Some visitors to Samui approach the island with the same trepidation as early Victorian’s exploring blank parts of the map, ready for hostile encounter with unknown predators. It’s a pith helmet and blunderbuss approach, accompanied by enough bags of medicine to stock a small pharmacy. But what’s the truth? Is Samui dangerous? Is the night really filled with giant bugs? Can we hear slithering noises just outside our hotel room? Should we fear the Samui wildlife ruining our holiday?
Samui wildlife turns out to be reassuringly low-key. The most commonly seen animals turn out to be cats and dogs. You’ll find plenty of them, and generally they’re cheerful and friendly. Some are wild, some not. A bit of caution is necessary; island hospitals see a fair number of dog bites, so it pays to be careful and not pat Rover on the head until you really know him. Most resorts seem these days to have a placid resident cat who you may find sitting on your porch – hardly feral.
To see any wildlife you’ll really need to go deep into the jungle, and adrenaline junkies may end up a bit disappointed. There are a few colourful birds, though not many, and certainly no parrots or macaws to be seen. As for large animals, the only one you’re really likely to come across is a tethered buffalo. You may possibly come across a snake, but unless they’re suddenly disturbed, snakes tend to take the defensive: once they hear the trample of feet coming their way, they’re off. The most commonly reported snake is bright green and about a metre long. It’s not poisonous and tends to live in the tops of coconut trees. Should you see a snake that you think is poisonous, then tell someone as soon as you can. Within minutes you’ll find people coming to look for it and take it away. The Thais are certainly very efficient at getting rid of slithery intruders. Because of the care taken, relatively few people are bitten by snakes here. It’s unlikely that you’ll even see a single live snake in your time here.
Very occasionally you might see scorpions or centipedes, both of which need to be avoided. Check any shoes before you put them on (though you’re more likely to find a frog nesting in them) but apart from this, there are no other precautions you’ll need to take. Be careful of the much less-seen red centipede with thick legs. It looks dangerous and certainly is. The sting is amazingly painful, and you’ll need to go to hospital. Luckily, you’re fairly unlikely to come across these critters. Meanwhile the often-seen black centipedes that seem to be constantly in motion are completely safe. They’ll curl up into a spiral if touched and play dead.
Many of us fear large spiders. The dinner plate size ones, seen in South America, just don’t exist here, and most are very small and innocuous. Very occasionally, you’ll see a larger spider, but not often. And since hotel rooms are generally very thoroughly cleaned, and every day, it’s rare to come across spiders and their webs in resorts.
What you will see and often are geckos. They seem to be everywhere, especially the smaller ones that the Thais call ‘chingchok’. They’re always on the hunt for mosquitoes, and Thais believe it’s lucky to have them in the house, though it would be hard to find any dwelling without at least a few. They’re not aggressive and will shy away from you, as will the larger ‘tookai’, which you may sometimes see on the wall of a building. They’ll also keep out of your way, but their intermittent loud call can be a real nuisance. Don’t attempt to catch one as the tookai can bite; ask someone to deal with it.
Exotic wildlife is occasionally cruelly commercialized and if you’re in Chaweng, you may see people with large lizards, birds and other animals on their shoulders. A great photo opportunity? No, it isn’t; this is a business which is built on the misery of these animals and should be avoided.
So much for the land, but what about the sea? How safe is it? Firstly, many visitors are justifiably afraid of jellyfish and their stings. There are more jellyfish than there used to be, and on some beaches there are now vinegar stations, but it’s a simple matter to bring your own. Again, you’re unlikely to be stung but it can happen. Beware particularly of the extremely dangerous box jellyfish – it can be lethal. If you do get stung, get hold of some vinegar quickly and go immediately to the nearest hospital. Always ask at your hotel what the current conditions for jellyfish are. Don’t whatever you do, swim at night or go far out.
Samui isn’t plentiful in aquatic wildlife, and you’ll see relatively few fish of any variety unless you’re snorkelling from a boat out in the deeps. If you’d like to see just how rich Thailand’s waters can be when it comes to tropical fish, then head for Koh Tao, where there are some truly amazing sights to be seen.
Samui is quite a safe place for holidays and it’s unlikely that you’ll have a bad encounter with an animal of any kind. If you do, then help is at hand. Prevention is always better than the cure, so aim to be cautious and keep on the safe side of the wildlife here. And remember that just because you’re on the lookout for what’s big and scary, you may end up neglecting one of the most obvious dangers of being in the tropics – the tiny, annoying and sickness-bearing mosquito. Use plenty of mosquito repellent and beware of daytime bites from mosquitoes that can result in dengue fever.
The best way to deal with Samui wildlife fears is always to ask people who are likely to know what’s realistic and what’s paranoid. It pays to use some caution. But really, there’s very little to detract you from the pleasure of enjoying your time on a beautiful tropical island rich in flora and beautiful sights.