Island hopping to Ko Samet

I caught the 9:30am songthaew over to the port as instructed but when I arrived on the mainland I still waited around for over an hour for the bus to arrive, whilst watching the rain pounding down on the pavement outside and drinking the largest banana shake I’ve ever been served. It appeared that I was the only person on the bus who was not heading straight to Bangkok and I was subsequently a little worried that the driver may completely bypass Rayong (the jumping off point for Ko Samet), so when we made a refreshments stop after about an hour I showed my ticket to the driver and asked him to confirm that we would be making a stop for Ko Samet and what sort of time we would be stopping. As is often the case when Asian people don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, he simply nodded his head and smiled. So, not feeling at all confident that he could even read the destination on my ticket, I kept my eye on the road for the duration of the journey to ensure that we remained on the correct road. As I suspected, we didn’t. Instead of taking the road to Bangkok which runs through Rayong, the driver took the direct route to Bangkok. As soon as I realised I rushed downstairs and showed the driver my ticket. He acted as if nothing was wrong, yet a kilometre down the road we came to an abrupt stop in the middle of nowhere, and I was offloaded on to a mini bus which subsequently headed in – guess what – the direction we had just come from!

I was driven to Ban Phe, where I caught a small motorboat across to the island. The lady at the port tried to fleece me for a further 100THB for the boat fare, until pointed out that I had already paid all the way to Ko Samet, as it stated on my ticket. I shared the motorboat with several bags full of longans and rambutans, a collection of Thai school children (who had presumably finished classes for the day as it was approaching 4pm), and a Thai mother whose little girl spent the entire journey doing cartoon superhero poses, which resulted in me desperately trying to hold back a fit of the giggles. We arrived on Ko Samet at around 5pm, and as I was the only farang on the boat the taxi driver wanted to charge me 200THB to take me to Ao Hin Kok beach. I decided to walk and I was glad that I did when I discovered that Ao Hin Kok was only around 1.5/2km from where the boat had dropped me off. All the accommodation on Ao Hin Kok is squeezed along a dirt track which runs parallel to the beach and stretches for around 100m. As my choice was therefore rather limited, I chose the cheapest option which was a bungalow at Naga Bungalows with shared bathroom for 200THB. The room is indeed more pleasant that the one at Fisherman Hill but is even more of a mosquito trap – I got bitten about 5 or 6 times simply by walking to the shower. Bearing in mind that getting to the shower involves walking through what can only be described as a jungle of dense vegetation then I wasn’t hugely surprised!

I would truly love to find out the real reason why mosquitoes find some people tastier than others. I’ve heard many theories : that they’re attracted to you if you eat cheese, that they’re attracted to you if you eat sweet foods, that they’re attracted by the surface temperature of your skin, and that they’re attracted to slimmer people. All of these I know are myths because firstly cheese is unavailable in Asia (unless you count the laughing cow processed variety), secondly I don’t eat sweet foods (apart from fruit), thirdly everyone has a high surface body temperature out here as it’s over 30 degrees most of the time (even when it’s raining), and lastly Siobhian and I are exactly the same size and she didn’t get bitten once. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes can and do bite you through your clothing. How else do you explain the collection of bites on my bum?
In the ‘jungle’ surrounding the bungalows at Naga there are more of the creatures we encountered on Ko Chang who sound like demented cows. They never seem to shut up and although the noise doesn’t scare me anymore I’d love to know what kind of creature it is that’s making it!

At Naga they show a couple of films every evening in the common room/restaurant so I spent my first night on the island watching “21 Grams” and “Oceans Twelve” and then retired to bed, serenaded by the demented cows and the music from the Naga Bar across the road. The folowing day I found the library at my guesthouse, rented “Smoking Poppy” by Graham Joyce and spent the day reading it whilst lying on the beach under a very cloudy sky. I comforted myself with the thought that at least it wasn’t raining. However, later on in the evening it did. I sat in Naga listening to the persistent rain outside and watching “Keeping Mum” and “Cinderella Man”. I got chatting to Danny, one of the long term residents at Naga. He’s been travelling for almost a year and Thailand is only his second destination. He spent several months in New Zealand and didn’t make it further than Rotarua and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t seen any of Thailand beyond Bangkok and Ko Samet! Nevertheless, he was an easy going guy, and equally easy to talk to. I joined him at the Naga Bar once the second film had finished and challenged him to a game of pool. It wasn’t until we were half the way through the game and I hadn’t had a turn at the table that he decided to tell me that he used to play semi-professional.

The heavy rain would have kept me awake half the night had I not drank several bottles of beer Chang, which was enough to send me to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The following morning, the weather made a bit of a turn around. It started off cloudy but you could still see the sunshine trying to break through the clouds, and by around midday it had. So I relaxed on the beach and got most of the way through “Smoking Poppy”. Despite the obvious topic inferred by the title – it tells the story of a father who learns that his daughter has been arrested in Chiang Mai on drugs smuggling charges – it’s a novel about much more than drugs. It’s a surprisingly moving story which tracks the journey of discovery between a father and his daughter, and explores the concepts of love, redemption, and letting go.

I left the beach sporting a little red rudolph nose and suffering from a persistent sun-induced headache. As a result I spent another lazy evening at the Naga watching their latest selection of films : “40 Year Old Virgin” (which is not the type of film I’d usually watch but I found myself chuckling throughout) and “Crash” (not to be confused with the original film of the same title where people get off on watching car crashes!).
Photo is of statues of the prince and the mermaid (from Sunthorn Phu’s epic set on Ko Samet) at the southern end of Hat Sai Kaew beach

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