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Saturday November 1, 2008
By SAM CHEONG
YOU will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a place to stay in Koh Samui, the third largest island in Thailand.
This island, located off the east coast of the Isthmus of Kra, near the coastal town of Surat Thani in the southern Thai province of the same name, is a popular destination for holidaymakers from all over the world.
It is not difficult to see why this place is such a hot pick: Koh Samui is dotted with hundreds of spas, resorts and budget accommodation spots. Whether you are a backpacker or a business traveller, you will find hotels and resorts to cater for your distinct requirements.
A recent trip to Koh Samui brought back plenty of fond memories to me.
I had first visited the island in the late 1980s as a backpacker, when the island and its surroundings were under-developed compared to the mainland. We had boarded a ferry at Surat Thani for the ride across the South China Sea that cost us 150 baht (RM15.50) for a single journey.
My buddies and I camped at a local beach chalet. We paid 190 baht (RM19.70) a night, and stretched our stay to a week.
On my recent visit, I discovered that the ferry ride from Surat Thani still costs 150 baht (RM15.50) for a single journey.
The two-hour ride departs on schedule and arrives at the port town of Nathorn. This is a place in Koh Samui where you can get a place to stay from 290baht (RM30) a night.
But, some things have changed since my first visit. The sizeable population of English-speaking foreigners who reside here has given the island’s economy and tourism industry a big boost.
Access around the island is by taxis and rented vehicles. If you plan to see many of the island’s tourist attractions without assistance, it would be best that you rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
This usually costs around 600 baht (RM62) a day.
When you drive around the island, be mindful of foreigners riding mopeds (small motorcycles) and heed the local traffic laws.
A network of roads connects various parts of the island. The lanes are narrow and traffic is usually heavy in popular areas where tourists hang out.
Basically, when it comes to places to stay, you can head either to Ban Chawaeng, which is roughly about 30 minutes’ drive from Nathorn, or to Ban Lamai, a 50-minute drive away.
Chawaeng, which is now the hottest area in the island, is packed with foreigners, so don’t expect anything to be cheap.
This part of Koh Samui is also known for its nightlife and fine dining outlets. To me, the atmosphere here is almost similar to Bangkok’s Sukhumvit district.
You can find everything touristy here, from high-end makan places to shopping. But, like any other tourist spot around Thailand, there are hawker stalls that offer imitation goods at prices which are open to bargain.
If you would like a place where the pace is slower, Lamai beach is the ideal spot.
There are loads of beach resorts here with room prices ranging from 550 baht to 2,500 baht (RM52 to RM257) a night.
The fun part is to share the cost, and if you can work it out among your travel companions, you can literally stretch your stay here.
Speaking of beautiful beaches, there are plenty of good spots at the southern tip of Koh Samui. Some private beaches here are also high-end accommodation facilities that charge no less than 15,000 baht (RM1,560) a night.
When it comes to food, Koh Samui hardly disappoints. To me, the stalls are the best source of cheap eats.
My favourite dish here is the shellec-nam (rice stick in soup); at 35 baht a bowl, you cannot go wrong.
But, if you are adventurous, there are a few good makan places around here.
Highly recommended is Krua Bang Po, a small beachfront restaurant located about a 15-minute drive from Nathorn.
If you decide to makan here, try the Tom Kham (coconut soup with seafood), fried petai with shrimps and sambal, and deep-fried whiting with garlic.
How much did all of this cost? I paid 370 baht (RM38.45), inclusive of drinks and rice. The food was tasty and very affordable.
To get a lowdown on where to go and eat around Koh Samui, you can get a large variety of tourist magazines, which are provided free of charge, at the island’s airport and tourist information centre.
There is no shortage of free publications offering insights into the island’s attractions, food and nightlife. On what to see here, I suggest you check out the tourism magazines and guide books and then decide for yourself.
Besides the ferry services that operate seven days a week, Koh Samui is accessible by air. If you live in Penang, you can fly directly via low-cost carrier Firefly airlines.
Now, there is even a direct flight from Subang’s Terminal Three and with low cost as the main draw, do expect some good bargains for your air ticket.
Access Firefly’s on-line ticketing at www.fireflyz.com.my and get the most out of their offers, including low airfare and hotel stay packages.