A Scooter Tour through Koh Samui (Or Sunburn on Wheels)
Canadians, for the most part, have fair skin. We don't see a whole lotta sun up North, and we definitely don't experience a high UV index very often (I'm talking 'burn you through your clothes' type of UV index). Also, I've never really driven a scooter before, and Thailand...well that's all kinda new to me. So when I rented a scooter for 24 hours on Sunday and toured the island in 35 degree weather, I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.
Temples, Temples, and more Temples
Thailand is a primarily Buddhist country, so you won't go far without seeing a temple (or a 'wat'). One or two of these should definitely be on your list of places to check out. On Sunday, I visited the Big Buddha (a big tourist destination) in the North West as well as the Wat Khiri Wongkarem (not-so touristy) on the South West side of the island. I'm glad I visited the Big Buddha, but the Wat Khiri temple was much more interesting and was virtually free of tourists (It has a mummified monk 😯).
In general, Thai people have a certain reverence for monks, temples, and religious items. For example, if you're reading a book on Buddhism that has a picture of a revered monk on the cover, it's a bad idea to casually lay an item on top of the book, covering the picture. Here's a few other points to keep in mind that'll help you be respectful:
- 'Wai' a monk (a slight bow where your elbows touch your sides and your hands come together)
- Beach wear (or revealing clothing in general) is disrespectful for a temple visit
- Remove your footwear before entering a temple or a room dedicated to Buddha
Travel Tip: Save the Google Map for the temple you plan to visit or at least record some directions for yourself. Locals are helpful but they may not understand you and don't always give correct instructions. I looked for one temple for a while (the Laem Sor Pagoda) and couldn't find it.
Street Markets: Food, Clothing, and Accessories
Another aspect of Koh Samui that's hard to miss is its markets. Some operate only on certain nights (like the Fisherman's Village market that only sets up on Friday evenings), but many are open every day selling everything from fresh meat and vegetables to sandals, shirts, and random housewares.
The best thing about the markets (at least in my opinion) is the food vendors. They are usually a bit cheaper than the restaurants and offer a variety of grilled meats, soups and curries, or fresh fruits and vegetables.
Don't be surprised or scared off when you see the food laid out in the open. It's not like you're walking into a Western grocery store where everything is packaged, marked, and kept at just the right temperatures. The market and street vendors usually display their raw meats on a tarp or cutting board out in the open air, and their cooked items in bowls or right on the grill.
Sights Along the Roads of Koh Samui
My first challenge with the scooter ride was that I forgot to gas it up the night before I left. I planned to leave at 5AM in order to catch the sunrise somewhere, but I forgot that shops wouldn't be open until at least 7-8AM. After driving for what seemed like forever on fumes and paranoia, I knocked on the door of a shop (around 8AM) and actually woke up the owner (who was sleeping inside). He didn't seem to mind and graciously hooked me up with 80 Baht worth of bottled gas and sent me on my way.
Then there's the dogs...I love me some puppies. No matter where you are on Koh Samui, you will see dogs roaming around looking for shade, food, or affection. Sadly, some seem to be strays with no real home, but most have collars and are taken care of. I found this guy lounging on a beautiful beach under the shade of a massive coconut tree.
The fishing and tour boats are not easily missed either. I came across this patch of tour boats on the South West side of the island along a beautiful stretch of beach side road.
For me, the touristy things are nice (eg. The 'Big Buddha', the tour boats, the resorts, etc.) but I appreciate the raw culture so much more. Put me in a small village with my camera and I'll be a happy man. So next time, I'll be on the hunt for some traditional boats with Thai fishermen casting their nets for their daily catch.
The Sun and San of Koh Samui
Koh Samui can be very hot and humid (especially now, as April is its hottest month), and it's filled with beautiful beaches with white sand and warm ocean water. It's summer time here now so even when the sky is overcast, the water is warm and it'll easily hit the high 20's to mid-30's.
Travel Tip: If you're faired skinned (like me), bring sun block and possibly some aloe with you as it can be pricy at the local shops. I feel like the UV index is higher here, on average, than in Canada.
No matter where you travel on the island, it's easy to take in a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Going for a swim in the cool of the morning and watching the sky fill with color has been one of my favourite things to do so far.
Let's See What's Next
Today I have to hit up a shopping centre for a trimmer, some breakfast foods, and probably get some money changed over. A group of us have a songthaew booked for the afternoon which will take us from our hotel to the centre and back (8 people going about 10K return is costing us 800 Baht).
With another tour planned for Friday and a snorkel trip planned for Sunday, I hope to have more to share with you in the next few days. Til then...plan a trip, experience something new, and get outside of the everyday 'normal'!