BootsnAll Travel Network

Koh Samet: An Island . . . . . Paradise?

First, I’d like to thank everyone for reading my blog, and/or individual posts. And also thank you to those who have commented. I know I’ve hardly replied to any of them, but I do see them, and appreciate them.

Also, if you are a common reader of my blog, you may want to go back and re-read some of the posts, especially if you read them soon after they were posted. I often go back to the posts a couple of days after posting them, and look at them with fresh eyes. Often I will do some editing, and sometimes make significant revisions. This is the case with my last post, There’s Nothing Discreet About It . So if you read that one before the overhaul, you might want to go back and take a look. Okay, on with this post.

After nearly 2 months in Bangkok, and the sadness of Pattaya, I needed some serious R&R. What better place is there than a tropical island paradise? A popular island on the southeast coast of Thailand, is Koh Samet. There is no regular bus service from Pattaya to Koh Samet, so there are a number of travel agencies offering rides via minibus (really a van) and boat, to the island. The one next to my hotel advertised a ride to Ban Phe, the port where you catch the boat to Koh Samet, for 150 baht (approx $3.75 U.S). I’d read that it was better to get the boat pass at the dock, so I was only interested in the ride to the port. I saw nothing cheaper elsewhere so I went inside to book a ride.

I pointed to the sign advertising the trip and said, “I’d like to book a spot on the minibus to Ban Phe for tomorrow.”

The chubby male employee said, “Do you want to go at 7:30, 1:30, or 5:30?”

I said, “7:30.”

“Okay,” he said, “that will be 180 baht.”

I pointed to the sign again and said, “It says right here 150.”

“It’s 180 now.”

“But it says 150.”

“It’s been updated, it’s 180 now.” He pulled out a brochure that said it was 180 baht.

I said, “You have to change this sign then.”

“I tell everyone it’s 180.”

“But the sign still needs to say 180.”

“I tell everyone it’s 180.”

This company, Koh Chang Travel, has several locations around Pattaya, and all of the signs say the trip costs 150 baht. It’s much easier and cheaper to change these signs to 180, than it is to make all new brochures. So it seems obvious to me that they are purposely misleading the public, and luring us in with the low advertised price. Well, they got me, because I gave the guy my 180 baht. If you get the minibus and boat ticket it cost 250 baht.

So the van picked me up at my hotel, and a couple of hours later we were at the port of Ban Phe. The boat ticket cost me 50 baht, so the book was right, it is better to get the ticket at the dock. But then she asked me if I wanted a return ticket also. Another 50 baht. Hmm, I wonder if the ticket you buy from the agency in Pattaya includes a return ticket to the dock? I’ll probably never know.

So with ticket in hand I walked onto the dock. There were lots of boats and lots of people, so it was kind of chaotic. A guy saw me and asked to see my ticket. I showed it to him and he took it, then pointed to a boat for me to board.

No one else was on the boat, but there was a lot of cargo on it. Food products and large sacks of ice were strewn about. This boat looked like it might have seen some action in WWI . . . and lost. But I got on in spite of this. I sat there alone with the dry soup and ice for a while wondering if I’d made the right decision, then felt relieved when another traveller was directed to my boat. A European fellow, about my age. Then another bloke, a bit younger, boarded the boat. Then the captain and first mate came aboard. The first mate carried on a stereo receiver. As we set off I got a chance to see some of the other boats, and was suddenly quite pleased that I was on this dilapidated WWI boat, and not one of the others.

The island of Koh Samet is not very far from the port. You can clearly see it. But I took a Dramamine tablet just in case. I can get seasick in my friend’s pool. Despite the relative closeness of the island, it took us about 40 minutes to get there because the boat, perhaps becasue of it’s old age and weariness, or maybe due to the 14,000 pounds of ice on board, moved through the water as if it did not want to disturb the fish. So I’m glad I took the Dramamine, though I still might not have needed it.

A big sign welcomes you to Koh Samet. We landed at the dock and the 3 of us stepped off the boat. That first guy to get on the boat after me had already been on the island for a couple of days, so he walked on with me to give me a brief tour. The island is classified as a national park, so there is a 200 baht entry fee for foreigners.

