Koh Samui is the most luxurious island in Thailand, and one of the most densely populated areas of tourists in Asia (bar Bali and Boracay). It has a reputation for its glamorous five star hotels that pamper each guest, its numerous spas that renew their customers, and the many restaurants that offer fine dining in their establishments. It is a place where families and the elite jet off too for a spot of sunshine and to ‘replenish the soul’.
Going as a backpacker meant that finding accommodation on the cheap, is a bit of a struggle. The main area of Koh Samui, where the island centers around and the buzzing strip is named, Chaweng beach, is by Chaweng Noi Bay. I found myself wandering the bustling and noisy strip searching for variation but finding little. Yes, be amazed at the number of massage parlours, plush bars and expensive hotels. But is it real island life? No.
Night time is when this place really comes alive. Play connect four with bored prostitutes, dance out in the open under the stars to an unknown DJ and haggle for a fake Gucci bag (although they will swear its real) under some bright lights. Stroll along the beach and you will not be disappointed by the number of choices in watering holes that are available for you. Many of the bars and restaurants overlook the beach so picking your favourite from this side is a wise option. Although filled with bars, prostitutes and expensive establishments, the beach is pleasant to walk along, so although it may not feel like real Asia, glimpses of the ocean and the feel of the soft sand against your skin reminds you that you are still, in Asia. I fell in love with a cute bamboo shack with one man acting as the barman blasting out reggae tunes, a gem amongst the commercial bars.
Travelling around the island is recommended by Jeep or scooter. Although tatty around the edges, always make sure you photograph anything that you hire- just in case the owner says that a certain scratch is your doing! Get a map and stop off at any destinations you desire. Explore hidden beaches that have less tourists but tiny patches of sand that stretch out at unusual points of the islands, small waterfalls amongst the limited but still lively jungle, Grandmother and Grandfather rocks placed in odd juxtaposition to one another, and of course seeing the statue of Big Buddha stand erect over the island, looking out to sea.
On our last day on this glamorous island, we stayed in a hotel, splashing out as a backpacker. As little as 10 pounds for a night, we stayed in a hotel that seemed idyllic to our grungy grimy lifestyle. With white sheets, double beds, our own private television and a finely styled bathroom with a power shower, we marvelled in this luxury. Although a sin for a true backpacker to commit, if on a short trip, or stopping over Koh Samui, take advantage of the cheap hotel deals and stay in one, its what everyone does in Koh Samui, so why shouldn’t you?