By Don George
When I decided to visit Koh Samui some years ago, many of my most intrepid friends were shocked. No self-respecting traveler went there anymore, they said. Koh Samui was right up there with Goa and Bali on the list of Paradises Lost. Yet something in my heart leapt at the sound of the name. It was a kind of incantation I had been hearing for years: Koh Samui! My mind was made up: I would go, despite my friends’ protests.
And was I glad I did! Of course I heard the endless thumpa-thump-thump of canned music booming from streetside bars. And saw a scraggly straggle of T-shirt shops and souvenir stops and bootleg boutiques lining the main street. And yes, I even caught the illicit scent of night-blooming romance in the back-alley air.
Yet, when I wandered off the beaten path, I discovered so much more. I found a long, wide, sandy beach, where prototypical palms leaned over the white sands, which bent in a Kodak crescent around a tranquil, tepid sea. The sand ran into lush tangles of green trees and brush. In the opposite direction, a few fishing boats bobbed on the placid water. This was tranquility incarnate.
Continuing on to the western end of the island, I found timeless island tableaux: vast stands of coconut palms; thatched and corrugated metal and wood and concrete/cinderblock homes; smoldering fires; copra processing plants; mothers bouncing babies; lush green mountains; kids playing in a stream; rocky beaches; long-prowed fishing boats. A little girl rode a massive elephant down the beach. Just before them, a man in a conical hat walked by carrying a pole on his shoulder, balancing two thatched baskets filled with fried fish and bowls of sauces.
I sat on this beach and savored the incomparably serene scene: the palm trees waving and catching the sun in an intricate interplay of light and shadow; dark green and lemon green fat coconuts waiting to fall; the sparkling aquamarine sea, where the swash of the waves seemed to tangle in the swash of the palm fronds in the trade winds.
And I thought: That’s the thing about Paradises Lost. If you don’t know what Bali or Goa or Koh Samui was like all those years ago, they seem pretty idyllic when you’re there, even now. In your late-to-the-party ignorance, you just don’t know what you’re missing. And in this case, at least, another old adage richly applies: Ignorance is bliss.
Savor the splendors of Koh Samui — and Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China — during a luxury cruise on Crystal Symphony: Voyage 5206: Singapore to Hong Kong – Oriental Embrace.