Southeast Asia (12/13) – Vacation Within Vacation on Koh Samui

Southeast Asia (12/13) – Vacation Within Vacation on Koh Samui

Our next destination was Koh Samui, a tropical island halfway down the Malay Peninsula.  We were very sad at this point to be departing our hotel in Bangkok, and that was an odd sentiment en route to a major beach resort.



Getting us there and back was Bangkok Airways.  Although we had unexciting economy seats in the back of the plane, the trip was comfortable.  No, sorry, it was actually amazing.  Aside from the missing lie-flat first class seats and the $500-bottle champagne, I don’t see how Bangkok Airways wasn’t already the world’s best airline.  Let’s do this in bullet points:

  • There was an attendant manning each “self service” kiosk at check-in. Defeats the purpose of these kiosks, if you ask me, but certainly expedited the process and felt like world-class premium service
  • This airline had a lounge open to all passengers, with free wifi and a food and drinks selection better than most United Clubs.  Think about that: we were treated more like VIPs flying Bangkok Airways economy class for the first time, than the United 1K members flying business!
  • This airline’s business class lounge on Koh Samui, which was also a Priority Pass lounge, served fresh young coconut… now tell me how it wasn’t superior to all Amex Centurion lounges!!!
  • The most incredible had to be that they served a full meal on the plane.  Each flight, including take off and landing, was only 50 minutes.  Somehow the crew was able to provide each passenger with a proper tray of hot entree (tasted pretty darn good too), dessert, and water, then walking up and down the aisle offering juice, tea, and coffee FOUR times before the captain announced the descent for them to start the cleanup.  What the heck.  Pretty sure I had flown all the way from EWR to SFO with only one single beverage service
  • Now you’d have fully expected the last point: everyone from the ground to the in-flight crew was genuinely friendly.  Even though their job seemed almost impossible to execute, they all carried a warm smile that said, hey, some of us in the airline business actually care about our customers

In a world where airlines compete to differentiate their premium products, it was super refreshing to see them taking care of who others treat like cattle.  Part of me aspires to move to Bangkok on the basis of having them as my hometown airline…

While others like to talk about flying friendly skies, some actually do

(this was in the Samui Airport on the return trip)

Superhuman flight attendants

Bangkok Airways owned and operated the Samui Airport, where there was an aquarium in the public bathroom…

Getting ready to land in Koh Samui!



We checked into SALA Samui, a resort on the Choengmon Beach and part of a Thai hotel chain.  It definitely looked, um, tropical.  We got a cute room, a nice balcony with a large daybed, and a romantic open-air bathroom.  The resorts provided vacation activities such as movies on the beach (we fell asleep and didn’t make it, twice) and morning yoga class (okay I failed this one hard).  We spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool and on SALA’s private beach, although “relaxing” usually ended up to mean reading gun debates on Facebook.  The resort’s breakfast service was fantastic with both a substantial buffet and a menu we could order from.  Skip any Thai dishes on it, though, which were designed for people with flavor allergies.

SALA Samui

Family pool & breakfast area

Adult-only black infinity pool

“Mr. Ling”, the monkey that we’d hang on the door as a “do not disturb” sign

SALA Samui breakfast buffet

SALA Samui breakfast buffet



In many ways, Koh Samui was just like Hawaii, Costa Rica, etc. It was built by a local workforce to serve predominantly foreign vacationers: The only restaurant at our resort served Italian cuisine. Downtown businesses used more English than Thai (Chinese and Russian were common as well). Most restaurants served burgers and fries, and had a cocktail bar.  The food here (at the resort or downtown) was not, um, bad, per se.  It was just inferior to Bangkok’s markets in every way.  Don’t get me wrong, we came across delicious things… just like how we had had delicious things at Thai House in rural southwest Virginia.  What puzzled me the most was that restaurants here used lots of ingredients like carrot and baby corn – ingredients that you wouldn’t catch Asian restaurants in SF or NY or LA put in their food.  But here in Thailand?  What the heck?

Local restaurant with a cocktail/coffee bar.  English-only menu

Tropical paradise

Comprehensive menu with trans-European languages

Cute family-run kitchen

Coconuts in plastic bags <3<3<3

Just in case you need cash…

Downtown Bophut / Fisherman’s Village

Street vendor having just extracted an inner coconut from its hard shell

Several Fisherman’s Village restaurants reminded me of Venice with their elaborate displays of seafood
They all sold barracuda and/or shark, too!  I semi-regret not having tried them

Fisherman’s Village at night

Krua Bophut, a very nice Thai restaurant that served authentic Thai food

Coco Tam, a mega cocktail bar on the beach



Okay so I forgot to write about massages in my Bangkok posts.  How could I have?  Massage in Thailand is like sushi in Japan: it may look like its counterpart in the US, but try it once here and you can never find enjoyment back home again.

In Bangkok we went to a parlor near our hotel.  Given the location, it was among the pricier options in the city at ~$15 USD per hour.  Two masseuses were assigned to us.  Hong who preferred gentle touches got a water buffalo, and I with a petrified back got a petite lady.  I considered proposing a switch, but that worry turned out to be unnecessary… my lady had the strength of an elephant!  Every stroke was deeply therapeutic, yet nothing hurt.  A few times when the technique bordered painful or ticklish, she switched things up as if her fingertips could sense how I felt.  Hong reported the same wonders by her water buffalo lady, magically catering to her needs without a spoken word.  It was easily the best massage of the lifetime for both of us.

In Koh Samui, we tried out three different places in downtown touristy areas.  Each of them was about $10 USD per hour.  First, I had a nice foot massage by a really tall ladyboy – might have been weirded out if I didn’t come from San Francisco.  Then, I had the most painful back massage ever – after which my spine felt more relaxed than ever before.  The last foot massage was sub-par by Thai standards, but we sat in a high-end facility with this view in front of us:

We stared at the ocean for an hour while people rubbed our feet



We booked a snorkeling trip to Koh Tan, a much smaller island south of Koh Samui.  The tour operator picked us up from the hotel, drove for almost an hour to the pier on the opposite end of the island, took us on a boat for several hours of excursion, then returned us to the hotel.  Our tour group consisted of senior couples from the UK, a French girl who quit her job to travel, and several others.

We had three guides on the long-tail boat carrying our group of nine, which I thought was an incredible ratio.  We sailed to Koh Tan, jumped into the water for a short coral reef trail, sailed to a second stop for lunch, sailed again to a third stop for more snorkeling, before heading back.  The water was unfortunately murky so we couldn’t see far.  At least there were plenty of fish swimming about, and the giant loafs of toast from our guides kept them near us.  The scenery was gorgeous, and the weather could not be beat.  Overall, it was a fantastic trip.

View of Koh Tan, from the southern end of Koh Samui

Our lunch spot on Koh Tan

Afternoon break


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