Samui Wining & Dining
Skin Flicks.

To dress or not to dress? Just how easy-going are Samui’s shops and restaurants?


14It’s all a matter of perception. We’re walking a thin line here. A step to one side and everything’s okay. But go the other way and sirens sound and whistles blow (occasionally the ones attached to policemen). And nothing’s ever simple – especially when it comes to matters of good taste and acceptability. Plus, on top of all this, there are several more twists. One is the fact that on Samui we’re walking around in a culture that’s not our own. Another is that what’s disgusting to a pensioner might not rate a second glance from his/her grandchild. The easy way is to shrug and mutter that it’s ‘horses for courses’. But, when it comes down to it, it’s all really about attitude – combined with a degree of general awareness. In other words, are you the sort of person who couldn’t care less about dining in your swimwear?

      I said it wasn’t simple. Because that’s equally true about going shopping, too. Or walking about in public, say, along Chaweng Beach Road. In virtually what amounts to your underwear. Or does it? You see there’s another set of concepts woven into this. Underwear is . . . well, underwear! It’s personal and intimate. A bikini is not. You’ll cheerfully wear it in public. And yet both display the same amount of skin. So what’s the difference?

      As I said, it’s all a matter of perspective. To illustrate this, take a parallel example (although one you won’t often see on Samui). Women who like to sunbathe topless. A woman goes to the beach modestly attired. She then sits on a towel and takes off her top. She pops into the water to cool off, topless, walking across a crowded beach to do so, and returns topless to her towel. After a while she gets up and goes for a drink in the nearby beach café, just ten feet away. But she puts her bikini top on to do this. When she’s done she then moves ten feet away back to the sand and takes her top off again in full view of the café and all its customers. And when the sun starts to set she covers herself before she leaves the beach to go back to her resort. Why does this happen? What’s the code? Where can I get a look at the rules?

      I still don’t actually know the answer to that one. It’s puzzled me for decades. I’d love to project a wise and all-knowing persona but I’m still struggling. Maybe it’s a male/female thing, genetically coded and connected to subliminal messages. Who knows? (My wife was never able to explain the workings to me.) And that’s just keeping things nice and neat, and within a culture where this is accepted. If the same woman were to do this on a beach in a Muslim country . . . even a one-piece swimsuit would quickly attract a circle of panting, yet angry and derisive, males – but that’s another story. The whole thing is really quite complex.

      So let’s try to dumb it down a bit and keep it as simple as possible – Samui-wise. And let’s pop in another amusing parallel – that of smelly fruit. The durian is a fruit which “. . . tastes like heaven yet stinks like a boatload of dead mermaids”. You might adore durian. You may well carry some with you everywhere you go, just for nibbles. But it stinks. It’s on a par with my grandad’s breath before he had his teeth done. And it would be equally as unpleasant to have a conversation next to grandad George at the bar in a pub as it would be to spend 30 seconds in a lift (elevator) with a durian lover. Which is why hotels in durian growing countries ban them from the premises. And – keeping two concepts going at the same time – it’s also why Samui’s big wholesale supermarket, Makro, is now displaying notices everywhere telling everyone to please dress appropriately. And if you’re not quite sure what this means, there’s a big X over the image of a bikini on the poster.

      Brownie points for Makro. I’m sick of going shopping and jostling with tattooed 6-pack skinheads and healthy blonde couples and big momma wobble bottoms in their ‘underwear’ next to me at the checkout. Or swimwear. It’s the same thing when it comes to attitude. (My wife disagrees, although she’d never go shopping in either.) Yes – this is a laid-back-beach-resort destination. Yes – it’s an everyday thing to sit in a beach bar and snack and sip in your swimwear. But going shopping in your Speedos? Going dining in your doo-doos? Come on! Tune in and get with it! As soon as you get to that crumbly-concrete bit of the path that joins the smooth tarmac of the main road, change your clothes – hopefully before. A nun in a church is nice. A naked nun in a church is not nice. Can I parallel it any better?

       It’s nothing at all to do with aesthetics. A muscular hunk or toned tanned blonde will attract admiring glances on the beach, in the same way a natty nun will in a cathedral. But shift them into a different context and all becomes not well. And then you have to add to that the very tolerant, yet sensitive, sensibilities of the Thai people. The temples won’t abide uncovered flesh. It’s disrespectful. The government offices and banks won’t accept it - it’s not only inappropriate, it’s rude! And even on the street I’ve seen grown men on motorbikes drive into trees, rubbernecking at sauntering bikinis. It’s simply the wrong place for it, dammit!

      I have to say, though, that this kind of thing never happens in good restaurants. And by that I mean the quality ones. Not the beach places where you’re in and out of the sea and the restaurant – not even the 5-star ones. But, come sundown, people automatically adjust and then seem to like to take a pride in presenting themselves in a different light. They shower-off the sun cream and slip on the glad-rags. It’s somehow instinctive. (Would you dream of going to the office wearing beachwear?) There are people who will disagree. But to them I’d say just this – didn’t your parents teach you any better? The way you’re walking around, you might as well be in a skin flick!


Rob De Wet


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