Marketed as an island escape just a short busride from Bangkok, our journey to Koh Samet actually took six hours instead of the promised two. First there was the confusing rearrangement of passengers in and out of buses and minivans at a busy highway onramp, followed by a two hour wait on the 'ferry' (old beat up wooden tugboat) while a goofy toothless first mate danced around and blamed a missing captain (who, as it turned out, was there all along). Then the very slow hour across to the island (that is so close you can almost swim to it, and takes 10 minutes in a speedboat). Not that we were fuming. Far from it. You have to appreciate and laugh at the organized chaos of it all. Most intriguing was the parade of items that joined us on the boat; huge bags of fish and squid, potatoes, skinned corn on the cob, bulk beach mats and sarongs, flats of beer and coke (flung carelessly to the top deck), two motorcycles, and at least fifty people. There is no doubt we were well beyond the safe capacity of the boat.
Upon arriving, all tourists were piled into green pickups and bounced around the muddy back roads to our beaches of choice. The first hotel mentioned in our guidebook had ratty blankets and bat droppings on the table outside. So while Mike and Abbey parked themselves in a beachside restaurant, I wandered around comparing hotels. Eventually I settled on a simple but clean but uninspiring option set back from the beach in the nearby village. We had just moved our bags inside when the monsoon started. Full on heavy fat rain. When the downpour eased, we set out for the beach. And although it was still raining, the sea and air was warm and very appealing. So Abbey and Mike splashed around in the waves while I read my book under a beach umbrella. It was actually really nice. It seemed as if this was going to be our experience of this island paradise. But what can you do - it's the rainy season. Still, the room was sort of depressing and the village was muddy and left little to explore. Since Saturday was to be Mike's 40th birthday, we began to think that it was the perfect time to really splash out (a growing habit!). We googled the resorts...I specifically searched for somewhere with a balcony where we could sit and watch the rain. We settled on Samed Villa resort and scored ourselves the best beachside bungalow with a 180 degree view of the beach and rocky headlands and lush green landscaping. This time it was the true definition of a budget traveller's splashout, at a whopping $80/night...but, as it turns out, well worth it. Suddenly, with a view and a balcony and a swanky bathroom, the island for us transformed. Tropical birds chirped away in the trees around us and huge butterflies danced around the bushes. And at night, the bathroom echoed with the loud croaking of frogs. On Saturday morning, the sun came out. And then we were well and truly on a tropical island. Suddenly the white sand beach was blindingly brilliantly white. Mike's birthday began with a huge buffet breakfast, followed by a two hour kayak rental just for Mike. Meanwhile, Abbey found a postcard with elephants on it (as daddy loves elephants) and drew him a birthday picture of the two of them at the zoo. We jumped in the warm waves and wandered up the beach to a place we'd walked past earlier that sold chocolate mousse. Since Mike is not a dessert person, Abbey and I happily devoured birthday mousse for him, while he slung back a birthday beer. Well met. The day ended with dinner on the beach amid colored lanterns. We will miss our little (deluxe) bungalow, but two nights is just about as much as we can do. We leave today for Bangkok again (who knows how long it will take) and then fly tomorrow to the northern city of Chang Mai.