A Year in Bangkok – Koh Samet and Breakfast Experiences.

28 08 2010

I first heard about Koh Samet in Andrew Hicks’ excellent novel ‘Thai Girl’ and finally got around to going there.

My first view of 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.

This is the resort.......but I can't see it!

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.

Wonderful tree in the resort grounds.

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. People who work in Thailand supposedly 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 that I didn’t have it with me. 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.

Boat converted into an accommodation unit.

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 seriously deformed concrete so the going to sleep took rather longer than I had hoped. The beach itself was an expanse of pure white sand, a real tropical paradise. Or so I thought.

Watching the sea at night.

I got up early the next morning and went for a walk along the beach as the tide was out.

The early morning beach.

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.

Dead 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.

How many fish?

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. Actually, I once had an even worse breakfast in Ubon Ratchathani but that’s another story.

Don't know what this is.

Breakfast reminds me of another story: here in Thailand, everything should be ‘sanuk’ which means fun. Thais seem to approach every aspect of life with a sense of playfulness and if something is ‘mai sanuk’ (not fun) it is probably not worth doing. It is especially important to remember this when trying to teach Thai children – if your lessons are not fun, you will very quickly lose the students’ interest and it can be very difficult to get that back. Saving face is another very big deal here and Thai people will almost always avoid confrontation or embarrassment. Staying in a cheap seaside hotel one time, I went downstairs for breakfast to see an American guy making a spectacle of himself. He wanted his eggs over easy. Despite being a native speaker and despite having been to the States several times, I’ve never known what ‘eggs over easy’ means. He expected the Thai staff in his cheap hotel to understand this rather strange cooking instruction. I think they did pretty well to supply him with fried eggs, something I have occasionally struggled to get myself since coming to Thailand. But no, this guy wanted them over easy. So did he try to explain what he wanted? No, he called a waiter over and proceeded to shout at him, constantly repeating the words ‘over easy’. I wondered why he had resorted to repeating what he said, only louder, when the staff, who did not speak our language had clearly failed to understand him. Did he confuse lack of understanding with deafness maybe?

Sea cucumbers.

Shouting or displaying anger is a totally unacceptable form of behaviour over here and it is a way of losing face so, to help you save face in such a situation a Thai person, who usually feels very embarrassed for you, will laugh. On this occasion, the waiter smiled, walked back to the counter and then all three staff at the counter smiled. Surprisingly, to the Thais at least, this didn’t mollify their customer but only seemed to make him more angry. So they then proceeded to laugh, no doubt feeling sure that their attempt to help him save face would be appreciated. But no, the American guy thought they were laughing at him and became even angrier, shouting across the restaurant area at them. The staff laughed more, still thinking that this might calm him down. Instead, he started to go purple and steam came out of his ears. Okay, I’m exaggerating now but you get the picture and this particular scene ended up in a kind of cultural face-off with the Thai staff having no idea at all why this guy was so angry or why he was making such a spectacle of himself. And he, through not even attempting to understand the Thai culture, probably felt they were being rude to him. That is a pity because most (if not all) guide books give you a basic rundown on the cultural differences here and how to behave. I guess some people just don’t think it applies to them. And Thai people would not normally be deliberately rude to somebody in that situation.

The sea really is this colour!

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.

Fishing boat.

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. It was the first time I’ve seen the cloud structure for the whole storm and I managed to get quite a good photo of it. 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.

That rain cloud.

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4 responses

28 08 2010
lola rainey

The pictures are fabulous. You’re doing a great job of generating interest in Thailand at a time when this country really needs some good “PR”.

29 08 2010
Ben Salmons

Thanks Lola.

29 08 2010
Liam

Great update, really enjoyed reading. By the way, the “don’t know what this is” pic looks like a sea snake skin. Was it moving independently of the tide when you took it?

29 08 2010
Ben Salmons

Yes Liam, I think it was some sort of big wormy thing but I really don’t know.

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