Koh Samet: Jet Lag Therapy


The big itinerary over the next ten weeks or so is Asia: I’ll be based in Bangkok as usual, then on to Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, then back to Bangkok, then Bali, possibly Cambodia, and finally a week in Japan. Still waiting to organize photos from Patagonia, last week I boarded a plane and was off. Chicago to Tokyo took 13 hours, and after a 3 hour wait there watching CNN Headline Plane Crash News, I had another 7 hours to Bangkok putting me in at about midnight, 13 hours ahead of Madison, Wisconsin. There are a lot of tips to avoid or minimize jetlag: avoid alcohol and caffeine, drinks lots of water, eat only at the meal times of your destination not every time they feed you on the plane, force yourself to sleep on the plane (sleeping pills, earplugs and a sleeping mask help). Another good tip is to get outside and get some sun as soon as you arrive and which helps the body adjust its clock. And so it seemed to me a weekend at the beach was at minimum doctor’s orders.

The island Koh Samet is part of a national park in Thailand and its jumping off port is Rayong, a 3-hour $4 bus ride south from Bangkok. Peung and I stayed in Vongduern Villas on a crescent-moon beach midway down the narrow north-to-south island. Snorkeling here in the bay is not something to pay money for. That said, if you are killing time in the sun, there are enough critters and modest coral clumps to create a pleasant distraction. For better finds, one needs to book a boat tour which will go to a few spots off the smaller islands in the park. $9-10 includes about 4-5 hours of a trip with 2-3 stops plus refreshments on board a slow boat.

A couple families of oriental-pied hornbills breakfasted above our villa on a fruit tree just before sunrise and were worth getting up to watch as they hop awkwardly around on the branches and click their bizarre beaks. Sunrise was right out front as well. The shore is rocky there and a good perch.

Food is overpriced by Thai standards but several menu items were rather good, especially the various healthy fruit juice blends made fresh on the beach and the grilled chicken which a woman hauled around in the hot sun using a long pole over her shoulder with two baskets balanced at either end. One of the baskets held a grill full of smoldering hot coals which smoked her out wherever she went all day. To avoid too much sun, she was almost completely covered to the wrist and knee and even a cloth over her cheeks beneath a wide brimmed hat. Her livelihood is to walk that beach, up and down, selling chopped up chicken meat all day. Anyone who thinks they work hard for a living should remember to keep some perspective.

Peung and I hiked along the shore, climbing over several rocky points that intervened between pleasant coves with more white sand beaches. It was too hot to do this for long and some of the coves offered very little shade. We returned to our beach for a great lunch.

When my brother and I were kids, my father claimed our “eyes were bigger than our stomachs” when we ordered at restaurants. He typically only ordered a cup of coffee and waited to bat clean up after our two massive orders went unfinished. Peung has very big eyes. I cringe when she orders 4 or 5 different plates as I hate to see food go wasted. Despite her petite size can do some pretty good damage on the feast. At any rate, she doesn’t seem to mind the extra money and food left behind. However, it’s a whole different ballgame with the ice cubes. Cokes come cold but with empty glasses. Ice costs maybe another 25 cents for a small bucket. Throughout the meal she grabs the tongs from the bucket and maneuvers more cubes into my glass as space becomes available. She is relentless and methodical about it. I tease her, of course, about the loads we spend on food for three extra people, what’s a small bucket of ice? As she wiggles a cube into a space and balances another on top of the glass pouring in more Coke to sort of melt it into place, she frowns at me and protests, “Hey, we pay for that!”

(Apparently a sign for the bathroom and not an ad for a surgical procedure that Bangkok specializes in.)

Here’s a message in a bottle. Nature recycles: a portable reef system.

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