One Day in Ko Samui
Updated: Jan 27
For this week’s blog, I have decided to revisit my “One Day in…” series. And by popular request, I will actually turn my attention to a port which, I had not thought about for a long time. I had visited Ko Samui only three times during all my time with AIDA, on three consecutive cruises with AIDAbella.
Now AIDAbella was all in all, probably one of my best contracts ever, as during those four months onboard I had sailed from Bangkok pretty much halfway around the world all up and into the fjords of Norway. The experiences I had collected on this journey, the friends I had made will probably be a part of my life’s history forever and ever. But talking about AIDAbella not only evokes pleasant memories, and as of today, I am probably not prepared to talk about all of them. But to provide somewhat of a frame, my time on AIDAbella was the middle stint in a contract that would see me stay a total of nine months on three different ships.
However, the day I want to talk about occurred relatively early in that nine months timeframe. I had just finished a two-month stint on AIDAprima, had stayed there over Christmas and seen the new years-fireworks over the sky of Funchal. My heart was still very much abord AIDAprima when I embarked a plane on the island of Madeira to be flown into Bangkok. There I was welcomed by some old friends, who helped me feel right at home and only two days after my arrival I left the ship at a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, prepared to experience a new and unfamiliar world.
Well, when I say left the ship, that is easier said than done. Ko Samui is a port with tender operation, meaning the vessel is too big to be moored at the pier, so instead drops anchor, and instead uses much smaller boats to bring the passengers ashore. Tender days are loved by many passengers, as they bring excitement and somehow a sense of exploration. Tender days are dreaded by the crew, at least by those directly involved and impacted by the operation.
For the Activities Guides, this means waking up a few hours before an already early arrival, preparing and transferring a literal ton of equipment to the first tender boats under immense time pressure and the watchful eyes of the ship’s highest positions. Captain, Safety Officers, General Manager, are the kinds of people to be looking over your shoulders during those first minutes after arrival at the anchor point. And since, very often guest operations can not be started until equipment tenders are out of the way, and guests are already, impatiently, waiting to get ashore there is always a feeling of urgency, and no leeway is given for mistakes. But while these experiences are can undoubtedly count among the most stressful, I would, at the same time, count them among the best.
It is quite frankly incredible what level of cooperation is displayed at these tender ports by the crew members. Human Chains are formed throughout the ship to transfer bikes and diving equipment, and flags, refreshments and speakers and sunshades and everything else needed to remake the pier in the most comfortable experience possible for our guests. At that time, everyone is helping, and boundaries between departments dissolve in the cooperative spirit. And of course, after these stressful unloading operations, you are rewarded with a great day in a great destination. Even though not every great destination is a tender port, every tender port is a great destination.
And this particular destination had an excellent biking tour on offer. In scorching heat and humid air, we left our port city behind in only a few turns and entered the jungle of Ko Samui right away. Through the lush green forest, we went, past little farmhouses with their coconut palm trees, their chicken in small cages and their oxen tied to a tree just in front of the house. We met surprisingly few locals in these areas, so much so that I suspect that some might have deliberately avoided our group of tourists, but still, those who approached us were friendly and helpful. Quite plenty more encounters with friendly locals we had at one of the local markets. If you travel to Asia, you should always try the local markets. Not only for the street food but mostly for the fresh fruit. You can buy them everywhere, and almost anyplace you can get a smoothie made from actual whole fruits directly in front of your eyes. And I have to admit I become somewhat spoiled by the quality and quantity of such opportunities.
After our stop at the market, we continued on the islands' quite busy main road towards another sight to see. There are probably hundreds of spectacular waterfalls on the island and be cycled towards one of them. And that one also had another great thing going for it, as the pool was deep and large enough to swim in. Now if you shiver at the thought of bathing, it’s likely, your local climate is not similar to what we experienced on Ko Samui. And as a result of this climate, the water splashing down over the rocks was of comfortable but refreshing temperature. Or as I used to say to my guests: It is too cold to fill a bathtub in, but warm enough for a shower.
After such a refreshing shower, it only fitted that we got ourselves warmed up again. We had still quite a way ahead of us, and some hills to climb over on our way back to the shore. Now in colder climates, many of those hills would have been barely worth mentioning. However, in this hot and humid weather, they felt quite a bit more challenging, and after arriving at the coast, we again had quite a bit of sweat to wash off our skins. And so we did. We had an arrangement with a friendly hotel on the beach, that allowed us to use their beachside restaurant and spa area. Of course, we were more than happy with the arrangement, as we could not only cool ourselves in the water but also enjoy some cold drinks in the shade of the pavilions.
After our stop at the beach, it was only a short ride back to the pier, and here we left our guests to explore the port on their own, but for us, the day was far away from finished. We parked up all of our equipment as space-saving as possible and put it under chain and lock. Bringing it back on board would not be possible until shortly before departure, as it would mean an interruption in the continuous stream of passenger tenders—an unacceptable inconvenience to our guests. We left the pier behind and walked to the nearby market where we had a nice local lunch with our guides. Some fried rice with chicken we had there, and it tasted great and gave some motivation for more exploration.
It took a little while of walking, but we finally found a beach bar within view of our tender pier, and there we could take a seat, sip a coconut smoothie directly from the fresh fruit and watch the movements of our guests on the dock from afar. However, all good things have to come to an end, and as the sun slowly started to sink lower, as the shadows began to grow, we finally had to return to our work and started to load the last tender with all of our equipment. With only a few crewmembers, a ton of equipment, and Thai-Pop blaring from all the speakers on the boat, we motored out towards the sinking sun and back to our ship, our home.