When we’d initially hatched the plan to pack in our London lives and take a break together as a family, we’d pictured renting a house not far from a quiet beach in Thailand. Once we realised this wouldn’t exactly be possible with Thai visa laws, and whilst the idea of being ‘forced’ to travel around opened up more exciting opportunities, we couldn’t quite shake the dream of setting up home in Thailand. So we decided to sample a bit of both and stay for the full 90 days allowed by an extended tourist visa, and then become more mobile.
We made a last minute change to our hazy plan to live in Koh Lanta and ended up in Samui instead, based on the July to September rain and humidity forecast. Samui seems to get marmite reactions – some smirk at the idea of it; others love it. We’d stayed for a few days on two separate occasions years ago and realised it’s fairly varied, and that we didn’t want to be based in a main tourist area like Chaweng or Lamai. As luck would have it, we couldn’t have ended up in a more ideal spot.
Bangpor is not how you’d picture Samui at all. It’s a very quiet area, aside from the busy main island road running through it (on the side of which we can spend many sweltering minutes waiting for a gap in car and scooter traffic to cross). There are no huge resorts, no parties, and no loungers on the beach. The beach is beautiful, with an uninterrupted view across the glassy sea to the island of Phangan, or all the way to the horizon. There are no boats or jet skies to pepper the view, or disturb the tranquility. Often we’re the only people swimming, with a few couples and families, some dogs and, once in a while, a water buffalo walking past intermittently.
Not only is the view from the beach to the sea serene, but the view back from the sea to the beach is special too. It’s dotted with palm trees (the essence of tropical paradise for me) and covered with greenery. A few bungalows, an open beach massage hut, and a little restaurant peak out carefully, in their bamboo camouflage, with only a few dots of colour here and there. I’m sure there are many more pristine and seemingly untouched beaches around the world, but this one is near perfect to us. Every time we head out for a morning dip or sunset splash we can’t help beaming at each other in the water, and we always leave invigorated.
Further along the beach, or a short drive up the road, you hit a string of restaurants, some right on the sand and some raised up, overlooking the sea. We have our favourite spot to watch the sun go down, drink in hand on a deck chair, and another for the best food with a view. In addition to these tourist restaurants there are others off the beach frequented by locals, where unbeatable food is whipped up in minutes for unbeatable value. Our regular lunch routine is for me to put our tot down for a nap while Gareth gets take-away lunch from a couple of these restaurants. And we’re yet to make it through a meal without continually exclaiming how delicious it is! It makes it hard to build up the motivation to cook yourself!
There’s a Family Mart and Seven Eleven for essentials and a few other local shops selling bits and bobs, lots with no tourist focus at all. At the right time you might be able to pick up some green leafy veg, bananas, or stinky beans, but you need to venture further afield for specific food and grocery shopping. (Luckily my hubby managed to negotiate a cracking long-term car rental rate, so we have wheels to get wherever we want, and ones that fit our tot’s car seat.) You see locals picking up plastic bags full of lunch from street food vendors, kids coming back from school, and whole families on scooters, and get a real sense of Thai people living their lives, outside of the tourist industry that many, but not all, rely on for employment.
If you want a wide selection of cheap fruit and veg, Maenam fresh market (open 4am – 9am) is 15 minutes drive away. There are also a fair few street side fruit vendors that are open all day and well into the night – we have our favourite stalls (where we stock up on mangoes, mangosteens, rambutans, papayas, young coconuts and mini bananas) in Maenam and Nathon, depending on which way we’re driving. For general grocery shopping Big C, Makro, and Tesco Lotus are all about a 30 minute drive away, as is a popular bakery. Outside of the beach and pool we seem to spend most of our time at Big C! And we drop past Makro for veg when we don’t get up and ready early enough to hit Maenam market.
A few minutes further on from the supermarkets you come across the trendy Bophut Fisherman’s Village (which has grown loads and become lots more upmarket – and pricy – in the 4 years since we last visited it). A further 10 minutes drive will take you to the busy and buzzing Chaweng, which is packed with tourists, and the ancillary businesses profiting from holiday makers, in all their different forms. It’s lively and fun, but worlds apart from Bangpor where, at this time of year, we are sometimes the only people in a restaurant, and there are no speakers on the beach, or hawkers, or shops selling Samui keepsakes, or bars selling buckets of spirits and Red Bull.
We initially booked our accommodation for a month, as we got a 53% discount on the daily rate. As accommodation goes, we may have peaked early on, not to mention severely bruised our budget. It’s absolutely ideal, with a huge living area for our tot to tootle around in, an open plan kitchen that keeps us all in the game when cooking or washing up, and a pool with perfect toddler steps and one extended step that gives her the all-important ability to potter and pour independently. (And, after the realisation that the coin operated washing machines up the road don’t use hot water, which we discovered will not suffice for cleaning cloth nappies, we managed to switch apartments to one with its own washing machine – something rather hard to come by!)
So, having wanted to experience living somewhere in Thailand for a bit, and since we’d settled into Bangpor and our apartment so well, we extended the stay for a further 2 months.
Yes, there’s lots of the world to see, but there’s always tomorrow to be transient, and making a temporary home rather passing swiftly through places can also be a rich experience.