Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Koh Samui, Bangkok

09.01:  KL -> Bangkok -> Koh Samui
10.01:  Koh Samui
11.01:  Koh Samui
12.01:  Koh Samui
13.01:  Koh Samui
14.01:  Koh Samui -> Bangkok
15.01: Bangkok -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
Koh Samui is a beautiful island at any time of the year. Chaweng beach, despite being very developed, does  not look like a mass tourism beach, as for instance the beaches on Phuket look like (see for instance Patong or Karon). The only problem of this trip is that we visit the island during the peak season (which goes from Xmas to the middle of January), and this means crowded beaches and overpriced hotels.
I make the mistake to visit Koh Samui during the peak season without a hotel booking, which means that we end up staying in an overpriced, not too nice place.

Higher than we were planning, essentially because of the peak season. The room, despite being quite basic, cost 2000 Baht. Meals in restaurants were priced by a factor of 2 to 3 above what usually a restaurant in Thailand charges. The cheapest excursions start at 1000 Baht for one day. The taxi driver at the airport will rip you off, but you have no choice.

Money  / Exchange rate (January 2006)
1 Euro = 48 Baht
The cheap dollar made the trip less expensive. For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

Mobile phones / Prepaid GSM
Coverage everywhere in Koh Samui and Bangkok (GSM).

Internet access
Available everywhere. On Koh Samui there are internet cafes with fast Internet lines for 1 Baht/minute.

Tropically hot. A mix of sunny and overcast skies.

Health / Vaccinations
The usual set of tropical vaccinations are necessary. To my knowledge no malaria risk in Koh Samui island and Bangkok.

VISA / Entry requirements
No visa is required for nationals of most developed countries to enter Thailand. A 30-day visa is automatically granted upon arrival.

Thailand is still a very safe place to spend a holiday, although around the time we were in Koh Samui a young English woman was raped and killed by two Thai fishermen (who however were immediately caught after that).


Getting around
Since we were travelling with a small child, we used taxis to get around in Koh Samui and Bangkok. Taxis in Koh Samui are expensive by Thai standards, but still cheap if compared to western price levels.

09.01:  Kuala Lumpur -> Koh Samui (via Bangkok)
Coral Samui resort, Chaweng beach, Koh Samui. 2000 Baht for a disappointing room with A/C, TV and private bathroom with hot shower. Not good value (actually overpriced), because the bed only has some thin sheets and no blankets. Too cold to sleep with A/C, and in fact all decent hotels who have A/C have beds with thick enough blankets. Even the cheap USD 6 guest house in Laos where I stayed one week ago had thick blankets. I suspect the owner wants to save money on electricity for A/C, because with sheets thin like these you cannot really sleep with A/C. Shirley asks for new pillows, because the pillows in the bed are smelly, as if some sweating guy had slept on them. The rooms itself looks old. The door lock is half broken and it takes a lot of effort to lock and unlock the door.
The room is essentially overpriced. For the same money I had a few days ago a very nice room in a
four star hotel in Bangkok - this place looks more like a two stars guest house. If this is what you get for 2000 Baht in Koh Samui, then perhaps tourists should stay away from Koh Samui, because prices have become too high.
Weather: overcast in KL, no rain. Sunny with a thin clouds layer in Bangkok, overcast in Koh Samui.

We wake up at 8:30am and have breakfast at 9:30am. We finish packing our stuff and check out at 10:50am. The total bill is 467 RM - 450 RM for the room, 17 RM for local calls (Internet dial up). After that we take a taxi and reach the airport at 11:50am. There we check in the luggage. The Thai airways flight is delayed - 1:50pm instead of 1:15pm. That's ok, as we have enough time in Bangkok airport when changing flights. I only hope the delay does not grow. We still have no hotel booking for Koh Samui.

The flight leaves Bangkok around 2pm Malaysian time and lands in Bangkok around 3:30pm Thai time. Luckily the guy from the travel agency is there at the gate waiting for us, so we don't have to look for him and hands us over the tickets. A short discussion follows. There are two options: 1. go through immigration, retrieve the luggage, go to the domestic terminal and check in there with Bangkok Airways; 2. go to the counter of Bangkok Airways at the transfer desk at terminal 2 and ask them if they can retrieve the luggage for us and check in here (at the international terminal).

We initially opt for the second option and walk to the counter of Bangkok Airways. Once we are there it's 3:45pm and there is a queue of people. I have the uneasy feeling that by the time it's our turn and we talk to them it may be too late for the flight to Koh Samui at 4:50pm. Also I don't trust these people to handle our luggage (something might go wrong).

