We awoke this morning to a downpour with thunder and lightning. This is a port that we are at anchor and get to the dock via tender, so we weren’t sure we would be going on our tour on time. But by 8 AM, the storm had passed and only clouds remained for the rest of the day. It did keep the heat down and we were lucky not to get rained on.
We met our guide, Noon, who explained that the name Ko Samui means – Ko – island and Samui – wind and waves. This is an island in the South China Sea. Noon lives on the mainland and took a ferry over to be our guide for the day. She and others were also on Phuket to be our guides there. The smoke from Indonesia was gone this morning, and although it was cloudy, the air was clear.
Noon taught us how to say good morning in Thai and she explained that tourism is the number 1 occupation in Ko Samui.
First on our plan for the day was a visit to an elephant camp. Elephants are revered here. The Thai name for elephant is Chang. At the camp, we saw two baby elephants (ages 5 and 8) who danced, twirled hula hoops and even dunked a ball into a basketball net. Then the mahoot asked for a volunteer and fellow passenger from Toronto – Brooke – volunteered, turned out she was to be the goalie for a soccer (football) match with one of the elephants. The audience was divided in half. Brooke was from Canada, so her half of the audience rooted for Canada, and our half rooted for Thailand. Brooke proved to be a very good goalie, and Canada won 2 -1.
Then Brooke got a massage and kisses from the elephant, and so did I!
The mahoot asked for one male volunteer, and Norm fulfilled a dream by getting a massage, kisses (and a fake blow job) by the elephant.
What an extraordinary start to the day. We both love elephants, Norm has since childhood, and we were so happy to both be chosen to have the massages. To think how well they are trained, that they could have crushed us if they wanted to, was amazing.
Next we visited two different Buddhist temples. The first one, Wat Pha Tai (the Big Buddha Temple), has a 36 foot golden statue perched atop a wide staircase decorated with dragons. Because the stairs were wet from the rain storm, we could not go up to the Buddha, but we did go into the meditation huts that surround the Buddha. The statue is visable from several miles away.
As I have mentioned before, they are very strict about dress, removing shoes, etc.
Somehow, I don’t think this woman got the message.
I saw this sign on the way in to the temple. I don’t think the message is getting across here either.
We visited the Wat Plai Laem temple which is considered one of the most colorful temples on Ko Samui. It is notable for the statue of Kwan Yin (or Guanjin), an 18 armed Buddhist Goddess of Mercy that sits in the middle of a lake. Noon explained that the 18 arms represent the ways to help people.
The temple is also famous for the hundreds of large fish that make the lake their home. Inside the temple there are beautiful paintings all around the building that represent the life of the Buddha. The doors are carved beautifully.
And just to the other side of the temple are these kinds of houses. There are both slum like houses and gorgeous homes and hotels, sometimes in close proximity. David Beckham has a huge estate here.
We made a stop for drinks overlooking the beautiful ocean.
Our last stop was at a monkey show where we learned how the locals use monkeys to pick ripe coconuts, and we watched two of them do so. They climb up the tree, spot the ripe coconuts and throw them to the ground. This is a centuries-old tradition that comes in handy here – Ko Samui is known as the Island of Coconuts and produces over three million coconuts per month. It is much safer to train the monkeys than to have people try to climb and do the harvest. We saw how they are harvested, how the outer skins are used (for mattresses, burned to keep away mosquitoes, and in the old days, for toilet tissue) and how the coconuts are cracked open for the water and how the inside fruit is squeezed to make coconut milk. The monkeys are trained (yes, it’s true) on the mainland at Monkey University for several months. Noon said it is best to pick the slim ones (they are quicker) and they must be 2 years old to begin training. They are only shown the brown coconuts so they learn which ones are ripe. Most people also own monkeys, and all must be descendents of the same great grandfather, no monkey out of the forest is able to be a pet.
There were also some water buffalos on this property. Here;s one watching us. Those guys are BIG!
We noted many 7-eleven stores on the island, saw spirit houses outside most of the homes and businesses, and also noticed that they don’t like to brag TOO much about their ice cream!
A wonderful day, especially up close and personal with those elephants.