Samui is surrounded by some 40 islands. Some of them have only recently been inhabited and some still aren't.
Even though the movie version of Alex Garland's 'The Beach' was filmed in Koh Phi Phi it was here in the lower Gulf of Thailand that the author imagined his idyllic islet to be.
There are many day trips heading out to explore this wonderworld. We chose to head to Koh Tao and Nang Yuan – two neighbouring islands 90 minutes from Samui.
- Ang Thong Adventure Tour
- Ko Tao & Ko Nang Yuan Snorkeling Tour
- Around the Island Tour
- Red Baron Junk Sailing Tour with Transfers
- Jungle Adventure
- 4-Wheel ATV Adventure
- Guided Photography Tour with Golden Pagoda & Big Buddha
- Chanita Thai Cooking Class
- Big Game Fishing Full-Day Tour
- Sea Kayaking at Ang Thong Marine Park
We're just finishing our breakfast when the minivan driver pokes his head around the resort's big wooden front doors and nods at us. We nod back and a minute later we're in Samui's morning traffic heading towards Maenam.
At the pier some people are eating breakfast (included in the tour) and I'm amazed to see that others are already sunbathing – this at 8:30 in the morning! Still, it's hotter at 8:30 in Thailand than at midday in most North European countries and even hotter still once we are in the three-engine speedboat waiting for us on the shore.
North by Northwest
Once we get going, however, the cool breezes, along with ice-cold soft drinks from the cold box, do their work and we're soon settled down for the 90-minute ride to Koh Tao. The sea is remarkably smooth today and the powerful boat cuts a north-by-northwest swathe through the Gulf of Thailand's turquoise waters.
Koh Tao used to be uninhabited and during the 1930's was used as a penal colony but it's sort of hard to imagine life here as a punishment. It's an extremely attractive island with alternating sand-and-granite shorelines and a lot of greenery.
Our first stop is Ao Kluay Thon, a beautiful bay on the north of the island. Dick, our guide, hands out masks and snorkels and we slip into the velveteen waters to explore the underwater life.
And what marine life! Clown fish hover in between sea anemone, striped triggerfish sail by, we see filefish with their curiously puckered mouths, rabbitfish, weird-looking sea cucumbers (you'd look weird too, if your blood was yellow), parrotfish (so-named because their teeth formation looks like a beak that is used to scrape algae from coral) and many other species scuttling in and out of the wonderful coral formations.
Still, the most striking aspect of these fish is that they are so unconcerned about the sudden invasion of pink blobby creatures in florescent swimming costumes floating above them on the surface.
We explore for an hour until Dick calls us back to the boat which takes us to Sairee Beach. Here, a line of beach restaurants awaits and the captain has a job of it to back the speedboat up to the shore at low tide but we eventually make it and traipse into the large, open-sided 'Bingo' Restaurant.
They're prepared for us and the food is beautifully fresh. Staff members lockstep into seamless military precision and believe me it's needed to handle three ravenous boatfuls of fish fanciers. They keep us topped up with rice, deep-fried chicken legs, a delicious tom yam gung, omelette, lightly fried veggies, fresh fruit and cool, cool water.
Nang Yuan's triple-strand of beaches, formed by three convergent currents interacting with the three peaks of the island, forms an island shape you'll not see anywhere else in the world.
It really is an extraordinary sight and is mere minutes away from Siray Beach. We disembark at a wooden pier and out come the Canons, Sonys, Nikons, Olympus and every camera brand you've ever seen to capture the once-in-a-lifetime vista of the island's huge granite boulders and over the causeway a hillock with the perfect balance of rocks, bungalows and greenery.
It must be the world's most peaceful place at night but right now Nang Yuan is pretty busy. At the 'Japanese Garden' beach people are snorkeling among the teeming fish; a long beach bar is doing good business, as is a restaurant full of people gesticulating to harassed-looking waiters.
Yonder is a dive school with an Australian woman briefing three Japanese divers dressed in incongruously heavy dive suits (I later learn that the suits are worn as protection from the sharp rocks and coral.) Nang Yuan is a world-renowned place to learn to dive. The currents are so gentle and underwater visibility spectacular.
Visitors are discouraged from bringing plastic or glass bottles onto the island. At the end of the pier stands a 'check in' hut at which to leave your beverages. Liquid refreshments are available at the bar and restaurant but, given the monopoly, don't expect them to come cheap.
And don't forget your shoes on board the speedboat. The harsh sand at Nang Yuan is burning hot underfoot. The hillock across the causeway has a track to the top from where you can take some spectacular photos – expect a 15-minute walk and to come back in serious need of a drink.
If you are unwilling to pay the high prices on shore you can always nip back to the nearby speedboat and help yourself to the ice box… It's a two-hour stopover and there's a lot to see so by the time we get back to the boat we're fairly tired out and most people have a nap on the way back to Samui.
We're back at Maenam at 4:30 and bundle into our deliciously cool minivan to filter through the island's early evening rush hour traffic.
The light at this time of day plays on a Chinese temple's gilded roof and reflects golden shafts of sunlight into the van.
Magic stuff; but come to think of it, it's been a magical day…