I had always wanted to end my travels with a month on the beach but I hadn't expected to be in Asia in June. But that was before I met Oi and that was before several profitable poker sessions in Macau and Manila which allowed me the funds to stay another month in Asia. What could be a better way to end my travels than with an exotic woman on an exotic island with time on our hands? For a once pasty Englishman like me this was the stuff of dreams and was what I dreamt of in London when playing poker and wandering sometimes what the hell I was doing. To make a plan, achieve it and then live out that dream is one of the most fulfilling achievements I have made. Little instances like this make you realise that with the will so many of the things in life you want to accomplish can be yours, with a little luck as well! You just need to want it enough and to have a plan and follow it. Naturally this can also change your world view as the paradigm shift of a long period in a different culture makes you realise what you had always expected but choose to ignore; that doing what moves you and makes you passionate is what really fulfills you. My being in corporate London too long painfully blinded me to what is really important in life and I had over the years lost sight of my true self and my natural sanguine nature had given way to something else. I remember having an email chat with my good friend Mike and I told him I was going to Asia to 'find my mojo', to which he replied that I had never lost it rather but I had got sucked into the London thing and become another automaton - how true. Musing on all these things made me realise how far I had come, actually and metaphorically, in the last six months and whether things would ever be the same again. It was like a had been given a glimpse of another life, a much simpler life. I am a great believer in the idea that in simplicity is beauty and truth. In the West you could argue that life has become a striving for personal success rather than a striving for personal fulfillment.
We often busy ourselves with activities that distract us from our own true desires. Strip away all the flotsam and what do you have? You have the truth of who and what you really are. I feel certainly in the UK this truth is hidden in the flotsam and it is too easy to lose sight of what is important because instead you concern yourself almost exclusively with advancing your career opportunities. The idea of working my bum of for decades and then retiring in the UK was never one I had bought into really and for a long time I had wanted the opportunity to live outside the UK for a period and try a different lifestyle. Now I knew I didn't have to meekly follow my supposed fate of becoming top of my profession in London, making lots of money and doing that whole circus. The cold realisation that I could be much more happy and actually fulfilled without a material lifestyle was a liberating one.
Naturally these thoughts have to be tempered with a dose of reality as well and an awareness of some of the potential pitfalls of a life in Asia. From a rather romantic viewpoint, without poker none of this would have been possible, as I could not have payed of my debts so quickly or saved any money. Did poker save my life? I know that DJs have saved lives (remember the tune?) but I didn't know poker could save lives!
With all these thoughts swishing around my head all that remained was finding suitable accommodation on the island. This proved to be tricky. Koh Samet has around ten beaches with at a guess 100 plus places to stay ranging from £1000 a night sheer luxury to a $10 a night hovel. The problem is many places do not take pre bookings and I had set my sights on one place called the Tubtim resort.
I wanted a Robinson Crusoe type set up which effectively ruled out the majority of the standard resorts. We had to change our dates in order to get a place at Tubtim but I felt sure we had made the right choice. We left Bangkok for the bus to Koh Samet, me with my uber modern backpack and Oi with her simple laundry bag. After a very simple and painless bus followed by a ferry we arrived at Koh Samet and took a pick up truck to the resort. Tubtim resort lies to the slight south on the east coast on Ao Thupthim beach and is much quieter than those resorts further north. We had booked a mid to top range room but on arrival I couldn't resist the top range room which the lady showed us upon request. There are around fifty bungalows at Tubtim and four of these sit back from the beach with superb views. For these bungalows you get a huge veranda with two sun chairs, a flat screen tv, a fridge and a well appointed room. It was just perfect and very romantic; this was how I wanted to end my trip! The sheer beauty of the surroundings and the time to enjoy it all with Oi by my side was close to utopia. Bloody mosquitoes put paid to that though!. The resort also has, in my opinion, the best beach on the island. It is much quieter than the beaches further north and it has the least rocks in the water so having a swim is that more pleasurable and there is a pontoon you can also swim out to
. Besides this there are massages to be had by the beach, the best restaurant on the island (I tried all the major ones), the Trio Bar for lovely cocktails over a game of pool and a very well stocked shop. We hired a scooter so we could nip around the island and I learned to drive on the horrendously bumpy and jagged 'roads' which criss crossed the island - quite an experience. I loved riding the bike with the sun in my face, the wind in my hair and Oi squeezing my belly as we rode along.
