Koh Sumui is an island off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand. It is located close to the mainland town of Surat Thani in Surat Thani Province. Ko Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket and our next destination after Bangkok. It is the first of many islands as we begin our island hopping adventure!
The sleeper train rolled in early from Bangkok and we had a short wait before a bus took us to a boat, that further transported us to the Island. Initial impressions of places can be so difficult now due to the extensive and exhaustive travel to get there. It leaves you almost zombie like and as you disembark, with a hundred other backpackers, you’re pounced upon by locals offering taxis, tuk tuks, tours and accommodation. It can be rather intense and draining.
We decided on the boat, although hesitantly, to book our onward transport then and there. The woman seemed friendly, reassuring us she wasn’t ripping us off. She repeatedly told us that she had been working the boat for 35 years and was honest, but understood our scepticism as we had just left Bangkok! Tickets paid for and in hand, we started up some general chit-chat which lead to her waffling and showing pictures of her giant house, collection of cars and businesses and the fact she had to leave soon to pick up her daughter’s brand new Mercedes Sport from the dealership. We all agreed we may have been charged too much as this woman was making way too much money!
After a reasonable drive to our accommodation, a little way from all the main tourist destinations, we settled into our bungalows on the beach and unpacked. Knowing we were only in Ko Sumui for one night before heading to the Half Moon party on Koh Pha Ngan, we rented scooters and immediately wasted no time setting off to explore.
Following a quick bite to eat, and a basic itinerary penned, we jumped on our scooters driving along the beautiful coastal roads stopping along the way to admire and take some pictures. Our plan, visit the mummified monk who wears Ray Bans, and one of the many waterfalls.
First stop was the waterfalls. On arrival we were offered the opportunity of a luxury 4×4 jeep transportation for $13 to take us all of 100 metres up a dirt road. We declined and made our own way. Obviously. As we walked we were still pretty unsure where the waterfall was, which I admit sounds ridiculous and should have beamed red flags. There were signs for waterfall 1 and waterfall 2. Waterfall 1 seemed to be a pond with a big swimming tube going into it.
We agreed that the waterfall must be up, so we climbed through the trees and over the rocks clinging to a rope that had been suspended for assistance. After 20 – 30 minutes of climbing the trees gradually opened to expose the ‘waterfall’. In real terms, it was a small lip with water dripping down. However, the real beauty was the breathtaking and amazing view that the mountain top provided. Stood there we overlooked the waterfall flowing through the trees, but on the horizon you could see the sea and everything between.
We grabbed some classic waterfall ‘shower’ pictures, some better than others, and sat enjoying the views for a while. There was also an American girl with full hairy armpits which fuelled our conversation for a little bit too…
After some frolicking in the water we made our way back down and at the bottom asked for directions to the monk, as we had struggled to find him on the way. We initially drove straight past it, then circling back on ourselves ended up in a Wat with lots of monks working and digging their garden. It may have been insensitive at that time to ask where their dude of a mummified monk was that rocked the Ray Bans? It didn’t necessarily cross our minds. We were getting inpatient and darkness was beckoning. We did ensure we adhered to some basic rules of respect, like dressing appropriately and women not talking to the monks. We also didn’t phrase it like ‘where’s the mummified monk rockin’ the Ray Bans’.
On display in an upright glass casket and surrounded by flowers, candles, incense sticks and fruit offerings is the body of Koh Samui’s most famous monk, Loung Pordaeng.
For many Westerners this might be an uncomfortable or even disturbing sight, for Thai people the body of the monk is there to be worshipped and death is seen as an opportunity to be reborn in a next and better life.
It is believed that Loung Pordaeng excelled in meditation skills, was an excellent teacher and that he had many followers. When he reached the age of 79, Loung Pordaeng is said to have predicted his own death. He instructed his followers that if his body would decay, he wanted to be cremated. If the body would not decompose however, he wanted his body to be kept in a glass casket in the temple to serve as an inspiration for future generations to follow the teachings of the Buddha.
The reason behind the sunglasses is because the eyeballs have dried out which is an unpretty sight, therefore the mummified body is now wearing sunglasses.
If true, the tale is pretty amazing. Predicting his afterlife…
On the way back we stopped at another ‘sight’ of the island. Somehow, some highly imaginative person had seen two particular rock formations and named them Grandpa and Grandma. Answers on a postcard if you can guess a) who is who and b) what the rock formation is?
Feeling a little perverse, we headed back to our bikes. We were beginning to flag at this point and knew the night was coming to an end and our beds were calling. The long day travelling had taken it out of all of us.
We decided to stop on route at a food market and stall hopped grabbing various snacks to taste and share. A brief appetiser perhaps before our dinner. Closer to our bungalow, we stopped again at a walking street night bizarre. Initially, we thought it was the usual night market you see in every town selling clothes, artefacts and souvenirs however as soon as we walked through, we were met by countless street food vendors. Natalie and I cannot really share food at these places as I like tasting weird and wonderful food and also getting my seafood fix. She is ‘allergic’ to seafood and well frankly, I don’t share food. As such, we allocated each other 100 baht each to spend at our apperil, a whole $3 each. I failed. Almost instantly. I think by the fourth stall all my money was gone. Natalie of course managed to spend just 30 baht and had still got a full meals worth! I gambled early and big so was out of money very quickly. We wandered around the market for an hour or so tasting food and then made our way through to the clothes and nick nacky bits before retiring for the evening.
Our boat the following day was in the early afternoon so we decided to meet early and try to cover off some sights that we didn’t have opportunity to do the day before. We drove around the ‘fishing village’, which didn’t really seem particularly active anymore, then onto the Big Buddha Temple and finally Wat Plai Laem.
We didn’t want to leave Koh Sumui without actually checking out the beach. Luckily for us we had a beautiful beach right outside our bungalows, so we made an effort to sit down for 20 minutes before our ferry. Unfortunately the nature of our visit to Koh Sumui meant there was no time to top up the tans!
Although fast paced, we had a great day in Koh Sumui. However, this being one of the largest islands in Thailand, it wasn’t what we expected from the famous southern islands. The beaches were beautiful, however the island was extremely built up. There were resorts for all budgets. Restaurants for all tastes. It is definitely a holiday destination, for families, 18-30’s group holidays and even five-star luxury. There are definitely plenty of activities to participate in, but it is not an island left rich with local culture, this is purely a one week holiday destination.