers. However, this one was less like a shack and actually built of brick. Nevertheless, tables and chairs still spewed out onto the beach almost touching the ocean. The Som’s massaman curry was the best dish I had in Thailand, so flavoursome and rich in Thai spices. Ordered with our choice of rice, the owner explained how to pour the rice into the bowl of curry instead of our western way of having rice as the base. Try it, it will change your life!

As we were diving into our food, a golden Labrador took its turn sitting by each table and gazing up at the dining customers. When we finished our meal we started walking back to the villa, little did we know that our four-legged friend followed us back. Seeing as it was the time of day when the rain was relentless, the lab, who we named Wilson, lay on the kitchen floor until the skies dried up and he casually wandered back to the restaurant – not a bad life really.

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Phoebe Lucas

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May 2022
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