Bruce Marshall was born in England but quickly escaped to Australia. After first visiting Thailand in 1991, he was a regular visitor for 15 years, and finally moved here in 2006. Bruce writes candidly for Naked Farang about his travels, observations and experiences in Thailand. Here he talks about the development of Koh Samui.
What is paradise? Is it a location or a state of mind? I have pondered this question countless times. For some men it might be a 7 day visit to Bangkok visiting as many go-go bars, massage parlours and saunas as humanly possible. For others maybe a shopping extravaganza, tempered with days and nights of eating and drinking in some of Bangkok’s finest establishments. For me, Thailand can be all of these things and more. Paradise (or my idea of paradise), can be found in all corners of Thailand. It’s just a matter of getting out there and exploring.
My first taste of “paradise” was in 1991, on my first trip to Thailand and the beautiful Koh Samui. I was hooked and, like anyone who has found an addiction, I went back for repeated doses in 1993, 1995, 2003 and 2005. I will attempt to share my “journey”, my “affair” with this beautiful island as I experienced it on each separate visit. Each trip was always a different experience from the last, and for me this was one of the reasons I kept going back for more – that great feel of adrenalin one gets from exploring the unknown.
My first journey to Koh Samui was everything a person seeking solitude could ask for. The moment my partner and I left the small make-shift airport, we knew we had found paradise. The mini bus climbed over bush and scrub covered hills, and after about a 30 minute drive through what can only be described as dirt tracks, we found ourselves at Chaweng Beach. We booked into the Chaweng Buri, a collection of brick Thai-styled huts that led down to the most unbelievable site we had ever seen. It was stuff that you only see in postcards – beautiful white sand and the clearest blue water I have ever seen. But the best thing was that it was mid afternoon and there would have been no more than 50 people…on the entire beach...Bliss!
For the next two weeks we lay on the white sand, drank alcohol, and lolled about in the crystal clear water without a care in the world. In fact we had a very hard time keeping track on what day it was! On this trip we also met a man who became a great friend, and who is still living and working at the same resort to this day, Mr Sompop.
For the gay traveller, Koh Samui could have been named “Koh Tabooi” as there was not one single gay bar. There were, in fact, just two very large bars that resembled barns – The Green Mango and the Bob Marley. But the fun we had there with wonderful Thai locals, and quite a few hippies from the U.S., Europe, England and Australia, was incredible. Every night was like obliteration of the senses, and every morning was spent staggering down to the beautiful white beach to recover. What else could you ask for? The two weeks felt like months, one of the most relaxing and enjoyable times we have ever experienced. We would return!
In 1993 we returned and brought with us a couple of friends from Sydney. Koh Samui was already changing, and resorts were starting to get built around the Chaweng Beach area. We again stayed at our favourite resort, the Chaweng Buri. This time we befriended a guy from Samui in Bangkok. His name was Pop and he joined us on this trip as a guide. I still occasionally see Pop, and he now resides back on Koh Samui after many years living in Bangkok.
The beach on this trip was still as beautiful and still pretty quiet. Smaller bars were sprouting up. The most popular near Chaweng was the U2 bar (now long gone). This was a great place; there were “live bands” every night. I had my first taste of playing live music in Thailand for two nights. After a drunken conversation with a local heavy metal guitar player, he talked me into playing bass in his band. His name was Lam Morrison, and I was told he had quite a reputation as a rock guitar god in Thailand, although I had never heard of him! The two nights that I got up to play in his band were just total fun for me. I was clowning around, kicking him in the backside during his 20 minute guitar solos. The local Thai musicians were taken back that I was doing this to a local legend, but to me he was just a long haired guy with a guitar, and I believe he respected me for not being intimidated by him.
Also, as we now had a tour guide, we got to see a lot more on this trip. We visited the waterfalls - just beautiful - and we saw a monk who had been mummified - scary! We visited other beaches and really liked Lamai Beach not far from where we were staying, although we still found Chaweng better (familiarity).
Also on this trip I met my first katoeys (lady boys). These “girls” were totally unspringable, small and quite beautiful. We used to drink with them at the Bob Marley bar. These girls were a prize act, as they had just had sex change operations and were only too happy to show any unsuspecting drinkers their “new operations”. What was laughable was a lot of these farangs were horrified that these Thai men had done this to themselves, and said they would never go home with one, yeah right! I witnessed these same men sneaking out of the bar with the katoeys at the end of the night!
I am a gym junkie, and on this trip I found my first gym on Koh Samui. It was a tin shed in somebody’s garden, full of rusting equipment and not even a fan. Boy was it hot! I paid 50 baht to use the gym, which was frequented by a lot Thai kick boxers. Kick boxing was starting to become popular now in Samui, too.
Again this was a great two week trip, and like before I would return to this “paradise”.
On the invitation of my guide friend Pop, I returned alone the next time in February 1995. Wow, things were really changing – even more resorts were being built. On this trip I stayed in Pop’s room, as I was on a budget and hadn’t really planned on a Samui trip. The U2 bar had closed, but the other two hangouts The Green Mango and The Bob Marley were now seriously packed every night. The amount of visitors had doubled and now touristy shops and mini marts were opening in the Chaweng area. The beach was still beautiful, the Chaweng Buri was still the same and Mr Sompop was pleased to see me once again, but like every great affair we seemed to go through our “honeymoon” period, and for me I felt like the honeymoon was now over, or at least for the time being. I still loved Samui, but now I had the wanderlust and there were more places in Thailand for me to seek out.
I finally returned 8 years later in 2003 with my partner and two more friends. What a shock we were in for! The Chaweng Beach area for me now resembled a mini Patpong! Go-go bars, gay bars, every kind of bar, were now packed into the Chaweng Beach road. It was hard for me to relocate the Chaweng Buri! But it was worth it to be greeted by a now very chubby Mr Sompop. His first words to me were, “Can you believe what they have done? This was paradise!” Well maybe so, but I guess its progress and nothing stays the same forever. Pop’s apartment building had long been demolished along with the old U2 bar. After the initial shock, we settled into a vacation on a very different Koh Samui, far different now yet still enjoyable.
It must have had an effect, for two years later in 2005 my partner and one of my friends from the previous visit decided to give the place another visit. This time things seemed not to have changed too much. There was a nice new gym, great restaurants, and some very nice looking resorts. This time I could indulge myself in shopping, eating, drinking, all the things I can do in Bangkok, just with a (sometimes crowded) beach thrown in as well. Now that the island was commercialized, I had difficulty meeting other travellers, and the more “colourful” characters were gone, replaced by mums and dads with their kids. But despite how Koh Samui has changed for me, don’t let me dissuade you from a visit, because I’m sure that even today it can be and is for many people their version of paradise.
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Have your say...
31 Mar 2013, 20:09
We just got back from our honeymoon to Bangkok and ealrly wish that we
didn't have to leave as we ealrly enjoyed it and will definitely visit
once more! We stayed at Bann Thai Resort and Spa which we can for certain
recommend. We rented a scooter at $70 for 2 days, it was by far the most
cost effective and a convienent way to go and it was alot of fun too! The
National Park is definitely worth while taking a tour. Also restaurants in
Bangkok City to visit are The Sweet n Spicy-romantic, delish and trendy.
Book a table with your feet in the ocean!