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A stroll through Samui’s capital, Nathon, will always add something special to your holiday.

A stroll through Samui’s capital, Nathon, will always add something special to your holiday.If you like to read novels, especially Graham Green or Joseph Conrad, then you’ll find Nathon oddly familiar, even if you’ve never been there before. At first you might think it’s a case of déjà-vu, but a few moments later the strange truth will strike you: Nathon has stepped straight out of a novel. It’s exactly like one of those small seaside ports in the Tropics you’ve read about so many times, exotic, run-down and yet full of quirks. But even if you’re not a great reader, Nathon will still end up leaving an impression on you. It seems purpose-built to beguile the traveller. This small port is the island’s capital, but it’s startlingly different from its bigger and far noisier neighbours, Chaweng, Lamai or Maenam. Unlike them, Nathon really seems relatively unchanged by the passing of time.

          

The best way to approach Nathon is by boat. Many holidaymakers still arrive this way and see the port gradually growing more distinct, yet always dwarfed by the high jungly hills just behind it. Slowly, dingy white harbour buildings appear, and it looks like any other small tropical port, half lost in the surrounding landscapes. From this angle Nathon can appear quite mysterious; a brooding destination that only gradually unfolds itself.

          

Approach via the ring-road and everything appears instantly. The buildings lining the road quickly become densely packed and you realize that you’re in a town. But there’s no depth to what you see. Behind those dense buildings you’ll easily glimpse the jungle just a couple of hundred meters away. The trees look ready to encroach on the concrete at any time. But it’s doubtful it’ll ever happen. Nathon is slowly expanding outwards and with the port being the chief entry for provisions from the mainland,A stroll through Samui’s capital, Nathon, will always add something special to your holiday. it’s thriving. If you want to see Nathon properly, then you’ll need to stroll through it. Don’t drive round it, as you’ll not see much, and only get caught up in the circular one-way system; you’ll feel like a grip bag stuck on an airport baggage carousel. Instead, leave your car in the ample car park right by the main pier. Walk up the small street that’s directly in front of it, passing Nathon Books, and you’ll see ahead of you the town hall and police station. Depending on when you arrive you might see a couple off to get formally wed at the registry office or a group of police officers getting started on their day’s work.

          

Turn right on to the ring-road and you’ll be walking along Nathon’s main street. You’ll realize it’s quite a contradictory kind of place. It’s both very sleepy and buzzing all at the same time. While a shop-owner dozes on a deckchair in his store, just metres away trucks rumble as fast as they dare along the road. Every time a ferry arrives, it’s all go.

          

And once nightfall comes, it’s all stop. Nathon closes early. Shutters roll down with an echoing clunk and vendors disappear inside their shops. The streets clear. After 8:00 pm there’s hardly any traffic. It can be disquieting. Why is there no-one around?

          

But head to the night market at the port and you’ll find it filled with people, while the rest of the town remains eerily deserted. Couples and families eat and drink at the little tables which are set up in the middle of the market area. Prices are very cheap and everything you buy can be taken away.

          

The night market aside, any stroll in Nathon is therefore best taken during the day, before twilight falls – the very opposite to Chaweng, where strolling is mandated for after dark. As you continue along the main street, you’ll be side-tracked by all the shopping possibilities; there are thousands and thousands of t-shirts on offer, most at great prices (don’t forget to bargain), A stroll through Samui’s capital, Nathon, will always add something special to your holiday.but once you get to the unmissable and very orange Thanachart Bank, keep your eyes open for the small turning just to the side of it. An unexpected sight awaits all who aren’t distracted by the clothing: a brightly-painted Chinese temple.

          

It’s odd how many people manage to miss it – blame it on the t-shirts – as it’s one of Samui’s most impressive buildings, and deservedly so. The temple was built by Hainanese immigrants when they came to Koh Samui, around the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s covered in bright murals and you’re welcome to step inside, where you’ll find a number of mini-shrines, all finely decorated, along with gods, goddesses and mythical animals. The temple is still a focus of attention, and plays an important part in Nathon life. Don’t be fooled by the goats grazing in the field outside or the washing drying outside the nearby houses – this is the cultural and geographical centre of the town.

          

If you go back to the ring-road and continue a little way along it, you’ll come to a large covered market on the left, teeming with people and with colourful produce stacked high on stalls. Here you can stock up on cheap and delicious fruit; it comes from farms and orchards on Samui as well as from mainland Suratthani. A bit further on you’ll come to Tang Restaurant, known for its delicious food, where you can enjoy a meal for around 80 baht.

          

Head back to the Thanachart Bank, cross the ring-road and you’ll be in a small road which goes down to the sea. In this lane you’ll find two shops selling all manner of bags, rucksacks and suitcases – again prices are cheap. Take the first turn on the left and you’ll find yourself in what’s called Middle Street. It has some fine examples of Chinese shophouses, all made of wood and featuring interiors that seem to have hardly changed over the years. A stroll through Samui’s capital, Nathon, will always add something special to your holiday.Were it not for the cars and bikes parked outside, you might believe you’d suddenly stepped back a few decades in time.

          

At the end of Middle Street, turn right and you’ll find yourself heading down towards the sea. There’s alas no beach in Nathon. A sea-wall with water lapping at its base makes a fine enough place to sit and watch the west coast sunsets, but any swimming is out of the question. (If you’re really dying for a swim, simply walk to the end of town on the south side, and where the road turns, you’ll find a sandy beach. Walk a little further on and it gets better. For a proper beach, you’ll need to head a few kilometres south to Lipa Noi.) Meanwhile, depending on the season, you may see lots of little fishing boats, mostly painted in bright colours. If you’re here in the evening and the tide’s low, then you’ll probably see a farmer or two taking their buffaloes for a walk along the mud-flats. Continue along the road and you’ll find yourself passing ticket offices for the ferries, and soon you’ll see the point where you started your stroll.

          

Nathon is definitely the most traditional of all Samui’s towns, though it’s never staid. It’s perhaps an enduring monument to the way life used to be lived on the island, and as such is a great place to visit. Authentically Thai, it has charms of its own and it’s well-worth spending some time here.

          

 Dimitri Waring


 


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