Koh Samet and Pattaya, Thailand – Where Bangkokians Go To Escape the City

We waited all week to get the email letting us know whether we’d be proctoring mid-term exams. If not, we’d have Monday off, in addition to our usual Tuesday and Friday, which meant a possible 5-day weekend for the Staves. Either way, we were planning to go away for the weekend, and of course, we had a plan in place for the 5-day weekend and the 3-day weekend.

The email came on Wednesday and confirmed that we were one of the few lucky ones who didn’t have to proctor during exams. So, the Staves were headed to Koh Samet – the closest island to Bangkok (just three hours away) and where many locals spend their vacations.

Our trip got off to a very rough start. To get to Bangkok’s Eastern bus station, where we had to leave from, we had to take a cab from our campus to the highway, then a van from the highway to the BTS, then a train to the bus station. And all of that was before we started our three-hour bus ride. We didn’t realize it when we planned our trip, but to get to Koh Samet, we’d have to drive right back another hour the way we had just come from. That in and of itself was annoying (after 3 hours of traveling, we hadn’t even gotten back to where we’d started that morning), but to make matters worse, an hour into our bus ride, our bus broke down. We were half way in between our school and the bus station, so basically we broke down and we hadn’t even made any progress yet.  In fact, we had lost ground. It was very frustrating, but luckily a new bus picked us up pretty quickly and we continued on our way.

Our bus dropped us off and then we had to take a 30-minute ferry to get to Koh Samet. By the time we finally got there, we had been traveling all day and we were ready to explore and more importantly, we were ready to drink.

As always, we quickly dropped our stuff off at our hostel and headed out. We stayed at Hat Sai Kaew beach, which is near the pier and also the most lively/touristy beach. Some other teachers told us that if we wanted a romantic getaway, we should stay further south on the island on one of the more secluded beaches. They clearly didn’t know that the Staves like to stay where all the action is. And that’s exactly what we did.

The beach was lined seafood restaurant after seafood restaurant with bars and clubs in between. Each restaurant had a big boat out in front (on the sand), which housed their seafood selections for the night. The bars all had chalkboard menus with their happy hour specials posted on them. In true Stave form, we found the best whiskey bucket deal and settled in for a few drinks.

After Happy Hour, we did a little more exploring and most importantly, scoped out all of the dinner menus for later that night. ‘The place we thought looked the best had mats and pillows lined up all along the beach. The tables were set up so that you sat on the ground while eating. They had the best-looking seafood selection, and as if that weren’t enough, they also had a sign advertising their nightly fire show. When we came back a couple hours later, the fact that this restaurant was the most crowded spot on the beach just confirmed our choice.

We picked out our meals from the seafood boat. We decided on a grilled squid (we had ordered a similar dish in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and it was our favorite so we couldn’t pass it up) and ribs (we can hardly ever pass up ribs). We also ordered a shisha.

Being able to go to the beach on a long weekend was one of the main reasons we moved to Thailand, and between the great meal, the relaxing atmosphere, and the awesome live music that was playing at the restaurant, our decision was definitely being validated.

Just as we were finishing our meal, the fire show started. It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. There were about 10 guys (all with six-packs, of course) doing crazy fire tricks on the beach. It was beautiful and so cool.

After dinner and the fire show, we went for a walk along the beach to check out what else was going on. It was a beautiful night and the ocean was the warmest we’ve ever felt. Just as we were heading back to our place, we passed by the restaurant we had eaten at again and saw that the guys who had done the fire show were back, and this time, they were doing the limbo… but the limbo stick was also on fire. It was insane!

We woke up and got a very early start the next morning. Our plan for the day was to explore the whole island. We had heard that we could walk from top to bottom, so that’s exactly what we did. Each time we passed a beach during our walk, we stopped to hang out and take a dip. The weather was perfect, the ocean was a beautiful turquoise blue, and spending the day going from beach to beach, we really felt like we were in paradise.

During our pit-stop on one of the beaches for lunch, we decided that instead of spending another day in Koh Samet, we would start heading back to Bangkok on Sunday and check out Pattaya on the way back. Dave had been years ago when he visited Thailand so we probably wouldn’t spend a whole weekend going there, but it was right on the way back, about half way between Koh Samet and Bangkok. It was the perfect plan and we were both excited that we’d be able to check out another place on our long weekend.

After lunch, we continued our walk down the island. By the time we were almost at the bottom, we were pretty tired from walking and being in the sun all day. We wanted to get a taxi back, but the only problem was that unless we had 8 or 10 people to take it with, it would cost us about $20 (aka as much as our dinner would cost us that night) to get back. Considering the trip was only about 3 miles, it seemed pretty silly to spend that much. So, we ended up walking all the way back. That part wasn’t very fun, but eventually (and thankfully) we made it back.

On our way, we walked past the restaurant we had eaten at the night before and tried to make a reservation to come back again for another fire show, and their version of the Full Moon Party. Usually, Dave and I never eat at the same restaurant twice (especially not 2 nights in a row), but considering they all served pretty much the same food and this place seemed to be the most happening, we thought we could make an exception. They told us they didn’t take reservations, but if we came back at 7:30, we’d be fine.

