Koh Samet, a relatively remote island off the coast of Thailand and about a two-hour drive from Bangkok, was my first taste of the Thai beach scene. While substantially quieter than it’s cousins in the south, Samet still has an emerging tourist scene of resorts, restaurants, and a nightclub. The island is beautiful, with the white sand beaches and crystal blue water you’d expect from a Thai island.
From our private villa on the far side of the island, we could gaze at the ocean, lounge on our beach chairs or hanging swing, or sip coconuts on our patio. The rooms were divine, with massive sliding glass doors that opened up to our own section of beach. Inside the room was a huge, oversized, claw foot tub that we, unfortunately, couldn’t seem to get working. However, this was still one of the nicest places I stayed in Thailand.
The food was superb, the atmosphere was better, and the drinks were strong. Although the accommodations were cush, I still left that island covered in bites, with bruises, cuts, and nicks, and an almost broken nose. How did this happen, you ask? Well, it turns out Samet is also pretty dangerous. Some of the things to exercise caution with include:
1. Speedboats – There is no bridge leading out to Koh Samet, you get there by boat. Visitors can choose to arrive by ferry, but those take a couple of hours. The fastest way to get there (takes around 15 minutes) is by speedboat.
No problem, you say. I’ve ridden speedboats in the past, you say. No, no, no. These speedboats are somehow more treacherous than your average pontoon. The Thai captains fit as many people (and their luggage) as they can safely fit on the boat, however, I wondered if they overloaded it.
The scene from here on out looks like this: They crash through the choppy bay as water sprays anyone unlucky enough to be seated at the front. The small craft slams down, crashing over the waves and the turns make you wonder if the thing is going to topple over. This is how I die; you think to yourself right as the boat starts nearing the shore. You pull into the shore haphazardly and wonder if you’re going to crush anyone swimming nearby. Getting off the boat, you hoist your stuff over your head as you wade onto the beach. Safe! However, many speedboats crash ever year.
2. Rocks in water – The shoreline is dotted with black stones that stick out of the water and make for a great photo. However, some of these aren’t large enough to peak above the waves and remain hidden underneath the water. This doesn’t pose too much of a problem during the daytime, but at night, they can be quite treacherous.
I was stupid enough to go swimming at night (with a friend) after a few drinks. After a nice swim, I decided it was time to head back to shore. Little did I know we had drifted over a few feet. As I absent-mindedly frolicked back to shore, I suddenly felt a pain in my right thigh. I was crashing up against a patch of rocks, and the waves were dragging me across them! “Rocks!” I screamed, as my friend helped me up and to safety. Thank goodness I wasn’t swimming alone, because as I had started panicking a bit. I left with three huge bruises and a gaping wound in my knee. Once I cleaned the blood off it wasn’t so bad, but I could see how it could have ended worse.
3. Sand fleas – The sand fleas we have in the United States can be bothersome – the sand flies in Thailand are downright demonic. They didn’t seem to bite much during the day, but after a few hours of sleeping on the beach, my legs were covered. Was I sleeping on the ground? No, I napped on a lounge chair about 4 inches off the ground. Still, they attacked with the fury of 1000 Mongolian warriors attacking (who did they attack?)
Luckily, I’m not allergic to them, one of my friends, however, was. His bites turned into huge welts that resembled mosquito bites. So much so, in fact, that we both worried about the possibility of dengue fever for the next few days. We eventually concluded that they were sand fleas, and a week later the bites are severely reduced. All the same, I won’t be sleeping on a beach chair again anytime soon.
4. Buckets – Buckets are basically what they sound like. Small water buckets filled with the alcoholic beverage of your choice. Made famous on the party islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, they apparently serve these babies throughout the country (even on the mainland). Notorious for being extra strong, one bucket will put you down. Naturally, I had two.
Now, buckets alone are unlikely to do too much damage (apart from alcohol poisoning), but your substantial lack of inhibitions after drinking one will. My biggest bucket-induced hiccup came in the form of a sliding glass door. One minute I was talking to my friends, getting ready to head inside, the next my face was smashed into said sliding glass door at full speed. My friends weren’t sure whether to laugh or help, but my nose was bleeding pretty profusely. I’m pretty sure I almost broke it, although it’s almost healed now. A week later it is only slightly tender to the touch. However, buckets = ouch.
5. Motorcycle accident – In Thailand, one of the most popular ways to get around is by motorbike. Locals will speed through the streets with great skill. However, many tourists aren’t as experienced. They say thousands of people die on motorbikes every year in Thailand; I now can see why.
This time, the accident didn’t happen to me (surprise, right?) It happened to two of the friends I was with. After hitching a ride home with someone on a bike (fitting three grown people, mind you), they were nearing the hotel. Whoops, they passed it. At this point, the motorbike driver flips a hard U-Turn and proceeds to turn the bike on its side. Friend One flies off and lands (safely) on the ground. Friend Two who was sandwiched in between the others is trapped under the bike. The smell of burning flesh fills the air as Friend One scrambles to pull the bike off of her. They left with a few scrapes and a large burn, but I figure they were lucky ones. Apparently they still gave the driver a bit of money for his trouble, too.
I joke about how treacherous the island is, it’s really quite safe. Just make sure you watch yourself, your drink, and your friends. Don’t get too smashed, and learn from a few of my mistakes!