The joys of Thailand's eastern seaboard are notorious - an area on the opposite
coast to that hit by the recent tsunami - and most people think of Pattaya but
OutUK correspondent Robin Newbold went a little further afield to the island
of Samet and discovered what's become the weekend getaway for gay Bangkokers and
their foreign admirers.
Koh Samet is easily accessible from Bangkok, about a three-hour drive, and is a
world away from a lot of the Kingdom's less salubrious tourist resorts not only
because Thais come to take their holidays here but also because the area's been
designated as a national park and there's a moratorium on new development.
One of the many pleasant sights to be found at Hin Khok beach where lads in Speedos abound.
big hotel chains that have laid claim to large swathes of Samui and Phuket are
happily not in evidence and most resorts are more homely than their five-star
cousins - what they lack in amenities they make up for in character and value for money.
Though not everyone will be able to do without a Jacuzzi in the bathroom, the rustic nature
of the bungalow developments dotted along every beach seem all part of the island's lazy charm.
The first thing you'll want to do on arrival is collapse into a deck chair and breathe
in the warm, tropical air.
It's probably best though to do a bit of legwork and find somewhere
to stay if you haven't made plans already - Samet gets incredibly crowded at the
weekends and on public holidays so it often pays to book ahead. There are actually
zillions of places to lay your weary head but we've narrowed it down to just three.
Morning rush hour at Tubtim where the lack of people indicates those sleeping off hangovers.
Firstly, Tubtim resort on Tubtim beach has been dubbed Silom-Soi-4-On-Sea
after the popular gay street in Bangkok because it's become so popular with the capital's
gay community and you're bound to bump into someone you know or who you'd like to
know better. The bungalows are a bit hit and miss, there are some good ones and some
bad ones, so it's best to look at what they're offering you first and maybe ask to
see another room if you're not satisfied. Though at between 500-1,200 baht a night (7-17 pounds)
you're getting a bargain whatever happens. The beachfront restaurant with its fantastic
food - think a lavish meal for two with a bottle of Thai whisky for under a tenner - makes
up for the achingly slow service and the iffy bungalows and it's probably why most people stay here.
The beach is very pleasant too, great for swimming, and as there are only a couple of resorts,
at either end, it never gets overly crowded.
Second choice and a short walk from Tubtim is Jep's on Hin Khok beach. This is a
favourite haunt of Lonely Planet readers but the bungalows (from 600 baht per night) are
comfortable and cheap and some of those Speedo-clad Australian backpackers happen to be
very attractive. But the real draw here is the beach, which is almost certainly the best
on the island with its powdery white sand stretching out into an azure sea and framed at
one end by the legendary mermaid statue. Apart from Jep's the beach is mostly free of other
resorts along its perimeter making it a wonderful spot, particularly at night-time when
under the twinkling stars it's incredibly romantic. But be warned, there's a myth tied
up with Samet: if you go with a lover you'll have great sex but as soon as you
leave the relationship's doomed.
Third choice is the more refined, if unpronounceable, Talebure, which is a
30-minute walk from Tubtim on the more developed Wong Deuan beach. The bungalows
(1,600 baht per night) here are bigger, more upscale and stylishly glass fronted
allowing the lush tropical light to filter in. The resort's owners also run the
fashionable Bangkok Bar in the capital and have brought a sprinkling of
cool with them. There's the atmospheric Moon Bar where you can sit under
the stars and stare out into the ocean as DJs spin the latest grooves, well, latest
for Thailand, but it's all very pleasant and with cocktails at under two quid a
throw it can get a little hazy after a while.