July marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent and is, therefore, a paid holiday so I had already booked to go to Koh Samet. Koh Samet is a popular island getaway about three hours east of Bangkok by bus. I set off at about half past stupid to catch a very early bus and duly arrived at Ban Phe, the town the ferries leave from, in plenty of time. I was staying in Ao Wai at the southern end of the island and the resort I’d booked have their own private ferry so I wandered off to find their office and leave my bags, after which I had two hours to kill while I waited for my ferry. It has to be said that Ban Phe is not the most interesting place in Thailand and I quickly exhausted the possibilities there. However, I did find an Australian owned guest house and restaurant where I indulged in a huge cholesterol loaded western style breakfast. Apparently Koh Samet has more days of sunshine than any other part of Thailand so I was becoming a little concerned by the darkening sky and the increasingly choppy sea. Sure enough, when I went back to catch the ferry I learned that it had been delayed leaving the island due to the high sea and would be an hour late. Oh dear, another hour in Ban Phe! The only possible course of action was to get a coffee in Tesco Lotus. Yes, they have Tesco here complete with own label products and Tesco Lotus clubcard but don’t expect it to be like the Tesco back home. However, the coffee was good.
I finally reached my resort at half past three that afternoon after a very rocky crossing, a good time to claim a deckchair for an afternoon nap, it had after all been really tiring sitting on the bus for so long and then sitting on a ferry. First though, I had to pay to land on the island as it is a national park. The entry fee for a foreigner is four hundred baht but only twenty baht for a Thai. I had heard that people who work in Thailand get the local admission price so I showed the money man my visa and told him where I was working. He wanted to see my work permit but I explained I didn’t yet have that. He thought about it a bit and said okay. I was to learn that it wouldn’t always be so easy but, of course, this is Thailand where nothing is ever the same for very long. The resort itself was beautiful, probably about thirty accommodation units sensitively built into the edge of the forest but close enough to the beach that I could hear the waves as I went to sleep. Sadly for me, the bed seemed to be made of stone and the pillow resembled a lump of concrete. The beach itself was an expanse of pure white sand, a real tropical paradise. Or so I thought.
I got up early the next morning and went for a walk along the beach as the tide was out. I was almost surrounded by dead coral which I suppose must have been the source of the sand. Later, somebody explained to me that one of the causes of all this dead coral is the speedboat operators who take us tourists out snorkeling over the coral. I did see some living coral in the rock pools right at the edge of the sea and saw some very strange creatures indeed – quite enough to put a sensitive person like me off the idea of swimming around there. Actually, I did go swimming later on and thoroughly enjoyed it. Walk over, I went to enjoy the buffet breakfast only to discover one of the worst breakfasts I have ever come across. Stone cold fried eggs, bright red sausages, sweet white bread, watered down orange juice, coffee like mud. I could go on but hopefully you are getting the picture here. Despite these little setbacks, it was a lovely location and I was really pleased I had come.
Apart from breakfast, the food wasn’t too bad when I could manage to get some, and the prices were reasonable. I spent the rest of my little break chilling, eating and drinking. The service left something to be desired but, unless you stay in an international several star resort that is usually the case in Thailand. It can be frustrating but you will quickly learn one of Thailand’s most popular sayings – ‘mai pen rai’ meaning it doesn’t matter. It became the usual routine to forget about being seated and just find a table. Then I would spend ten to fifteen minutes trying to attract somebody’s attention to get a menu. Another fifteen minutes or so would elapse before somebody else came to take my order. The chances are they would have forgotten to bring a pen and paper so they then disappeared for another ten minutes. Next, they didn’t understand what I ordered, even if I pointed to where it was written in Thai in the menu so I would have another wait while my server went to get some help. Finally, I got to make my order. At this stage, it is important to tell them anything else you might want such as salt or cutlery as telling them when they bring your food will only cause confusion and will take an extremely long time while your untouched food sits in front of you, waiting to be eaten. The thing is, in the overall scheme of things it really doesn’t matter that much and, despite this resort’s employment policies clearly depriving several villages of their idiots, it is somehow reassuring that there are still places of employment where people don’t need to pass any sort of intelligence test in order to work there.
This is the middle of the rainy season and I’ve already got used to the (often severe) monsoon rain storms in Bangkok. At one point on this little break, I sat on the beach and watched a storm cloud happily wandering around just offshore, wondering whether it would hit us or not. I felt rather like Pooh Bear. It was the first time I’ve seen the cloud structure for the whole storm. Watching it was fascinating, it reminded me of a nuclear mushroom cloud and yes, it did eventually hit us. That meant it was time to retreat to the bar and spend the next hour trying to order and receive a cold beer. All too soon it was time to return to Bangkok which I didn’t really want to do.