Koh Samet holds a special place in the hearts of weekend warriors. A mere three hours from the capital, Samet has for decades lured the most fatigued city folk to its white-sand shores with the promise of total release. Particularly popular on long weekends and holidays, the island is a kind of paradise, a place where regrets don’t exist and the sea sparkles like a desert oasis, even in the relentless rainy season.
Considering its proximity to Bangkok, Samet has remained mercifully free of major development. Although the island first popped up on the foreign traveller radar in the 1970s, restrictions on over-night stays remained in place until 1981, when the little green landmass and its environs were incorporated as the Khao Laem Ya-Mu Koh Samet National Park. The days of hammocks and tents have long passed, although the island still boasts sandy tracks instead of tarmac. Ao Phrao and Haad Sai Kaew now feature boutique and high-end hotels pressed up against thatch-roofed huts while bars and restaurants blur the edges of the beaches.
Though the sands may seem limited and the recreational activities unremitting, the island has a magnetic charm. Centuries ago, the venerable Sunthorn Phu penned an epic poem set on Samet. Today, the literary luminary is immortalized in iron. Thai families, couples, and students mark their trips with a photo next to a statue of the icon, as if a rite of passage. With the requisite shot out of the way, the real fun begins.
A typical weekend on the island means speedboats, selfies, and matching swim trunks — it means food, fire shows, booze, and beach. It’s blue-collar Bangkokians letting down their hair and revving up the engines, kids splashing around in the gray sea, and a peculiar mishmash of foreigners and locals mingling over rum and coke. This is Thai culture on holiday, through the lens of a digital SLR.
Photography By Anupong Ply Hotawaisaya