Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ko Samet - "find me an island lonely and lost" for Valentine Day

For a few days we left the chaos and crowds of Bangkok for the serenity of Ko Samet - an island in the Gulf of Thailand. Going was a last minute decision based on three adults figuring they could manage a two year old and three week old for the duration.

Chinese New Year and Valentine Day added to the craziness in Bangkok and getting out made sense. Booking was made through a travel agency close to the apartment - no hassles but it was relatively expensive for Thailand. Inclusive of transportation via luxury van (sole passengers) to the port of Ban Phe, and private speed boat to the island,villas ran around $155 a night - breakfast included. Given that this slice of heaven is around two and half hour drive from Thailand plus 20 minute boat ride, it's popularity with both Thais and ex pats living in Bangkok is understandable. Our van was private, comfortable and on time - especially important when we left the island - waiting in the heat with kids would have brought a meltdown - on my part! Only white-knuckle event was the speedboat ride off island - young driver thought he was in a James Bond chase scene.

Ko Samet is famed for silky, white sand beaches, once being a pirates lair and refreshing lack of big developments. Most of the island is a National Park , an indication that the beaches will not be rimmed with skyscrapers anytime soon. The travel agent assured us that our destination, on the east coast of the island, Ao Cho beach, was not a "hot spot" and therefore very quiet! She was correct. Ao Cho - tucked in about a thousand foot crescent bay was blissfully simple and quiet - apart from the firecrackers welcoming the New year at dawn on Saturday!

Ao Cho Hideway consisted of perhaps 30 villas, some right on the beach, others a short walk up the gentle slope and with glorious views. Not luxury but not spartan either - sort of up-upscale older backpacker reliving the hippie dream place. The on-beach restaurant was good - and a further foray to a restaurant perched on the point discovered great seafood there. Friday night entertainment was a fireshow - think cheerleaders with flames. Friday night was seafood BBQ - the display of fresh from the Gulf crabs, prawns, squid, shellfish and snapper rivaled anything I've seen at Pike Place, Seattle. And no photo - camera was out of batteries!

Best of all was the beach - practically deserted from dawn to mid-morning and again from around 4 p.m. onwards. Child perfect sand and a gentle slope into shallow, sparkling clean warm water - I never got in deeper than hip high. Staff of young Thais were helpful and really solicitous of the children. Beach dogs appeared to be cared for by the staff - must admit though to longing for a spay and neuter program! Beach vendors with fresh fruit and colourful sarongs for sale wandered the beach; food vendors set up to BBQ chicken to order. The next beach around the point was a stark contrast - jammed with deckchairs and bars it was hip to hip with noisy, drinking, carousing westerners. Our beach attracted a far more restrained type - several appeared to be honeymooners.

We were one of very few westerners staying - majority of guests were Thai or Japanese. Other non Asian guests (mainly eastern European) had obviously never heard of skin cancer because slathering body with oil and stretching out under full sun at the peak of the day was the norm.

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