So we rush through immigration, retrieve the luggage and get to the arrivals hall. The next challenge is to get to the domestic terminal as soon as possible, because it's already 4pm. At the Bangkok airport they have this dumb subdivision between an international and a domestic terminal. There is a shuttle bus for free, but it takes half an hour to do the (short ) trip. The other option is to take a taxi, but there is a long queue of people in front of the taxi stand. So we accept the offer of a service limo company and pay 200 Baht (!) to them to bring us to the domestic terminal asap.

It turns out that we would have reached the domestic terminal faster by walking, because the taxi is stuck in the traffic jam and drops us off at the wrong entrance. By the time we finally are at the check-in counter of Bangkok Airways it's 4:20pm - 30 minutes before the flight takes off. The lady initially refuses to check us in, then, after I ask what time the next flight is, does check us in. At 4:35 pm we are finally at the gate.

The PG179 flight to Koh Samui leaves with some delay (around 10 minutes), but hey, it's great that we made it. We land in Koh Samui a bit after 6pm. Then we retrieve the luggage and I head to the hotel booking counter at the airport. Long discussion, it turns out that to get something nice you have to spend at least 3000-4000 Baht per night, which is too much, considering that this is Thailand. Even the Family bungalows, which the Canadian guy recommended to me, are pricey at 2800 Baht (the Canadian guy told me the rooms cost USD 40 there, i.e. 1600 Baht). On top of that all places which are sort of a compromise and have an a bit better price/value ratio, are fully booked (or let's say, the contingent of rooms allocated to the airport booking counter has been used up).

It becomes 7pm and we are still discussing the room. I start to regret not having booked the place through the Internet, but I had very little time over the last days. So we choose a place, the Coral Samui on Chaweng beach, hoping it's not too terrible.

The next surprise is that the taxi driver asks 400 Baht to bring us to this place, although the distance is quite short (a few km). We try to find a taxi outside the airport and after some time and some effort find someone who will bring us to the hotel for 300 Baht. There seems to be sort of a price cartel on the island - taxi drivers are not willing to go below a certain price limit.

We arrive at the hotel around 7:50pm. The hotel turns out to be a disappointment (see above). The pool is very small, the rooms are so-so (the beds are very bad).

We have a dinner at 8 something pm, then have a brief walk along the (shopping) road which runs parallel to the beach. Around 10pm I check my emails in an Internet cafe (fast DSL line, 1 Baht/minute, min. 20 minutes).

10.01: Koh Samui
Coral Samui resort, Chaweng beach, Koh Samui. The room is even worse  than our initial impression. The bed smells like urine, and the wood of the bathroom door is rotting. It seems that the owner of this place is not willing to invest money into renovating the rooms.
One more thing, yesterday when we booked the hotel at the airport, we paid the first night (1800 Baht) there. But the owner told us that the 1800 Baht we paid do not cover the first night, that we still have to pay 1440 Baht (1800 - 1800/5), i.e. that with the 1800 Baht we paid at the airport we just obtained the "right" to pay only 1440 instead of 1800 Baht for the room (i.e. that the 1800 Baht are just the commission of the airport). But at the airport they told us that we were paying the first night and what a coincidence that the amount was exactly the room rate.
Weather: sort of cloudy in the morning, then the sky opens up and the sun shines through. Blue sky until 1-2pm, then the sky becomes overcast. No rain, warm but not too hot. Windy in the morning, less windy in the afternoon. In the evening we can see the stars, so perhaps tomorrow we'll have sunshine.

We wake up late at 9:30am and have late breakfast at 10:20am. Then we head to the beach, which at this time of the day starts filling up with people.

The beach is surprisingly slim. Five years ago, in August 99 the beach was much wider. It is possible that the beach starts growing after the end of the rainy season and becomes wide in August, or perhaps the sea has reduced the size of the beach. It's not so much the tide, because yesterday the beach was only a little bit wider.

It is windy and the sea is a bit rough, i.e. there are some (small) waves, which actually enhance the bathing experience. In the afternoon the sea calms down.

We walk along the beach and settle down in a spot. From there Alissia, Shirley and I have a bath. Alissia likes playing with the water. There are a few more babies and small children on the beach - not too many, actually quite few. Koh Samui is mostly a place for childless couples (married, unmarried, rent-a-girlfriend services etc.). In the afternoon we even see a topless Thai guy with artificial breasts wearing only a G-string. Sort of sexy, but unfortunately the wrong gender.