We got back at 7:30 on the dot and the restaurant was already packed. They told us that they were done seating people for the night. Well, we didn’t take no for an answer, and after putting up a bit of a fight and making at least one enemy, we somehow ended up with one of the best seats in the house, front and center for the fire show. We had wanted to order the ribs again, this time with beef kebabs, but by the time we were ready to order, they were out of both (it was really packed!). So instead we went with pork kebabs and fried rice with shrimp, chicken, and sausage. It was supposed to come in a pineapple, but I think they ran out of those too, because it just came out on a plate. Our dinner experience wasn’t quite as good as it had been the night before, but the fire show was still just as impressive.

We were pretty hungover when we woke up in the morning, which meant we needed a good breakfast. Our bus for Pattaya was at 1:30 and we had to catch the noon ferry back to the mainland, so that left us just enough time for breakfast and one last swim in the ocean.

Our van ride to Pattaya went smoothly and we made it there in the early evening. We hadn’t booked a guesthouse in advance, but after walking up and down some of the busy side streets (that are all filled with bars), we found one that was fairly cheap and seemed like it was just out of the way enough that we wouldn’t be kept up all night by all night by the loud bar music playing all throughout the streets.

We dropped our stuff and immediately set out to explore. As soon as we got to the beach, however, we made a huge mistake. We hadn’t really eaten any lunch (just our hungover breakfast on the beach), so we wanted a snack to hold us over for dinner. Well, instead, we saw one of our favorite street-side (or should I say beach-side) kebab stands and decided to share one of those. Not exactly what you would call a small snack. Well, after that, we were stuffed. We feared that our dreams for a nice dinner in Pattaya were crushed. Then we started walking along the beach and realized just how badly we had screwed up by ruining our appetite – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many street vendors selling delicious looking food. We prayed that somehow by the end of the night our appetites would recover so we’d be able to sample a few things.

Since we were too full to eat, we decided to do the next best thing – start drinking. All along the extremely crowded beaches in Pattaya (and when I say extremely crowded, I mean that literally there was not one spot on the sand that wasn’t covered with a chair or umbrella) people were sitting in lounge chairs drinking cocktails or beers. We wanted to sit down and thought that ordering a drink from one of the pop-up bars lining the beach would get us out of paying for a chair (they were only 50 baht or so for the day, but since we were only planning to sit for a few minutes, we didn’t want to have to pay). So, we ordered a big Chang and took a seat. A few minutes later, a lady came up to us demanding 55 baht for the beer and 100 baht for the chairs. Despite our protests which at one point led to a fellow expat American who now lives in Pattaya telling us “if she calls the police, you lose,” this is one battle we weren’t going to win, so instead we took our beers to go.

As we continued to walk along the beach, which is also the main street in Pattaya, I began to realize just how seedy this place really is. Not only was the street lined with go-go bars and lady boys galore, I have also never seen so many older men walking hand-in-hand with young Thai women. Pattaya is known for this though. Older expat men move to Thailand, and Pattaya in particular, to find a nice young Thai wife, or maybe even just a nice young Thai woman to “keep them company” for a night or two. I’ve really never seen anything like it.  Many of them also buy land in their Thai wife’s name because foreigners are forbidden from buying land (though not condos) in Thailand.

As it started to get dark, Pattaya really came alive. After a couple hours of walking (and a couple pit-stops for drinks), we made it to the famous Walking Street. As soon as we started approaching the big, lit-up sign, Dave remembered that when he had visited Pattaya 15 years ago, this was all there was. Over the years though, it has expanded for at least another mile or two down the beach. We passed by more bars, clubs, lady boys, and restaurant after restaurant boasting delicious-looking seafood, all sold by the weight. Dave had eaten at one of those very seafood restaurants 15 years earlier and always talked about it as one of the best (and cheapest) meals he’d ever had. Now, of course, we were still too full to even think about walking in. Boo!

The night went on and we continued to explore, stopping at several bars, and then started our walk back along the beach. It happened to be a holiday that night (I feel like it’s pretty much always a holiday in Thailand though) so the beach was filled with people shooting off fireworks and lighting the famous Thai wish lanterns. It was beautiful.

Finally, just as we were ready to start heading back to our guesthouse, we both started to feel a little bit hungry. Hallelujah! We had spotted an amazing looking grilled squid on a stick on our walk earlier that evening and decided that would be a perfect way to end our night. After a little bit of searching, we found it and ended our night with a delicious midnight snack on the beach watching all of the beautiful fireworks and lanterns light the sky. Pattaya, as seedy as it is, was definitely a fun place to go for a night and a great spontaneous stop on our first long weekend trip in Thailand.

One thought on “Koh Samet and Pattaya, Thailand – Where Bangkokians Go To Escape the City

  1. Pingback: Getting to Know the Thai Islands | The Stave Diaries

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