The travelling tourists

If you’ve read The Beach by Alex Garland (which I haven’t personally but Tom has paraphrased and I watched the film edition with Leo in), you’ll know that when describing the people that his protagonist encounters overseas, Garland separates ‘tourists’ from ‘travellers’. In the book, he writes that the main difference between the two types is that ‘tourists went on holidays while travellers did something else. They travelled’. From the outside looking in you could assume that we are in the tourists camp at this point in the journey.

We booked this six night stopover in Thailand as a holiday before shit gets real on our OE essentially. You see, Tom and I have never been on holiday together aside from a mini break in Rotorua (yes I am well aware how tragic that sounds) so we really wanted to try one out before we have to knuckle down and get to work at learning how to become teachers in Vietnam. So, off to the travel agent we go. We book a beautiful four star resort on Chaweng Beach and count down the days until we are swimming up to the pool bar (the deciding factor on our choice of resort, naturally).

If this is the part where you think I’m going to say how much I regret doing the tourist thing and how I feel like I really should be roughing it in a local village and truly experiencing the place then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. I. Love. Holidaying. Turns out I’m quite good at it.

The moment we stepped into our resort I was in my happy place. Picturesque villas are nestled amongst a jungle of palm trees, lush greenery and butterfly feeding stations (cute!). Then of course there is the aforementioned swim up bar and the perpetual happy hour- from 3 to 5 it’s cheap drinks in the pool bar, 5 to 7 is cheap drinks in the beach bar and after that the lobby bar sees some action. Happy hour back home usually means they just charge what the house wine is actually worth but here it means the equivalent of $6NZD Long Island Ice Teas. Oh yes.

Add to this the fact that it’s a quiet time for the resort so we have been upgraded to an enormous villa overlooking the ocean and complete with spa bath, balcony, giant four poster bed with separate dining and living room areas and you have a happy little tourist right here.

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Still, it has to be said that keeping up a lifestyle like this is just not realistic. For one, I may require the services of a crane to carry me to my room after too many buffet breakfasts (of which I’m sure the staff would willingly arrange as everyone is so nice to you in a resort). Seriously though, I don’t understand the people who just have a bite of toast when there is an array of tropical fruit, an omelette station, pancake bar, pastry selection and (the best bit) delicious noodles and curry on offer! I’m in heaven. This is the part where my father would make some joke about my Scottish heritage but you sit there and try to tell me with a straight face that you’ve never wrapped up a Danish for later- hmmm?

Add to that the drinking that starts at midday (because of the heat, honest) and you have the beginnings of a food/booze pregnancy. You also start to feel a sense of obligation to be mildly useful. I’ve found myself rearranging the maps, dirty dishes and tourist pamphlets kicking around our room just because it feels like I should do something productive. Let’s be honest though, that feeling fades pretty quickly once happy hour rolls around.

I’m making us sound like real dicks that haven’t been experiencing the place at all aren’t I? Well I can say that we have actually managed to leave the safety blanket of the resort and have been loving the place, even without our resort tinted glasses on. Early on we discovered a little restaurant down the road from us that serves amazing green curry (so much better than anything the resort serves to be honest). Also, visiting Chaweng beach regularly (as I mentioned in the previous blog) has been an absolute blow to the senses – particularly at night. Yesterday we journeyed out to Nathon town on the other side of the island on the back of a taxi ute (the best and cheapest mode of transportation we’ve found in Koh Samui) and were rewarded with a cute sea side town, the perfect place to sip Chang beer in the sun. We actually heard Salmonella Dub “Slide” (a kiwi band) being cranked out of a little bar there which was a really special moment.

The funny thing I’ve found with Koh Samui is that there are experiences that you’re supposed to have as a tourist and those that you have yourself. We’ve only really enjoyed the latter to be honest! Take for example, an island tour we took the other day which would be great if you’re a list ticker and just keen to say you’ve been somewhere for the sake of it, but not so great if you like to experience things yourself. It mainly involved stopping at various locations so that hawkers could push their perfumed fans and crepes (ok so maybe they didn’t have to push that hard) on you while you grabbed a quick, awkward photo in front of whatever the sight was. One of which I might add was a rock shaped like a penis next to a rock shaped like a vag. Ha.

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The most bizarre thing on the tour was the ‘monkey show’. I was dreading this from the get go and would have liked the option to skip as I imagined monkeys being forced into dancing for us or something. Turns out it’s literally just a monkey climbing a tree and knocking down a coconut while on a leash. Then he starts spinning the coconut in his master’s hands while we’re all encouraged to clap (but in reality everyone is just standing there wondering how they got to this point in their life). The best part of the tour was honestly just looking out the window at the landscape and catching what glimpses of local life we could.

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Our resort also had a go at giving us some cultural experiences. Let’s just say that they should stick to making cocktails. The show basically involved a troupe of young dancers wearing some sort of grass skirt attire and grinding on each other to Rihanna. This was followed by the limbo (?) and the grand finale saw the tubbiest of the lads jiggling around in a pink mini skirt and playboy bunny ears. To be fair, judging by downtown Chaweng at night this was probably the closest the show came to ‘authentic’ Thai. The ‘bunny’ then offered to take photos with all the guests at which point we slid away down the road to the cheap restaurant with the mean green curry.

I think Thai people have an idea of what tourists want and often it’s not the case. It’s funny because the stuff you are supposed to notice and like (i.e. the strange animal shows, endless shops selling fake Raybans and tacky gimmick bars) is just not what is great about Koh Samui. Instead, it’s the things that are just part of the landscape and culture for locals that are exciting to me.

Here are a few of my favourite experiences from Koh Samui…

  • Strolling through any of the towns (Chaweng, Lamai, Nathon Town) and soaking up the atmosphere.
  • An ice cold (or, let’s face it, even luke warm is fine) Chang beer. Seriously the best beer I’ve ever tasted and for around 50 baht (around $2NZD) you can’t complain!
  • Banana in coconut milk. A warm dessert sweetened with condensed milk. Enough said.
  • Curry and stir fry for breakfast. Don’t knock it till you try it.
  • A game Tom and I have been playing where you try to guess the song playing in midi version – the soundtrack favoured by pretty much every bar/restaurant here. You’re likely to win if you guess anything from The Beatles or Daniel by Elton John.
  • The Royal Thai massages. Now I know why Thai people are all so happy go lucky- it’s because they take out all their rage on unsuspecting tourists getting a massage. Painful but you feel like a million bucks afterward.

Reading back over this, I contradict myself a bit but that’s because I don’t think you should have to choose between lounging by the pool or getting lost wandering around a place. They are both great things to do. I think the key to having a good time while travelling isn’t trying to define yourself by one of Mr Garland’s stereotypes but instead, to strike a balance between them. We have had tourist days where we’ve only left the poolside to get a massage and then we’ve had full days getting amongst the local towns and travelling around the island. I’ve enjoyed both equally and it’s made for a great holiday so far.

Up next is a ten day tour of Vietnam before we settle into life in Ho Chi Minh city. I plan to keep up the tourist/traveller mix for now with the hopes of one day shedding both titles for the new one of’ ‘local’. Exciting times ahead!

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