Koh Samui ruined? Well. firstly we’d better point out that this article (ok, rant if you will) could apply to any number of southeast Asian destinations and apologies to Samui if that’s the example we’ve picked. (Nothing personal.) We’re using the popular Thai island as an example of a commonly asserted myth among regular visitors to Thailand and ex-pats to show how well they know the country and just how foolish/inferior/un-cool you are for not having been on Samui 20 years ago. But is it true or false?
Now firstly you can replace 20 with 25, 15 or even 10, years ago, depending upon what you think you can get away with. (Though younger adherents could try ”…my dad was here 20 years ago and…..”. ) Well let’s face it a lot of places were better 20 years ago; some are better now than they were 20 years ago but very few places are exactly the same as they were…. etc. That’s inevitable whether you’re talking about a Thai island, Swiss ski resort, Stockholm city centre or the 18th-arrondissement of Paris. But hang on – before I go on to mention the rise in long haul vacations, increase in popularity of Koh Samui or the increased spending power of today’s backpackers – 20 years??? Now if you heard someone say, ‘I was on Samui 50 years ago and it was an unspoilt tropical paradise’ – then fair enough, but you don’t for the simple reason that, either people don’t want to admit to being that old, that there were very few tourists on Samui 50 years ago or…… that the ones that were there drowned at full moon parties after ingesting mushroom omelettes! (It wasn’t really discovered by backpackers until the late ’70s.) Now I’m not afraid to admit I first visited Samui 30 years ago and did I think – ‘oh look here’s a tropical paradise in imminent danger of being spoilt’? Did I expletive! I thought ‘shame – this must have been an unspoilt paradise 10 years ago!’ In my naïve backpacker dreamland, clouded by 50 baht bags and 20 baht green curries I found it crowded, overdeveloped and nowhere near as cool as neighbouring Koh Pha Ngan, which at that time was still pretty largely unspoilt – yes really.
Ok so 30 years ago it was still relatively quiet – now it’s a very developed, busy and a popular tourist resort and the main drag at Chaweng is certainly right up there in the disaster area category. However, there’s still the rest of the island! Lamai Beach, even in high season is still quieter than most Phuket beaches, Mae Nam beach is far less developed than any beaches on Koh Chang, the beach road at Bo Phut is a lot less sleazy than the back of Koh Chang’s White Sands Beach and you could take the family there without risk of grandpa being assaulted on the promenade by ‘lady-boys’, Pattaya style. Furthermore, Koh Pha Ngan, of ‘full moon party’ renown, is just about to open its first McDonalds, Koh Tao now has 1,347 dive schools, (approx.), and Koh Lipe is overrun with day-trippers from Langkawi.
So don’t ignore Samui – ignore Chaweng and North Lamai, or go there for a night out and go home to another beach and don’t worry, you won’t meet too many who genuinely knew it as an unspoilt paradise and to any younger backpackers turning their noses up, you can always say, “well, of course, I remember 30 years ago when Lanta, Koh Jum, Koh Tao – delete as necessary – was really the unspoilt proverbial!
Rant over, cheers!