Dirt Bike riding on a Honda Click
Ko Samet with its white talcum powder sand and romantic lanterns lighting up the beach at night is one of Thailand's most sensational beach resort areas. However, most visitors don't realize that renting a fully automatic motorbike with dirt bike tires can take their Ko Samet trip to an entirely new dimension. Here we will start with what makes Ko Samet a very special kind of places with both its strengths and weaknesses. Then I'll describe how renting the right motorbike will completely transform your Ko Samet outing once you have made the commitment to get off the beaten path.A Swiss fellow condo co-owner neighbor of mine was discussing with me whether I should join my sister at Hua Hin on her upcoming visit to Thailand. Never mind that a German fellow co-owner likes Hua Hin a lot. But the German's a golfer and for all I know if you dumped him out of a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand he might very well drown inside of two minutes. The man enjoys having many options to choose from wherever he goes. Rene, the Swiss, is the opposite kind of man being the ultimate beach connoisseur. A former travel agent, Rene's been all over Thailand, and Rene told me flat out, "Hua Hin's beaches aren't that much. If that's what you want, Ko Samet is the place for you." Luckily I was able to talk my sister out of Hua Hin and talk her into a short trip to Ko Samet instead.
I had been to Ko Samet once before. Recognizing that Rene was the definitive Ko Samet buff, when he recommended to me, Ko Samed Villa for my lodging I immediately booked a beach front bungalow there. And just by chance the owner of Ko Samed Villa is a Swiss.
Although there are a number of beaches on Ko Samet the major hub of tourist activity is Sai Kaew (White Sands) Beach. Though not cheap, Ko Samed Villa is a bargain compared to some of the high rent bungalows at White Sands. Then there's Leo, an American Pattaya Bar owner who goes to White Sands Beach quite often. Leo stays on the cheap and from what I hear he and his pals get pretty liquored up and stay liquored up the whole time they are on Ko Samet. I checked his favorite hotel out and using a tape measure found out that it had the ideal location for the man who prizes his alcohol above all else. Like the hub of a wheel, Leo's hotel had the largest number of close by bars of any place on Ko Samet.
Ko Samed Villa is about three quarters of a mile walk from Sai Kaew Beach, which is not all that far, but one often wants to just stay close to one's home base and there's a terrific little restaurant right next door to Ko Samed Villa that has great prices and excellent food along with all the beer a man can drink. As for my own lodging on both trips to Ko Samed I paid several hundred baht more for a bungalow in the first row facing the beach with a nice deck less than thirty meter's from the water's edge. It's quiet there and the view of the Gulf of Thailand and all the way down to Sai Kaew Beach is excellent. But the best part of the location is that it's close to a wooded area into which I could walk and hardly see anyone. From this wooded area. the walk continued to a large area of large boulders. And that was only the beginning because from that point on I could keep walking through other forested or boulder covered areas with the Gulf to my immediate left while seeing relatively few people as I made my way from one beach area to the next.
Ko Samed Villa above all else is for the kind of guy who really wants to get away from it all, and it does this far better than any accommodation one could make over on Sai Keow.
Ko Samet is a small island--only seven miles or so long. But it's a little too large to cover it all by walking unless one is willing to spend hours on end doing it. One of Ko Samet's best features is its white sand. And when I say white I do mean white. It's as white as chalk and soft as talcum powder. Even so if it's just swimming you want to do Ko Larn Island (which I'll cover later in my 10 Wonders of Pattaya section) got it beat. Several of the beaches at Ko Larn have extensive lines of buoys forming rectangles one can swim out to and use them as if one were in a huge swimming pool to swim laps. For example I'd say the line of buoys on Ko Larn's Samae Beach are 150 meters offshore which means that I can swim out to them and then turn around and swim back so that each lap measures about 300 meters. You can't do that on Ko Samet so when you are swimming out to sea you have no idea of how far you have gone.
At night Ko Samet's incredibly romantic because of all the lanterns that are turned on lighting up the entirely of Sai Kaew Beach all the way up to Ko Samed Villa at Ao Phi Beach. There's enough restaurants to go around and lots of places to drink beer. But if you are looking for girls you had better be bringing your own. There's none of Pattaya's beer bars. Phuket's got the same kind of beer bar setup and so does Ko Samui although there's a lot less of it. Even Krabi's Ao Nang Beach and Ko Chang have a few beer bars where one can pick up women.
It takes just one hour to get to Rayon by taxi or car from Pattaya and once you are at Rayon you can either take the ferry or a speedboat to Ko Samet Island. It's not all that far from Bangkok either. I've heard the weekend crowds are horrendous as Ko Samet is a favorite of Bangkok Thais so I've avoided getting there on weekends like the plague.
