Monday, September 12, 2011

IF YOU EVER GO TO KOH SAMET, THAILAND, DON'T STAY HERE!

One of the major lessons I've learned over nearly 20 years of extensive travelling is never to accept accommodations from someone who makes his or her living hawking them in tourist hubs. You get what you pay for, and you might be paying way too much for quarters that are barely fit to sleep in.

But I was so hot and bothered when I arrived at the departure port for Koh Samet that I threw all of my rules out of the window. I not only let the woman who was selling transportation tickets to the island overcharge me for a 15-minute speedboat trip to Samet (although I knocked her down 1,000 baht, or $33, I was certain that the 2,000-baht return rate, or about $66, was too much), I let her book me a bungalow at Koh Samed Grand View Resort.

It was a choice I'd regret for the next 18 or so hours.

When the speedboat pulled up on the beach in front of the hotel, I stepped onto the sand thinking I'd hit paydirt. I didn't even mind paying the 200 baht (just under $7) entrance fee for the national park on which the hotel is located. I took in the view. The lobby and restaurant overlooking the beach were both lovely, all white and wood, with a breezy open-air scheme. The water was blue and wide, the mountains on the side spectacular, and the white sands the perfect welcome mat for what I expected would be at least a three-and-a-half-star experience. (And for the equivalent of roughly $60 a night -- including breakfast, and somewhat pricey by Thai-island standards -- it should have been.)

Unfortunately, you can't judge a book -- nor a hotel, nor a koh -- by its cover. The interior design of my living quarters would prove to be as disappointing as that of the island itself, which was populated with makeshit (I mean, makeshift -- Freudian slip!) eateries, shabby motels and porches with old underwear drying in the sun. The contents in my Wi-Fi-less bungalow (demerit No. 1) were just as untouchable. Upon entering, I gave it two thumbs down and one-and- half stars (the booking website Agoda gives it three, and they only charge a little under $50 a night, which is still at least $30 more than it's worth), but since I'd paid the woman at the port in full, I knew a refund request would be met with a confused stare and suddenly unintelligible broken English, so I didn't even bother to ask.

Mosquitoes were already attacking me as I walked into the dank, dingy hovel, and I could have sworn they were still nibbling on me even after I'd gotten under the shower, which was right beside the toilet, with no stall door or curtain to separate the two. At least it's not outside, I thought, though I might have been better off if it had been because the water would have had somewhere to go rather than all over the toilet seat.

I tried to rationalize the existence of such a shabby holiday space: Who needs posh when there's so much nature to discover outside? When I returned to the bungalow from my exploratory mission hours later, after being practically eaten alive by mosquitoes while roaming the island searching unsuccessfully for signs of interesting non-insect life, the last thing I needed was to see a gecko scurrying up the wall. I marched out to the front desk and asked for another room. They complied, and although there was no apparent reptile activity inside, it was hardly an upgrade. (Confession: Wi-Fi that extended beyond the lobby and restaurant area would have gained the place at least half a star in my book.)

That night I slept with the AC cranked on full blast, hoping that whichever bugs I didn't kill with my bare hands would die from the insect equivalent of frost bite. And lest any creepy creatures try to crawl into bed beside me, I slept with the lights on and prayed for morning to come quickly.

When it arrived, I would have kissed it if I could have. But here's the funny thing: As disappointed as I was with Samed Grand View Resort and Koh Samet, no island ever looked more gorgeous as I was leaving it. I wasn't sure whether it was relief or water splashing around the speedboat that was clouding my view.
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