Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Weekend in Koh Samet

It’s a public holiday weekend for Vietnam, and my friend and I wanted to go somewhere new. Thailand is the easiest, cheapest, and closest to Hanoi, but Bangkok is overdone. We wanted to go to an island, but neither of us are that into drinking/partying. We really just wanted a relaxing beach weekend. After searching around for the best places, we settled on Koh Samet, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, about 220 kms from Bangkok.

Some of the information of how to get around was a little hard to find online. So here I have made a comprehensive guide of what we did, where we stayed, how we got there, and how much it all cost. Enjoy!

Day One

After packing bags less than 12 hours before our flight departed, my friend and I were off to sunny (cross our fingers) Koh Samet. It was forecast to rain but we were keeping our hopes up.

Packing List

Packing can be a stressful thing. Has anything been forgotten? Will anything be left out? Here’s exactly what I packed, it was everything I needed and more, without needing more than a backpack and a small carry bag.

Airport and plane outfit
·      Zip hoodie
·      Leggings
·      Tank top
·      Comfy bra

The essentials
·      A backpack
·      A smaller bag for easy access of important things
·      Passport
·      Visa or visa letter
·      A photo of you if you need one for your visa
·      ID
·      Phone
·      Money (in the currency you currently use, and for where you are going)
·      A book for the plane
·      Phone charger
·      If you need it – Laptop and laptop charger
·      Necessary outlet adaptors
·      A blanket for the plane (I never ever fly without a blanket. Why are planes so cold?!)
·      Headphones

Clothes for the weekend
·      Two dresses
·      Two t-shirts
·      Two pairs of shorts
·      Underwear (always pack more than you know you’ll need)
.   Comfy flying clothes (I wore leggings, a hoodie, and a tank top. Don't forget a good g-string. Pantie lines are no good)
·      A bikini or two if needed

·      Toothbrush / toothpaste
·      Hairbrush
·      Deodorant
·      Feminine hygiene products
·      Minimal makeup if necessary
·      Face wipes
·      Moisturiser (boy, do the planes and sunburn dry you up)

First Stop, Bangkok!

After a very brief flight (nap), we stepped off into easy-to-navigate Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) where we were instantly hassled to buy SIM cards for our phones. We were after some anyway, so we went with the first people we found, but I did struggle with the fact that the very crowded small area not once but twice featured someone holding my passport or phone in the air yelling 'whose is this?' (I mean, anyone could’ve taken it f I weren't paying attention!)

We spoke to the information desk about how to get to our next destination, Ban Phe, which is where we would take the ferry over to the island to stay the night.

The Journey to Ban Phe

We had left plenty of time to take the bus, sky train, and second bus to get to the Ban Phe port before 6pm (which is when the last ferry runs to the island). Unfortunately, the bus took a hell of a lot longer than we thought. If you are thinking of going to Koh Samet for the weekend, read this and you’ll get a good idea of how to do it the right way.

*First, let me say that I highly recommend 'starring' all the places I mention on Google maps on your phone, so that when you get to Bangkok, you can see where you are, and where you need to be, even if you don't purchase 3G. (Google maps doesn’t use data for location services, just for searching new places and loading directions.)*

From DMK, we left out of exit 6 (which is, for some reason, marked as Gate 6) where the bus to Mo Chit Station (star this) was about to arrive. The bus departs here for Mo Chit Station (the last stop) every five minutes, and takes about 25 mins to get there.

We got on the bus and paid THB30 and had a relaxing short drive to the station. The conductors ask you where you're going and let you know when it's your stop. They are quite difficult to understand, but that's what they're trying to say. From where the bus stops, you’ll walk down the road to the sky train (which should be starred on your map!). You’ll walk up the steps to the station and see the ticket booths and turnstiles.

We had to ask the people at the booths how to do it, but it’s pretty easy. You’ll put your coins in the machine after pressing the number of the station to which you want to go. The number is also how much it costs, which is convenient.

We then went through with our tickets, and got on the sky train that was heading from Mo Chit Station to Ekkamai Station (again, star it!).

