Jul 06 2012

Photo essay: Circumnavigating Ko Samui by boat

Published by at 2:48 am under Sights & activities


Viewing Ko Samui from the sea offers quite a different perspective from traipsing around the island on foot. We recently did a trip around the island, in a clockwise direction, starting from Fisherman’s Village, where old Chinese shophouses are neighbour to modern apartments, and boutique hotels are interspersed with beach bars.

Departing Fisherman's Village, before hotel guests surface.

Travelling east, we passed Bophut Beach, where five-star hotels such as Zazen share the beach with backpacker spots including Chalee.

No discrimination as five-star hotels and backpacker joints share Bophut beach.

Passing Bang Rak and Plai Laem, we approached Samrong Bay, at the northeastern tip of Samui — a small protected cove only frequented by locals in the know, and guests from the few resorts in the bay. On the upmarket side, one will find Melati, and next door on the point between Samrong Bay and Thongson Bay is a backpacker gem, Thongson Bay Bungalows.

Samrong Bay ... sshhhh! Don't tell anyone!

Heading south, we approached family-friendly Choeng Mon beach, ideal for swimming. This beach is by no means secluded, but far from the crazy crowds at Chaweng further south. Here you’ll find a few non-pushy vendors available to quench a thirst or satisfy a hunger as you while away a day on the sands.

Choeng Mon, home to Mr Coppi's delicious grilled corn.

South of Choeng Mon is Samui’s largest and most popular beach — Chaweng. Arriving early morning it’s easy to see why this beach gained popularity first on the island. But these days the beach is home to loud bars, opportunistic jetski operators, franchise fast food outlets and just too much of everything really. To appreciate Chaweng, arrive early morning when the party crowd is still sleeping off a hangover.

Chaweng early morning. A few hours later, somewhat different.

South of Chaweng, and before entering Lamai, are several small bays and coves offering probably the best snorkelling available on Samui without venturing out by boat. These include Chaweng Noi, Coral Cove and Crystal Bay, also known as Silver Beach. Large boulders protect these bays, and the local fishing boats can often be seen here when waiting out a storm.

Samui's best snorkelling spot, without having to leave the island.

Along this stretch is a small, private beach that is home to the exclusive Banyan Tree Hotel. Lamai itself offers pretty much everything that its big sister Chaweng does, but at cheaper prices and on a smaller scale; hence its popularity with backpackers. It does however, have a seedy element in the way of sleazy bars and dodgy massage parlours on most street corners.

If you're rich and/or famous, we give you the Banyan Tree.

Leaving Lamai and heading west, we next passed Hua Thanon, home to a Muslim fishing village, as well as the “rude rocks”, Hin Ta and Hin Yai – huge rocks shaped like male and female body parts. Tong Krut houses a longtail boat harbour, which offers snorkelling tours to two small islands just offshore: Ko Tan, inhabited by about 20 people and home to one small bungalow resort, and Ko Matsum, with a long white beach popular with picnicking locals.

Snorkelling off Ko Tan, the longtail way.

Starting to head north again, we zig-zagged through the Five Islands. These islands are home to swifts, known for their famous nests which are the main ingredient in birds’ nest soup. The birds are protected as their nests sell for thousands of US dollars. Sea Gypsies are the only human inhabitants of the Five Islands, their small wooden homes perched on rocky outcrops. The gypsies are employed to guard the nests from poachers trying to get their hands on this strangely precious commodity.

Thieves beware!

Along Samui’s west coast, we sailed beside theĀ  cruise liner, Dawn Princess, bigger than some of the islands we had just passed.

My boat is bigger than your boat!

Passing Samui’s capital of Nathon, we entered heavy ferry traffic, passing both Seatran and Raja ferries. The Seatran pier is in Nathon, and the Raja is in Lipa Noi — both take car and passenger ferries to the mainland port of Donsak. Here a Raja ferry, with a belly full of cars, trucks and passengers, is about to dock at Lipa Noi.

In Thailand even the ferries are cheerful.

Heading back along Samui’s northern shores, we had views of Bang Po and Mae Nam as well as to neighbouring Ko Pha Ngan.

The Four Seasons -- another for the rich and famous, but it's free to pass on a boat.

Shortly before arriving back in Fisherman’s Village at sunset, we passed a colourful fishing boat, a reminder that these waters are not just for tourists, but support Samui’s fishing industry too.

All in a day's work.

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