There are 2 ways to get to the bungalow or bay of your choice: You can take a Sawngthaow (A pick-up truck with bench seats in the cab. I don’t know how to spell it either.); or you can walk. My new friend told me that if you walk in, you can walk by the booth where they collect the 200 baht fee, and they won’t even stop you. If you take the sawngthaow, it will stop there and you have to pay. I planned on walking anyway, so I did, and he was right. They didn’t even pay any attention to me. The booth is approximately a half a kilometer in, and you pass a bunch of shops, the only school on the island, and various side roads where the locals live. It’s not very pretty either. It’s very poverish.

They don’t pay attention to the foot traffic, because there are so many people who are already on the island, walking back and forth to go to the shops and stuff. I’m surprised they don’t put the collection booth right on the dock, and get everyone’s money as soon as they step off the boat. If they read this, then it may be incorporated soon.

My guide showed me the way to the bungalows, and beaches then went on his way. I hadn’t booked anything ahead of time, so I had to find a place to stay. As I walked by a place called Jep’s, a tall European fellow stopped me, and asked me if I spoke english.

I do speak english, so he continued, but he got very close to me, like Judge Reinhold’s character, “the close talker,” in that Seinfeld episode, and spoke very quietly like we were spies or something. “Are you looking for a place to stay?”

Tentatively, I replied, “Yes.”

He said, “We want to leave and we still have a night left in our bungalow. It’s all paid for. You can have it if you want.” There was a woman with him.

I just stood there and sized up the situation.

He continued, “They won’t give us our money back, and I would rather give it to someone else than just lose the money.”

I said, “How much does it cost?”

He said, “1200 baht.”

I quickly weighed my options. I was planning on staying here 4 days, and this was Thursday. I know they boost the rates on the weekends, unless you are already there. So if I took this place for the night, I still had to find something else for the weekend. Twelve hundred baht was too much to pay for Jep’s, plus I would feel funny about extending my time there since the bungalow wasn’t even mine. Another thing to consider was if this guy was straight up or not. I decided that he was straight up, and I took the keys. I’d worry about the other days later. I thought about giving him some money, but what if it was some kind of scam. So I just took the keys.

He said, “It’s room 42, right up there,” and pointed up the hill. Then they left.

Now I’m standing in front of this bungalow guest house with keys to a bungalow that is not even mine. And I was still a bit disoriented, because I had just landed on this unfamiliar island.

Suddenly, a women who works at Jep’s came up to me and said, “You looking for a room?”

“Um . . . . um.” I showed her the keys.

She pointed toward bungalow 42. Her look suggested she knew what was going on. I trekked up the hill to bungalow 42.

The key worked, I was in. The place wasn’t bad at all, but it was lived in.They had just taken showers, and their wet towels were strewn about the room. There was sand all over the bed, and a big wet stain in the upper right hand corner of the bed. But there was AC, a warm shower, and above all, it was free.

“Ahhhh!! What the hell is that?”

It was a large spider, crawling on the bed. I took one of their water bottles and crushed it. I got the dead spider, and the sand off the bed sheets, and headed off to look for a place to stay for the rest of the weekend.

The first few places I found were either full or too expensive. Finally, I found a place on a small bay that had an opening, but only for Friday. It cost 600 baht, had no AC, and toilet that didn’t flush. It wasn’t broken, it was equivalent to a squat toilet. So it was a toilet with no flushing mechanism. You have to ladle water from a bucket into the toilet to flush the waste down. But the place had a warm shower.

I didn’t commit to it because I still needed something for Saturday and Sunday. The resort next to it had an opening for the whole weekend, but it cost 1000 baht/night. She tried to get 1200 baht, claiming it was a public holiday, which it might have been, every weekend in Thailand is a public holiday, but there was no AC, and no flushable toilet. It was getting late, and I didn’t know how many places were left on this island, so I agreed to the 1000 baht for Saturday and Sunday. I went back to the other place and booked the 600 baht hut for Friday.

Okay, I had places to sleep for my whole stay, it was time to explore. There are two ways to get from bay to bay: By the dirt road used by motorcycles and cars; or the beaches and bays themselves. If you are on foot, the most scenic way is obviously the beaches and bays themselves. Separating each bay is either rocks, or a trail in the hilly woods. I chose this way.

The bays and beaches are quite lovely. The water is very clear, and the white sand is soft. Each bay has it’s own identity, and name. Some are small and quiet, and others are large and packed with sunbathers, huts and restaurants. I enjoyed trekking throught he hills and climbing over the rocks to reach the next beach. The views from up on the hills were fantastic. they weren’t very high, but high enough.

