Sunday, 21 March 2010

Activities

Surfing in Samui


I am not very experienced in surfing, but I do get asked about it from time to time. So, I decided to ask my hubby, who is very passionate about it and trying to surf any time he gets a chance, to write a few words about surfing on Samui, so you will see what it is like...



Samui is not a surfing destination. If anything, Phuket is by far better place to find surf in Thailand.
Majority of swells on Koh Samui come from the winds in the bay of Thailand. There are occasional ground swells from Philippines, that may last over a week or longer. Wind swells last a few days and are followed by rainy weather. 
The main surfing area on Koh Samui is Chaweng beach. From about central part of Caweng beach where the reef ends, one can find waves during the surf season. Surf season on Koh Samui starts from the end of October and continues through April. Every year is different, and some are better than other. The entire Chaweng beach is divided into two beaches - main one Chaweng and smaller beach Chaweng Noi. The divide is a rocky point right where First Bungalow resort  is located. Waves break on both beaches but the best ones are throughout main Chaweng beach from Al's resort to the First Bungalow resort. 

 
The peak of the surf season is from January till the end of March. Wave size depends on the swell of course, but the average Samui wave is 2-4' on the face. On better days waves size goes up to 4-6'. There are however days when the surf is high and mighty. Waves can reach up to 9' and conditions get more hazardous. Usually the second or the third day of a big swell is more organized and the wave shape becomes nicer. Beach breaks have shorter rides 25-50m, but waves at the point last longer and can be up to 100 meters. Wind swells are more tricky than ground swells  and surfers need to read waves well to score a nice ride. 


  

There are quite a few Thai surfers and expats from all over the world who get out to the lineup. It's friendly in the water and everyone is just happy that the swell arrived. Along the beach there are surf board rentals (or boogy-boards). Boards for rent a mainly ESP brand which is an epoxy made generic surfboard from "fish" to long board style. Short boards are more rare and less suitable for Samui surfing. Of course if the rider is good, any board can work, but for an average surfer "fish" or fun board is a comfortable choice. Board rent  is about  300bht an hour, but if you take board for the entire day, hourly rate drops. 


Water hazards: ther are no sharks near Koh Samui and the only real danger when being in the water, comes from jet-skis. There are all kinds of people who go for a jet-ski ride and some are just extremely bad. It's a good practice to watch around and let them know that you are in the water. There are pieces of wood and big logs in the water during big storms. They float free and can be on the way. Also fisherman's lines and buoys may be in the water in some parts of the beach. Of course, since Chaweng beach is a very touristy place, people in the water present  biggest hazard of them all. Surf on Samui is nice. It's not the biggest and a bit slow and tricky, but the water temperature is about 28-30C and there are not many people out most of the time.



Friday, 19 March 2010

Tours

Koh Tao

If you are into snorkeling- you must go to Koh Tao/Koh Nangyuan islands. I took this trip a couple of years ago with Petcherat company and I must admit it was one of the best snorkeling trips I have ever had. 
I have already described in my blog my other trip with them, to Angthong Marine Park, and this one was equally good. They are the company of my choice, I have never had a bad experience with them, their boats are new and very good, the crew is nice, and trips are always going very smooth and enjoyable.

Here are some pictures of the boats they use:






Koh Tao, known also as the turtle island, is one of the best places in Gulf of Thailand for snorkeling and diving. 
Koh Nangyuan - a private island, just off Koh Tao, consists of three small islands connected together by a sandbank.  The island is simply stunning, and snorkeling there is great! The water is crystal clear, the beaches have white sand, and during snorkeling you will find a big variety of a beautiful colorful fish and corals.
It started pretty much the same - coming to the pier early, having light breakfast and coffee there, going to the boat, then pleasant ride to Koh Tao, weather condition was good and sea was very calm. 

During this trip we snorkeled in 2 locations -  Koh Tao's Mango Bay and Koh Nangyuan island, we had a lunch on Koh Nangyuan as well. Also had some free time just to chill out in both locations, take pictures and enjoy the scenery.
I am going to show you some photos of those places as it will tell you much more than any words...

Mango Bay

Has a good snorkeling, a few simple but very pretty bungalow resorts up on the hill, and an open air restaurant above the water with the best possible view.










Koh Nangyuan


Absolutely amazing, beautiful little island. Very picturesque. Great snorkeling. We snorkeled in the place called Japanese Garden. Lots of frienfdly fish, you can easily touch it. 










