You might consider us maniacs. Why would we travel to the other side of the world with a 8 month old baby when you could stumble in snow and freeze your butt in Finland. Despite of a really convincing chance to stay in snowy and bloody cold Finland, we decided to make one small realistic dream come true and spent 5 weeks in Thailand.
Normally we would have split this 5 week holiday into multiple destinations but when you are traveling with a baby, we faced the reality and combined only one beach destination with Bangkok. Our most important specs for the trip were 2br villa with a kitchen and a private pool. We didn’t want to live in a worse place than our own home and location should be peaceful but close to the beach and restaurants. Easier said than done. After months of bargaining with Kalara Co (the villa company) and after I had spotted Finnair’s fantastic flight deal to Bangkok (499€+1000points), we bought the flights and booked a villa from Bophut Fisherman’s Village in Samui.
Panu (the Place)
Picture is worth thousand words. If we consider our apartment Panu, no picture can really describe the real feeling of the place, let alone thousand words. The feeling when you are lying on the hammock listening to the waves and wondering whether you want to lift your butt and step to the Friday market’s hustle and bustle or just go upstairs and continue the relaxation on balcony jacuzzi. Priceless…well, actually priceless my ass, I almost exceeded my Mastercard limit and accumulated tens of overtime hours at work but oh boy, it was worth it.
The best part of Panu was the location in the middle of Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village, right on the beach and only a few meters from the best restaurants on the island. We stayed in the beach apartment which included a private pool and kayaks. Surprisingly kayaks became one highlight of the holiday. Kayaking early morning, admiring the fisherman’s village from the sea became our favorite hobby.
It wasn’t easy to find Panu. I spent hundreds of hours surfing the internet searching for the perfect villa. When we first time entered the villa, I knew that time spent searching for it was well worth the hours. Since we travelled to Samui in March and April, the peak season had passed already and we were able to bargain the villa price lower.
Panu has been divided into two separate “2br apartments” which both have their own private pools. We lived in the beach apartment which consisted of two en suite bedrooms (upstairs) and kitchen/living room area downstairs from where you had direct access to the pool and beach. Ting and Tao, the maintenance boy and cleaning lady came along with the apartment. Their English may not have been perfect, but their customer service was. Our 8 month old son lost his heart to Tao and the feeling seemed mutual. Every day we also got the same visitor, “Lurppis” a cute dog who was very eager to watch our apartment and bark to everyone passing by. In return we bought him a bag of sausages.
During the first week, a group from our eastern neighboring country was occupying the upstairs apartment. Good behavior didn’t exist in their vocabulary. During the last two weeks there was a couple living upstairs, who we basically didn’t hear or see. Ting tried to explain with his broken English that “the celeb came back”. After trying to pronounce the name to me thousand times, I finally figured out that the guy living upstairs was old star from Take That. I was a NKOTB girl in the 90s so I skipped the autograph hunting part.
Fisherman’s village and restaurants
Fisherman’s village spoils you with restaurant choices. Even though we are talking about a really small village, one of the best restaurants are spread around the main street. Samui is one of the most expensive places in Thailand and you will notice it, especially in restaurants. Following are few of the places we tried and liked/disliked:
Karma Sutra: In the middle of everything and was full almost every night. In addition to lunch sandwiches, we tried there green curry, paedang and phad thai (main dishes and 4 Singhas 1700bht). To our opinion, price/quality was mediocre.
Il Salotto: Nice sea view and good wines. The master chef, Mr. Luigi Fadda sat many times in front of the restaurant greeting people. And as the website of the restaurant describes, Luigi has a life-long love affair with food, is no longer a teenager and doesn’t own a male model body. Pesto fungi pasta, lasagna, salmon pasta and chicken pasta served with Tree Line Shiraz 1745bht. We liked, a lot.
Villa Daudet: Lonely Planet recommended and our favorite. We ate here more than I dare to admit here. No fancy sea view and is not meant for fine dining folk but to our opinion food/price quality was nicely met here and the service was friendly. We tried about every local dish on the menu. Three course Thai menu was 199bht. Not bad.
Juzza Pizza: Good pizza place but slightly more expensive than other pizza places. Big margherita pizza 270bht.
The Pier: Tasty hamburgers and situated as according to the name, next to the pier. Trendy interior.
“ Frog” (forgotten the full name): Green curry, phad thaix2 and some other chicken dish (+drinks for 4) 890bht. Wasn’t good, never went back.
Alla Baia: Parma ham and Hawaii pizzas 660bht. Can’t really remember was it good or bad (probably something in between), but I remember one German lady who was admiring our son the whole evening and in the end came to tell us how nice was that we took him to the restaurant as well.We have been in Thailand quite a few times and are aware of possible power cuts (which we however have never experienced). In Samui we experienced a power cut one evening, just when I was preparing evening porridge for our son. Instead of the porridge, our son got fruits but bigger problem seemed to be getting food for ourselves. Only one restaurant in the village had reserve power and surprisingly that place was full of people. The only ones who didn’t suffer from the power cut were the pancake sellers who basically sold their pancakes from a portable kitchen. There we were, having nutella pancakes for dinner in candle light. Romantic. We bought these pancakes so often that the pancake boy became our BFF.
One interesting character in the village was an old, toothless grandma who was cycling every day in the village selling waffles. We started buying the waffles every day when we heard the story how this old lady had sold these waffles for decades and had been able to put her children to university/college just by selling waffles (and probably doing ten other jobs at the same time). True or false, we found it to be an inspirational story.
