Very commonly purported myth amongst regular visitors to Thailand and expats to show how well they know the country and how silly 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 etc. That’s inevitable whether you’re talking about a Thai island, Swiss ski resort, Stockholm city centre or the 18th arrondisment 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 40 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 or that there were very few people on Samui 40 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 early 70s.) Now I’m not afraid to say I first visited Samui 22 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 an unspoilt bla bla bla – now it’s 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 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 K. 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 20 years ago when Lanta, Koh Jum, Koh Tao – delete as necessary – was really the unspoilt proverbial!
A 3 day stay at Mae Nam is featured on our ‘Reefs and Rainforests‘ tour. Cheers!