Koh Samui had shown more than promise from the day before as long as I was willing to explore and avoid the cluttered tourist hotspots. Koh Samui isn’t such a big island, so my plan of action would be to ride anticlockwise around the circumference jotting down places to visit again; either go back later that day or another. One deviation would be stopping over at the Big Buddha, only a minor detour of a few kilometres on a bulge that juts out of the North East near the airport. I hadn’t thought I’d have so much to say about Koh Samui, considering…read on.
I was flabbergasted how busy some parts of Koh Samui are; there are areas like Chaweng that if you were dropped there you could easily think you are in the back streets of Bangkok! Packed with tourists, a fancy mall with every shop you could think of and swarmed in the evening with drunken idiots. It’s also a haven for the seedier establishments, been persuaded in to visit by a flock of scantily dress women hovering around the entrances – even trying to catch your attention when you’re on your scooter riding past. Parts of Thailand do have a seedier undercurrent, I’ll come to that later.
Big Buddha Temple / Wat Phra Yai
Real name Wat Phra Yai but colloquially referred to as the Big Buddha Temple, located in the North East of Koh Samui near the airport and on a little island which you would notice because of the causeway built to reach it. To get there is easy and although it is situation in a town called Bang Rak most people just refer to the area as the Big Buddha area. It is a tourist hotspot since it was built in 1972, I was lucky to get there before it got too busy. Once you enter the “town” I thought I hadn’t found the entrance because the small market you walk through first hardly reflects the serene pictures that come to mind when imagining a Buddhist Temple; steampunk’esc metal sculptures from the movie Predator and Aliens…quite cool though.
I thought the Big Buddha was cool, wouldn’t go see it again though. At 12m high you can see it from quite a distance especially when the sun is setting, and it reflects the last of the days rays. Perched on top of a little hill it takes prominence over the area. Its watchful eyes gazing down the stairs leading up to it as if keen to see who is coming to visit, with a gentle content smile making it seem rude not to venture up the stair to take a closer look. I didn’t stay long, it was interesting to see with nice views too, I had a plan of action for the day and wanted to stick to it unless I was really intrigued or interested in something/somewhere.
Back on my scooter, cruising with a grim on my face not a care in the world. Time meant nothing, if Koh Samui took me days to ride around it didn’t seem to care, even in the busy areas I was in a groove, nothing seems to bother me, I was just enjoying the freedom and the ride. I was now covering ground I had the day before going past Nathon Pier, going through the main market area. A random person standing by a shop called out to me, normally I wouldn’t take any notice, not here at least, I turned to look at him and he gestured to my head then pointed down the road. I stopped, wasn’t quite sure what he meant but I had seen the signs when entering the area that helmets should be worn. Not to be “that” tourist I stopped and put my helmet on, only 100m down the road they were stopping and fining riders not wearing helmets. I thanked the gentleman in the back of my mind, this put an even greater smile on m face, how lucky was I!
I had ridden around near ¾ of Koh Samui feeling like a local now knowing area like the back of my hand ?, as happy as Larry, then, a car knocked me off my scooter!
A summary of what happened; I was riding against the road shoulder going straight, not far ahead was a right turn where a vehicle was turning. A car, instead of slowing down or stopping, accelerated in front of me and swerved around the car, only thing is I was on the left. Nowhere to go I tried to swerve hitting the car on the passenger side, then hitting the raised pavement before I went over the handlebars! An immediate reaction after finding myself lying on the pavement was to jump up, why I don’t know, looking around to survey what had happened. Looking down I became confused and concerned as my flip flops seemed to have disappeared! Standing there a little dazed and confused I saw blood running down my hand, not heavily just from the flap of skin on my palm. Adrenaline had kicked in, I didn’t feel any pain but must have looked odd just standing there looking around. Another scooter rider had stopped and suggested I sit down, not too long after, may have been 5 minutes the pain started, a dull throbbing pain in my hand, fingers (over 2 months later as I write this my fingers still aren’t right), shins, back, right forearm and foot.
