Saturday, March 10, 2012

On the Beach

Koh Samui, the third largest island in Thailand is part of an archipelago of deserted islands that were the real-life inspiration for the iconic cult film ‘The Beach’.

                                                                                                                                                              The picturesque airport is an indication of things to come: it looks like a tropical resort with open- air huts, palm tree pillars, rattan walls, landscaped gardens and dinky little vehicles. Built at the behest of the Bangkok Airways who own and run the airport, it has won awards for its eco-friendly and green approach.

 The Chaweng Beach is the main scene of action. The white sandy beach is a sprawl of sun loungers and clusters of massage beds with curtains offering brief Nirvana under skilled hands. Hawkers peddle snazzy sunglasses, offer to cornrow and braid your hair or take you for a kayak ride on the seas.

Chaweng town is a sprawl of lively bars, stalls selling faux designer jeans and sunglasses, umpteen 7 Elevens, ready-in-a-day tailors, massage houses offering traditional to raunchy massages.

If it’s Thailand, then there has to be a Buddha…Koh Samui’s Big Buddha is  perched 15 metres tall, above the north eastern corner of the island like a protective guardian and ringed by souvenir stalls.

Wat Sumret is slightly off the beaten path- it’s a time capsule of serenity inhabited by only a handful of monks. One of the weathered buildings houses an eerie congregation of old Buddhas clothed in the orange robes.

 Thailand always has the ribald too- the Grandfather and Grandmother rocks are perched at the southern end of the Lamai Beach: they look like the male and the female sex organs!

 We walk to the bohemian Bophut Fishing Village, one of the most charismatic villages on the island, a stretch of two storey teak shop-houses (that hint at the island’s past) converted into stylish bars, restaurants, day spas, even a Bikram’s Yoga and boutique-style hotels with a true Mediterranean feel.

For something different head to the tranquil Tanim Magic garden high up in the hills: a unique creation of a Samui native called Khun Nim Tongsung who used to farm durian and coffee here. A tree lined stone stairway leads into a jungle gorge where there are a host of Ramayana characters, dancers and sculptures frozen in stone.

 For a bird’s eye view of Koh Samui head to Khao Hua Jook, a golden pagoda perched on a hill with the most marvellous views of the hinterland- white beaches, palm fringed bays, forested hills, smudges of coral reefs and the aquamarine ocean.



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