not same same

Laem Set at sunsetIt’s a long way from Chiang Mai to the island of Ko Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand. We’re 9 degrees from the equator – roughly the same as the tip of Cape York, but along with all the differences there are all the similarities.

The biggest difference is the humidity – phew! +95% every day. It’s also a ‘resort’ island – Chiang Mai is a much more rounded and sophisticated experience. Here, there are far too many westerners and the economy is slanted towards relieving them of as much money as possible in the shortest possible time. Repeat business doesn’t seem to be a priority.

We had dinner last night at Lamai Beach – a thoroughly gruesome and crowded little strip of bars and bespoke tailors all clamouring for attention. We did find an excellent feed at Mr Phu’s Seafood restaurant, but overall the experience was not a positive one. There are often reminders that the Thais prefer modesty – covering knees, shoulders etc. is regarded as more respectful. The justification on religious grounds is good enough, but I wouldn’t blame the Thais at all if it was just a ruse to get overweight, sunburnt foreigners to cover up the more obscene and lurid bits of their anatomy! Far too much of that to be seen in these parts.

Seems almost the whole island has been overtaken in the pursuit of the foreign dollar. The environment is a disaster – dead coral – beaches grossly degraded by encroaching development – forest trees cut for building… everywhere you look you see pressure on the island. Really a bit sad.

It’s not all like that! We’ve found two very different little hilights.

Firstly, the south and west coasts are still ‘less’ developed than the north and east. So there is still a chance you can take a bike or a 4WD down a muddy track and come out on a palm fringed beach just like the postcards (with a little more rubbish!). The main town on the west coast is a busy fishing port, so it’s not totally focussed on your wallet. We had a sensational lunch there the other day, then wandered along the docks taking in the sights… very pleasant.

Secondly, there is Laem Set Inn, one of the oldest resorts on the island. Sure it is a resort and there is a bit of gouging, but the philosophy of the place is very much to give the visitor a good, stress free time. So far, they have delivered that in spades. We spend our days wandering from the pool to the beach – snorkelling, paddling canoes, or just reading books in the hammocks strung along the foreshore. The food is roughly twice the price we were paying at street markets in Chiang Mai, but the quality and setting mean you still have to regard it as very good value. Sadly, the reef here is pretty much as dead as everywhere and the Laem Set development is just a guilty of pressuring the beach as anywhere else. On the other hand, it is a lot more established than most and therefore feels more like it belongs. The gardens are spectacular!

If I had a criticism, it would be that can get a little bit boring, but one step out to the rest of Samui quickly convinces you that the resort is definitely the best place to be.

We’ve got three more days here – a total of nine luxurious nights – will we be glad to leave? I don’t think so!