Living the Expat Life on Koh Samui

Koh Samui has never appealed to me.

I’ve flown in twice and headed straight from the airport to catch a ferry to Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. Once, I had the misfortune of spending an afternoon at Chaweng on a day trip from Koh Phangan for the purpose of  buying an airfare to Kuala Lumpur (on a now defunct airline that didn’t have online booking facilities).

It was an afwul experience. Coming from the peace and quiet of Northeastern Koh Phangan right into the thick of Chaweng beach – tailor shops, fake hand bags, wall-to-wall Russian package tourists, ripoff taxi rides and not even a glimpse of the beach… I was not impressed. Horrified would be a more apt term.

That was about five years ago.

So, why go to Koh Samui now? 

The opportunity arose for us to spend some time staying with Lee’s friend, Steve, who lives on Koh Samui. Considering my previous experience on Samui I told Lee we should go, hang out with his friend and take advantage of a few nights free accommodation but expect not to like it.

Turns out, we did like it. So much so, we stayed for ten days.

Having an expat with local knowledge makes a huge difference when staying somewhere like Samui. We knew where to find the best restaurants, buy nappies and had a great place to stay. No thinking was required. Steve hired a car for us through a friend – 1000B a day for a zippy, brand new Mazda 2. He showed us the best spots to park at Chaweng and where to swim.

Chaweng Beach – Not as bad as I once thought

Chaweng beach itself is actually beautiful despite the beachfront surrounding area being completely overdeveloped. The sand, whilst not the finest grain, is lovely and golden. The sea is bath-tub warm and perfectly clear. Perfect for sitting and marinating in the salt water. There’s very little shade and it gets hot quickly so we found ourselves tripping down there early on in the morning before it got too hot.

We have, unfortunately, discovered that our boy who once loved the water and lived swimming now hates the water. God only knows why!!! We’ve had tantrums and tears trying to get him to go in the water and stay in for more than a few minutes. We even traded insults with a German budgie-smuggler who found the crying overly disturbing. I don’t get those who chastise parents of young children for their behaviour. Don’t you think if I could stop him screaming that I would?

Driving Around the Island

Samui is big for an island but it’s actually pretty small. It’s about 60kms around the ring road that circles the island. We drove it in roughly two hours making a few stops along the way. Our friend, Steve, has a building company on Samui so we stopped off to look at a few of his projects.

A drive around the island is a must for any visit to Samui. There’s a lot more to this island than Chaweng and it’s beach resorts. Some beautiful homes and incredible vista.

We found an amazing restaurant!

Well… we didn’t find it, we were shown it. This is where having local knowledge comes in handy. We ate there almost every day. Delicious Som Tam (spicy green papaya salad), sweet curry chicken and basket upon basket of sticky rice. I don’t know if I can go back to eating normal rice again. Will definitely need to buy some of the steaming baskets to make sticky rice at home.

 

Living on Samui

Life on Samui would be pretty sweet. It’s easy to get around, has good amenities and plenty to do (or nothing to do depending on what you like). You can get a great big house with a pool for US$1200 a month. I can see how long-term residents could go a bit mental here. You can feel the “island” mentality of the locals and expats living here. It’s a “do what you feel at a relaxed pace” kind of place. This can be a good thing but can also wear pretty thin after a while.

We loved having a bit of extra space to spread out in. We found it really handy having a Tesco Lotus (supermarket, cheap food court and shopping centre) just up the road. Reuben was thoroughly entertained sitting in the trolley with a toy car attached. We like eating breakfast at home and it was great to have access to a fridge to stock up on milk, yoghurt, fruit and croissants.

 

Delicious Mangosteens

Mister Donut.... Naughty but delicious

Watching "Finding Nemo" - Seems appropriate given our tropical location

Reuben has enjoyed spending time with Steve’s dogs- Charlie and Jack (or as he know calls them Chachee and Chack). He has taken to climbing into the dogs’ cage out on the patio. According to my psychologist sister, when young children tuck themselves into a small space like this they are looking for a way to make their world smaller. He’s trying to control his environment and say ” Hey parents, this world is far too big and overwhelming”. Or… maybe he just wants to be a dog!