This is where we had our lunch




Fish




Local diving office



Me and my friend, having a good time


Thanks again to the guys, we had a great time and totally enjoyed ourselves!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Shopping

Shopping in Samui

There were times when backpackers would just chill on the beach during the day, occasionally getting up to grab some cheap food nearby and then later on head to Chaweng to party all night in soi Green Mango...
For daily shopping they went to fresh markets around Samui which were the only source of
fruits, veggies, fish and local delicacies..
Samui grown up since then....Sometimes, somewhere on the south of the island we can still experience that slow pace of life, those lazy days and simple food which doesn't cost an arm and leg... But it still doesn’t hide the fact that those days are long gone and now our lives here are so much more comfortable.

These days Samui is a proud home to a few very big supermarkets such as Tesco Lotus, Macro, Big C and also hundreds of minimarkets such as 7/11 and Family Marts.

 




There is also a huge DIY supermarket called Home Pro ( equivalent of B&Q in UK) - a large home-improvement shop for all builders and garden enthusiasts.

All big supermarkets are located on Samui main ring road. Most of them are in Chaweng area, but there is one Tesco Lotus in Lamai and also another one in Nathon. There is one great supermarket called TOPS in a middle of Chaweng Beach Road, behind Al's Resort, very handy if you are staying in Chaweng.

They are very easy to find and they sell virtually everything, ie all sorts of food, clothes, shoes, luggage, kids/baby stuff ( apart from good quality baby food - only Heinz is available), things for your house, garden and car, so the only thing you may consider bringing from your country (apart from baby food if you need it) is your own face cream and good quality sunscreen lotion. They are more expensive here and poorer quality. You will survive with all the rest.


But I have to admit that it's one thing to come to local supermarket as a tourist, just buying a few bottles of beer, some bread, crisps, and other basic stuff...and completely different thing if you live here. When tourists come to Tesco, their usual reaction - WOW, they have everything here.
When I go shopping, I tend to have a very unhappy face and constantly ask my hubby - "where is this, and that, and why all the nice things are 3 times more expensive than in London?.."
Lots of things have a very poor quality, the best things are priced much higher than in Europe because they are imported. My favourite things like cheese and wine are hardly affordable, may be for special occasion only...Stainless steel from Home Pro becomes stained in a month because of humidity. Baby's stuff here is terrible - strollers break next day, high chairs and carseats do not exist, baby's food is inedible, no one ever heard about organic stuff, and the clothes are a joke! No wonder last time we came back from London we had 70 kg of luggage...

Tesco Lotus and Big C have pretty good Food Courts - simple thai food for very cheap prices . My favourite dish there is rice with a stewed pork and some marinated cabbage salad, cost 35 baht, or 45 with an egg, and it tastes actually much better than it sounds. Also there are different curries, salads, seafood, pastries, drinks on offers.


Tesco Lotus in Chaweng has a bowling alley and pretty good ( but very cold) cinema which normally shows at least one Holliwood blockbuster at the time, apart from numerous Thai movies. Also Tesco in Chaweng has a few food/coffee places - my favourite Japanese restaurant Fuji is there- absolutely yummy cheap japanese food, all kind of sushi, sashimi, noodle soups, salad and other stuff.
Black Canyon Coffee is our usual hangout after we've done our shopping and need a few minute to relax. They also do pretty good food. Cheap and quick. There are also Coffee World, KFC, pretzel place, Dunkin Donuts, Swensens ice-cream,and another good restaurant called MK - it's where you get your own pot on the flame and you make your own meal, you just order ingredients.

Big C also has a few restaurants and donuts/coffee places but for some reason it always looks a bit empty, that's why we always end up in Tesco if we need some atmosphere.

7/11 and Family Marts are your good friends if you need something when all major supermarkets are closed already or not open yet, or you just need a small stuff.
Great for buying water (cola, ice tea, milk - any drink really), hot dogs, chinese buns and dim-sums for a quick snack, toiletries, mosquito spray, cigarettes and beer. Also you can buy there a local SIM card for your mobile, or if you already have one - buy the pay as you go voucher to charge the money on your card.

We also pay all our house bills there in 7/11, which is extremely handy ( Thanks God for that - if everybody on the island went to Nathon water/electric/telephone companies offices to pay the bills - we wouldn't be able to move around Samui at all, apart from the night time- the traffic jam would be starting before 9 am and finishing after 5 pm, it's pretty bad already!

There are more and more minimarkets coming up everywhere, literally on every corner, every 50-100 m, like mushrooms after the rain...Way too many, but handy to be honest. They also normally have at least 1 ATM machine installed near the entrance, so you can withdraw your money there as well.