 Once we stopped at Ekkamai, we got off and walked down to the street (if you star the station, you’ll be able to see which side of the street to get off and save walking up and down the stairs 100 times to find the right side like we did)

We went to the booth that said Ban Phe and purchased our tickets for an hour's time, 2pm. They said the trip would take three and a half hours, so we figured that by leaving at 2pm, we’d get there in time to catch the last ferry at 6pm.

Little did we know that the bus trip actually takes a lot longer (about five and a half hours), and we were there well after the last ferry had left. They have speedboats at this time for double the price, so we think that the bus driver purposely got us there too late so that his friends could drive us over for more money. (but we might just be jaded from living in Southeast Asia for too long).

Booking Fail

Once we were nearing the piers at Rayong, we realised that the hotel we had booked was coming up on the map as on the mainland, and not actually on the island. So as it turned out, it was actually not that bad that we got there late, as we just had to take a 10 min walk Mac Garden Resort& Restaurant in Rayong.

The Accommodation

We were very confused when we arrived there, as all the lights were off but one. We walked towards the light and saw one girl by a desk who we told our names to. She used her very advanced computer system (it was an old, ripped, discoloured, and cockled book) to check us in (she crossed our names off in said book, and had my friend sign off on a piece of paper on a clip board), and sent someone to show us our rooms. Without offering to take bags, he showed us our room and left before we could ask about the wifi password, breakfast details, or anything else we wanted to know. He had also left with the air conditioner remote after he had turned it down to a very unpleasing temperature.

We went back to the front desk to ask for these details only to find that as we were the last to check in for the day, they had packed up and left, and there was no one there to help us out (I’d like to point out that at this time it was around 7:30pm).

As bad as the service at the hotel was, it really wasn’t a bad hotel (although I definitely wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a resort). The rooms were clean and comfortable, the beds a typical Asian standard of hard, and the bathroom nothing short of a working bathroom.

As far as hotels go, this one is just fine if you’re just planning on sleeping in it, and leaving for adventure in the morning. Which is exactly what we did. It’s definitely a cheaper alternative (at around $20 a night for a double room) than staying on the island. Though we did find that there may be cheaper accommodation on the island, but it couldn't be found online.

Day Two

Day two, we were off to Koh Samet Island. We took the 10am ferry over to the island from Nuanthip Pier, which was a very short walk from the hotel. The ferry tickets were THB100 for a round trip, in which we could take any ferry back during the day, with the last one being at 6pm.

Once we arrived on the island, we hired a motorbike to share for THB300 and explored the whole island until we happened upon a beautiful resort.
            *Tip: don’t go to the first ones you find because they will be more expensive. Walk down the road and ask around until you find a good price*

We said we wouldn’t take any of the dirt roads, as they looked very dodgy. But we came by one with a sign that said there was food, drinks, and a toilet that way, so we took a chance and found what we were after.

Thank goodness we did because it lead us to the Sangthian Beach Resort. Here we enjoyed a drink at a reasonable price (coffee for THB60 an coconut for THB50), and laid on the beach for hours. At about 2pm when we were hungry, we ate there also, with a great beach view, and delicious food for between THB50-THB150

We also explored the rest of the island, and came across some beautiful views, and a cool abandoned house!

Once we had laid on the beach and explored around for the whole day, we returned our motorbike and went to 7/11 for some water and a yogurt to enjoy on the ferry back.

Taking the 6pm ferry was a great idea because we got to see the sunset over the water which was just so spectacular, photos could never do it justice!

What a Strange Town – Staying in Rayong

The strangest thing about the area we were staying in is that the streets were completely dead by about 7:30-8pm. Shops were shut up, as the dimly lit street became quiet with little traffic passing through, and the small number of bars in the area had closed their kitchens.

We did happen to find one diamond in the rough, the Pier Café. Run by an Australian guy, this place sells burgers better than any burger I’ve had in Hanoi and at a fraction of the price. We each paid THB120 (VND80,000) for a burger, chips, and a non-alcoholic drink. The service was great, the food delicious, and we got marshmallows at the end with the bill!

