Living on a tropical island is a dream for many. The fact that I get to call this island of Koh Samui home is quite superb. On any given day, you can snorkel, kayak, hike or let the wind in your hair whilst scooting around the island. There are many opportunities for farangs (foreigners) to find work on the island, but know that visas can be quite effort. Budget travellers looking for cheap hostels can be happy here as well as those looking for luxury villa rentals on the beaches of Samui (offered through Tempston Luxury). Here are some things you all need to know…
Koh Samui is definitely one of the more developed islands in Thailand. Tourists visit here in abundance and it has a firm footing as a luxury destination for food, hotels and activities such as yachting. You can find a simple bungalow near the beach for around less than 700 baht but it will not have a kitchen. If you are keen on just buying Thai food from the markets every evening, which is more than feasible and sometimes cheaper, then go for it. A one bedroom house with a kitchen is more likely to cost around 8000 baht and if you’re keen on a furnished place with TV, fridge and wifi included it will be over 10 000 baht. Find out if the property is paying private (approx. 6 baht per unit) or government rates for electricity ( 3 baht per unit) as this is not included in the rent and has to be paid at a Seven Eleven store.
There is no public transport on the island such as trains, buses or tuk tuks, but there is a red van with two benches under canopy called a Song Taew (meaning two rows). Its schedule is random and you will just have to wait on the road side for whenever it decides to come past. If you are new here, first ask the driver if it is going to areas such as Lamai or Chaweng as some continue along the island’s ring road and others turn into the heavily populated area which can prove a very long detour if you hadn’t planned it. Foreigners pay 50 baht per transfer and locals 20 baht. Press the button on the roof for the driver to stop. Taxi scooters are also available at over 100 baht per transfer. Their appearance is random. The yellow taxi cabs are the most expensive way to get around and always cost over 400 baht per transfer.
Scooters are the most popular way to get around on the island. You can rent them for around 250 baht per day and monthly rentals are about 3000 baht per month. For big families, you can rent a car for 1000 baht a day. Thai people are perfectly fine with fitting a family of four on one scooter and it proves way cheaper and cooler with the wind in your hair. Wear a helmet at all times as sometimes the police hold roadblocks and will fine you. There is also a high accident rate especially amongst reckless foreigners. So if you’re on a scooter, drive carefully. Thai drivers frequently overtake multiple cars and take over the opposite lane, leaving you on the scooter to be pushed onto the ‘sidewalk’. Be careful.
Gasoline or petrol for your car and scooter is around 45 baht per litre. You can choose to buy it from a gas station or from vendors who sell them every few metres outside their homes and businesses for about 40 baht for 750 ml.
Most expats find work in the English teaching or hospitality industries on the island, both of which are booming. The best way to find an English teaching job is to drop your CV off at English Institutions you see or Thai schools. Here’s a directory of schools on the island: Samui Directory. I emailed my CV to many schools, but emails are not likely to be answered. Many Thai staff do not speak English that well so it’s always best to visit them and not phone. Your chances of getting an English Teaching job improve greatly if you have a TEFL certificate and degree but it is not mandatory. The Ministry of Education in Thailand has just passed a new law that if you are not from countries such as America, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, you are not classified as a native English speaker and need to do a test to prove your level of English. As a South African with a degree and years of teaching experience, this is proved difficult and costly as you will need to travel to Bangkok to do a TOEIC test to apply for a teacher’s license and thereafter a work permit.
This is something that causes of every lover of Thailand constant stress- visa runs. When you arrive in Thailand by air you will get a visa for 30 days, by road 15 days (this may differ per country). You can then extend this by up to 14 days (depending on the mood of the Immigration Officers in Nathon) for 1900 baht. We only got an extra 7 days which proved to be quite expensive. You can do a border run by mini-bus which leaves at the crack of dawn, drives like a maniac, get your passport stamped out of the country and then come back in 2 minutes later. This is cheapest option, but the drive takes, longer than 12 hours and can be quite hairy depending on the driver. I have tried it and refuse to do it again. The more expensive option is to fly out of the country to bordering Myanmar, Cambodia or Malaysia. It will take you a third of the time and is way more comfortable. You can renew your tourist visa (around 200 baht) and get 60 days which can be extended by another 30. Every day spent over your limit is 500 baht so you don’t want to overstay your visit.
