Escape to Ko Samet, Part One: Stay the F*ck Out of Pattaya

Phuket, Ko Samui, and Koh Chang are popular islands to get away to when your in Thailand. But on a whim I decided to take a road slightly less travelled, and I was glad that I did. But getting there wasn’t easy.

If you're going to Bangkok, you're likely going to end up here. Photo by Michael Johnstone

If you’re going to Bangkok, you’re likely going to end up here.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

After a few days in Bangkok, the utterly chaotic atmosphere becomes exhausting, particularly when you’re staying in a cheap hostel on the infamous Khao San Road. If you’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach in that opening scene when he’s walking down Khao San Road and get’s pressured into drinking snake’s blood, you’ve got an idea of the mood. All through the night, the blaring of dance music with its relentless beats, coupled with the sounds of drunk twentysomethings laughing, screaming, and partying–is starting to wear on me. It was then that I decide to escape.

Backpacker's Heaven...or Hell: the Infamous Khao San Road. Photo by Michael Johnstone

Backpacker’s Heaven…or Hell: the Infamous Khao San Road.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

When I travel, at least when alone, I often don’t plan far ahead. In part, this is a masochistic tendency of mine. While it’s comforting to know where you’re going to lay your head down at night (and probably a much better travel methodology), I prefer to wing it. There’s a certain thrill I get from arriving in a new city, alone, aimless, and utterly lost. So I’ve been paying for my room on a night-to-night basis, and I’m free make the split-second decision to leave. It’s early evening, so I head out to find a travel office, and let the hostel know this is my last night.

From the information I’ve gleaned, there are several options available. Phuket and the southern islands are not really easily accessible. I would need to take a flight to get there. Really, all I want is a nice, white, sandy beach.

Getting out of Bangkok is rather simple from Khao San Road. Tour services are everywhere, providing rather cheap transportation to anywhere from Chaing Mai to Cambodia. So I head into a random tour office that looks reasonably credible, and purchase a ticket for Pattaya. The brochures look good, although I had never heard of the city before. The entire trip, really, was on a whim, so I hadn’t done much research before getting on the plane.


I’m told that I should be at the tour office around eight the following morning. By around 8:45 someone finally shows up and quickly whisks me away to a second location. Not off to a good start. As it turns out, we stop at four different tour offices collecting passengers, and it’s almost 9:30 before the lot of us are standing on the side of a busy street a few blocks away. And so we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Buses tend to stop here. And also not stop here. Photo by Michael Johnstone

Buses tend to stop here. And also not stop here.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

It’s almost 11. Minibuses have stopped and picked up passengers for various destinations, only none of them are Pattaya. One thing you learn quickly when you’re in Thailand is that time is a suggestion. Things don’t run on the clock, they run on the whenever we’re ready system. So if you have plans or reservations, kiss them goodbye.

Finally, around 11:30, a minibus pulls up for Pattaya. And really, when I say minibus, I mean minivan. There are too many passengers, and not enough seats. This is where the polite Canadian in me dies, and I find myself hollering at the bus driver telling him I need to be on this bus. I get on, but I’m squashed between the driver and the front passenger seat with a shifter wedged between my legs.

Compared to Thailand's minibuses, a tuk tuk is a comfortable, safe mode of transportation...not a good sign. Photo by Michael Johnstone

Compared to Thailand’s minibuses, a tuk tuk is a comfortable, safe mode of transportation.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

It’s two hours to Pattaya, which can be a long time when you’re being molested each time the driver needs to change gears. So I’m rather relieved when I step off the bus along the coast of Pattaya City and the bus pulls away. But as I haul my backpack onto my pack, something seems wrong.

This was a quiet day. Multiply by 10, remove men's shirts. [Source]

This was a quiet day. Multiply by 10, remove men’s shirts.

Sure there are palm trees. And yes, there is a beach. But the pamphlet is utterly wrong. As I take a slow walk down the boulevard along the beach, a few things become apparent. First, there are a lot of Eastern European men here. A lot. They’re positively everywhere. Not that I have anything against Eastern European men, but this collection is not their best showing. They’re leathered from the sun, old, topless, and most are attached women who are obviously Thai prostitutes.

I walk off the boulevard and onto the beach, where my dreams of white sand and pristine water quickly die. As I pick up a handful of rough, brown sand among the vast array of garbage, tampon applicators, and condoms, a feeling of dread comes over me. Nerd alert–if you’ve ever seen the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica and you’ve seen the moment when William Adama picks up a handful of Earth’s dead, radioactive soil, you know exactly the moment that I had.

From the beach, I glance back at the main road along the beach.

I need to get out of here.

Escape to Ko Samet, Part Two: Pardon the Ping Pong Show

It wasn't quite this bad, but it was pretty close. [Source]

It wasn’t quite this bad, but it was pretty close. [Source]