Saturday, 24 July 2010

The growth of Koh Samet

For many more pictures of Koh Samet visit my website
I have been to Koh Samet half a dozen times over the past 7 or 8 years, having fallen in love with the place on my first visit. My family and I stay at the same place every time, Sai Kaew Beach resort and it is by this resort that I measure the growth of tourism on Koh Samet.

Approaching Koh Samet

This island has a unique niche in the Thai beach industry. One, because of its location only 4 hours or so from Bangkok and two because of its unusually dry climate. But because it is so small and lacks the infrastructure and entertainment of a Koh Samui or Phuket. So for this reason it hadn’t made it onto the mass tourism trails until the last few years.

Sai Kaew Beach/White Sands Beach

In recent times the island has seen an explosion of business from Chinese tourists (mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong) and also corporate day trips from Bangkok and surrounding provinces. This, added onto the popularity it already enjoyed from Western visitors and Bangkok weekenders means that Koh Samet seems to have finally “arrived”.

Buddha just behind the Sai Kaew Beach resort

Of course all of this means rising prices and development of existing resorts into more upscale, boutique places. And that applies more than anywhere to the Sai Kaew Beach resort. The prices have more than doubled from our first visit back in 2002 and on our last visit in late 2007 the resort had undergone a massive expansion, roughly doubling its size, and there was more construction underway. It is now so large that it operates a golf buggy system to ferry people around! Unfortunately the newer half of the resort doesn’t have direct access to a decent stretch of beach, so imagine my disappointment when we were plonked in a bungalow right at the far end of it! Having to catch a golf buggy to the beach every day somewhat detracted from my enjoyment of the resort, the price of progress.

Beach bar

There are certainly cheaper, more basic places to stay and, make no mistake, Koh Samet is still a beautiful place, but how long it can remain this way is in question. Look at the complete over development of places like Pattaya and Koh Samui and the strain on resources in those places. Samet has no fresh water supply, so fresh water has to be shipped in, along with non-seafood food supplies. Large generators chug along to try to supply the growing electricity demand. Koh Samet is officially a National Park, although you’d never know it from the amount of development down the Eastern side of the island and piles of construction waste lying around. The water around the island is certainly not as clear as it used to be, although still superior to most other places in Thailand. General litter on the beaches is also becoming more of a problem.

There was a time when you could visit Samet in the week and almost have a beach to yourself, save for a few backpacker types. This no longer seems to be the case as the constant stream of well-off young Chinese travellers grows. Weekends on Samet have always been busy, now there is so much demand that it makes it too expensive to bother with. As this demand grows, will we see more development and expansion?

Let’s hope not as the island is already pretty stretched. But as I’ve said, despite all this Samet still retains its beauty and its allure that draws me and my family back time after time. And no doubt it is this that draws the countless other visitors to the island. How long this can remain is a doubt, as this is Thailand and development and profit go way ahead of any environmental and sustainability concerns.

Please visit my website, for some photos of Samet to help you make up your own mind.

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