‘Is it going to be fun?” That was the first question. A 52-kilometre ride around Koh Samui is the task at hand. It’s more than 20 years ago since my first visit to the island, and this will be the first time I ride solo on a motorbike without carrying a map with me. The idea is to just ride and do whatever I want to do.
There’s no real need for planning because I know I will not get lost on Koh Samui – the circular road will bring me back to my starting point.
The first thing that comes to mind is choosing the right bike. There are few choices : I could bring my big Monster 696 and have fun with it; I could rent a big bike here; or I could rent a small scooter or KSR mini motard bike. After considering the cost of bringing my bike from Bangkok, and without knowing the road conditions, the first option doesn’t work. I decide instead to rent a brand new Honda Click at a shop near my hotel.
There are not many choices when you search online for motorbike rental on Koh Samui. But when you arrive, there are plenty of places to choose from. Some offer big bikes, including enduro bikes and even a Harley Davidson.
My pit stop was The Tongsai Bay Resort located about 10 minutes’ drive from the airport. The T.A. Car and Bike Rental shop is located nearby at 59/8, 5, Bo Phut, Choeng Mon, Surat Thani, 84320. (Call 077-245129). They deliver bikes to the hotel and you can return them at the airport if you wish. It costs 200 baht per day for scooters and about 1,000 baht a day for a 1,500cc compact car. If you want a Toyota Fortuner, then it’ll cost 2,000 baht per day. Make sure you bring a valid driver’s licence with you. If you are a foreigner, bring your international licence just in case. And remember that the quoted prices are for direct contact. If you want your hotel to make contact with a rental vehicle company for you, there will be an additional service charge.
Now, let’s look at the trip. Studying a map briefly before leaving, I estimate it will take 3-4 hours, including a stopover for coffee or lunch.
The 24-hour weather forecast says a storm is coming but it should be safe in the morning. I bring a rain jacket anyway.
I ask the locals in the rental shop what causes most accidents on Koh Samui.
They say: “Farang tourists riding or driving in the right lane is the most common thing you will see and you must be careful”; and “Road conditions have improved, so drivers are going mad with speed. Watch out when they overtake another car from the opposite lane.”
It’s good advice. Imagine you are riding or driving up a hill and suddenly someone is coming fast towards you in your lane.
By 7am, I have on my full gear with half-face helmet that I brought from Bangkok, plus an air-flow jacket with protection guards, gloves and boots. I have to say I later regret the half-face helmet, because I get sunburn on the unprotected skin. You may look funny on the island with full gear on, but an accident can happen at any time. It’s easier to protect yourself first rather than have to fix what’s broken.
But in some areas, you can see more ugly buildings and less green on the island. The road has nice corners and slopes. Not a lot, but enough to have fun with. My favourite one is the Elephant Rock – it has amazing views and nice corners so you can do your cornering tricks.
Opposite Elephant Rock is Gafae Cafe, which is on a clifftop. You can stop by for coffee, dessert and 180 degree ocean view. It is located just after Chaweng beach and before reaching Lamai beach.
The plan is to complete a circle and not going off to the mountain – because the Honda Click is not designed for off-road riding. That needs special skills and the brake system is not great for slopes. I do not recommend it for beginners.
I’m aiming for Sydney’s Fish & Chips in the Tesco Lotus mall on Lamai beach but it’s too early for them to open. The place is run by the wife of the head chef of The Tongsai Bay resort, so it must be good.
Second choice is to have a lunch of the best Southern food at Kanom Jeen Par Maitree, located at Maenam Soi 4 Road. It is a house not too far from the main road in Mae Nam district. Riding from Lamai district, you have to pass Hua Nathon, Bang Kao, Thong Krut, Phanga Bay, Taling Ngam, Nathon and Bang Po first.
At Par Matree’s restaurant, the kanom jeen pak tai or Southern noodles curry style comes in about five different types, with lots and lots of fresh vegetables on a basket. I have to say that it is well worth a visit – but don’t come later than 2pm because it is usually sold out by then.
After lunch, the next item on my agenda is coffee on the beach. Will I find the right place? I wasn’t ready to stop at Elephant Rock but the timing is now right to find my dream place. The fun is in not knowing if it exists.
I reach the Tongsai Bay Resort, still having no luck with the coffee – until I make a right turn from the main road toward Bo Phut’s Fisherman’s Village and go a further 50 metres or so. The little coffee bar and restaurant there is called Bakubung. To me this is one of the best-kept secrets on Koh Samui.
Located on the beach, it is certainly a heavenly place to come and rest, drink coffee and enjoy the view. Fine sand stretches across the front, with views of Koh Phangan. There are seats on the covered patio or you can sit at one of the tables outside for ocean views.
I certainly lucked out with this place.
I leave the Bakubung coffee bar and go back to Tongsai Bay Resort to pick up some T-shirts that I thought would make great souvenirs. These ones are designed by the world famous Lord Brian Grimwood – the artist behind the logo on the Johnnie Walker label.
Koh Samui dinner options? Most places on the beach front offer dinner sets at quite high prices. If you want to get away from all that and have great local food on bamboo tables and chairs on the beach instead, there are several restaurants along the main road near Bang Po district.
Facebook is great! Can’t find something? Drop your question on Facebook and you friends will always reply. That’s how I got to know about Bang Po Seafood (Ta Koh) – a great local restaurant with fresh seafood and a top location right on the beach. I will not go into details because I’m not writing about food. Suffice it to say that this place is highly recommended.
Taxis on Koh Samui are expensive. About 10 minutes’ drive can cost between 500 baht and 800 baht for a single trip, when you can rent a car for as little as 700 baht for a full day. Also, they never turn the meter on. The tip to save you some money is to book a hotel near the airport, which means looking at those in Choeng Mon, Bo Phut and Chaweng beach. Mae Nam district is still not too far, but if you prefer the other side of island, be prepared for a drive of up to 45 minutes.
Another choice is to take the public song-taew that costs between 20 and 50 baht per person.
If your flight home is in the morning, rent a car or bike 24 hours earlier and you can enjoy driving out for dinner or to the night market before you return the car at the airport the next day.
My conclusion is that Koh Samui is a fun place to ride. It has exceptionally great road conditions; places to stop by and enjoy the view and great places to eat and shop.
Riding a motorcycle is convenient for parking or going through narrow roads. But you need to be careful.
Riding solo is fun; riding in a group should be even better.
Writer: Poom Sreshthaputra