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August 2004
Updated July 2006

Ko Samui: Charlie's Huts on Chaweng Beach

The author, a Bangkok expat, visits Ko Samui, a less commerical and more atmospheric alternative to Phuket. He stays at Charlie's Huts, economical bungalows right on the beach.

PLEASE NOTE: WE HAVE BEEN INFORMED THAT CHARLIE'S HUT SAMUI HAS CLOSED

Fine white sand, warm turquoise waters, swaying palms and sales propositions at every corner. Have your piece of paradise on an easy payment plan. The real estate business in Samui is flourishing, with foreign agents leading the pack with glossy ads for project with idyllic names like Serendipity Beach and Nirvana Hills. All aimed at the thousands of foreign nationals that will visit Samui each year and contemplate a second home during their annual vacation. Other businesses also do well. Upscale spas charge 100 dollars to place warm stones on your stomach while you lie naked on your back and inhale oil fragrances as soulless new age music plays in the background.

On the commercial scale, Samui is not less commercial than Pattaya and Phuket, but only different in its approach and clientele. The main difference between Pattaya and Samui is that Samui attracts a younger crowd and has a greater focus on water sports and other adventure activities. Phuket on the other hand has seemed to develop in a different direction from Samui. Samui is less expensive than Phuket and it is still possible to find huts on the beach. Phuket seems to have more Germans and Scandinavians while Samui has more Brits and Americans. Samui has no high-rise buildings, whereas Phuket is full of huge modern structures breaking up the natural lines of the island. Samui's natural beauty seems less imposed upon than Phuket. I think the California granola munching crowds would prefer Samui while Phuket is more catered to old school Europeans.

Our place of abode in Ko Samui was Charlie's Hut on Chawaeng beach - the beach with the most people, resorts, bars and stores. We looked around at some other places, but many of the upmarket places were hotels with rooms like cells in a honeycomb and we wanted the earthy experience of a bungalow. I remember a friend, saying, in protest against apartment living, "When I step out of my front door, I want my feet to touch mother earth." Other resorts, though bungalows, were concrete boxes and there's only so much fine linen and wood paneling can do to improve a concrete box. There is something special about a bamboo and thatch hut on a beach that can't be duplicated. There is a feeling that you are melding organically with your surroundings and somehow absorbing the sun, surf and sea.

Charlie's Huts is a wonder in both design efficiency and market savvy. The bungalows are constructed from bamboo, thatch and wood. They are compact, water-tight and attractive. Little touches to the design show artistic craftsmanship and the creative use of natural materials: the step up to the porch of each bungalow is a split coconut log. Or for another example, concrete squares form a walkway in the complex. Concrete blocks are all too common in Thailand and epitomize the crass architecture that we were trying to avoid. But in Charlie's Hut, they found a solution: each concrete step bears the imprint of an individual leaf from the surrounding fauna, so each one concrete step is unique and beautiful in its own right.