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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride


Day 80/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Koh Samui (Nathon), Thailand.

A beautiful island paradise awaited us today! Koh Samui which comes from the Malay word for ‘safe haven’ was off in the distance when we woke up. I’m sure many people have never heard of Koh Samui before, but it is Thailand’s second largest island at 228 square km or 88.3 square miles and sits off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand. Phuket, where we are going soon, is Thailand’s biggest Island at 540 square km, or 208 square miles and has a more lively beach scene. Koh Samui, is calmer and has more private beaches. The island has beautiful beaches, waterfalls, viewpoints, temples and some world class wellness spas! Until the 1970’s Koh Samui did not have roads and the 15 km journey from one side of the island could involve a whole day trek through the mountainous jungles. Ko Samui’s economy now is primarily based on tourism and exports of coconuts and rubber. There are 17,479+ hotel rooms on the island ranging from the Four Seasons and Ritz Carleton, at the top end, to the Intercontinental and other local resorts. The top three source markets for tourists are Germany, the UK and Thailand. Bangkok Airways flies to the airport on Koh Samui.

We were going to be tendering into port today, and we saw this boat coming towards the Neptune and wondered if it was immigration or the pilot?

I turns out this was one of the tender boats coming to take people who were on earlier excursions!

Our excursion was not leaving until 10am from the Star Theatre, so we had time to go to the World Cafe for breakfast before we had to head down and wait for our tender. Our tender number was not called until 10:16am, so it looked like things were running a little late with the tender process, as our tour was supposed to depart at 10am.

Rocking the $6USD Vietnam straw hat on the tender to Koh Samui, Thailand.

The tender boats were big and we were able to sit in the open air, which was very nice! The tender ride was only 25 minutes to shore and the temperature was a very pleasant 27C/81F with a nice breeze from the Gulf of Thailand.

In the port talk we were advised that Koh Samui does not have buses so we were to be shuttled in mini vans today. We found our guide wth his #30 Viking Lollipop sign waiting for us on the dock.

The mini vans were very interesting and the ceilings even had cherubs on them!


We had a quick 20 minute ride in this neat ‘disco’ mini van with 8 of us fitting quite comfortably into the van.

We arrived at the ‘Samui Elephant Kingdom’ and we were ushered into an open air pavilion to watch a short video about the elephant sanctuary and the history of why the sanctuary was founded.

Waiting for the video to start.

The video went through the history of the Samui Elephant Sanctuary which was opened in 2018 by Wittaya Sala-Ngam and Saengduean Lek Chailert. The concept of elephant care and welfare is inspired by and supported by Lek Chailert, world renowned elephant conservationist, founder of Save Elephant Foundation and world famous Elephant Nature Pak in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Lek was named one of Time Magazine’s Heroes of Asia for her work in conservation and in 2010 she was honoured in Washington D.C. as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation. The elephants in the care of the Samui Elephant Sanctuary have endured a hard life working long hours for tourist’s entertainment or in the logging industry. The goal of the Samui Elephant Sanctuary is to provide a happy home in nature for the herd where they are free to express their natural instincts and receive the care and respect they deserve.

There are only 497,000 elephants left in the wild, and they are classified as an endangered species.

The principles the Samui Elephant Sanctuary follows in caring for the elephants.

We will have to remember these words as we go to visit the elephants!

After watching the video and being given guidance on how to feed the elephants, it was time to move to the next station where we learned what the elephants eat.

Elephants eat lots and lots of Napier or Elephant or Uganda grass which is a perennial tropical grass native to African grasslands. It has low water and nutrient requirements and can grown in uncultivated lands. Adult elephants can consume up to 300 pounds of food in a single day! The elephant sanctuary replants the stems of the Napier grass to be self sufficient and have an ongoing supply of grass for the elephants to eat.

Harvesting napier grass. The bottom of the grass is dug into a trench, and covered over, and within 4 months will sprout like the small grasses in the front of the photo.

Elephants love to eat pineapples, watermelon, pumpkins and bananas.

