The big advantage of an organised Samui tour is that it’s . . . organised. No need to think. You’ll be picked up, taken around with a truckload of others and make new friends. You’ll all get fed, carted about to somewhere new, then taken back and dropped off where you started. But why not hire a jeep and do it yourself – it’s cheaper and way more fun!
I’ve put together my own tour of the island. No activities. No trekking or safaris, no racing cars or off-road rides or any kinds of golf, massage spas or resorts. And the only restaurants on the route will be the ones that take your fancy when you feel like stopping for a break – I’ll get no commission for taking you there!
You’re not going to need much gasoline; a full tank will take you completely around Samui about six times over. I’m going to start off in Chaweng as all roads lead to Rome and, anyway, you can pick up the trail anywhere along my route. If you look at the layout of Chaweng, you’ll see that the island’s ring-road bypasses it completely. Look again and note the three side-roads leading off the ring-road, in and out of Chaweng.
Find the side-road that heads almost directly towards Tesco-Lotus. It runs along the edge of Chaweng Lake, thus is known as ‘The Lake Road’. Look for Q Bar: it’s up the hill on the other side of the lake. Follow that road upwards. And stop outside the temple at the top. This is Wat Khao Chedi. It’s the highest point overlooking Chaweng. And not only is it an oasis of tranquillity, but you can now actually see just how close the airport really is!
Do a U-turn back the way you came into Chaweng and turn left, heading north. Cruise towards the neighbouring bay of Choeng Mon. There’s not a lot to see here, so follow the road along the coast towards Big Buddha. But don’t bother with that – it’s now sadly commercialised – compare it to the temple you’ve just seen with the chedi.Want to see Samui off the tourist trail? Get to grips with our alternative tour of the island! Instead, look out for the blindingly white multi-armed Buddha almost next door at Wat Plai Laem. Then move on.
You’ll pass through the area known as Bangrak. This is how much of Samui used to be at one time, Chaweng included: a ribbon of beach road lined with buildings. Continue on and you’ll be at the entrance to Fisherman’s Village. Take note of it, go past to the traffic lights and turn right. You’re now on the ring-road at Bophut, heading towards Maenam. This is an interesting little place with a lively Walking Street every Thursday. But you’re bypassing it. Look out for an auto shop on the right; Dan Auto. Then take the next left alongside Family Mart, up into Soi 1 and the signposted ‘shortcut to Lamai’.
I’m taking you up and over to Lamai. Because this route is one of the few ways you’ll get to see just how wild and undeveloped most of Samui really is. It’s twisty and majestic and your ears will pop as you rise. Be prepared to slip into first gear for a while; one of the uphill bits is steep. As you drop down again all the junctions are signposted except for one. It’s a T-junction, and I guess they didn’t bother here – either way gets you into Lamai. You’ll be back on the ring-road again, so head right. And I’ll leave the next part up to you.
There are two things to look out for here, both of them worth a stop for refreshment and photos. The first thing is the new Chinese temple. You won’t miss it, believe me! The other thing around here is the Muslim village and their amazing fishing boats: wait until the road narrows and makes an abrupt right-angle turn, but don’t turn, go straight into the little narrow alley ahead.Want to see Samui off the tourist trail? Get to grips with our alternative tour of the island!
After this point you’ve got a choice of sorts. I want to take you back uphill/ inland again, but taking in some interesting stuff, too. Keep following the ring-road – labelled 4169 – out of Lamai. There’s a stretch here of several kilometres where you can smile at the Ray Ban-wearing ‘Mummified Monk’ (Wat Khunaram), cool off at the Namuang Waterfall, chug up to one of the super rustic viewpoint restaurants and – the best part – spend time at The Secret Buddha Garden. And this last one is worth half a day all on its own.
You’re mostly done. Except to take the only long road on Samui that’s so isolated that there’s nothing to look at; just a million trees, the occasional little wooden shack and a new house or two. I find this quite humbling after areas like Lamai and Chaweng, even a bit scary. So find the nearby 4171 road and follow it towards the coast in a huge sweep until it meets the junction of the ring-road again, and head left towards Nathon.
Twenty years ago there was only one 7-11 on all of Samui, and it was in Nathon. Plus the only international ATM on the island. And the only bakery, too. They’re all still there today. Cruise in and park-up on the seafront road near the obvious Night Food Market (which is already open by 3:30 pm). But head back and walk slowly along the middle road which runs parallel to the beach. Here you’ll see images of the old Samui from 70 or 80 years ago: strange and crooked little wooden buildings squashed between newer ones. Then wander back to the food market, have a break and a snack. And then make your way back to your resort, heading towards Maenam again, past some of the best seafood restaurants on the island before the big hill, and after it. But don’t tell anyone about this Samui tour – it’s a secret!
Rob De Wet