Me extending my arm. I also had no access to any good editing software, and this internet place made me use a very small file. So the quality is not as good as it should be. June gave me the haircut.
The old extended arm shot

Another thing I was delighted to see as an American male, was a number of women sunbathing, or swimming, topless. Perhaps men from other countries are used to this, and it’s nothing for them. But it is illegal in America, so we never get to see this display of bare-chested women, without paying for it. I ran into a fellow american on the rocks, and he shared my delight of being amongst all these bare boobies. He brought it up, not me. I can’t say I enjoyed all the topless women, but most of them were a welcomed sight for this traveller.

That night I enjoyed a much needed good nights sleep in my free bungalow. the last good nights sleep I will have on the island.

Most of my time was spent exploring the different beaches, stopping at each to wade in the clear blue water. Also sampling the different restaurants on the island. All were actually pretty similar. They were okay.

I also finally bought a book. I’d been looking to buy a book since I landed in Southeast Asia. The books here are expensive relative to America, even the used books. I’d say used books are, pound for pound, the most expensive item here you can buy on the streets. But there was a place here having some kind of sale on used books, and I got a Michael Crichton book: Prey, for only 70 baht. On Khao San Road in bangkok they are about 200 baht. And it was in relatively good condition. So I was happy. Now I can trade it for other books.

My POV. (This is a very small file, so it is not very good quality)My POV

My new hut was in a place called wonderland resorts. You can have a meal at their beachfront restaurant in the company of their resident pig, who might take a nap by your feet as you enjoy your pad thai.

The hut was a small room with a bed and a bathroom. In the bathroom was a non-flushiable toilet, and it was very small, perhaps made for Ooompa Loompa’s. But it did have a warm water shower, which was very surprising, and much appreciated. But the hut did have one thing I did not appreciate. Or should I say, many things I did not appreciate:

Bugs! And they were on my bed! There were ants, some kind of small flying, jumping mosquito type thing, small black beetles, and one big spider that I promply killed. It’s funny how easily we can kill bugs, but we have a problem killing small animal pests.

Every time I would wipe the bugs off of the bed, more would instantaneously appear. The ants were all over the room, especially in the bathroom, and there were hundreds of them. There was no way I was sleeping in that bed. there were two plastic chairs with filthy cushions in the room, so I set up the chairs to use as my bed. That beats sleeping with bugs.

I turned off the light, but I left the bathroom light on, to keep an eye out for any dangerous insects, arachnids, or swine. Then I noticed an odd thing. There were no more bugs on the bed. So I turned on the light again, and instantaneously, the bugs reappeared on the bed. I wiped the bugs off and turned the light off, and waited. No bugs. I turned the light on: bugs! Light off: No bugs; Light on: bugs; Light off: no bugs; Light on: bugs. I could still see the bed clearly with the light off, from the light coming from the bathroom. So it wasn’t that I just could not see the bugs when the light was off. The bathroom light wasn’t strong enough to attract the bugs to the bed. So I decided I would give the bed another chance. I was so tired I really didn’t care at this point. I put my long pants on, and tucked the bottoms into my socks. And I left the OFF (insect repelent) on my arms. I went to bed. I guess I actually slept okay.

My next two nights were spent at the 1000 baht/night place. Torn Tawan Resort, also known as Aocho Grand View Resorts. Of course the first thing I looked for was bugs. They wanted to charge 1200 baht/night, there better not be any bugs. I saw the requisite spider and promptly handled that. There were also 3 small ants, and a rather large mosquito, which left a stain of human blood on the curtain when I crushed it there. But I didn’t see any other bugs, besides a few random ants. There was a gecko in the room, but that was fine, geckos eat bugs.

The upscale bungalows at this resort went for 3500-4500 baht/night. More on weekends and holidays. I think mine was the only primative hut they currently had, but they were constructing more all around mine. I was sure I would be woken up early to the sound of pounding hammers and the sawing of wood.

My hut had no AC, but that was fine. And, again, there was no flushing mechanism on the toilet, but at least it was regular size, so I could deal with that too. After all the hiking and walking in the hot tropical sun, it was time for a nice warm shower. Hmmm, where’s the shower head in this place? You gotta be kidding me! There’s no shower in this hut! This 1000 baht hut, right next to the 600 baht one, that had a hot shower, has NO shower at all!! And she even tried to charge me 1200 baht!

