Posted by: Sam Olsen | February 16, 2013

Oh, Samui

The Russian girl was on all fours in the surf, her head cocked at an awkward angle as she looked up at the camera. The waves were slapping uncomfortably against the backs of her thighs and her hands were slipping into the sand, but damn it, she was going to look seductive in those pictures. The squinting grimace and nylon pink bikini may not have been to everyone’s taste, but her boyfriend seemed happy enough to take the photos. At least she had managed to keep her costume on, unlike her bare-chested compatriots who were sitting, ironically, below the sign imploring tourists to be decently clothed.

Our walk down Chaweng Beach, the main drag of Koh Samui, was more than just a bad fashion-shoot and an unwanted display of Slavic flesh. It was also, apparently, a ticket to an international convention for the chronically tattooed. I’m not averse to a bit of inky adornment but this was ridiculous. The girl with a snake drawn all the way up her spine was particularly memorable, not because she was remarkably pretty, nor because she was audibly from Essex, but because the animal looked like it had been drawn by a blind drunkard suffering from a degenerative twitch.

Koh Samui, Thailand‘s famous holiday island and, as some would say, Asia’s Ibiza equivalent, is where we spent the Chinese New Year holiday, together with Aggie’s sister and her boyfriend. Jeremy and Cathryn – or Jummy and Carson, as Lawrence calls them, bringing to mind a kitsch 1970s cop show – flew in to escape the UK’s winter weather and, despite a little rain, we were thoroughly blessed with warm sun and clean air. The days were spent mainly by the beach-side pool, or looking for shells and crabs on the soft yellow sand.

Nelly feet

Nelly feet

We also went roving across the isle. Yet again I had arrived at a resort sans clothes, although this time it was less a case of the airline losing our bags and more me forgetting to pack anything more than some pants, socks and swimming trunks. Our first morning was therefore spent in the pursuit of my wardrobe. Ideally I wanted to buy some local, cheap and thoroughly disposable ware, but this was not as easy as it seemed at first. Yes, there were dozens of road-side stalls selling budget clothing, but the men’s range was limited to wife-beaters or t-shirts advertising beer. As we walked down Chaweng beach and saw the holiday makers there I could understand where the fashion inspiration had come from.

The whole of Koh Samui seemed to be overrun with hard-drinking tourists. The ‘fishing village’ of Bo Phut was one long strip of restaurants serving fish, chips and beer, with, in at least a cursory nod to the locals, the occasional ‘Thai Food’ establishment interspersed. The view of a picturesque Buddhist shrine we saw from the road was slightly spoilt by it having at its base two bars named “Aussie Land” and “Beer World”. And as for Chaweng – the less said the better.

Many of the visitors were Russian, or French, or even Chinese. But the vast majority seem to be from Britain or Australia. It may have been this preponderance of Anglo influence that lead my Japanese colleague to ask whether Thailand was a colony of Britain. Certainly, on the walk up to a semi-pretty waterfall, crossing rickety bamboo bridges and shinning up rock ledges, it felt like we were alternatively in Kent or Brisbane.

Rather than spend a day getting to know some of these tourists we decided one day to rent a boat for ourselves. Lawrence was incredibly excited about this trip, launching into renditions of “Pirate! Ooh-arghh!” when he saw the blue, green and red painted wooden craft that we had hired. The skipper and his mate took us straight to some fishing grounds about 300 yards off shore where we set down the anchor, put some squid strips on our hooks, and cast our lines.

Redneck Lawrence teaching his father how to fish

Redneck Lawrence teaching his father how to fish

It was Lawrence’s first fishing trip and he was a little unsure at first. He sat silent, gripping my shorts, and watching as Jeremy and I tried to land some of the many fish that were nibbling our bait. Eventually we landed a few snapper, which Lawrence helped to reel in, an event that made him feel much more relaxed. He especially liked the lunch on board, with its centre-piece of fried fish, and the chants of “Pirate!” soon returned.

Probably his favourite adventure was the elephant ride. As we did in Koh Chang, we made sure that we chose a stable which treated its beasts well, and they certainly looked in good nick as we trampled into the forest. Cathryn and Jeremy’s ride was lucky enough to find a coconut on the forest floor, which he broke open with his foot and then sucked out the meat with a thoroughly agile trunk-tip. Lawrence would have loved to see that but was so excited that he had fallen asleep. Still, he spoke about the nelly lovingly enough afterwards, much as he did about the snake.

One afternoon he was walking back from our room to the beach, accompanied by Aggie, when he pointed to a slithering thing on the floor a yard or so ahead of them: a small snake chasing after an even smaller frog. It eventually cornered its victim against the path wall and struck. The amphibian was still struggling as it was dragged off, clamped firm in the serpent’s jaws. As soon as the show was over Lawrence sprinted off to tell his uncle and aunt that “Snake eat frog! Snake eat frog!”

Gerald Durrell never had as good an introduction to wildlife as this, and he probably didn’t see any tattoos like it either.

The boat's catch

The boat’s catch

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