Flights directly from Koh Samui are incredibly expensive, so the next best option is to take the ferry and bus from Donsak to Surat Thani airport and then fly out of Thailand. Air Asia has great specials and often proves to be the cheapest. If you want to work long-term you will have to get your school or company to give your papers for a non-B visa, a multiple-entry one will set you back 500 baht.
There are fine dining restaurants that offer up gourmet meals of up to 2000 baht per person but this is for the rich. Mere mortals and expats who live here, this is really expensive so we eat where the locals eat. Every few steps you take will yield a Thai kitchen and make-shift restaurant. All are open-air where mosquitoes are rife at night, but if you want take-aways and wear mosquito repellent you can find a really delicious Thai meal for 40 baht. The average price of a Thai meal in a restaurant ranges from 70- 120 baht. Western restaurants selling Italian, Mexican, Indian and American style meals are usually over 200 baht per person. Pork, chicken and shrimp are frequently used in Thai cooking, but not beef. Thai beef is average and imported Australian beef will set you back over 600 baht per steak. There is however a walking street nearly every night of the week where you can buy every type of food for under 120 baht.
These are the night markets which crop up in Choengmon (outside Muang Samui Hotel) on a Wednesday night, Maenam on a Thursday night, Bo Phut’s Fishermen’s village on Fridays and Lamai on Sunday evenings. Usually the same vendors will move to these markets and selling everything from lamps, vintage artwork and jewelry to fruit shakes, pizza, Pad Thai and clothing. Choengmon also known as the ‘Floating Market’ due to its position around a mini-lake is my favourite one as there’s always local entertainment to enjoy such as Thai dancing, Muay Thai demonstrations and bands. Fishermen’s village tends to be very crammed which makes it unpleasant to get through. Both this market and Maenam also offer various entertainment such as beat boxers and bands at various times.
Getting here and to nearby islands
If you’re not taking the expensive route and flying directly to the island, chances are that you will reach here by ferry. There are many ferries which leave the island daily starting from 5am and finishing at 6pm. To get the mainland Donsak, buy a ticket for 150 from Nathon Pier. A ferry ticket and bus ticket to Surat Thani will be 240 baht together. To visit nearby island such as Koh Phangan, Koh Toa or Ang Thong National Park, you can book from Tour office and choose options such as a speedboat or ferry from Lomprayah or Nathon Pier.
Those in search of relaxation and action will both be able to find their joy. You rent a kayak (100 baht per hour), Stand-up paddleboard (350 baht per hour) or Jet Ski at a number of different beaches on the island. You can visit one of the many breathtaking waterfalls or a magical garden atop the mountain. Venture into its mountainous interior with your scooter (not for the faint-hearted or novice riders) or safari 4×4 tour vehicle. Enjoy a Thai massage (about 250 baht) at a spa closest to you or enjoy cocktails as the sun sets on Nathon/ Taling Ngam side. For the kids, there’s Butterfly world, Zoo and Aquarium and Coco Splash.
Membership at a gym will cost around 1000 baht per month but most gyms don’t have a pool or indoor gyming area with air conditioner. There are many yoga studios around and 3 classes a week will cost around 900 baht per month. There are some studios which also offer ballet, Pilates and hip hop dancing for kids. Muay Thai gym memberships cost 7000 baht for a month.
Tropical means intense humidity, daily heat over 28 degrees celius. constant attack from mosquitoes and monsoon rains for a few months of the year. Pack light, cotton clothing, sunblock and mosquito repellent. Family brought a mosquito net from home as I didn’t find any here and desperately need one to sleep peacefully during the hot nights.