With just three days to go we wake to overcast skies and decide that this is the day we can venture out to see some sights. Outside the hotel we negotiate a price with the taxi driver who spends his time there and set off down the busy road parallel to Lamai Beach, first to see the Grandma and Grandad rocks. After a slow ride through the traffic the driver makes an abrupt turn left down a narrow, bumpy lane, winds between some buildings and comes to a halt in a car park behind a welter of assorted stalls and shops-their number somewhat out of proportion with the numbers of sight-seers around.
Our driver indicates the way we should go-a passageway through a shop piled high with hats and gaudy toys. The character of the beach here is changed from wide sweep of sand to cliffs and prominent rocks-none more prominent than the ‘Grandad’. And it is immediately obvious how the rock acquired its name.
We clamber up to see the rocks from different angles then return to the taxi. The driver has brought a companion along for the ride, although we are not sure who she is-his wife, perhaps?
Next we wind up into the interior of Koh Samui to stop at a temple complex and I’m glad I thought to fling a thin sarong into my bag to aid modest dressing for temple visits.
Inside a gilded, glass case adorned with offerings and flowers sits the ‘mummified monk’, a disquieting exhibit, his sightless eyes staring out of his leathery face.
Leaving the main road we drive up through lush plantations of banana trees and orchards of rubber trees, each trunk circled with a band and a small cup for the trees’ sap to drain into. Then it’s on and up again until we reach a rutted track and pull into a parking area bordered by a fence. Behind the fence are elephants, prepared and ready to take tourists for rides through the forest. A stall sells bananas for the punters to feed them and there is a charge to photograph these exploited animals. We know that many elephants that work in this way are ill-treated and we have not come to see them, but to look at the waterfall.
While it is not exactly a raging tumult, the waterfall is impressive enough and surrounded by immense, tall trees. It is not seething with tourists but those that are there are either bathing in the pool or draping themselves in the path of my camera shutter. And I can imagine how different it will be when the rainy season is underway. In comparison to the Grandma and Granddad rocks the number of stalls on the path is restrained, consisting mainly of piled up coconuts and a few souvenirs.
Our driver and his silent companion are [justifiably] not much inclined to act as tour guides, dropping us at each location and waiting for us to return, although our questions are answered and our expressions of appreciation acknowledged.
We return down the track and head towards another beach area. Here is an impressive shrine and another [enormous] glass case containing a vessel and what appears to be another mummified monk-this one even more spooky, peering out at us with sinister stare. The vessel in which he sits is itself surrounded by dozens of model boats.
The beach here is stacked with the hard, white shapes of dead coral, beautiful but a telltale sign of poor sea health. But the area is almost deserted, the shrine showing signs of neglect. Clearly this is not a well-known site.
We have one last site to visit, a temple complex that quickly becomes my favourite The entire venue is snake themed, the temple walls adorned with vibrant scenes rendered in terracotta and best of all, outside, a long staircase leading to the beach is flanked by beautiful cobras, their mouths gaping as they reach the base as if to snatch the unwary person descending.
It’s the end of our whistlestop tour, but we’ve discovered there is much more to Koh Samui than beach life.