Saturday, 6 February 2010
Savaged on Samet!
The fishing boats at Koh Samet are still very colourful,
though how they manage the tangle of gear in a storm I have no idea.
The tourists are pouring in again and Samet is full once more.
Thankfully you can still find an unspoiled corner along the coast,
and the seas are still alive and shiny as the sun begins to fall.
Invaded at weekends, it's a major task to keep the place clean.
“Nice doggie,’ I said and it leaped at my face and tried to bite a chunk out of my nose. That was in Si Saket eighteen months ago. I won’t forget all those rabies jabs in a hurry!
Then a year ago a pavement on Sukhumvit soi 4 rose up and hit me on the chin, breaking my jaw in three places. A new graduate of a really bum run, I then spent three nights in the Bumrungrad hospital where they wired my teeth together for the next six weeks so I couldn’t eat anything.
But it made a great blog article. (In a Pool of My Own Blood! 8th March 2009.)
Then at New Year on Koh Chang the snake in my shorts, only a small one I might add, bit me on the toe and I nearly died. Could have been my last blog article. (I Stare Into the Jaws of Death! 2nd January 2010.)
To cap that one, I’ll have to get into the tiger enclosure at the zoo.
And now I’ve just been to Koh Samet for a short trip and, sitting on the verandah of my hut, once again I got savaged. It was like a horror replay of Koh Chang.
Again, unseasonably, it was raining. I was sitting in the easy chair on the verandah feeding the mosquitoes when, suddenly, to my intense shock something small and soft fell onto my foot, an exact reprise of the instant just before the Koh Chang snake sank its fangs excruciatingly into my little toe.
Adrenalin surged but no agony came. It was only a lizard!
But then I felt an itchyness down the side of my neck. I scratched and I scratched and finally took off my shirt to see what it was. Yes, I’d been savaged again.
This time by a caterpillar!
Cat’s always been warning me about caterpillars and once again, annoyingly, she was right. My neck swelled up in a livid, red rash and the spots spread down my chest. In the damp and sweaty heat it was extremely uncomfortable and I couldn’t go in the sun and didn’t risk going in the water either. I must have done something pretty bad in a previous life to get so traumatised by a caterpillar and while on holiday.
Koh Samet, a tiny low island only a few hours from Bangkok was still as beautiful as ever though. It’s a very special island, being immortalized in literature as the setting for part of Sunthorn Phu’s, nineteenth century epic poem, “Phra Apai Manee” and of course for Andrew Hicks’ noughties tropical beach romance, “Thai Girl”.
I do love Samet, but whenever I go back there I’m always shocked by the new and expanded holiday developments that despoil what’s supposed to be a national park on which all development is prohibited. When first I went there about ten years ago, the small bamboo huts used by backpackers were tolerable but now it’s on a totally different scale. It’s no longer a bamboo backpackers’ place but a concrete resort destination for city dwellers that’s going gradually upmarket.
On returning to Bangkok from my sporadic trips to Samet, I usually fire off a letter to The Bangkok Post’s Postbag bemoaning the flagrant breaches of park regulations and the fact that none of the millions collected in park entry fees at 200 baht per farang face is being spent on keeping the place clean. An utter shambles of ragged buildings and strewn rubbish greets you in the main village of Na Dan which could win a gong for worst Thai eyesore any day.
This time though when I got back, still nursing my sore neck, I wrote no letter to The Post. Somehow I felt a little more reconciled to the fact that Samet is now a sophisticated resort island. It looked a little cleaner to me and the shops and eating places on the road to from Na Dan to Hat Sai Kaew were looking distinctly smarter. There was definitely encouraging evidence of an effort to clean things up.
Just as Bangkok is a monument to organised chaos, so also it is remarkable that thousands of tourists are regularly shuttled out to Samet along with the many tons of food and drink that they’ll consume, that they’re all accommodated and relieved of a little money before they and some of the rubbish they’ve generated is shipped back to the mainland. Even water has to be brought to the island in rusty old tankers and as shit happens daily, the sumps under the new WCs in the rooms have to be pumped out by a same same but, one hopes, different old tanker and taken back to shore or dumped somewhere on the island.
By Thai standards I have to admit that Samet is at least a partial conservation success. There are no tower blocks, the interior is still low, dry scrub and jungle and there are no real roads. For western tourists it adds a sense of a far frontier as the battered pick-ups bump and rattle them down the island’s rough dirt track to their resorts and it’ll be the beginning of the end when the road down the east side is paved in concrete.
And I love the fact that you still leave the mainland from the same tatty old jetties on the same traditional wooden boats, many of them converted fishing boats, all brightly painted in blues and oranges and smelling of diesel and the sea.
The guide books talk of sightings of hornbills and I’ve seen the skin of a python that was killed and eaten on the island and it was the biggest I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s still a beautiful place to visit, though I have to admit it’s wild… wild and sometimes dangerous.
There’s man-eating caterpillars out there!
Copyright: Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” blog February 2010