Although we stumbled upon it by accident, we ended up staying for weeks. We got off the tuk-tuk too early, a couple of pale-skinned, first-time travellers just arrived from the mainland after a few days of the noisy, calm, dirty, dazzling, sleazy, vibrant, culture shock of Bangkok - unsettled stomachs from the new, exotic climate and food that was so different from the grey skies and ‘101 ways with potatoes’ that we’d left behind just a week ago to start our year-long trip.
With no idea where we were heading, after 20 minutes of deserted roads and no sign of a town anywhere ahead, we signalled the driver to stop at the next accommodation sign that we saw - a wooden board nailed to a post with the hand-painted words ‘Calm Bungalows’.
We arrived at dusk and tramped down a stony path in the disappearing light, backpacks heavy, our skin already itching at the thought of the mosquitoes out hunting for new blood.
The bungalows were a series of beach huts on the edge of Bo Phut beach, a then undiscovered part of the Thai island of Ko Samui. We chose one of the cheaper ‘bungalows’ - actually a wooden hut with two single beds, a cold shower and a Thai-style squat toilet. After 12 hours of kamikaze bus-drivers and bumpy ferry crossings, a clean bed was all we needed.
The next day, we wandered down the village, virtually untouched by Ko Samui standards, the only nod to tourism were a few wooden shack-style restaurants serving seafood on the beach. A toothless woman spoke no English, but gave us the biggest, gummiest, friendliest grin when we bought something from her shop and attempted a hesitant ‘thank you’ in Thai. We were smitten with the people and the place, and made Calm Bungalows our home for the next couple of weeks.
A persistent cockerel attempted to wake us at an unsociable 5am most days but we dozed until 9-ish, before ambling down the make-shift restaurant for coffee and banana pancakes. We spent the mornings swimming in sea that was as calm and warm as bath water, the afternoons reading trashy novels on the porch to shelter from the tail-end of the monsoon rains that arrived every day at 2pm.
We drank Singa beers while swinging in hammocks and staring at the sea, listening to a grandmother wailing Thai lullabies to a baby girl. We ate slices of the sweetest pineapple that made our tongues tingle and plates of fried rice hiding the tiniest chillies with the biggest kick.
In 1999, it cost roughly £2 a night to stay at Calm Bungalows, but if I had a choice between there or a week at a swanky, wanky hotel, all the champagne, room service and silk sheets in the world wouldn’t tempt me away from the little wooden hut by the sea.
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