The next stop on our Thai island adventure was Koh Samui - a backpacker’s favourite for its beaches, boat trips and waterfalls. Plus, there is an airport, which makes it extremely accessible.
My family and I were travelling with Lomprayah - on one of their high-speed catamaran boats. We were scheduled to leave at 9:30am, though it was a little bit late, and we arrived at 12:30pm at Big Buddha Pier. Here, my family got a bus to the airport and Harmony and I got a taxi to Maenam Beach. We were staying at Phalarn Inn, which had a pool but no wifi in the rooms, and it was good for the budget backpacker but it didn't come close to where we had stayed on Koh Tao. The location was quiet but good, with a few shops and restaurants nearby and the beach only down the road.
We ate breakfast the following day at a placed called Sunshine Gourmet, which was expensive but well worth the money. The food was delicious, the portions were big and the owner was amazing. However, because it was so expensive, we mainly just ate at the hostel during our stay because it was cheaper, easier and still pretty good. We actually didn't really leave the hostel, as the rain was relentless!
When we wanted to go on a boat trip, the weather was bad. When we wanted to check out the beach (which is Tripadvisor's highest rated beach on the island), the weather was bad. When we wanted to see some of the nearby waterfalls (Zong Raue or Khun Si), the weather was bad and we didn't want to risk it with there being floods.
This was no joke. It was scary and we questioned whether or not it was safe. The local media said "heavy rainstorms uprooted 60 power poles causing a blackout that affected about 600 families" (Bangkok Post). The international news said "three people had died, and the state broadcaster MCOT reported that two more, a mother and child, were found dead" (Yahoo). The hostel owner said that all the roads had turned to into rivers. However, he also said that we would be all right where we were (as long as we didn't run out of food that is).
When the weather eventually cleared up, we went to explore the area a little. Sure enough, the roads really had turned to rivers, but the flooding was being dealt with. Fortunately, we could still make it to the beach. It was nighttime by this point and it would've been pitch black if it weren't for the lights of a few beachside bungalows and villas. I couldn't see much other than the crashing waves, a landing aeroplane and the lights from the other side of the island.
The beach stretched for miles and seemed to be quite nice expect for a few plastic bottles and a lot of washed up driftwood. It was also home to a few friendly dogs that almost followed us all the way back to the hostel. There was one other thing that caught my attention - Maenam Pier - which I would later return to and photograph. In fact, I paid the pier two visits because there were still some light showers on my first visit. Nevertheless, I used the pier for shelter and got a nice shot of the beach. On my second attempt to photograph the pier, there was actually a nice sunrise and, although things looked a little stormy, I didn't get rained on at all! There was a moment when the sun came out and it was made even more amazing as it was the first bit of sun I had seen in days. I stayed at the beach for about an hour getting all sorts of shots and was really happy by the end of it!
During our visit, I also wanted to get a shot that showed the effects of the floods. When I first tried to get something, it was still too dangerous and the water was still too deep. So instead, I decided to photograph some palm trees and got an interesting image of some unusual buildings by the roadside with the perfect lighting. I was actually able to photograph the floods on the following day and focused on how it effected one restaurant in particular. You can see that the water went right up to it’s doors and the same was the case for many other businesses - forcing them to close for the foreseeable future. This would've been fine and quite common in the off-season, but there were tourists around and the businesses were missing out.
At least one good thing came out of the flooding - we had to stay longer on the island. The main reason we went to Koh Samui was to extend our visas, but we could only do that on a weekday and the weather only cleared up at the weekend. So, I was happy to have a few extra days to enjoy the island and take the aforementioned photographs.
When it came to getting our visas extended, everything we needed could be found/done at the immigration office - the paperwork, the photocopying and the passport photos! All we had to do was get the 1,900 Baht each and, thankfully, there was an ATM on the corner of the main road. Although it cost 250 Baht to get to the immigration office, it had recently moved to Maenam, so it was much closer to our hostel and I can't imagine how much it would've cost if it was still located so far away.
First of all, we photocopied our passports, visa stamps and departure cards. We already had passport photos, so we could move straight onto the paperwork, which we sort of struggled to complete because of the required information and it’s translation. Thankfully, we managed to complete it and made it into the upstairs room before they locked the doors and went to lunch. After standing in one fast moving queue, we then waited in another. The purpose of each queue was to, first, process paperwork and, second, to stamp our passports. Finally, we had to wait until they came back from lunch at 1:30pm, wait for our assigned numbers to be called and then it was done and dusted. The whole process was complete in a couple hours, which I think is good going because of how busy it was. I guess everyone else was waiting over the weekend to.
Before we headed to Nathon Pier for our boat to Koh Phangan, we had plenty of time to kill. So, we got a coffee and some food. There was a cafe outside the immigration office but it was pretty overpriced. Instead of eating there, we went to find somewhere on the main road and came across a place called Lemon Bar. They had a pool table, decent food and fantastic staff. One of the waiters even stood in the rain with us whilst we tried to get a taxi once we were ready to leave!
To Nathon, A taxi cost us 500 Baht and, once we arrived, we went straight to the pier. Nathon seemed much more built up and busy, but not as busy as Big Buddha. The change in scenery was nice and that's exactly why we were excited to get to Koh Phangan!