My 1000 baht per night hut
My Hut

There were pipes with spidgets that gushed water into two large buckets they supplied. That is your shower. You have to use the dog food bowls floating on top of the water in the buckets, to dump the water on yourself. These also have the duel purpose of flushing the toilet as well. And I needed both bowls to double fist it to get my waste to go down.

Then at around 10:30pm on the evening of my last night on the island, I noticed something on my left, inner thigh. It was a small reddish circle, about 2 centimeters in diameter, with a darker red pin prick spot, dead center of the circle. “This can’t be good,” I said to myself. I got kind of nervous about it so I took pictures of it, just in case something poisonous bit me. I won’t include the photos here. So far I feel no ill effects.

Monday morning came and it was time for me to leave the island and continue on my way to Cambodia. I got to the dock and handed the lady my return boat ticket to the mainland. The ticket was a little torn and ragged from being in my pouch with the keys I had to remove over and over again.

When the lady saw my ticket she laughed and said, “No, no, no , no.”

I said, “What? It’s a good ticket.”

“No, no, no, no,” she laughed again. The 2 guys sitting at the table with her agreed.

I said, sternly, but not out of control, “This is a good ticket, I paid money for it.”

Finally one of the guys handed me a new ticket, and I was able to board the boat. This boat was in much better shape than the boat that got me on the island. And it travelled faster too. I took the risk and did not take any Dramamine this time. I felt fine.

I planned on going to Koh Chang, another larger island, but I’d had enough sun and sand, and bugs for a while, so I changed my mind. I decided to head to Trat, the last stop before Cambodia. I took a sawngthaow to the Rayong bus station. There were no buses that went straight to Trat. You have to take a bus to Chanthaburi, then another one to Trat. When we arrived in Chanthaburi I decided to hang there for a while.

I spent an uneventful 2 days in Chanthaburi, the gem capital of Thailand. But gems had nothing to do with why I stopped there.

As for Koh Samet: If I was just on a week or two vacation, I might have sprung for better accomadations, and it would have been wonderful. So if you have the money to spend on the nicer bungalows, then this island would be a great place to spend a few days, if beaches are your thing. The beaches are great, the water is crystal clear, the weather was fantastic, and the views from the hills were spectacular. but there is some 3rd world poverty that cannot be avoided.

I’ve heard there are much better islands in Thailand, and that’s probably true, but if you spring for the better accomodations, Koh Samet would be somewhat of a paradise for some people.

Now, it’s time to cross the border . . .

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6 responses to “Koh Samet: An Island . . . . . Paradise?”

  1. nadyne says:

    hi mark,
    i enjoyed reading your blog, probably because I myself will be going to Bangkok in Feb and found your post comparing Asha & Suk11 hostels. I’m choosing between those 2 but after reading your post, I’m swaying towards Suk11.

    i’ll be following your travels. cheers, have fun 😉


  2. nina says:

    Hi Mark! I’m planning on going to Koh Samet and this entry has been really helpful. Now I know which resorts to avoid. lol

  3. Jake says:

    Cheers MarknrnrLovely blog, thanks. I’ll be going to ko samet in a few months and was delighted by your report. Thanks.

  4. nui says:

    hey!nri really enjoy reading your travel’s story very much. i am Thai and i’ve been to Koh Samed only once in my was few months ago. lol.. i love this story ’cause it’s true.!! but! next time when u cames here again.. remember.. u better drunk before go to bed or do something else with someone to keep u busy than

  5. Limey Pete says:

    Well written Mark.

    Years ago on Ko Samet at paradise beach one could have a bamboo hut on stilts for B50.
    There was no admission fee to go on the Island.
    Now it is B200 fro a farang and B20 for a Thai.
    The last time I was there I went through the back of a bar for B20 to avoid the B200.
    Walked to paradise beach, to avoid the ridicules price of a taxi, and at the beach there were concrete blocks all along the beach, costing an arm and a leg to rent.
    A day trip boat was leaving; I boarded, and paid the guy B30 to go to the mainland.
    I had been on Ko Samet two hours and will never go back.
    It is a complete RIP OFF.
    Don’t go.

    Limey Pete

  6. Tonii says:

    Ahh, poor spider!

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