Koh Samui

Arrival   Hong Kong   Halong Bay   Sanya, China   Nha Trang, Vietnam   Phu My, Vietnam  

Sihanoukville, Cambodia   Life at Sea   Laem Chabang, (Day 1)   Laem Chabang (Day 2)   Singapore  

Koh Samui, Thailand

The 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 island.

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.

Golden Buddha of Koh Samui

Golden Buddha 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.

Sprinkle holy water with monk

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.

View Point

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.

View Across Bay with Golden Buddha in Background

View Across 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.

Fresh Market

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.

Fresh Market in Koh Samui

Fresh 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.

Fishing Village

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.

Moslem Fishing Village in Koh Samui

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.

Coconut Plantation

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

Bloody Mary Husking Coconuts by Cracking the Shells against a Spear Stuck in the Ground

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 in Koh Samui, Thailand

Trained 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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