Koh Samui

Koh Samui was paradise. Then people from all over the world came and took what they liked: the beaches, the sea, the palm trees, the people. What remains is a conquered island, still beautiful and rich in nature, but clearly marked by the phenomenon of package tourism.

Pictures taken in the early 90s show Chris as a toddler playing on the beach. In the background are dense palm forests that almost reach the water. A few rickety beach loungers, virtually no tourists. The island has changed a lot since then.

At the Beach, Ko Samui

An international airport with a busy flight schedule. An escalating waste problem. Deforestation, climate adaptation and water pollution. Problems that a quick look behind the dream facade reveals. The idyllic palm groves on the beach from memory – a relic of the past almost everywhere. The “tourism” sector of the economy grew, but as is almost always the case in such circumstances, the prosperity of the population did not grow in equal measure.

Koh Samui offers exactly what tourists are looking for: Accommodation by the water. Reasonable prices. An abundance of restaurants, food and supermarkets. Convenient accessibility. An orderly, tamed nature that offers no risks or dangers. All it takes is the daily walk from the breakfast room to the beach lounger – a smile, no garbage please, individually wrapped butter and three showers, because the sweat runs incessantly from your pores. There are easy girls around the corner. The big picture on the outside is of no interest.

Palm Trees Koh Samui
Palm Trees Koh Samui

Yes, Koh Samui and its surrounding islands remain dream destinations for stressed-out Central Europeans and heat-loving families. But it is places like Koh Samui, Sharm El-Sheikh, Antalya and even Mallorca that have democratized travel and made it affordable. Everyone can enjoy the sun, beach and palm trees, everyone can imagine they are in paradise for a moment.

People from all over the world travel to the “Big Buddha”, take photos, take selfies. The planes taking off from the nearby airport roar overhead. Tourists circumnavigate the islands on scooters, squeeze into shared cabs and share the beaches. They celebrate themselves and life at the legendary Full Moon parties on Koh Phangan. They forget everyday life and everything that lies behind them. Koh Samui is an illusion. But tourism – travel in general – is always an illusion.

Big Buddha Koh Samui

We jump into the warm sea off Koh Phangan and swim over to the shore. We have taken the sailing boat to a more remote part of the island, and it is low season. So there’s not too much going on.

A walk on the beach, an ice-cold coconut, drying off in the sun and waiting for dusk to fall. The sky turns dark blue, orange and red stripes, a little pink. Fishing boats anchor off the coast. Their green lights magically attract squids. From a nearby bar we hear the clinking of glasses, laughter and an overdriven music system. We sit on the still-warm sand, with the open sea in front of us and the island behind us.

Sailing in Thailand
Koh Phanghan Beach
Koh Phanghan Beach

We have been to Koh Samui several times, in different years and decades. We came by bus, ferry, our own car, by plane. We brought money, supported restaurant operators, service staff, hotels, scooter rental companies with our presence … But we were also part of the problem. We are a curse and a blessing, like every tourist. You could find a positive approach: Who benefits from paradise if not people? Shouldn’t we all be allowed to share in the beauty of the world?

But you could also take a critical approach. We destroy what we want to see by seeing it. Slowly, but steadily. Humanity is growing. The number of travelers is increasing, but not the size of the world. Resources are finite.

Info about our trip