Around 1pm the baby gets very tired and even falls asleep in my arms. So we head back to the room. Since Alissia is full of salt Shirley wakes her up and does a shower to her, rinsing away the salt. Alissia does not appreciate too much this and it would probably have been a good idea to let her simply sleep, because it takes some effort to make Alissia sleep again (Alissia has to get some sleep in the middle of the day).

While Shirley and Alissia take a nap I walk to the nearby Internet cafe (1 Baht/min.) and check my emails. One good thing of Koh Samui is that Internet cafes with fast DSL lines are available everywhere for a low price (1 Baht per minute).

Around 4pm Shirley, Alissia and I walk out again and have some food in the restaurant of the resort. The food is quite pricey here (90 Baht for a fried rice, anything not Thai costing 300 Baht or more), but on the other hand the location on the beach is very good.

After this late lunch we take a walk on the beach. Now the sky is overcast and it is not hot anymore. At 5:30pm we get back to the room. In the evening we walk along the shopping road parallel to the beach, having some food and doing some shopping.

We check some tour options in a travel agency. They have the boat tour to the Ang Thom marine park for 950 Baht/person (7:30am-5pm) and island tours.

11.01: Koh Samui
Coral Samui resort, Chaweng beach, Koh Samui.
Weather: same pattern as yesterday. Sunny and partly blue sky until about 1pm, then the sky starts closing and becomes hopelessly overcast in the afternoon. Which basically means that you have to do all your photography in the morning. In the late afternoon and evening it rains a bit (very light rainfall).

I get up briefly at 6:30am and shoot some photos of the sunrise, then go sleeping again and sleep until 9:30am, when Shirley and Alissia wake up. At 6:30am there is almost no beach - this must be the peak of the tide.

As yesterday, we have breakfast around 10:20am, then have a swim around noon. In the early afternoon Shirley and Alissia take a rest between 2 and 4pm, while I briefly go to the Internet cafe and have some sticky rice with mango.

We then don't do much for the rest of the day. Essentially we do some shopping, then have dinner, then are back in the room, then go out again for a dessert. It's quite tiring to move around a baby buggy with a baby inside, but letting Alissia run around on that busy street is not an option.

By the way, there is one Internet cafe which allows you to connect your own computer (they even have WLAN) and two more which also allow it, but at one of them I couldn't get a connection (the other closed at 11:30pm).

Tomorrow I'd like to visit some other beaches. It would be interesting to do a boat tour, but with Alissia this is a bit complicated, because we can't be away the whole day (she needs to sleep in the middle of the day, get her baby food, we need to change the diapers several times a day etc.). All this limits your options and your mobility.

12.01: Koh Samui
Coral Samui resort, Chaweng beach, Koh Samui. As we heard today in this place the room rates were 900 Baht until Xmas, then were tripled during the Xmas period and now are still double of what they usually are.
Weather: inversion of yesterday's pattern: kind of clouded, semi-clouded in the morning with some blue sky, then sunny and blue sky in the afternoon. No rain, quite hot.

We get up at 8:15am. At 9am I look for an Internet cafe. Not a chance, they are all closed. Apparently they all open after 10am. So we have breakfast and after 10am I check my emails. Then, around 10:40am we hire a taxi to bring us to a few places on the island (Big Buddha, Mae Nam beach, Lamai beach) until 1pm. We settle on 600 Baht.

At 10:50am we are at the Big Buddha temple, which is currently undergoing renovation/expansion. The pier to Koh Phangan, which used to be a very a simple wooden one, is now quite big and long. I can't see the nice beach around the pier, which I saw in August 1999. The Big Buddha temple is kind of cute, but not particularly impressive. We are at the temple until 11:25am.

The next stop is the beach in Mae Nam. This is a less developed and smaller beach, more steep than Chaweng beach, with more coarse sand and no white coral sand (the sand there is yellowish). I stayed there initially when I arrived for the first time to Koh Samui in August 1999, before moving to Chaweng beach. This beach is kind of ok, if you are looking for some peace, but it can't compete with Chaweng and the sea water there is a bit dirty. We spend there 20 minutes around noon.

Our last stop is the Lamai beach, which lies south of Chaweng beach. With a length of 5km, this is supposed to be the small sister of Chaweng. To our surprise even this is not a white coral sand beach. The sand here is like the sand on the Mae Nam beach (coarse and yellowish). And the beach is quite steep like Mae Nam. But this beach is much more developed than Mae Nam.

It's almost 1pm when we drive back to Chaweng beach. By the way, the coast between the Chaweng and Lamai beaches is interesting. It's rocky with some bays with small sand beaches now and then.