After such a long time in one spot, we’re ready to get out and explore some more. We’re heading to Koh Phangan for a week for a more relaxed beach experience. Here’s hoping Reuben starts enjoying swimming again because there’s nothing else to do on Koh Phangan!

11 Comments

  1. Oh that photo of Reuben squatting on the floor smiling at the little dog is just heart-meltingly gorgeous! Misty LOVES dogs too, so so cute. He also loves Finding Nemo!

    Wow, looks like a great place to stay… I bet you are relishing staying in a house rather than a hotel/apartment!

    Those views are stunning… doesn’t help it’s raining here today, your current home looks amazing :)
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    • Yeah it’s really sweet seeming him so happy. He loves playing with the dogs and is learning to be gentle with them… which I’m sure is going to help me because he’s usually really rough on me.

      When are you next in Chch? We need to get our little men together for a playdate. We’ll let them sit in the car and amuse themselves and drink something nice whilst “supervising”!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your beautiful family! I am hoping to move to Thailand in 3-5 years to start a Montessori Preschool, and wanted to get your advice. Where do most expat families move? I would love to move to a place near the water, but do you find any families there? Thank you for your blog!

    • Hi Mallory,

      We saw quite a few expat or mixed Thai-Western families in Koh Samui. A lot of expats got to Bangkok (obviously), Chiang Mai and Phuket. If you’re looking outside of Thailand, Penang in Malaysia and Ubud in Bali are really popular amongst expat or long term travelling families. If you were going to set up in Samui or Phuket, it would probably be worth allowing short-term admission for travelling and holidaying families. I hope this helps! Do let me know when you get set up and we’ll come visit.

      Bethaney

      • Hi Mallory,
        I just saw this post and wanted to ask you about your idea, as I like it a lot, having just opened a Montessori school in Bophut on Samui this past Sept, 2012. We have a toddler class and a primary class and are just starting out. I would love to have you visit and hear some of your ideas. We opened the school in hopes to create a more stable community and be able to have children stay for the whole 3 year cycle of primary and to offer excellent education on the island. I hope that we will soon attract more stable families, but know that many people only stay 6 months if that, here on Samui. Tricky indeed, but do-able. Come visit and let us know if you want to collaborate in the future!
        Mira

  4. Hi Bethany,
    Thank you for sharing..
    My husband & I have recently move to samui.. Looking for a place. You have a beautiful place.. May I know where can I find a place like yours? We have a dog as well, jack Russell named Sam..

    Looking forward to your advice.

    Thank you

    • Hi Lynette,

      This was actually our friend’s place. He’s a property developer on Samui working mostly with expats. I can ask him who he rented it from, if you like? He’s actually moved since we visited so his place may even be free!

      Let me know.

      Bethaney

  5. We stopped off in Koh Samui at the beginning of February on a cruise. (Yes, we’re old.) I didn’t do my homework and we defaulted to the ship sponsored tour of the island (local guides). Note to self: Next time you get dropped off on a Thai Island, just get thee to a beach. The “highlights” of the tour were a stop at two sets of temples which might have impressed us had we visited Samui first, but after a few days in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Siem Reap, they just couldn’t compete and we were allotted way too much time to visit them. Next up, watching the poor monkeys with metal collars around their necks and chains, climb up tall trees to throw down the coconuts — to be rewarded by being chained to a tire when they weren’t fetching coconuts. Last stop—the waterfall—except it hadn’t rained for awhile. (The last waterfall we visited was Iquazu Falls in Argentina–not Koh Samui’s fault, but….). Then there were the unhappy looking elephants–just after we’d had our consciousnesses raised about elephant mistreatment on our visit to the Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai. I was beyond ready to get back on the boat and sail off for Singapore.
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