Occasionally you can find some surprisingly useful services - for example Tesco Lotus in Lamai has a great embroidery service - if you just want something to be embroidered on your clothes, or if you are messy eater like me and have an ugly oily/wine spot on the most visible place of your shirt/pants - it's a great idea to have something cute embroidered on that spot, and maybe your destroyed clothes will be recovered, and looking better than ever before. I tried this on my pants - have a beautiful flower there now, can wear the pants again after a year of considering throwing them away...
"Supersports" in Big C can restring your badminton racket, my hubby is a big fan of this service being a dedicated badminton player.
"Doctor Fish" ( or whatever it's called) in Big C - quick pedicure for those who didn't make it to the beauty salon.



Hairdressers "Hair Decor" in Big C - probably the most decent Thai hairdressers in Samui ( you still have to tell them what to do), if you don't have much time - you can have 3 treatments done at the same time - hair, manicure and pedicure. Great for the people on the go...

Bank AEON in Tesco Lotus Chaweng - the only bank which doesn't charge 150 Bt for withdrawing foreign currency from its ATMs. Great find - thanks to one guy from Tripadvisor, I wouldn't have known it otherwise...

Friday, 12 March 2010

Tours


 Angthong National Marine Park

The most common question people ask me - what is the most interesting and popular tour on Samui?

In my opinion it is a full day trip to Angthong National Marine Park which is a fascinating archipelago of about 40 islands north west of Koh Samui. It occupies almost 250 sq.km and includes 50 sq.km of limestone islands, which look pretty dramatic as they rise from the sea. There are caves, hidden lagoons and beautiful white sand beaches on uninhabited islands, with exception of one island Koh Paluay which is populated with sea-gypsies who earn their living from fishing.

I have done this trip twice, first time about 7 years ago with some unknown boat operator in Fisherman's Village, and second time a coupe of years ago with Petcherat Marina crew. I really enjoyed it both times, but the company was much better second time around, so I will try to decribe this trip here and put some pictures which my hubby took on the way. I apologize in advance if I forget some details, but hope you will still get an idea.

So, early morning we arrived to Petcherat Pier. They would normally collect you from hotel, but as we have our own transport, we didn't really bother with transfer.
There was some food for those who didn't have chance to eat - sandwiches, toasts, tea and coffee, which was quite sufficient, you don't really want to eat too much just before a boat ride.
After  15-20 minutes we were told to get ready and go to the boat. The crew seemed quite nice and also really funny - they joked all the time and were creating this easy, carefree atmosphere, so if anyone was a bit worried about a ride - all their worries started to disappear right away, all passengers now looked happy and excited.

The boat ride was enjoyable - the sea was really calm. The crew offered us free drinks, including water, coca-cola and other soft drinks...



After a while we stopped for 1 hour snorkeling, marine life there is not amazing, you will not see much variety of fish there but it is still ok. The underwater scenery was great though, we really enjoyed looking at the rocks and corals...The crew supplied us with all equipments and life jackets. But I must admit - if you are REALLY into snorkeling and want to see a real variety of marine life - then you must go to Koh Tao/Koh Nang Yuan, the snorkeling is much better there.
It was still great and refreshing to just jump in the water and swim. After finishing snorkeling, we were cruising around for a while, enjoying magnificent scenery around us.




The boat finally brought us to the island with  Emerald Lake -  apparently one of the locations where movie "Beach" with Di Caprio was filmed. The lake was beautiful, we could even see small fish there. The lake was high up inside some hill, we had to climb up about 7-10 minutes, you have to be fit to go up there, I was breathless when I reached the top. There is an excellent viewpoint to Marine Park, we took a few amazing pictures on the top of the hill.



















Finally we were done with the lake and taking endless pictures, went back to the boat and proceeded to the only inhabited island Koh Paluay where we had buffet style lunch and just wandered around looking at the life of locals people. We had some free time for swimming and messing around on the beach - and so we did! I even managed to get on the cover of our Samui's "Essential" magazine.





 
After a break we went kayaking, which was a good fun - highy recommended! We saw beautiful cliffs and amazing white beaches, caves and lagoons,and really enjoyed ourselves.









  
Our trip was coming to an end, we got back in the boat and headed back to Samui. 
It was a perfect day and I would recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful scenery and sightseeing.


That was our Petcherat crew - great funny guys, who made this day memorable and enjoyable!