“What is that?” I asked to the top of a small head covered in spiky black hair.
“Crocodile!” mischievous brown eyes danced up to mine as a small finger finished carving lines into the sand in front of us. A big smile revealed a smattering of browned teeth and dimples carved into smooth brown skin.
“A crocodile! So it is!” I exclaimed, turning my head sideways to see that he had, indeed, drawn a very good likeness of a crocodile into the sand between us.
I had been sprawled on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui for most of the day, with the latter part of the afternoon spent drawing in the sand with a four-year-old boy named Davon. His mother hovered nearby with the other women who walked the beach peddling manicures and pedicures, observing his unofficial English lesson.
After a week of relaxed lounging in Koh Lanta, Koh Samui’s pace took a little getting used to. We spent four days exploring this island in the Gulf of Thailand, and here’s an overview of what we found:
The Areas We Explored:
- Chaweng: This is Thailand at full-tilt Tourist, with a capital T. There are bright lights, heaps of restaurants and clubs vying for tourist dollars, and people peddling everything under the sun on the streets and beaches. One night, while sitting at dinner on the busy main drag of Chaweng Beach Road, a truck with a boxing ring in the back drove by, blaring music while two Muay Thai fighters staged a fight in the back of the moving truck.
- Food: It’s very hit-and-miss here. We had one Thai dinner that was great, despite the touristy name of the restaurant (Khao San), and we had one dinner where my meat was so under-cooked I had to send it back. Do you research on this one, because an empty stomach is a terrible thing to waste on bad food.
- Lodging: Everything under the sun, from five-star resorts to cheap and cheerful beachfront places, like Lucky Mother, where we stayed on recommendation from Lonely Planet.
- Nightlife and Attractions: If you want to party, Chaweng is the place to do it. The most famous places are Ark Bar and Green Mango. Beth and I split a bucket on the sand at Ark Bar, and the resulting fuzziness led us to agree to a 100-baht photo opp with a clearly drugged monkey, though we didn’t realize it until it was too late. On that note, don’t go to the monkey or tiger attractions that are touted around the island. The animals are drugged and terribly mistreated, no matter what the owners/salesmen say, and you would be contributing to this mistreatment! Beth and I are still trying to forgive ourselves for our tipsy misjudgment.
- Lamai: In contrast to Chaweng, Lamai is smaller and more relaxed, and it seemed that more expats tended to center in this area. There are still salespeople who troll the beaches peddling manicures, pedicures, food and ice cream, but they aren’t as aggressive or as numerous. Many are happy simply to have a conversation with you, or draw animals in the sand!
- Food: Most of your options here are restaurants embedded into the hotels/bungalows that line the beach. I found that the food was more consistently good here than it was in Chaweng, and we caught a pretty cool fire show at Swing Bar, which also served passable Mexican food, because sometimes eating Thai food for a month is a little hard.
- Lodging: Like in Koh Lanta, we stayed in a super simple beach bungalow without air conditioning. On the downside, this place didn’t have a private bathroom attached (there was a shared one at the back of the bungalows), but on the plus side, our bungalow was right on the water. As in, step off our little porch, walk 20 feet, and you are in the Gulf of Thailand.
- Nightlife and Attractions: Lamai has its share of beachfront bars, like Chaweng, but they don’t seem to last as late into the night, and they don’t seem to be quite as crowded. It strikes a nice balance between having places to go if you’re keen for a few drinks, and not pushing the party too hard.
- Bophut/Fisherman’s Village: This is honeymoon Koh Samui. The highest concentration of fancy resorts and nice hotels seemed to line the waterfront here. The town was also nicely kept, and had an artsy vibe to it. We spent a day here, since an overnight in one of the fancy hotels was outside of our budget range, but it had a nice feel to it.
- Food: There were several restaurants with all different types of cuisine, but what really lured us to Fisherman’s Village was Cheeseburger Cheeseburger. After two weeks of Thai food, we just really wanted a good ‘ol American meal, and this place seemed the closest we would get. Since they ship their beef from Australia (instead of using the water buffalo beef of Southeast Asia), we knew we had to give it shot. It wasn’t quite In N Out Burger, but it was pretty close. And for that, we were thankful.
- Lodging: We didn’t stay in Fisherman’s Village, but as we walked along the beachfront we noticed several very nice hotels with lush pool areas, plush rooms, and attached spas. We knew that if this were a different kind of trip, this is probably where we would want to stay. We made mental notes to tell our respective boyfriends about it, in case they felt the need for a surprise trip in the future.
- Attractions/Nightlife: We didn’t stay out too late here, but it seemed to be the most subdued of the three areas we explored, likely due to the difference in clientele that seemed to frequent the area. There was a pleasant beer garden in a plaza just up the walk from the beach, so we stayed and enjoyed a couple of brews before heading back to the madness that was Chaweng for the rest of the evening.
I watched a small finger drawing more lines into the sand in front of me. When Davon finished, he looked up at me expectantly. I looked down at a perfect stick-figure likeness of me, reclining under a palm tree and reading my Kindle, temporarily etched into the sand of Lamai Beach. I smiled at him, and he smiled at me, running away wordlessly as his mother called him away to go home for dinner.