Friday, April 21, 2006

Koh Samui budget accommodation: Whitesands Bungalows

Lamai Beach
not exactly white sand, but still gorgeous

Making my way down Hat Lamai (Lamai Beach) on Koh Samui from Lamai Pearl toward Hin Ta Hin Yai (Grandfather Rock and Grandmother Rock) today, I came across a group of neat little bungalows right on the beach, and it turns out they only cost 120 baht per night (about US$3.15). Even though they didn’t have all the amenities I had at Lamai Pearl like the private bathroom and shower, it had a better view of the ocean, and was just as peaceful and quiet. I couldn’t resist — I checked in as soon as I had taken a look at the bungalow and the facilities.

lamai beach bungalow ocean view

Budget bungalows
It’s not much more than basic Thai style accommodation — a couple mattresses with sheets on mats inside a wooden bungalow with a porch to chill out and take in the ocean breeze — simple but effective. A fan, plus an additional electric outlet are included as well. Each bungalow has its own personality, as past and long-term tenants have personalized them with everything from small bits of graffiti, to faded murals on the insides of the window shutters and charming bits decoration and landscaping.

While the Thai staff does freshen up the bungalows between tenants, you may opt to do some of your own cleaning. At these prices, however, I don’t think too many budget travelers will have a big problem with that.

budget bungalow door

As for the budget toilet facilities, one thing I found odd was that the squatter-style toilets are on the opposite side of the hall from the showers, so that you have to re-clothe between tasks if you need to use both. Note: there are no spray nozzles for washing up, and you need to bring your own toilet paper. The sinks are all at the end of the hall. If this is all an issue for you, staying in one of the private bath units, a little further from the beach, for 300 baht (approx. US$7.95) per night is another option, as are the 800 baht per night air conditioned rooms.

Tasty Thai cooking
An additional perk here at Whitesands Bungalows is that although it’s off the beaten path, you don’t have to go far to eat — there’s a Whitesands Restaurant that serves tasty Thai and western food at a decent price. Keep it simple, and you can get a nice meal for about US$2 or less. If you’re feeling pretty hungry or you like to drink beer, you can end up spending more, maybe US$3.50 to 4.00.

Comprehensive, friendly service
Not leaving any base uncovered, the Whitesands staff also offers laundry service for 30 baht (about 80 cents) per kilo, motorbikes and jeeps for rent, as well as tours and information about everything Samui Island has to offer. Many tenants here love it so much, they stay for months on end, some even stay most of the year. If you’re coming to Koh Samui, Thailand on a budget, it’s definitely worth the time to see why many people from around the world keep coming back, or simply don’t leave.

How to get to Whitesands Bungalows from the southern end of Lamai, on Koh Samui:
From Ban Lamai (Lamai town), take road 4169 heading southwest and turn left at the sign, immediately before 7-11. Follow the dirt road down a few hundred meters or so, turn right at the Whitesands Bungalows Restaurant sign, then turn left at the end and park in the cul-de-sac.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thailand: Koh Samui seaside magic

the full moon on Songkran night

The weather was so fantastic last night, with the full moon out and the soothing breeze blowing in from the sea. So great in fact that I didn't even sleep in my bungalow. I grabbed my favorite Mexican blanket, and took the 30 steps or so down to the beach and enjoyed the night sky along with the sound of the water lapping at the shore. And almost even more amazing -- no mosquitos! :)

sunrise at Lamai Beach, Koh Samui

Waking up with the sun, the scene was breathtaking -- sections of the tall clouds in the distance would brighten up with colour intermittently as lightning bounced around inside...

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Songkran - Thai New Year Celebration

I had heard so much about Songkran, Thailand’s new year celebration that I had to make it back there in time to see it. Dubbed “Extreme Holiday” by a Thai television news station, it’s a 1 to 5-day, country-wide happy water fight.