Watermelons and pumpkins.

Ripe bananas ready to feed to the elephants.

After learning about the feeding habits of the elephants we were each asked to wash our hands with soap and water before going to feed the elephants.

Richard washing his hands before he goes up to feed the elephants.

We were then given a feed basket to wear, to climb up to the skywalk, so we could go and observe and feed the elephants.

I saw this elephant and thought I would shoot a photo closer to him than walking up the sky walk.

Wearing my feed basket.

Since the elephant knew I had food, he quickly came to me.

How’s that for up close and personal?

I got up close and personal pretty quickly with this elephant but I wasn’t ready to feed him just yet. I wanted to see how others were feeding the elephants before I started to feed thIs greedy guy! Its a bit ‘off putting’ when the elephant sticks his trunk right in your face, I guess that will teach me to try and get an up close photo with the elephant!

Up on the skywalk looking down at the elephants. They have such a nice area for them to bathe, and they change the bathing water every three days for the elephants.

Just as we got onto the skywalk these two cute elephants started playing with each other. It was so wonderful to watch. These photos are some of my favourites from today’s visit to the elephant sanctuary.

It looked like the elephants were actually smiling at each other as they were being playful. These were all female elephants. The male elephants are kept away from the females until the park closes to the public around 4:30pm, and then the male elephants are allowed back with the females.

3 Male elephants which are separate from the females. Males have tusks. Females do not.

They know we are coming! The young elephant at the front of the photo still has hair on her head. She was about 8 years old. The hair eventually falls out as she gets older. The oldest elephant they have at the sanctuary is 59 years old and elephants can live to age 80 or so if they are in a sanctuary such as this one.

The elephants knew we had bananas as well as Napier grass. They would take the Napier grass and throw it on the ground and put their snout up again looking for a banana instead of the grass. Elephants are exceptionally smart animals. Our guide told us that one day one of the Asian elephants (they have Asian and African elephants), undid the lock on the inside of the paddock and then reached her trunk around to undo the lock on the other side of the paddock. The elephant made her way up to the concession stand to meet the elephant guide! Luckily she knew enough not to take off down the road!

Feeding the elephants.

Give me that banana!

I want more please!

How could you say no to this?


Finishing up our feeding by giving the elephants the Napier grass bundles. They would grab them with their trunk and fold the trunk back up on itself to hold the grass in place, and then bring it down to their mouth and break off what they wanted to eat, letting the rest fall on the ground.

After feeding the elephants, the guides were hosing the elephants down to cool them, and to get the parasites off their backs.

The elephants are also fed a vitamin ball which is salty and this makes them want to drink more water. The elephant keepers give the elephants fresh water to drink, to make sure they drink enough water every day. The elephants sleep near their keepers huts every night and they trust the keepers to take care of them.

After finishing up feeding the elephants we dropped off our feeding baskets and washed our hands again with soap and water before heading to lunch.

I did not eat all of this. But the food was delicious!

Freshly made vegan pad thai. Oh so yummy!

I walked around after lunch to see what else was on the grounds of the elephant sanctuary and I found some interesting sights.

An old Land Rover Defender! It has seen better days. And definitely not one I might have financed in my previous life!

Make sure you do not throw tissue in the blow! That would be terrible!

We got back into our waiting mini van for a very short ride to the Na Muang 1 Waterfall. As soon as we got out of our mini van we saw more elephants, but not elephants that were being treated as well as at the sanctuary.

These elephants were taking people for elephant rides. At one point one of the elephants riders, chained the elephant to keep it in place. I was sickened by what we were seeing. After just seeing the wonderful way the elephants were being treated in the elephant sanctuary, to having this thrown in our faces, was such a disturbing contrast . I was disgusted and wanted to get away from the scene in front of me as quick as possible.

We walked down to the waterfall and quickly took some photos.

The Na Muang 1 Waterfall.

There were lots of vendors selling things at a market and people grilling chicken at the touristy area before we reached the waterfall, but we thought we would be able to buy more Thai things in Phuket, in some real markets once we reach that spot.