Can’t be for certain how long it took for the ambulance to arrive, felt instantaneously after I sat down – in the background I heard people speaking to the driver accusing her of cutting me off. The paramedics were good, giving me some smelling salts bolted me back to the current dimension, they cleaned and patched me up, the stuff they put on my cuts/grazes burnt like hell! My luck again, there was a satellite police station just over the road, whilst the paramedics were working on me a policeman was chatting to the driver and witnesses.
By the time the paramedics had finished with me I looked up to see everyone had gone, except for the policeman, the driver and her occupants, an uneasy tense feeling started to fill my mind as it raced through every possible scenario. Here I was, involved in an accident in a foreign country surrounded by people who couldn’t really speak English, obviously I can’t speak Thai! We’ve all seen movies or heard stories similar to this where the odd one (a.k.a me the tourist) out gets the blame, just how bad could this end up made my head clear its thoughts, a calmness set in and I prepared myself for a possible tense confrontation.
I’ll try to summaries in as brief a manner as possible. We sat over the road in the make-shift hut of a police station; a corrugated piece of iron held up by four posts with a low table and random bench chairs. I remained quiet because the pain had started to surface, and I wanted to keep my thoughts clear. The driver started talking to me; a young looking friendly Thai lady, yet said to me I had come out of nowhere going fast. This was not true as the now absent witnesses had attested to, I retorted abruptly, she left me alone. I had spent over an hour there repeating my statement every time the same policeman asked me what had happened, this made me feel even more concerned; my conversations where in English to the policeman who could only speak a little broken English, a challenge explaining what happened and not knowing what if anything what the policeman was understanding. The drivers’ conversations with the policeman seemed long and involved, I had no idea what they were saying either, this repeated questioning started to irritate me, the pain in my hand, shoulder and foot were throbbing – ah yes, I forgot to add, the other scooter rider found my flip flops! I couldn’t wear them because of the bandage on my foot so I was carrying them around.
What seemed like Groundhog Day the policeman came back with a piece of torn cardboard and a pen asking me to explain again and draw what happened. My story hadn’t changed, my drawing of what happened looked a mix between Picasso and a child with my hand and fingers bandaged up on my right-hand. It was not the drivers’ chance to do her drawing (we were kept at a distance), following which they started making calls on their mobiles/cell phones…I started to worry, started getting ready for a long-haul argument….especially when the policeman started asking if I had insurance, where I was from, where did I hire the bike, my hotel etc. etc.
Next thing a new guy arrived on the scene, everyone now seemed to me asking if I needed to go to the hospital, even the driver kept coming to me to ask me if I was ok. I hadn’t let my guard down just yet. In short, the new guy on the scene was from the insurance company; he spoke to my hotel, the scooter rental company etc. both he and the policeman told me that they were paying for everything, confirming it was the drivers’ fault…my shoulders must have visibly dropped as the tension eased. Forgetting to mention, as I got to the “police station” I called my brother in New Zealand, to give him an update and if the shit hit the fan he would be up to date and in the loop.
Ending off this little saga, the drivers’ insurance would sort everything out, he took me back to my hotel in the process telling me this sort of thing happens every day…especially with Thai lady drivers (don’t know if this is true). At my hotel the guy sorted things out with my scooter company, the company in turned said I had agreed to rent the bike for five days (fib) and they said I didn’t have to pay a cent, not even for the two days I had used the bike.
NB. Whilst at the “police station” after the fault had been agreed everyone kept asking me if I needed to go to the hospital, truthfully I had no idea, I was in pain most certainly, my right arm (hand, forearm and shoulder) were very sore and I struggled to move it/them – my left foot was also in real pain but I didn’t think I had broken anything. Once the insurance guy left the scooter rental lady said that the drivers’ insurance would pay but any claim had to be within 24hrs of the incident; so, if I needed or wanted to go to the hospital this had to me done within 24hrs…something the insurance company stayed silent about. I’d see how I felt the next morning, if any worse then I’d contact the insurance company and go to the hospital.
