The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost (Marcel Proust)
Ko Samet. Just writing the name of the place makes me want to go back. Again and again, because Samet is just my place to go back to.
You guessed it: Samet was my first tropical island, which is not unlike a first love. And you just want to return to those primeval experiences: your feet in the fine, powdery white sand, the ridiculously lukewarm waters, the freedom of zipping around on a rental motorbike, the undiluted pleasure of eating barbecue food right on the beach, hearing the breakers as you take another sip from your large Chang.
I remember hitting Vongduean beach for the first time. It was dark already, but after my long and eventful journey from Ekkamai bus station, I felt that a celebratory swim was in order, so I walked down to the beach as soon as I had checked in to my simple resort.
Refreshed by the lukewarm waters, I noticed a healthy fun group of young Americans in their 20s. They were drinking large Changs and playing with the waves.
“Hey where did you get that beer?”, I asked one of them “Is it expensive?”
“No, man, 90 baht. Got it over there at that restaurant.”
“Cool”, I nodded approvingly.
“Yeah man…This is paradise! You know what we did this morning? We sailed out, caught this huge fish and now someone’s cooking it for us. We fish it, they cook it! This is life, dude!”
“Well that’s amazing. Catch you later!”
It was a relaxing evening, enjoying some barbecue dinner with my feet still buried in the sand, listening to the breakers and writing about my first Asian trip in my notebook. It was amazing to be relaxing on a white sand beach after all my adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Amphawa, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi.
The next day I rose early to fully enjoy Samet. The plan was to do some beach hopping before meeting Ploy, a couchsurfer from Bangkok who’d be joining me that afternoon and, graciously, driving me back to Bangkok on the following day.
And beach hopping I did. After renting my motorbike from the resort, I headed to Ao Wai, one of the Southernmost beaches, where I was struck by its beauty and peacefulness. I must have spent a full hour swimming and enjoying the breakers.
Slowly, I headed North on my motorbike, stopping at Ao Thian and eventually making it up to the more heavily populated Ao Phai and Had Sai Kaew, where hordes of Chinese tourists were patronizing the restaurants. Too relaxed to fight for space, I bought some Isan fare from a walking vendor and wolfed it as I sat in the shade.
Eventually, the time came to pick up Ploy from the pier. Ploy was not a girl of many words. She was basically shy, or maybe she felt that her English was not up to par. Still, as we were making plans for the evening, she interrupted me.
“I have to tell you something”, she said, no longer smiling.
“I like to have beers on the beach”
I was not sure I was getting what she was saying.
“You mean you don’t like to have beer?”
“Yes, ka. I like to drink beer on the beach. Many people think not fine for girls to drink on the beach“.
“Ah, ok. No worries”, I smiled. “I like drinking beer too, so I’ll be happy if we can have a few together.”
And so we did. And she told me about her job, her family and how she’d created her Couchsurfing account in order to practice her English and make her world a bit bigger.
And have you traveled away from Thailand?, I asked.
“Yes. I’ve been to Russia. Moscow and St Petersburg. And I’m planning to go back in October.”
“Russia? But why Russia?”
“The Visa is free and easy to get, that’s why. But I met amazing people.”
Though skeptical at first, Ploy eventually joined me for a swim in the usual modest Thai swimming attire, T-shirt included.
As we were floating in the dark, the friendly Americans walked past us.
“Hey dude!” called the talkative one, smiling at Ploy. “I see you enjoyed Samet!”
“Cheers, mate” I smiled, relishing in the irony of it all.
“Yeah man – he knows where it’s at” I heard him tell his friend as they kept walking on the beach, large Changs in hand.
I didn’t bother with explanations. But I too looked at Ploy as she swam with the grace of a puppy, another beautiful Thai single woman in her thirties putting herself in the position of meeting Farangs for friendship or more. And, for a moment, I pictured myself in a long distance relationship with her: the video-calls, the long awaited for holidays, the efforts at communicating through language and culture barriers…
“I’m hungry” said Ploy, with the characteristic Thai impatience when it comes to food. “Let’s eat.”
“I agree. Barbecue?”
We ended up in the same beach restaurant as the day before, only this time we ate more and better and paid less, no doubt thanks to Ploy’s negotiating skills. And then we headed to Naga bar for a bucket of Samsong and Coke and some dancing to Despacito and other hideous songs. Memorable, if you ask me!
Like Samet. My Thai island to return to. Which I did – but that’s another B-side story.
Want to know more about Samet?
As always, consistently solid travel guide from Travelfish.org.