Yes, the accommodations are over-priced.
Yes, the island service can be indifferent.
Yes, the restaurant food may stress your GI system.
But, as a 13-year Bangkok resident, I’m a forever fan of Ko Samet, a small island off the eastern seaboard in Rayong province. It’s a 4 hour drive to the pier and another 20 minutes by speedboat (or 40 by ferry) to get onto the island, where its numerous white sand beaches and warm blue water with gently lapping waves await to embrace you. (And that’s a literal embrace if you go by speedboat, as you will hop from the boat directly into a foot or so of water before swishing onto shore.)
While I have been to this island some 25 times in the past 13 years, my most recent trip was different.
For one thing, there was a tinge of melancholy lurking.
You see, for the first time I made this trip without either of my sons. In our household, Ko Samet has always been a favorite family getaway. In the early days when my boys were rocking elementary school, we would go with a boisterous gang of friends plus kids, an entourage that varied in number from 8 to 20. Later, after their father and I separated, it became a comfortable long weekend destination to take my tween and early teen on my own, often during the Songkran holiday. A year ago, with Son #1 away in college, I went with Son #2 along with 2 of his buddies + 2 of mine. This year, he preferred to hang back in Bangkok closer to friends there, and I found myself on this island for the first time ever without a family member in sight.
Instead I went with a girlfriend.
Initially I could not shake the feeling that I had forgotten something.
So there was this Letting Go aspect to this trip.
As mothers, we get to practise Letting Go from the days our children are born, so at this point I consider myself rather accomplished at this project. I clearly remember, for example, that day many years ago when Son #2 simply stopped holding my hand. I remember thinking after a few days passed that he might never reach for it again. Then, a week later he surprised me by once more grasping my hand as we walked down a small road in our neighborhood. I was well aware at the time that this was a gift.
There have been countless other Letting Gos over the years, some of which I felt completely during the moment, and others that slipped by like a thief only to be noticed later by the absence of that particular thing one of my boys “used to” do or say. This trip expanded the territory my Letting Gos cover.
With the accelerating accumulation of Letting Gos as a mother during the past few years, time and space seem to be opening up for me like never before.
And honestly, lurking melancholy aside, that’s exciting.
So, in addition to the oddness, the holiday was also filled with possibility and new experiences. My friend and I could and did choose to stay in a rather basic guest house right on the beach. No need to consider whether a pool was necessary – for the first time I knew it wasn’t. And the whole food thing was terrifically simple. Coffee for breakfast and later som tom + chicken on the beach for lunch. Depending on the timing of lunch, there either would or would not be a light dinner. We befriended bartenders and beach dogs. We had the time to go down lengthy rabbit holes discussing recurring themes of family, the psychology of relationships, how to be healthy and what to be when we grow up. We laughed at silly tourists posing like tigers on the rocks in front of us. And as for those boys, I managed to connect with them throughout the holiday over one thing or another via text messaging and phone calls, under the comfortable shade of a beach umbrella. Life was pretty darn good.
Another distinction about this Samet trip is an activity I never would have considered during a typical family vacay – my friend and I indulged in a half day spa experience at a luxe resort. There is a luxury side of Ko Samet where people who are not bothered about dropping $400-500 nightly on accommodations stay. Housed in this exclusive zone, also, is a day spa.
Paradee Spa is located at the end of the island near Ao Kiew. We checked out their menu online and decided that 2-hour massages and a facial seemed like good ideas. It was easy by phone to arrange an appointment for the next day, which happened to be the actual Songkran holiday. That morning we surveyed the songtaew (taxi formed by putting a top on a pick-up bed lined with two benches) drivers hanging out by our guest house on the price of a ride: one-way 500 THB. Ouch. Forgot about the island taxi mafia. Defiant, we decided to rent a motorbike instead, which would have cut our costs by well over 50%. Since it was peak season though the next few guesthouses we encountered on foot had none available. In the end a 500 THB songtaew ride it was. We hoped the experience would be worth it.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a resort guard, who seemed to be expecting us. The spa is located just inside the resort property, and we were quickly handed over to two lovely ladies decked out in traditional Thai attire who guided us through the entrance.
The spa reception area is a pavilion sitting in a water garden. Rich teak wood furnishings, flowers and luscious plants adorn every view. We were offered a beverage and cold wet towels as the receptionists confirmed our order. We were asked to complete a questionnaire (in English) regarding medical info and massage preferences. We were then presented with the bill and made payment (2-hour massage + 1-hour facial = 6,065 THB). During the wait for credit card processing we took in our surroundings and snapped a few pics.
As it was Songkran, we were invited to pour water over a tabletop shrine, and of course did so. Our hosts then took pics of us.
Initial photo ops complete, we were ready to begin. The paths to the attractively appointed treatment rooms were surrounded by luscious plants, flowers, and water, and the treatment rooms were lovely and so clean – not a cobweb in sight…
My 2 hour Thai massage was very good, in beautiful surroundings that frankly made me feel calm and pretty just for the privilege of lying there. After this I was led to another treatment room, also attractively appointed, for the facial, which was very soothing.
After that, I would have been more than happy to relax on the premises til night-night time, but alas, this was not an option.
We took a few more pictures before boarding a return songtaew back to our basic guesthouse on Sai Kaew beach, a quite contented pair.
While definitely a luxury option, in my case the timing was right. I can recommend Paradee Spa fully as an upgraded Thai day spa experience, especially if you have some extra space in your day and are feeling a bit disoriented due to a recent Letting Go.