Our Introduction to Koh Samui

Taxi. Plane. Bus. Ferry. Taxi. Leaving Bangkok in the wee hours of the morning, we arrived on Koh Samui after 8 hours and a series of transportation transitions. Our final destination was our apartment on the southern side of the island, away from the busy tourist areas and just a five-minute walk from a quiet beach.
Boat looking back at the mainland
White Buddha
Arrive in oh Samui

Despite the beauty of Koh Samui our first couple days here were surprisingly rough. The apartment has a few idiosyncrasies, one of those being a plumbing system which prevents us from flushing toilet paper. This isn’t that uncommon in Thailand, but we’d been expecting “western toilets” per the apartment’s description. Trust me when I say it’s not easy getting a five-year-old to adopt to a new bathroom hygiene routine involving a hose.

Another issue right off the bat was transportation. Although the apartment is just off one of the island’s main roads, we learned this particular street doesn’t offer frequent stops by Samui’s “mass transit,” a fleet of pick-up trucks fitted with canopies and bench seating. Without the ability to leave easily, we felt a little isolated – kind of trapped in paradise you might say. We decided to get a rental car, but that was a bit of a process as well, full of language barriers and mild confusion. When we finally did get the car, it only took me a few hours to get in a minor accident, popping the glass out of both cars’ side mirrors. (More on the crazy driving in this country later.) To top it all off, on our first walk down to the beach near our house, the girls and I wound up running in terror from a water buffalo which appeared to be charging us.
Somewhat frightening water buffalo
Now, you probably read those previous paragraphs and thought to yourself, “Oh, whiny, whiny woo woo…I feel so sorry for you. Dealing with minor issues on your tropical island getaway…tough life.” And I totally agree with you! It’s ludicrous! Our initial Koh Samui funk is an example of what I call the “guilt-ridden travel blues.” Even while on this amazing adventure we still have bad days, and we get frustrated with situations. Sometimes, as selfish as it sounds, I just want to flush my damn wad of toilet paper down the damn toilet.

When we have these moments of irritation, they’re compounded by our own self-loathing for being such whiners. On top of the bad mood, we also get mad at ourselves for having the audacity to be in a bad mood. How can we possibly have anything to complain about?! We’re on a trip around the world, for crying out loud! I think it’s just part of being human. Psychologically we seem to need a few low times to fully appreciate the many good times. If I could spend every minute of every day in a state of blissful gratitude they’d have made me the Dalai Lama.

We got over the hurdles and shook off the irritation. We’ve quickly settled into a routine in our temporary Thai home. The building we’re in has three apartments upstairs and an Italian restaurant on the first floor. The nice couple who owns it serves us breakfast every day included with our place, and they’ve made us some really good pizza on the nights we’ve opted to eat at their restaurant. He’s Italian and she’s Thai, so between the two of them we’re improving our foreign language skills. The girls can explore the grounds and enjoy the large bird cage and fish pond. They’ve even gotten lessons in making shell wind chimes from the owner. We’ve realized the water buffalo we pass on the way to the beach really aren’t the aggressive creatures we originally thought, so we feel very comfortable taking walks down to the ocean to search for shells and watch the sunset.
Our apartment patio
Making shell windchimes
Our walk to the beach
Coconuts as big as your head
Sunset walk

Brian is working an incredible amount since this is his peak busy season. He’s set up his office in our bedroom, the one room of the apartment with air conditioning, and sits in front of his computer screen most of the day. Some days after the morning of homeschooling is done, we all head out in search of a beach cafe with wifi so the girls can play while he works.
Hard at work beachside
Lipanoi Beach Sand Castle
Near Lamai Beach
The shopping here has been interesting. In addition to the open air markets and tiny shops along Koh Samui’s roads, I’ve also experienced the Thai retail equivalent of Walmart. After months of shopping in small markets and specialty shops, it was a bit daunting walking into a behemoth box store selling everything from produce to car parts. I kind of like strolling around the stores here because the products themselves can be amusing.The packaging often puts all relevant information in Thai but then has one single bold word in English. I can look at a bottle of something and have no idea what it is or how to use it, but evidently its contents are “Natural” or “Original” or “Tasty!” I’ve also learned how many products can have sea life put into them. Fish-flavored potato chips, fish-flavored syrups and oils, canned seaweed, dehydrated cuttlefish, cake with fish paste on top of it (no, that’s not pink icing). We’ve tried some new things, but we’ve drawn the line at the whole category of dehydrated seafood.
Tesco Lotus store Koh Samui
Thai dried fish
Koh Samui open air market

With the holidays right around the corner, we’ve tried to bring some of our old traditions to Thailand. We’ve done some decorating and a little shopping. I even found an advent calendar for the girls. Many stores and restaurants have Christmas decorations up, and we’ve heard Thai renditions of some popular Christmas carols. We’re definitely attempting to make it feel like the holiday season. Despite all this, I think the girls will probably look back on this holiday and say “Remember that year we were in Thailand and mom made us decorate that weird tree on the patio but the roof kept leaking when it rained and soaked all the ornaments?”
Oh Christmas Tree

It will be a holiday season they’ll definitely remember, though. We’ve found some volunteer projects here and we’ve quickly met some great people who are making our time on this island really fun. More good things to from the Carisches of Koh Samui.
Sunset from the beach near our apartment

About the Author

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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  1. I continue to be entertained by your great narratives, and fantastic photos (e.g., the sunset, this time). I’ve watched many battles between lions and water buffalo on Nat’l Geo documentaries … I think you were very wise to run in the other direction!

  2. Hello,

    Were you in Koh Samui mid December or beginning? We are planning to go from December 8th -12th but we are concered about the weather. We are trying to figure out how much rain we can expect during that time because we keep reading that it’s end of rainy season and some rain should be expected.


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