A Colourful Buddhist offering at the waterfall. Richard in the distance checking things out.

The visit to the waterfalls was quickly over and we went back into our minivan for the trip back to the pier. We were supposed to be back onboard by 3pm, but there was a long long up for the tender boat and we did not get on the waiting tender, so we had to wait for the next tender. I left Richard in line while I went to take photos since I don’t have much patience for lines and there is always something to photograph if your willing to walk a bit.

Thai fishing boat. I loved the colours on this boat, since I’m very partial to aquamarine! The water was also a gorgeous colour of aquamarine. I could see beaches in the distance with white sand on them and the contrast with the aquamarine water looked picture postcard perfect. Now I know why there are so many ‘high end’ resorts on Koh Samui!

One tender leaving for the Neptune, and our tender coming to the port at Nathon in Koh Samui.

The tender ride was lovely, being able to sit on the upper deck with the warm breeze in our faces as we made our way to the Neptune. We both loved the optional excursion to the Elephant Sanctuary which we had paid $168CAD/person. The trip was well worth it and a nice way to spend 3.5 hours on this small island in Thailand. As for excursions we loved most so far I would say that Phillip Island to see the little penguins and this one today, were the highlights for us. The playfulness of these massive, gentle giants was so much fun to watch and it gave us a lot of joy to stop and watch them play.

As for the people who took the included excursion to a local beach, they did not have a good time. The beach was dirty with limited shade, a few plastic broken down beach chairs and umbrellas and there were RIPTIDES! Last week 4 people died on Koh Samui from being swept out to sea. If you google ‘rip tides Koh Samui’ just look what shows up. I’m not sure the included excursion to a beach on Koh Samui was the appropriate one to offer people given the average age demographic on this ship, and how dangerous the rip tides are, and how ignorant most people are about riptides. We never book any beach excursions, because I believe it is dangerous to lie in the sun given the UV exposure of the sun. I’m really glad we had the chance to do the elephant excursion today, my only regret was no time after our tour to walk around the small town of Nathon, to see what it was all about. If we had gone out on an earlier tour, we may have had some time for independent exploration.

Tomorrow is a sea day. Time to rest up for the large number of port days in a row we have coming up (and long blog posts too!) And it also looks like we still have art class tomorrow, so that will be our last class of art with paper and scissors. I hope another art teacher comes onboard in Singapore. Every new form of art is an inspiration and exposes me to things I have never tried before since my last art class was in grade 8 with my home room teacher Mrs. Bray (who also taught me grammar on an extracurricular basis, which I think has been more beneficial in my life than art!)

The Academy Awards were on our stateroom tv this morning when we woke up. It was a little strange seeing the Academy Awards on a Monday morning! We hadn’t seen many of the movies last year, which is unfortunate, but with Covid we kind of stopped going to the movies. The Academy Awards full telecast was being replayed this evening in the Star Theatre and people were encouraged to dress up for the Viking red carpet to go and see the Awards show. We skipped it, since we are losing an hour’s sleep tonight as our clocks start to go forward. With all of the days ahead in port, we need all the sleep we can get, so I’m glad this blog is finished so I can get a decent night’s sleep!

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Mar 15, 2023

What a great excursion! Elephants are such amazing creatures. When we were on a safari in Kenya, elephants were the first of the 'Big Five' we saw there. Our guide told us elephants have incredible memories. He shared with us that a local elephant was unfortunately mistreated there some 40 years before. When that man came back, the elephant (and several of his fellow elephants) charged the man and it was apparently not a happy ending for the man. Yikes. But the Samui elephant sanctuary sounds like a wonderful place!


Tammy Vig
Tammy Vig
Mar 14, 2023

$168 per person to feed the elephants, seems like a lot to me. Was this excursion booked through the ship? I wonder if booking yourself might be less....


Allan Yoshimura
Allan Yoshimura
Mar 14, 2023

Nice visit to the elephant sanctuary. Loved your picture of "I want more, please". You are right. Your hat looks better on you than on Richard!

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