I know, I know, things are kind of confusing around here right now, timeline-wise! Because yes, I’m in Southeast Asia now, but as I’m pretty much the worst blogger on the planet I’m still writing about last year’s trip. Here’s to catching up on all my content soon! [Insert the deranged laugh of a crazed blogger here.]
After my big early 2016 Thailand trip to Khao Yai, Bangkok, Hua Hin, and Khao Sok, I vowed I wasn’t stepping foot off Koh Tao until it was time to head back to the Americas. Ha ha. That was cute.
I quickly remembered that I had no choice but to leave — my visa restrictions include a mandatory trip to the immigration office on Koh Samui every sixty days. Sure, technically I could get it over with on a quick day trip, but have I ever turned down the opportunity to turn a bureaucratic chore into a fun weekend away?
About a month or so prior to my visa extension, I saw an ad on Facebook for the Midnight Run on Koh Samui. I basically laced up my shoes that exact moment. I’d absolutely adored the Midnight Run I’d done in Bangkok a few years prior, and was pumped for the opportunity to try to outdo myself. But I couldn’t run alone!
I quickly enlisted several of my girlfriends into an island hopping getaway to run a 5K, giggle by the pool, and treat ourselves to a champagne brunch.
The run was in Chaweng, Koh Samui’s commercial epicenter, and so we booked a hotel nearby and took advantage of the central location to kick off the weekend with dinner at Wine Connection and cocktails at Drink Gallery, a bar I’d discovered on my last boozey trip to the island.
I’d arrived early that morning to take care of my visa and register the runners in our group, and so after a day of paperwork I was ready to kick back by the time the girls arrived. That said, we took it pretty easy with just one post-dinner cocktail — we did have 5K to run in less than 24 hours, after all!
And so the next morning, we switched to a more fitness-friendly liquid — fresh juice! As the owner of island favorite Living Juices on Koh Tao, my girl Janine can basically turn anything into a business trip with a little scouting trip to the local competition.
This weekend, we checked out two Koh Samui juiceries, Project: Juice and Juice Queen. The verdict? Put all three on your must-drink list for the Gulf of Thailand!
Juice runs aside, we spend the entire day “mentally preparing for our run,” also known as lounging by the pool, giggling and gossiping, and moving as little as humanly possible.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the greatest digs to do so by.Typically for a group like this I’d rent a villa, but booking fairly last minute in high season, we’d had pretty limited options in proximity to Chaweng. I wanted to treat everyone to something fun though, so I splurged on what looked like one lovely suite with a private pool and two other basic rooms at a hotel I’d never heard of.
Yeah, it turns out there was a reason we’d never heard of it — the photos on the website were pretty misleading and overall the hotel was pretty cold and charmless. Chaweng Noi Pool Villas was overall underwhelming and I wouldn’t ever go back nor recommend it to anyone. That said, we weren’t going to waste a second of our trip turning our noses up — we definitely made the most of it in the moment!
That evening, we anxiously headed into town for the big event. Amy and I had started running together about a month before race time, and it had been quite eye-opening. In all my years in Thailand, the one and only time I’d run outside had been that previous fun run in Bangkok — otherwise, it was treadmill all the way, baby. As much as I prefer running outside under normal circumstances, I just could never imagine tackling hot, hill-covered Koh Tao with my trainers on!
But it’s amazing what having a running buddy can motivate you to do, and soon Amy and I were challenging ourselves to beat our records as we slogged up and down the mountains of Koh Tao at sunset. We hoped that by the time we made it to the blissfully flat race route on Koh Samui, the whole thing would be a breeze.
Isn’t that adorable that we thought that?
Well my friends, there was certainly nothing breezy about it. As we tacked on our race bibs, former marathoner Janine (who had to sit this one out due to a knee injury) gave Amy, Johanna and I a race-night pep talk and sent us into the lineup. Costume-clad runners were abound and the atmosphere was distinctly party-like — not innappropriate for a run though Koh Samui’s most notorious party strip.
And then we were off, following the winding route around Chaweng Lake. Johanna took the lead while Amy and I kept each other’s pace behind her. We’d decided to ambitiously aim for an under 30 minute time, despite the fact that our best practice run had been about 35 minutes. My older sister Margaret, a wellness and running coach (who just started her own business in Rochester!) had assured me that game-day adrenaline leads most runners to beat their training times on race day.
Just as I was starting to crave breaking my run for a few moments of walking, fireworks erupted over the lake, giving me the endorphin rush I needed to keep jogging. The next adrenaline boost came as we entered the heart of Chaweng’s nightlife zone, where partying tourists enthusiastically cheered us on and offered us sips of beer (nah thanks). Much more welcome were the waters sweetly offered by the local hookers and bar girls who also excitedly lined the streets to cheer — an “only in Thailand” moment if I’ve ever experienced one.
While Samui is flat, a huge relief after hilly Koh Tao, I didn’t take into account some of the challenges of running in a more urban environment. Basically, I’m talking sewage smells, guys. Thailand isn’t known for its ground-breaking waste management systems, and a few times along the race route I felt so nauseous from the smell of rotting garbage and, um, other unpleasant things that I thought I might be sick. But I kept on keeping on.
Have I ever been happier to see a finish line? After a brutal final couple hundred meters, I almost collapsed as we stumbled over it in just under 33 minutes. While technically we didn’t reach our ambitious goal, I couldn’t have been happier — we beat our training times, I didn’t break my stride to walk even once, and I ran my fastest race ever! For a girl who used to barely be able to get through a mile, it was a huge accomplishment.
I couldn’t have been more thrilled that the race started and ended outside Reggae Bar, one of my favorite spots in Koh Samui. Still clad in sweaty race gear, we joined hundreds of our fellow runners for drinks and dancing to a Bob Marley cover band until we finally succumbed to the call of the shower and our beds.
Overall, I was very impressed with the Samui Midnight Run. The event was overall well run and organized, and my only suggestion to them would be to please use paper cups for the water stations — all those teeny tiny one-sip plastic water bottles broke our eco-loving hearts!
The next morning, it was finally time to celebrate! Because not only had we just kicked butt in a big race, but it was also Easter Sunday (yeah, I told you I was behind on trip recaps!) And Easter Sunday calls for brunch.
Brunch culture hasn’t really hit Thailand outside a few select neighborhoods in Bangkok, but we were determined to make some magic happen. A trip to Koh Samui requires a serious embracing of chain restaurants, and thus I enthusiastically supported a group trip to The Coffee Club, where we baffled our waitress by ordering a full bottle of champagne along with our assorted juices for DIY mimosas. “You want… to take it away?,” she asked, brows furrowed in confused. Our smiling insistence that we were going to drink it right then and there, at noon on a Sunday, was met with you crazy farang!-style laughter that we returned with a wink.
It was the perfect toast to the perfect girlfriend getaway.
Of course, we had a few more stops. You can’t take a bunch of country Koh Tao girls over to the civilization of Koh Samui without unleashing them on the mall and also a Tesco Lotus or two to stock up on supplies, after all.
Once the retail frenzy was over, blissful as the weekend had been, we happily boarded our ferry back to teeny tiny Koh Tao. And when we arrived, we were greeted by one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d seen in a while. So good I had to stop, put down all my bags, and just soak it all in.
Welcome home, it said.
I can’t wait for my next fun run — or my next girlfriend getaway! Raise your hand in the if you have one of either coming up soon…