captain anchored the Zaandam about two miles offshore because Koh
Samui had no harbor deep enough for a large ship. To get to shore,
we had to board tenders that rode the waves to a pier out in the
shallow water. The commute was quite a ride because the water was
choppy. Luckily, nobody got seasick. Soon we pulled up to the new
pier in the city of Na Thon. There we boarded small buses that
seated only nine people. But we fit comfortably and off we went on
a driving tour to the other side of the island to the big Buddha.
Also, the itinerary included a visit to a fishing village and a
demonstration of how monkeys help people harvest coconuts and also
how coconuts are processed.
Others opted for the open all-wheel drive jeeps that sped off into
a steaming jungle safari that included a visit to a coconut
plantation, an elephant ride, a baby elephant show (oh, no, not
another one!), and theoretically a swim under a waterfall. (I am
not sure if anybody did the swim.)
A swim on Friday, February 3, would have been welcome because the
day dawned hot and humid already. But then, in the tropics, what
can you expect? So, off our minibus roared to the northern tip of
The Big Buddha
In about 20 minutes, we pulled up to the Wat Phra Yai, the Temple
of the Big Buddha. The seated golden Buddha is 36 feet tall and is
surrounded by small huts where devotees can meditate undisturbed.
of Koh Samui
To climb up the stairs to the Buddha, protocol required us to take
off our shoes, which we did. By then, it had started to mist
slightly, a refreshing spritz to help cool us off in the
suffocating heat and humidity. The only drawback came when we
descended the stairs and jammed our wet feet back into our shoes.
In one of the shrines in the Golden Buddha complex, you could
sprinkle holy water with a real live monk for good luck. I didn't
take him up on the offer, not being sure how much it would cost,
and I didn't have any bahts at the time.
If you look closely at the picture, you'll detect a golden
reclining Buddha at the back of the shrine. A woman is kneeling
and paying her respects. After wandering around the complex and
visiting the various shrines, it was time to load up on the
minibus and head to the next stop.
We roared off to the next stop, which dazzled our eyes with a view
across a bay back toward the Golden Buddha. On this leg, some of
the passengers spoke up for more air conditioning because the air
and humidity had closed in on us in the small van. When we arrived
at the beach view point, we jumped out of the van to get a breath
of air and take in the view, which stunned us with its beauty. I
took a picture across the bay, but the small frame only showed a
small part of what we saw.
Bay with Golden Buddha atop the Hill
After spending about 20 minutes looking around and soaking up the
sun and the view, our guide loaded us back into our bus and off we
went to a market in town.
When we arrived at the fresh market, I could see right away that
this market set itself a step above the one we saw in Cambodia.
First, no beggars groveled in the dirt and the smells didn't grab
our noses and twist them like the smells in Cambodia. Finally, the
market took up quite a bit less space, about one-eighth the size
of the Cambodian market.
in Koh Samui
I asked our guide about the cats and made a joke about them being
chopped up and added to the raw meat next to them. Evidently, the
lady behind the counter who stood off to the right of the
picture's frame either heard me or guessed from my body language
what I had asked about. She came over to the cats and shooed them
off the counter. We smiled at each other. Lucky she didn't have a
cleaver in her hand, otherwise, my fresh flesh might have joined
what you see here.
Next, we drove a short distance to a Moslem fishing village. Our
guide quickly pointed out that several ethic and religious
minorities live on Koh Samui, an island with an overall permanent
population of about 15,000). He said they all live in peace with
no demonstrations or agitation, just plain simple human decency,
tolerance, and respect. We walked past a small mosque and into the
village of shanties all jumbled together. We didn't go in far
enough to get to the ocean and see the fishing boats, but we did
get a glimpse of the laid back life on land after a hard night's
fishing at sea.
One Home in
the Fishing Village on Koh Samui
Aside from homes like the one above, we didn't see much else and
didn't have a lot of time to stick around. Our next stop was a
coconut plantation, a short walking distance from the village.
Palm coconut trees scattered all over the lot in no way resembled
a working plantation or orchard in our sense of the word. As we
approached, a woman who looked like a Bloody Mary straight out of
South Pacific was chopping the husks off coconuts by cracking the
nuts one at a time against the point of a spear. Our guide pointed
out that a coconut has three layers of husks.
Husking Coconuts by Cracking the Shells against a Spear Stuck in
Next, our guide demonstrated how to grate the coconut meat into a
paste and gave us all a taste. The fresh coconut meat felt good on
our now parched tongues. He just brought the halved coconut up to
wheel that resembled a small buzz saw and the saw chewed up the
fresh coconut meat.
But how did the workers harvest the nuts from the trees? Ah, now
we get to a unique solution: trained monkeys! As we sipped some
refreshing coconut milk directly from fresh coconuts, we watched a
monkey demonstrate his technique.
Monkey Harvesting Coconuts
The secret was training the monkey early to twist the coconuts
one-by-one until they fell from the tree. Then the monkey is moved
to the next tree. At this plantation, I counted two monkeys.
Although this method of harvesting coconuts, the hand work in
husking them, and the hand work in grinding the coconut meat seems
slow, it works. Evidently the plantation is earning enough money
to survive, no doubt supplemented by tourist visits.
And so ended a fascinating day on Koh Samui. Our next and final
stop was Singapore. That's where we disembarked from the ship and
said good-bye to the crew and staff ... for now.
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