One thing I was missing in the Fisherman’s village was a proper manipedi and massage place. They did have a few but with quite poor quality. Of course you have the 5* hotel spa’s but for some odd reason I do not want to pay 50 euros for a massage every day if I can get it for a fraction of the price. Once I went to a bit suspicious looking place to have a face/head massage. I didn’t get a massage at all but a facial instead with smelly lotions. I spent rest of the evening rubbing my face with my own cleansing milk trying to get rid of the ingredients they had used. After that experience I stayed in My’s massage. My or Mi, was a beautiful Thai lady who reminded me of actress Tia Carrera. Mi looked barely 25 year old but was probably much older and had two children who were basically adults already. She had divorced her husband 7 year ago and moved from northern Thailand to Samui. She was very happy as a single lady although I bet there was a queue of candidates behind her door.
Every Friday Fisherman’s Village’s main streets got full of stalls and tourists (Friday Market). Quiet village was suddenly full of life, food and different languages. Friday market had a lovely atmosphere and every Friday our dinner consisted of tempuras (50bht), chicken Satay (one Satay 15bht) and fishcakes (20bht). Cockroaches and other insects we left for the other tourists to try.
Thanks to the grandparents who were willing to look after our son, we had the possibility to explore Ang Thong Marine Park one day (1500bht slow boat+kayak trip). A picture of this marine park is on the cover of “501 Destinations to Visit” book and I would have been really disappointed if I had missed the chance to see the park. Early in the morning we jumped into a minibus that took us to Nathon harbour. On the boat we met Swedish Hans who joined us to our table. We spent the boat journey talking about Thailand and traveling. His story was quite familiar, “girlfriend” in Thailand.
The boat trip itself went quite smoothly. After we had enjoyed basic breakfast on the boat, we hopped into the kayaks and went to admire old stone caves. We kayaked past an island where all the coconut trees had been eaten. The tour guide informed us that we were not allowed to enter the island since the island was full of long-horned beetles which were basically eating whole coconut trees, leaving only the stump of the tree left. Coconut industry is very important to Samui, therefore people are afraid that this bug will invade their island as well. I was of course afraid that my favorite ice cream, coconut ice cream would run out. We hopped back into our boat and before reaching the second destination got to witness a proper rainstorm (which luckily lasted only a few minutes).
The viewpoints were described as an “easy and beautiful climb through the rainforest and narrow gorges, towards unique views from the viewpoint”. Views were unique, yes, but the climb wasn’t easy at all. First lady fell down quite badly after the first 20 metres and turned back to the beach. Pouring rain had made the path to the viewpoint almost impossible to climb and also I had to place my butt onto one of the mudfields. In addition to great experience and beautiful views, I got brown butt and former ballerinas as a souvenir.
Since the two “bigger” boys were allowed to take one afternoon off to play football golf (yes, you read correctly), we left the three boys by the pool and took one afternoon off to attend a cooking course at Hansar hotel. You might probably find hundreds of better offers somewhere closer to Chaweng since the 3890 bht for 2 was quite pricey but there were no other attendants, so we basically got a private course. The course started with a tour to food market in Bophut. We tried to smell different ingredients, learned how to find the best mango (check google, can’t remember anymore how it was done) and bought some tamarind spice to take home. You could choose the dishes you wanted to learn and we chose our own favorites, green curry, phad thai and mango and sticky rice. The result wasn’t really 5* restaurant style, I put a little bit too much palm sugar into the sauce, my mango cutting skills didn’t result into a work of art but somehow every single piece of food disappeared into my endless tummy.
After the grandparents had to leave back to Finland, we couldn’t rent a scooter anymore (with a baby) but took a taxi to Lamai instead. In Lamai you can find Hin Tai and Hin Yai rocks (also known as grandma and grandpa). Perhaps here, a picture is worth thousand words and I don’t have to explain where the rocks got their names. The story however tells about a couple who traveled to another province by boat to find a bride for their son. On the way back they faced a storm and were not able to swim to the shore. The rocks are a proof of their intentions to the parents of the bride. And please don’t shoot me if the story is not 100% foolproof, they tend to change a bit depending of the tour guide.
And to the end, some notes when traveling with a baby.
We weren’t able to book a ”babyseat” online for our Bangkok Airways flight. It can be only bought during the day of the flight and is paid at the airport (1000bht). Bangkok Airways has a small lounge at the airport where you can get finger food and drinks free of charge. We have noticed that having a Priority Pass with a small child is quite handy. Another helping hand is paying for a separate seat even if the baby is less than 2 years old. If your budget allows, of course.
Apartment/villa with a private pool was a great choice when traveling with a baby. You could stay by the pool while the child was sleeping next to the window in an air conditioned space. We brought porridge from Finland, first sets of NAN milk powder and a huge lot of canned baby meals. You are able to buy both NAN and canned baby food from Tesco (one can was 60bht) but the selection was very limited. We were able to find only forest fruit jelly, some kind of chicken, parsnip, carrot and sweet potato cans. Luckily we had taken our own handblender with us so we were able to prepare food to our baby ourselves. Diapers were a bit more expensive than in Finland. We bought some random brand from Big C.
Kitchen is a must especially when traveling for more than 2 weeks with a baby. I disinfected the pacifiers and bottles a few times but wasn’t too neurotic about it. Perhaps the biggest challenge was giving a bath when you try to make sure that he doesn’t drink the water. Of course he was licking the floor and his fingers were in his mouth all the time but luckily we didn’t get any stomach or other bugs during the whole 5 weeks.
Thai people are really child friendly and it shows. Our son was enjoying the attention he got. I guess more difficult for him was to arrive back to cold Finland and realize the fact that in Finland he wouldn’t get all the attention when we were in public places.