Ko Samui - Where did paradise go?

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
Trip End Mar 19, 2009

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, February 6, 2009

The story goes that way back in the year 1971, two tourists arrived in Samui via a coconut boat, stumbling upon paradise. If they were to revisit Samui today, in particular Chaweng Beach with its wall to wall shop til you drop packaged commercialism sense of paradise, would they have a sense of regret at their pronouncement to the world. Did Christopher Columbus later have a similiar feeling?

Granted, the beach itself, situated along the Gulf of Thailand, is near perfect; white sand beach, perfect temperature water and air, aquamarine waters and just enough wave action to make you feel invigorated. I get such pleasure just jogging down an open stretch of beach, here, Oregon coast, Ipanema, wherever. Just start jogging. I never jog on the streets of the world, only its beaches.

During the day at Chaweng Beach, you read, get tan, watch semi-naked women, take dip in water, maybe play a game of checkers or throw the frisbee with a new friend.

At night, the romantic ambiance, contributed to collectedly by the natural beach, stars and the rising semi-full moon, and by man, through artfully designed beachfront resorts and seafood beach dining experiences, is certainly inviting. I like the periodic fireworks over the water the best.

Yet, he says with baited, biting commentary breath, the environ feels like the natural feel, the natural edge has been squeezed into oblivion. Little foilage remains along Chaweng Beach's shore, backpackers' modest abodes have been replaced by high-end resorts and the carefree traveler has been replaced by a solemn, wealthier, consumer-driven international crowd. Initiating eye-contact and casual conversations grows more difficult. The Jimmy Hendrix Experience bar sits empty, forgotten. The corporate packaged southern Thailand beach resort experience has replaced it with its solemn jetset followers.

This part of Thailand has become a-cultural, a definite endless summer habitat in January/February for the jetset crowd that, with the approaching wet season, would be foresaken by this same crowd and seasonally transplant themselves to the Caribbean, Greek Islands, or Australia's Gold Coast later in the year.

And the commerce section on the Chewang's main drag went on forever. No end. Honest. One evening I walked over a mile passing a continous flow of  trinket shops, clothing stores, bootleg DVDs, fancy restaurant, massage parlor, yoga centers, fancy resort, luggage stall, electronic accessories stall, another bootleg dvd store, restaurant, Starbucks (only saw three Starbucks here, six in Patong), 7-11, massage, massage, resort, resort, backstreet go-go bars, restaurant, etc., etc., etc. Unbelievable! Finally, I did pick up another excellent fruit shake (mango) backtracked to the beach, sat on the sand, and sighed "that's better!" After seeing all this what would Buddha think? What would he do?

From my current beach position, I stared out across the Gulf of Thailand. Directly on the other side, near the Vietnam coast, some 25 plus years ago, my ship when I was in the US Navy picked up some of poor Vietnam's boat people refugees, several families so desperate to escape they had been adrift for several day, near starvation, hoping for a US vessel like ours to come along and safe them.

Finishing my shake, I did get the sudden urge to revisit the older men and women beggars positioned on the main street's busy sidewalks and happily relinquished my spare Baht change.

The Thailand beachlife phase of my trip would end tonight. Tomorrow, I'm bound for the cultural center of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai.

To see more of my travel photos, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

To read more of my travel writings, and more, please visit www.pecoskid.com
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