There’s tourist dollars in stones, stoners and supernatural oddities in the jungle paradise of Koh Samui.
Soughing palms, sun-scorched beaches, waterfalls, elephants and croc farms might be the island’s ostensible attractions but it’s giant granite boulders and plain weird that underpin the tourist trade too.
At Wat Kunaram, in the island’s south near Ban Thurian, for instance, I find Buddhist devotees praying to Luang Phaw Daeng, a monk who’d predicted the day of his death at age 79 back in the 1970s.
The monk’s corpse sits upright in a large glass case, his head assuming a rock star aspect with sunglasses shielding his no-doubt spooky looking eyes from scrutiny. He fed himself a special diet that’s purportedly responsible for his body’s mummified state ever since.
It’s zombie-creepy but the religious ectoplasm floating about lends the show a nice Zen aspect. Monks chanting in the temple to the rear, and another bright and colourful new temple next door, extend further gravity to what has to be a con.
The jovial monk at the Big Buddha temple at Bo Phut is a different matter. For a few bob, he happily half-drenches me, splashing water over my head and repeating “Goolark, goolark!” at great pace for a couple of minutes. I tell him I’m on my honeymoon and he nearly falls off his perch laughing.
His “goolark” seems to come to fruition the next morning with a phone call from home with a tidy new contract. The financial reporting season also turns up a larger-than-expected return on a few stocks I’ve squirreled away.
Driving south to Lamai, I find Hin Ta and Hin Yai — two rocky protruberances loosely resembling a penis and a female pudenda. Grandpa Rock and Grandma Rock are an immensely popular tourist drawcard with stalls, spielers, restaurants and hotels all around.
Sex might sell in the fleshpots of nearby Chaweng, the island’s capital, but here it sells well in the diluted version of geological anatomy.
A fat Japanese bloke poses on the ground, lying on his back with grandpa strategically positioned to emerge erect from his midriff. Giggling European girls pose with fingers pinching poor old pop in the background. The Muslim girls are up for a laugh, too. Others place their young children in front of grandpa for a family happy snap.
Camera tricks and dick tricks corroborate in a tropical puppetry of the penis.
The Samuis like their rocks. My hotel at Lamai, the Beluga, is built around them. In addition to its fluorescent indigo, lime, blue and red lighting, the hotel features smart, glazed rocky faces metres high and metres long in the walls of its rooms.
My bathroom is a rocky cavern with a shower and a dunny and a few tiles. Quite remarkable, too, if not especially sexy. I feel a bit like Fred Flintstone.
The hotel is Greek-inspired Thai contemporary architecture. All blazing white stone, sparse vegetation – a central frangipani and a palm or two only – and built by a Frenchman named Roman. Go figure.
Night falls and my neighbours have erected a pair of wooden teepee frames, adorned with fairy lights, and a swag of turquoise bean bags, atop the granite tor adjoining our two hotels.
So I sit on the beacon rocks as the sun tumbles behind into the jungle and fishing boat lights emerge on the horizon. Frosty Singhas complete the experience admirably.
I discover a strange bar among the giant seaside boulders beside Grandpa and Grandma. It’s a reggae bar cum tree-house cum memorial to Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.
Not a straight line in the place and two beers under your belt you become a serious leg injury liability. Drop a match and you’d all be toast.
But the place is rather brilliant. Cushions galore, ladder steps everywhere, crooked branch handrails, red and yellow lighting … it’s a kind of Peter Pan Lost Boys cubby hut meets Pirates of the Caribbean Isla de Muerta bar.
It’s called The Rock Bar, of course. Looks like an underground bar buried under dried palm fronds until you delve inside, whereupon it takes on a high-rise aspect from its tangled base between several shoreline rocks.
The scent of cannabis glides up, over and through the bar’s multifarious levels. A Thai-Jamaican band has set up just inches above the incoming sea.
Inland at Na Mueang waterfall, an 80-metre cascade in a pretty jungle hideaway, visitors skid and slide over slippery rocks as they seek out their perfect snapshot. Auto apertures can’t cope with the dark foliage and brilliant sunlight, though, resulting in indistinct silhouette shots.
Long-suffering elephants, swaying sadly in their chained misery, are coerced upriver to the falls with loads of tourists on their backs. The river’s anything but a sandy passage. It’s rocks, rocks and more rocks, and they’re working for peanuts, and bananas.
One slip by the pachyderm and everyone’s cactus. Except the operator.
Nearby is local tourist trap Valentine’s Rock, which you can pose beneath for 100 baht, alongside hosts of heart-shaped sculptures. Get your toes nibbled by fish in a pond, too, if you fancy.
If you like your rocks hot, you can climb up the hill to a café with a balcony lookout over Lamai and its ever-encroaching palms and jungle, and fishing boats out to sea. A fistful of wooden hashtag signs await your photo-selfie opportunity: #lovely #viewpoint, #hi and the likes.
The German honeymooners who ask me to snap a photo of them have a #inlove sign. Where’s a #frankfurt sign when you need one, I wonder.
On the way back down the hill I realise I missed the Valentine park’s central sculpture — a two-metre wooden penis. Punters are milling about for photos and selfies.
Seems some smart cookie got through Samui Tourism 101 with flying colours.