This year we decided not to spend Christmas and New Year in Europe, but to fly for a week to a tropical beach with the kids. We opted to go to Koh Samui, one of my favorite islands in South-East Asia. I had not been there since May 2005 (I had to check my blog for that!) and I was looking forward to see the beautiful Thai island again. We also invited Grace’ parents and her sister to join us for this trip, so we had a pretty large group.
Because we booked quite late it was not easy to find a suitable accommodation, with suitable meaning a big private villa directly on a quiet beach with full service (maid, cook etc.). Most villas had been rented out months in advance, but we eventually found one through a Russian (!) website. I have to admit that it took a bit of courage to send a big amount of money as a prepayment to a company I didn’t know and for which I could not find any references online, but everything worked out fine. Grace was a bit worried though, but no risk, no fun, right?
There is still no direct flight from Shanghai to Koh Samui (I guess the runway is too short for larger airplanes?), so we had to change planes in Bangkok. That made the whole trip quite long, but the kids could sleep in the lounge. Well theoretically they could, but in the end they refused to sleep and only wanted to run around or play with their iPads and Nintendos. At least they slept a bit on the plane, so they were not too tired when we arrived on Koh Samui. The airport on the island was still as special as a few years ago: it’s an open air airport, in a tropical garden setting, where you immediately feel that your holiday has started.
A van picked us up and drove us in about 20 minutes to our villa on Bang Po beach, on the northern side of the island. The villa was managed by a hotel, where we had to check in and from there we walked to the house. The place was amazing. You never know what you get when you book through a website, but the pictures online were just as good as the villa itself. The villa consisted of 2 structures, one was the main building with a living/dining room with kitchen, and the master bedroom with huge bathroom (partly inside and partly outside). The other structure consisted of 2 stories, a suite with living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and balcony upstairs and a bedroom with bathroom downstairs. The villa had a nice garden with a pool that was directly next to the beach. I am not easily impressed, but this was just amazing to see.
We ordered a quick dinner and then put the kids to sleep. That was not too difficult, Scott was asleep the moment we put him in his bed. I did a couple of emails and had a few glasses of Australian Chardonnay on one of the outside deckchairs. Then I went to bed quite early, which was a good thing because the kids were awake early the next morning. I decided to go for a walk on the beach and Scott wanted to join me. We seemed to be the only ones on the beach, partly because it was so early in the morning and partly because it turned out to be a very quiet beach. Scott like walking in the sand a lot, but it went quite slow. He had so many new things to see and for everything he asked me what it was or why it was like that. “Why daddy?” is probably his most common phrase at the moment, he wants to understand everything around him.
Another thing he kept on saying at the island was “I don’t like the sound of the sea”. For some reason he did not find the sound of the waves relaxing… It started the first morning when he asked me “What’s that noise?”. I did not hear anything except for the waves so I asked him what he meant, and it turned out the sea was what was irritating him. He said it many times over the holiday, each time when we were on a beach. Only at the end of the week he stopped saying it, I wonder if he will say it again during a next holiday.
When we got back from the walk the kids wanted to go for a swim, so that’s what we did. Then we had breakfast at the hotel (we could choose, they could bring us breakfast or we could use the buffet breakfast at the hotel, the latter seemed much better). After breakfast I rented a car for the whole week and then we relaxed a bit by the pool.
During most of the vacation (which lasted a week) we followed a similar schedule most of the days. Scott normally woke me up around 7 when he wanted to go for a swim. I then put his swim shorts on and put him in the pool. Then I normally made a coffee or went for a short run on the beach (with someone else staying with Scott of course) and after that I joined Scott in the pool. Around 8:30 we would have breakfast with the whole family, followed by a few hours of sightseeing and a lunch at an upscale beach resort or golf course. Then the kids slept for 2 hours, during which I normally did some work and tried to keep up with my RSS feeds and social media. After the kids woke up they played in the pool or on the beach, before we went for an early dinner. We often went out for dinner at nearby seaside restaurants, or we had staff to prepare dinner in our house. After the kids went to bed (normally not before 9:30 PM) I had a glass of wine and checked Facebook and Twitter, or I tried to read a bit in my book. I only read one book during my whole holiday, normally I manage to read 1 book ever 1-2 days while on a beach vacation.
Koh Samui is still a fantastic island, I had great memories from a few years ago and I still feel the same about the place. There are definitively more tourists (I especially noticed a lot of Russians everywhere), but it’s also more westernized with big supermarkets like Tesco and Makro, and even German and French bakeries. There are even international schools and I was told the hospitals were excellent (medical tourism anyone?). It would be a great place to retire if I would have been a bit older than my 39 years. We actually even looked at some property on the island, there are some amazing plots of land and villas for sale. If you want to buy a house in South-East Asia this is probably one of the best locations in terms of quality of life, availability of property on the beach or with ocean view, and price. Sure, it’s not cheap and there are restrictions on buying real estate for foreigners, but for me the pros outweigh the cons if I would buy anywhere. Who knows…
Were there any negative experiences? Sure, a couple of them. One is the fact that even at upscale resorts communications with staff was difficult. Bringing the wrong food or drinks, or only bringing part of it and the rest 30 minutes later. Not a big thing on a holiday, and something that also happens to tourists in China. I guess learning a few words of Thai will make a big difference. Another one was that traffic was quite dangerous, especially because of the many inexperienced tourists on motorcycles and sometimes trucks that overtake at the wrong moment. I feel traffic in China is a lot less dangerous than on Samui, but maybe that’s also because I am more used to Chinese driving behavior. Lastly, the Internet connection at our villa was pretty bad at times. Often Skype calls were interrupted and playing music through Spotify only worked 1 out of 4 times. I understood that some places have glass fiber on the island, so likely it was just a local experience.
Overall I loved the island and the vacation we had there. It was fantastic to spend more time with the kids and to see how happy they are playing outside the whole day – something they often miss in Shanghai. Koh Samui is very cheap, you can have great food everywhere for prices that are much lower than you get similar food in Shanghai. The last night on Samui I was looking out over the sea in front of our place when I started wondering if this would not be a great place to start an incubator. I am sure lots of young people would not mind living here for 1-2 years (or even longer) to build an (Internet) company, and the cost of living here is a fraction of what it is of that in Silicon Valley or even Shanghai. Likely Thai law will make it difficult (I didn’t really look into this yet), but it’s something I will keep in mind for the future.
More of our Koh Samui holiday pictures here in a set on Flickr