So what is there to do on Ko Samet other than lying around on a beach all day? One can go on a mini tour snorkeling trip on a speedboat. An ex girlfriend of mine and I tried that but I had gotten a severe cold so I let her do all the snorkeling. She was not all that impressed after having already snorkeled in Maya Bay, Krabi, and Ko Chang. One can always relax with a good book. But except for the fact that it has no night life at all and very few restaurants, Ko Larn Island is a terrific little island and a great bargain to boot since it only costs 20 baht to get there on the ferry and it's just five miles offshore from Pattaya. On Ko Samet there's several fish farms one can go to where they keep fish in large netted areas and you can walk across networks of boards lying across floating oil drums to look at all the fish. You can do some limited shopping. And you can take some great walks with terrific scenery all around you. But compared to say the Krabi area Ko Samet is small and it's scenery although quite beautiful is not as spectacular. On the other hand I can't think of anyplace in Thailand that is. And the snorkeling and diving is not among Thailand's best. And it doesn't even have roads. There's only heavily rutted dirt paths wide enough for cars to go down if cars were even allowed here other than the few baht bus type taxis.
Then I discovered dirt bike riding on a fully automatic motor scooter. I couldn't believe a run of the mill scooter could manage the steep rutted hills of Ko Samet until I found a motorbike rental shop close to Ko Samed Villa that had several Honda Clicks with special dirt bike tires on them for rent. A Honda Click! Ugh. Two years earlier I had rented one in Krabi and I hated it. It was too light for me. Too flighty. Not nearly as stable as the Air Blade I rented two days later or the Yamaha Nouvo I had back in Pattaya. At first I turned up my nose at the Honda Click rentals and looked around for an Air Blade or Nouvo to rent instead. But none were to be had with the knobby tires. By that time it was mid-afternoon so I reluctantly handed over several hundred baht and took possession of my new machine. I had just finished walking a couple of miles looking for a distant beach I had read about but had given up since it was too far away and the going was too slow walking over one hillside of boulders after another. Figuring I'd never make it back to my bungalow until after dark I had decided that my only hope was to look for it on a motorcycle.
It had amazed me how a baht taxi (Song Taow) could get up these steep rutted hills. Then again, the only time I was on a baht taxi was my first trip to Ko Samet when the ferry put in at Ao Vong Duan Beach and we had to take the Song Taow to Ao Phai Beach. On this second trip to Ko Samet we went direct to Ko Samed Villa at Ao Phai Beach by speed boat. Nevertheless, the police were there waiting for us to collect their 200 baht fee from each Westerner. With my Thai driver's license I was able to get by on the forty baht Thai entry fee.
Even more amazing that a baht taxi's ability to get up those hills was the way the little Honda Click handled every dirt road, path, large boulder, or mud I went through. Because a bike like this does not have wheels as large in circumference as a dirt bike and due to its not having the ground clearance of a dirt bike or the heavy duty shocks required for doing jumps or going up perpendicular walls, I had entirely underestimated its off road abilities. With the knobby tires the bike tracked like a gyroscope whether I drove through mud puddles, down a rutted path, or over large rocks. As for the Click's automatic transmission, I had already written it off as a joke in such harsh conditions. But for this kind of driving in the dirt it was even better than a manual transmission, since I could give the bike just as much power as I needed or wanted. If I were going down a steep boulder filled incline I could just inch along by barely giving the Click any throttle. On a steep incline I could just ease her uphill with the bike reaching down to a low gear imperceptibly without any jerk whatsoever from my having to let out a clutch. Then if I wanted to charge up the same incline all I'd have to do is to pour on the gas and the Click would respond quickly and smoothly. The bike seemed as sure footed as a mountain goat.
Who was it who said their automatic bike couldn't get up a paved steep hill? More than one guy did and all I can think of is they'd never driven an automatic before. So I'm calling them out on this one and if anyone doesn't believe me, then just look at the pictures below while keeping in mind that the dirt roads are actually much steeper than they appear in the pictures due to the camera lens having a propensity for flattening out hills and steep grades. And oh yeah, the know it alls start talking about riding two up with their Thai girlfriends behind them and how the bikes simply won't handle the hills. All I've got to say about that one is I liked driving the knobby tired Honda Click so much that I rented it out the second day only this time I took my 16 year old nephew with me. I'd put him at about 150 pounds or so and I'm at 168 for a combined weight of 318 pounds. Once again there wasn't a hill on Ko Samet that fazed the Honda Click.
I now believe the only way to truly experience Ko Samet is to rent a knobby tired motor bike and to head for the hills. Within a half hour to forty-five minutes one can get from one end of the island to the other. And the scenery is much better than you are going to see if you stay put no matter what beach or hotel you are staying at. Then again, the next time I go to Ko Chang I'm renting a bike there also. And the same goes for the Krabi area. Even Ko Larn Island which is only about a third the size of Ko Samet is much better with a bike than having to do without one. And of all those places I just mentioned there is none of the crazy deadly Pattaya traffic. As for Ko Samet's place in the grand scheme of things, it's a great little island for a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of Pattaya or Bangkok, and for me, I can be there in less than two hours from my Pattaya condo door for just a 1000 baht taxi ride plus nominal ferry fee.
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