Like the northeastern corner of Samui, north-south running Taling Ngam has long been associated with upmarket and self-contained luxury hotels, but a scattering of more affordable places to stay lie around here, allowing not just the loaded to appreciate some fabulous outlooks from a sleepy corner of Samui.
The southwest corner of the island is dominated by the Conrad Hotel, a monumental blight on the landscape, but one whose awfulness can thankfully only truly be appreciated from the water – a situation assisted by their security not letting mere mortals like us anywhere near reception.
Just north from here though is the scenic and very little visited Phang Kha Bay which is home to a couple of resorts, Boutiquey Elements, which has a bit of a health tilt and the old school Phang Kha Paradise, which isn't really all that paradisical. While the beach is a bit unsightly at low tide, you can walk for what seems like miles out into the nothingness and still have the water at below-knee depth – great for just sitting in and contemplating – don't worry, you won't be interrupted!
Originally a merchant port named Taling Punk (Damaged Shore) after taking abuse from a storm in 1900, Taling Ngam, or "beautiful shore", was renamed in 1942. Local families are mainly descendants of Thai and Chinese migrants who made their living through fishing, quite content with keeping their traditional lifestyle.
In this area (and also in Lipa Noi to the north of here) you'll see many traditional wooden Southern-style houses dotted among the coconut plantations. Add to that a granny sitting on the patio or tending the veggie patch, several chickens digging in the dirt, coconuts piled high ready to be taken to market, and an assortment of dogs stretched out in the road, and you have your average Taling Ngam neighbourhood.
Tables are set up roadside selling freshly picked bananas or sticky rice, and the landscape is mostly coconut groves and banana plantations, making a green backdrop for the beach. Village life centres around the local temple, Wat Kiri Wongkaram, where the grounds house the mummified body of well-known monk Luang Por Ruam, who died in 1966 and is one of two mummified monks on Samui.
His body, now displayed in a glass case, simply didn't decompose after death, and has remained in its condition for decades. Considering the humidity, and that no preservation chemicals have been used, the condition of his body is thought to be miraculous, and somewhat baffling to scientists. Apparently his hair and fingernails continue to grow, and the nail clippings are made into protective charms. Luang Por Ruam was born near the temple in 1879 and journeyed to Burma where he was initiated into Buddhist practices. He later returned to Samui to live a life of purity and meditation.
Some of Samui's best beaches can be found along this coast, though you're unlikely to find a vendor, so bring some drinks and snacks in the backpack, or head to one of the few resorts and small restaurants about the way. The water is calm and shallow, and there are no rowdy crowds or jetskis.
This stretch of Samui is also the best spot to enjoy the setting sun over the beautiful and mysterious Five Islands. Known locally as "Ko Si Ko Haa", meaning "Four Islands-Five Islands" – as one of the islands is hidden behind another – the islands are home to swifts, and their famous nests are the main ingredient in bird's nest soup.
A couple of quite fancy (and well publicised) restaurants are dotted along the coast to take advantage of the views, but there is no need to spend top dollar, with spots like i-Talay delivering equally great views.
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 25th September, 2016.
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