Because Songkran is a Buddhist holiday, and southern Thailand has a high percentage of Muslims, I was told that Songkran was not so big of a deal in Hat Yai, the biggest city in Southern Thailand. Well, don’t let anyone fool you! Everyone participated, from little kids to senior citizens. I arrived from Kuala Lumpur somewhere around 7:30AM and already, there were grandmas sporting super-soaker guns and buckets of water ready to douse you as you passed. Walking down the sidewalk, I heard a timid “Sorry...” and got shot in the back by a boy with a water rifle — pretty hilarious.

After breakfast, the water throwing and had picked up pace and I was dying to jump in on the action, but had to catch the bus to Koh Samui, and unfortunately ended up watching all the fun from inside the bus, all day...

It took forever just getting out of Hat Yai. The streets and everything in them were glistening with water and crammed with quick-moving attackers and slow-moving vehicles. People on motorbikes probably got the worst drenching. While able to weave their way through the traffic, they had to go slow, making themselves easy targets for the truckloads of people armed with buckets, bowls, giant syringe-like squirters, and huge barrels of water as an almost endless supply of ammo.

Helpless motorbike riders

Another part of the Songkran tradition is to mix baby powder with water and cover everyone you see with that as well — making for many more white people (and cars, for that matter) in Thailand than usual — even the bus got hammered.

As the bus made its way to Surat Thani (the take-off point of the ferry to Koh Samui) it was hard to find 100 meters between water squads next to or in the road, throwing water at others across the street, helpless motorbike riders, cars or mobile attack units. Even when it started raining in the afternoon, the action kept going.

You may be wondering, so where’s all the photos? Sadly, my camera battery had basically died. And with no way to charge it on the bus, it wasn’t until I got on the ferry that I was able to find a power outlet. At least I was able to get a few shots after that, but there wasn’t any water tossing on the boat — only on the television in the ferry lounge.

That’s where I met little Ning, a little cutie that introduced herself by attaching a Hello Kitty sticker to the back of my hand. Thai kids seem to love practicing their English, and she had a number of essential phrases down pat, like “What’s your name?” and “Where are you going?”. Soooo adorable.

Ning, aspiring photographer

nui and I (photo credit: ning)

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Thailand: Koh Samui budget bungalow in Lamai

Arman and Nui told me about a cheap bungalow that was only 10 meters from the beach in Lamai on Koh Samui. It’s a bit aged — being right next to the beach things get rusty easily. However, it's got a private bathroom and shower, fan, full size bed, a little desk, electricity, and a deck with table and chairs to chill out and take in the ocean view. All for 200 baht per night (currently about US$5.25). Aptly named the Lamai Pearl, it’s not listed in the Thailand Lonely Planet guidebook. Luckily, they had a unit available when I arrived! It's nice and quiet — and there's discounts if you pay for a week or more in advance. Definitely worth checking out if you don't mind funky fixtures and a little rust, and just want to be next to the beach!

How to get to the Lamai Pearl on Koh Samui
You have to go to the south end of the strip in Lamai, and turn left up the small hill at the yellow Orchid Suites sign. At the top of the hill, turn left again to go down the hill to the Lamai Pearl.

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Traveling Thailand on a budget? Take the bus.

Amazingly, it costs only about US$20 to get from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket — a XX kilometer trip — by bus. I wanted to go to Koh Samui, however, and that was only about $25 total, including the ferry ride to the island, and the taxi ride to Hat Lamai, the beach where I was staying. On the night bus from KL, I met Nui, who was on her way to Koh Samui to go back to work, and her Dutch boyfriend, Arman, heading to Bangkok for Songkran. Despite Arman being close to a meter taller than her, she was definitely the boss... ;)

Nui (in the bus on the way to Koh Samui)

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Monday, April 03, 2006

I have to leave the country

It's already time for another visa run, and I haven't even gotten around to posting the photos for the one I did to Myanmar. I can hardly believe it's been a month already. Today I will head down to Malaysia by bus via Hat Yai, and try to see a few things before coming back into Thailand.

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