After dinner, we headed to 7/11 for some snacks and moisturiser (Oh, did I mention I got pretty sunburnt that day?) before heading back to the strange hotel for one more night.

Day Three

Today, we also took the ferry over to the island, though this time we had to leave the island earlier, because we had to get back to Bangkok. We hired a motorbike again for the same price and this time went straight to the beach resort that we were at yesterday. We stayed until we had lunch and returned the bike to get on the next ferry.

The pier has a bunch of people at tables selling bus tickets every hour back to Ekkamai station (Bangkok). We bought one from a lady because she promised that her bus was half an hour faster as it was a minibus, though it left a half hour later, we'd still get back a half hour earlier than we would taking the big bus). So we paid the extra THB50 to get on that bus.

            *Tip: book the bus back in the morning, as when we got there at 3:30, all the 4pm busses were booked and we had to get one for 5:30*

The bus ride was interesting. There were only Thai tourists and us two. But luckily they have better bus etiquette than Vietnamese people and there was no spitting, loud phone music playing, or yelling.

A Bomb?!

At one stage of the trip, the bus driver pulled over to refuel (what, he didn’t check that he had enough fuel at the beginning?). Everyone got off the bus and the driver was telling us to get off too, pointing to a large cylinder in the bus and saying ‘boom boom’. As soon as he said it, we freaked out and got straight off the bus wondering aloud what was happening. Luckily one of the Thai ladies on the bus could speak English and told us that we have to get off the bus in case there is a bomb that explodes (I’m sorry, what?).

Confused and slightly worried, we got back on the bus when we were given the all clear and continued onto Ekkamai Bus Station, where we arrived hours later than anticipated.

We explored the streets quickly, but it was late so most restaurants were closed, and we settled for McDonalds, a luxury Hanoi has yet to receive (hopefully they don’t… I don’t need another place tempting me to blow my money and health!)

We stayed this night at Matchbox Hostel, which I very highly recommend. We got one full bed to share in a dorm room, which I was expecting to be one big room full of other smelly tourists and late night interruptions. Much to our delight, it was a ‘pod style’ room, and we got our own little hole in the wall with a curtain to pull closed for privacy. Although there was one instance where some new comers ripped open our curtain in the morning, and shined their phone torch in, very abruptly waking us up, and saying sorry but not closing the curtain back up right away (grrr)

The bed was large, comfortable, and the room was a great temperature. At just USD20 per night, making it USD10 each, I would highly recommend this hostel for a place to stay in Bangkok that’s really close by to the sky train (Phrom Phong station to be specific)

The Way Home (Day Four)

In the morning, we did our Bangkok shopping (makeup, western clothes, etc) at The EmQuartier Shopping Mall, before rushing to a restaurant for lunch. We had allowed 35 mins to order, get our food, eat, and head off to the hostel to grab our bags and go. After 30 mins, we still had not received our food, so we had to pay for the drinks and (literally) run back to the hostel to check out and run again to the sky train.

We took the train Northwest to Mo Chit station, and from there, walked about 2 minutes to the Phaya Thai station, which takes you straight to the airport. 

If you type into your google maps how to get to the BKK airport from where you are, there will be easy directions of exactly where you need to go to catch the connecting sky train.

*Tip: I highly recommend leaving yourself plenty of time for this trip, as little things that go wrong can take up a lot of time and you can end up rushing like we had to!*

The BKK airport is pretty easy to navigate, and before we knew it we were back home in Hanoi where we took the 86 bus back into town for VND30,000 each.

 Great for a Visa Run!

We had so much fun in Thailand over the long holiday, and I would absolutely recommend this trip for anyone wanting to get away from Hanoi for a weekend. It’s a great visa run trip!

If I can give any advice it would be to:
  • Leave yourself with plenty of time, always!
  • Use (or make) a packing checklist. Here's mine you can print for free!
  • Star ALL of the places that you are going to go (stations, hotels, etc)
  • Bring snacks everywhere
·       Never buy from the first place you see, look around for a better price

Thanks for reading!
-Millie Burns

Comment below, where are some other visa run destinations I should check out?