Koh Samet is one of the Eastern Seaboard Islands of Thailand. It is located in the Gulf of Thailand off the coastline of the Thai province of Rayong, approximately 220 kms southeast of Bangkok. The island derives its name from the cajeput tree found throughout the island, as the Thai language word for cajeput is samet
. Popular with foreign tourists and as a weekend getaway for residents of nearby Bangkok you get a very cosmopolitan crowd on the island. Most of the island belongs to the Khao Laem Ya - Mu Ko Samet National Park. However despite paying a National Park entrance fee (40 baht for Oi and 200 baht for me as a farang) there seems to be very little being done with that money. The roads are appalling mud tracks and the island is pretty shabby in parts. Unfortunately this is too common an occurrence in Thailand where it seems instead of protecting their environment with these proceeds the Thais would rather sit back and get fat. Koh Samet is one of the driest archipelagos in Thailand getting significantly less rainfall than Rayong Province, even though it is only a few kms offshore. The island's "rainy season" extends only from May to July, but even during this season it has less rain that other islands in Thailand. The island, despite being arid, consists of lush forested hills, covered with evergreen and deciduous forest and cajeput trees grow abundantly. Owing to the lack of rain the island still ships in potable water. Interestingly it is believed that once upon a time, Koh Samet was the home of pirates and that until this very day there is still lost treasure buried somewhere on the island. The classical Thai Poet, Sunthorn Phu (1786–1855), set part of his epic work, Phra Aphai Mani, on the shores of the island. Statues of the title character, Prince Aphai Mani and the siren/mermaid which guided him to Ko Samet can be found on the Hat Sai Kaeo beach
You will also see the odd Thai man with a metal detector scouring the beaches for treasure while being barked at by dogs. Another little oddity is that many of the islands dogs have shorter legs than a dog should and thus you see many of these strange looking dogs wobbling around the island and the bigger dogs seems to take great pleasure in picking fights with them. Apparently the dogs came with the various Burmese marauders over the years and because Burmese boats were very shallow these dogs never needed to develop long legs to climb out of the boats. Sounds odd but why let the facts get in the way of a good story anyway?
It was as happy as I have been in a long time. The simplicity of it all. There wasn't a huge amount to do on the island in itself, especially during the week, but it is a small island in the rainy season and so you expect that. On our own beach we quickly befriended the local bars owners and an English expat called Daz. The bar guys were lovely and we always played pool with them and had a chat. On the last day of my trip they cooked a huge meal for me on the beach which was really sweet of them. Daz himself is an ex football thug who has obviously grown up and calmed down and found some kind of inner peace in Thailand and he was always very chatty and calm. In general the locals were very pleasant although there is always one isn't there. One night Oi lost her phone and so phoned up the number to get it back. The man on the other end wanted 300 baht or $10 to give her the phone back! I was outraged at such a blatant abuse and refused to allow her to pay the money, whilst she seemed to just be willing to stump up the money.
In Thailand men are the dominant gender and I would guess that to her she felt like she had no option. So we hoped on the moped, I met the man and politely told him that we would not pay for the phone and he should return it to Oi immediately. He coyly handed it over and I was just glad he wasn't 6ft and into Thai boxing as I may have lost the argument! Anyway like I said there is always one
Most days we would wake up and spend the afternoon on our beach either sunbathing, swimming or snorkelling or all three
. Other days we would take the bike and explore the other beaches and other parts of the island and go for a swim or a snooze elsewhere. The beaches themselves have superb white powder sand and lovely clear blue waters. There was a good selection of restaurants on the island and we must have eaten at most of them but we always found Tubtim to be the best restaurant. People watching is always fun as well, especially with the Thais and their strange customs.
For example, in general young middle class Thais are very vain. Thais believe those with white skin to be of a higher class than those with dark skin and therefore they are constantly trying to become whiter. If you try and buy face wash in Thailand it nearly always has bleach or whitening properties advertised on the bottle. Most Thais will also always cover their faces up in the sun at all costs to avoid getting darker. Add to this the fact that Thais consider nudity to be a strict no go, most of them cannot swim too well and there are many gays on holiday breaks on the island and you have a very interesting view on the beach!. This then explains the sight of a young Thai man or women wandering cautiously into the sea with a shirt on and a slightly anxious look on their face.
If they are on the beach then they will cover their face with a towel. It seems ridiculous but who am I to judge! I loved the fact that Oi slipped on a small bikini and wanted to get as dark as possible everyday, it showed she was not ashamed of who she is and felt no pressure to conform or pretend to be someone else. That shows a lot of inner strength and belief in my opinion.
Having such fun I extended our stay by another twelve days and continued to have a great time with more exploration and many more romantic candlelit diners on the beach with the water lapping at our feet.
We were asked if were were married and one our honeymoon several times which was quite amusing. I guess it was obvious that we were very happy in each others company. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and after leaving Koh Samet we made our way back to Bangkok for my flight the next day. Saying goodbye was painful but it was always going to happen. Maybe I would return to the Land of Smiles in the future? Who knows.
My next blog will contain musings on Asia and my travel experience since I have returned to the UK and I hope you enjoy it