NB. Before I forget, I must thank the Koh Samui Paramedics and the Koh Samui Policeman, they were fantastic. I cannot pretend I wasn’t concerned at first, but they restored my faith and retrospectively treated me and the situation with great professionalism.
Anecdote – the crash damaged my sunglasses, me in my dazed state walking into the low roof of the police hut was the final straw. I was more upset about breaking them than the accident, they were the best sunglasses I’ve ever had! Oh well, most things you buy have a shelf-life, in the grander scheme of things a broken pair of sunglasses pales in comparison to what could have happened.
An uncomfortable sleep that night even pumped up with pain killers, though in pain the next morning I was confident that no bones were broken or permanent damage. My backpack took the brunt of the blow from my back, I was extremely relieved that my camera wasn’t damaged either – I just remember trying to tuck myself inwards and roll when I hit the pavement…then jumping up to stand at attention ?!
Something I mentioned in my diary if I recollect, I felt more alive waking up the next morning than I had in years! Sure I was lucky, the accident could have been a lot worse thankfully I was wearing a helmet too, but it wasn’t that bad an accident. My life before I started this journey of explore, learn and expand my being was sterile at best. I’ve said many times before, I thoroughly enjoyed my last job, best job I ever had but other parts of my life were missing an ingredient. I woke up the next morning moaning like a decrepit man, even so I was smiling; the pain seemed to give meaning to life, the pain proved that I was still alive, that I could still feel something. I don’t self-harm, this little incident of mine made me think of people who do, maybe I got a little insight into why they do, hmmmm I think I understand why.
Over the next few days I did very little except for rest and eat, I couldn’t wear shoes or flip flops and hobbling more than 50m was a strain. This gave me time to think, I needed more emotion in my life, even ups and downs is better than just breathing the repetitive nature of day to day life. I had long since felt such raw emotion even if it was pain, reminding me of when I was a child all the cuts, grazes and bruises where part of life, they made life interesting and exciting; they were evidence I was learning, pushing myself, breaking boundaries, not letting fear be the primary driver that inhibits growth allowing the status quo to dominate life.
An interesting outcome to the accident was the driver, Janny, had kept in contact to check I was ok – at first, I thought she was making sure I wasn’t going to go to the hospital therefore affecting her insurance, not so, she was genuinely concerned. Two days later she showed up at the hotel with a bunch of bananas, we went for lunch around the corner from the hotel too, the 40m walk there at a snails’ pace. The following evening she invited me to show me some of Koh Samui, particularly Chaweng beach to watch the fire jugglers in the evening, I reluctantly agreed to go, glad I did.
Chaweng isn’t my cup of tea, reasons already mentioned (the centre of Koh Samui CBD), the fire juggling show on the beach though is worth going to see not just for the spectacle; the setting on the beach lined with bean bags, the soft lapping of the sea against the sand is a wonderful way to end the day. Even the walk through the market area before you get to the beach is cool, filled with little shops galore, pity about the commercialism of it – well not really, the pity is more the attitudes of so some tourists acting like idiots as if they owned the place. I can understand why some of locals can seem abrupt, I bet they have had their share of bad experiences with foreigners. Anyway, I don’t want to get overly dramatic or exaggerate, the evening was great even if I had to find a pharmacy to get painkillers and hobbling like an old man. I’d like to think that the show was more like Koh Samui would have been 15-20 years ago, with people lounging about on the beach a portable stereo playing in the background or someone playing a guitar. I liked that fact that locals were doing the show too, which ended in spectacular fashion to close things off.
I had had enough of doing almost nothing for the past 3 days, not able to ride or walk much I had to get out of my hotel, preferably away from Koh Samui so I decided to head to Koh Tao, find a place on the beach the more remote the better. I’d rather by lying on a beach than here with a main road in front of my hotel, it was getting frustrating and depressing. Tomorrow, Koh Tao!
My blog about Koh Samui became a two part (didn’t think I had that much to say before I started writing it), here is the link if you haven’t already see it – Koh Samui, not the tranquil paradise I thought