We are back in Chaweng after a brief stop at a panoramic point at 1:30pm. We pay the taxi driver 700 Baht because the trip took half an hour longer than initially planned. Alissia by now has already been sleeping for 20 minutes and luckily continues when we deposit her on the bed. While Shirley takes a rest with Alissia, I take a walk on Chaweng beach and shoot some photos, because now the sky is blue and the light is ok. At 2pm I'm back in the room, fetch the computer and head towards the Internet cafe which allows you to plug in your own notebook PC into the network.

Until about 4pm I'm in the Internet cafe. After that I get back to the hotel room and we wake up Alissia, who by now has been sleeping almost three hours. With her we have a late lunch in the restaurant of the hotel (not too bad, a bit overpriced, but ok if you choose the Thai food instead of the Italian one). After lunch, around 4:50pm I play in the sand with Alissia and then swim with her. In the meantime Shirley has a massage in a Thai massage parlour. At 6:30pm we have dinner in the restaurant, then I go to the Internet and check my emails again. In the evening we don't do much, as usual.

13.01: Koh Samui
Coral Samui resort, Chaweng beach, Koh Samui.
Weather: the whole day more or less blue sky with a very, very thin layer of clouds and some clouds here and there. Hot and no rain.

We sleep until 10am, then have a late breakfast around 11 something am. After I check my emails in an Internet cafe. At 1:30pm we go to the beach and spend about one hour sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Pretty crowded beach today (it has been like this every day since we arrived - I guess that Chaweng was even more crowded during the Xmas period).

Around 2 something pm we are back in the room, as Alissia probably wants to sleep. While Shirley tries to make her sleep, I swim again in the sea. When I'm back, Alissia is still awake. So we just go out again and have some food in a fast food restaurant. During the rest of the day not much happens. Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok at 10:20am.

14.01: Koh Samui -> Bangkok
Rama Gardens hotel, Bangkok. 2119 Baht for a double room with everything (A/C, phone, TV, fridge, hair dryer, nice furniture, good bath with hot water). The only thing which is missing is Internet access in the room.
Weather: spotless blue sky, sunny and hot already early in the morning in Koh Samui. Looks like the dry season has finally started in Koh Samui. Blue sky also in Bangkok, 34°C in Bangkok when we land.

We get up at 7:30am and are ready to leave the hotel after a short breakfast at 9:15am. We take a taxi (200 Baht) to the airport, arriving there at 9:25am. Surprise, surprise the flight 10:20am flight PG126 of Bangkok Airways is delayed by 1h 30 min. Next to us some Russian tourists are concerned they might miss their connecting flight to Moscow. Luckily we have a one day stay in Bangkok.

Some time passes, and now the delay is 3 hours... departure time is now 13:20 instead of 10:20. Bangkok Airways sucks. And it's no fun waiting in this airport, as there is no A/C, only fans. Over three hours of waiting in the heat. By the way, the Koh Samui airport charges a departure tax of 300 Baht/person - and this for a basic airport with no A/C.

The Bangkok Airways PG126 flight leaves at 1:20pm and lands in Bangkok at 2:45pm. We retrieve the luggage, walk through the exit, get rid of the very tedious and persistent touts of the limo services and head to the hotel reservation counter. After a short time we have a hotel reservation and at 3:55pm we are in the Rama Gardens hotel.

At 5 something pm we take a taxi to the Central Plaza shopping complex (the one near the hotel, 15 minutes by car). Big shopping complex with a department store. We are there until 9pm, having dinner and doing some shopping.

15.01:  Bangkok -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: tropical heat in Bangkok at +34°C, freezing cold in Munich at -11°C, snow and ice everywhere. What a difference!

The flight is scheduled for 1:30pm. We are at the airport around 11am. Then it takes a long time to check in (about 40 minutes) and it takes forever to go through immigration. Essentially there are lots of people who are flying back today and not enough counters open. To top it all, the immigration officer is painfully slow, requiring more than one minute to process a single passenger.

The flight leaves on time at 1:30pm and lands more or less punctually at 7:15pm. After going through immigration and retrieving the luggage, we take the LRT to the place where we left the car. While Shirley waits with Alissia and the luggage in the LRT station, I walk to the car. It's a five minutes walk, but then it takes about 10 minutes to remove the snow and ice from the car. It's freezingly cold at -11°C (later in the night the temperature will drop to -15°C) and I've left the car outside for three weeks, so who knows if the battery will have enough juice to start the engine. If not that would be a nightmare scenario - having to call the service and waiting in the cold (all three of us don't have heavy warm clothes).

Luckily the battery is ok and the engine starts. We are at home around 10pm. Everything is ok and we sleep at 11pm.

Copyright 2006 Alfred Molon