Sunday, August 05, 2007

The contrasts of Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

By guest writer Per Koch

Chaweng Beach is a small city on the island of Koh Samui (Ko Samui) on the south-east coast of Thailand. It is a tourist destination that says a lot about the strange and wonderful contrasts of Thailand in general.

You could say that it is a city of three parts:

1. The beach

The beach is a piece of a tropical paradise, "just like in the movies". Fine grained sand, coconut palms, and clean, warm, water.

One waiter at our hotel did complain that there now were too many hotels at the beach according to her taste, but for those of us who had not been there before there was still ample space.

Besides, most of the hotels have their own beach side restaurant, giving you a large number to choose among.

You can take a long, nice stroll up along the coast and enjoy the sights.

Note that the lagoon at the northern end is not good for swimming. It is too shallow parts of the year. A five minutes walk further south, however, you will find excellent conditions for bathing.

2. Chaweng Beach Road

Chaweng Beach Road runs parallel to the beach, most of the hotel bridging the space between the breach and the city (or village) itself.

Chaweng Beach Road is the main tourist territory, together with a few smaller side streets in the southern end of the city.

Going from the beach to the Road is like going from tropic tranquility to South-East Asian chaos.

If you are looking for picturesque villagers playing boccia with their donkeys between medieval white chalked houses, Chaweng Beach is not for you. Go to Provence, Tuscany or Rhodes instead.

No, Chaweng Beach is full of "pimps" trying to sell you tailor made Armani suits and a large number of shops selling "real fake Rolexes" and counterfeit CDs and DVDs.

It is a one way street, so the traffic is not too bad, but the sidewalks are narrow and full of entrepreneurs, so do watch where you are going!

Then there are all the girls. "Massage, sir, massaaaaage". The last A is pronounced with a nasal tone not found in regular English.

Actually, most of them are not prostitutes, but regular masseuses working in a large number of open windowed saloons down the street.

Then again, some of them are. Late in the evening you can even see some of Thailand's katoeys (transsexuals), advertising for shows and more intimate services.

Then, of course, there are a large number of bars, cafes and restaurants, catering for all tastes.

There are even a MacDonalds and a Burger King for the faint at heart, but going there would be a shame indeed, for there are so many excellent places serving delicious Thai food.

(And yes, many of them serve more than decent European food as well.)

3. The Thai City

Behind Chaweng Beach Road you will find the streets where the Thais live.

For a Norwegian it takes some time to getting used to the fact that you do not necessarily need a lot of walls to build a home. It is never, ever, cold in Koh Samui.

In some cases, however, the lack of walls reflects abject poverty, a side of Thailand never shown in the tourist brochures.

The hidden beauty

The city itself is far from beautiful. Some of the new shopping centres (selling genuine Adidas T-shirts, not counterfeit ones) have clearly seen the hands of proper architects, but the rest of the city is definitely not a wonder of modern city planning.

The lamp posts are like birds nest of electrical cords. No wonder there are power outtakes from time to time.

However, when you are starting to get a grasp of Thailand, you will be starting to see the city's charm, which is all caused by the Thais themselves -- beautiful, generous and friendly people.

The secret is to let it all flow by and enjoy the hustle.

And if it all gets to much, you can always retire to the beach.

My wife Susanne and I vistied Chaweng this summer. We have put up more pictures from our Thailand trip.

See also Susanne's article on her Chaweng Beach cooking course here at Enjoy Food and Travel.

Koh Samui.org has more info on the island.

Per Koch is co-editor of The Pandia Search Central and has his personal blog over at Aviana PK.
Photos by Per and Susanne Koch.

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