On the small tropical island of Koh Samui off the eastern seaboard of Thailand there exists what has got to be the quaintest little airport on the planet.
Why is that? Well, for starters every building on the airport complex is entirely thatched over with palm leaves and not many airports can claim that can they? In the main public areas the exterior walls have wide-open sides for the ocean breezes to waft through keeping it at a nice cool temperature. The smiling staff who work there are ever-helpful and polite and greet every new-comer as though they have just come from outer space – which to those on this remote island is exactly how it must feel to them. It’s the opposite when you leave because the islanders really hate to see people depart from their island, they figure: having spent ALL that money to get there why would anyone want to leave? And it makes you wonder who really is nuts – the smiling islanders or the grinning farang!
When they gently direct you to Terminal One with pride in their hearts – you really have to chuckle because of course it’s the only terminal they have! There are no gate numbers to rush to, as all passengers arrive and depart courtesy of a clean and modern air-conditioned shuttle bus, which covers the distance from the plane to the main building or vice-versa in about two minutes flat. There is no carousel except the one going around in your head. There are no loudspeakers and no information screens. Just people cheerfully carrying out their tasks with absolutely no hustle or bustle on their minds. Time has almost stopped still.
There is only one single arrow-straight runway to handle both incoming and outgoing planes, which total no more than about twenty flights per day between 6.30 am when the airport opens for business at sunrise and when it closes at sunset exactly twelve hours later.
Playing the ace green card, Bangkok Airways, who built and own the airport (International Airport Code – USM) have attempted a truly unique experiment and one of which they can be proud. The actual buildings, which were finished in 1984, are not only pleasing to the eye but work hand-in-glove with the island’s natural environment. It is, in itself, a compelling advert for greenness in all its forms. The vast Bangkok Airport (BKK) may be the newest and flashiest airport in the world but I’ve never seen anyone standing around taking hundreds of photos of it like they do of Samui Airport. This airport almost seems to be smiling at you – wanting its photo taken. And for sure no other airport replaces its roof with fresh palm leaves every two or three years like they do here. The fact is, once upon a time, little Samui was the world’s largest exporter of coconuts and palm trees are one commodity they still have plenty of. Its what they have used for centuries on the roofs of their villas and bungalows and the ubiquitous salas that abound everywhere – so they figure; why stop there? Why indeed?
As the plane starts its gradual descent approach towards the narrow jutting peninsula on the northeast sector of the island you will now get a fantastic bird’s eye view of Samui and all the other outlying islands. You’ll see the surf breaking on the beaches and trace the wakes of small fishing craft as they criss-cross the incredibly green-blue turquoise sea. Then as you get closer you can make out the coral reefs growing beneath the dappling clear water. And if you look harder still you might even see a pod of dolphins jumping and dodging around the fishing craft waiting for the friendly fishermen to throw them a morsel. Phew, what a sight for sore eyes!
Frankly, the whole experience is just too much for the human soul to contemplate and you really cannot wait to land to check that it really wasn’t a figment of your imagination. Maybe the airport workers are not that wrong – because it certainly feels like you’ve just come from outer space – as surely nothing on this planet awaits the visitor more pleasingly than this tropical hideaway located in the balmy Sea of Siam. Jet lag? Well, you can’t get jet lag in paradise, but I bet you didn’t know that either did you?