Transition approaches. My attention is diverted toward my impending departure from Chiang Mai in one week. As such, and particularly having spent the past five days in southern Thailand, including a couple of days on Koh Samed, I am more aware of what a gem Chiang Mai and the ambience of northern Thailand truly is.
I am now more focused on the climate education project anticipated for Nepal and winding down further explorations of my current location. Not that there isn’t more to do here. The less obvious and richer subculture becomes more accessible the longer one remains, especially as a wider network of social relations develops. And– there seems to be no end to the oddities.
Over the past few weeks, I have also been deepening a new friendship. This has taken much well-spent time and attention. Over this past weekend, we met in Bangkok for a long weekend, traveling to Koh Samed, an island in the Gulf of Thailand just off the coast near Ban Phe, south of Pattaya.
Getting there is a bit laborious. Starting abo 7:30am, we took a motorbike taxi ride to the Bangkok BTS sky train near the Chulalongkorn University campus to the Mo Chit bus station (about 6 stops away), where we missed the 8am departure for Ban Phe. We made the 9am departure, settled into adjustable seats while the bus tried very hard to be air conditioned as advertised, but alas, fell somewhat short.
The bus ride was 3.5 hours, delayed by the inevitable Bangkok traffic and arriving at Ban Phe about 15 minutes before the ferry for Koh Samed. No problem. We had purchased all the tickets in advance at the Mo Chit station. Ferry was 40 minutes to the dock, another taxi ride to the Samed Cabana at Ao Vongduen Bay. All together, five different forms of transport and about 6 hours later, we ambled onto the beach. Ahhhh.
Since our visit was only a weekend, we didn’t tour the island. Renting motorbikes is possible, but traffic on the main road is managed with large speed bumps about every 50 yards. Not very appealing. So we stayed put, enjoyed the warm water, light winds, lounge chairs, shade, a little kayaking, walks and the tasty soup of global tourists and island culture.
The Vongduen bay is not still water, nor is it clear-at least at this time of year. There may be snorkeling at other locations on the island, but not here. And swimmers are very likely to encounter small items of trash as well as plastic remnants in the water. The resorts are cheek-by-jowl with chairs and tables in front, restaurants, massage vendors, mini-marts all jammed between. A hubbub of enterprise and services, with more vendors plying the beachfront with crafts and snacks.
At dusk, the waterfront tables appear with menu items on displayed in plastic.
After dark, the party atmosphere escalates, with karaoke, live music and roving beachfront performances. If you are one who especially enjoys the serenity of an island venue, this may not be the place for you. That sublime quality is only to be enjoyed here in the early mornings. By 10 am, the ferries are plying the bay, tourists are being ferried onto and off the beach, speedboats are moving into and away from shore while classic American music covers play in the lobbies.
But overall, a worthwhile introduction to Thai island culture. Next time, a more informed search, more likely sampling the more remote islands and their even more remote bungalows that don’t take advance reservations.
And that friendship? A very welcome, healthy and deepening connection.