By Phoowadon Duangmee
There's a saying among the young college students who gravitate to Koh Samet: Pai Samed sed thuk lai. What it means is no one leaves Samet a virgin. Does that make Samet a romantic destination? Or at least a place for love on the cheap?
About 15 years ago I boarded the boat of joy from Baan Phe Pier, pitched a tent on the beach and proceeded to spend three days on the island for less than Bt1,500 (S$65).
The love shacks with the thatched roofs have long since given way to Mediterranean style cottages and hip tropical villas. Mention of the word "tent" is probably now considered a crime against luxury.
Nothing lasts forever. The college students lost their virginity, and so did Samet.
But here I am again, sipping a glass of Merlot at the beachside restaurant of the Ao Phrao Resort, and trying to make sense of the luxurious new Koh Samet.
On the west coast, the Ao Phrao enjoys a secluded, palmlicked crescent beach. When a speedboat enters the bay with more guests, the staff prepares a mobile bridge for them. This bit of inventiveness means you don't have to dip a toe in the sea, let alone abuse your trousers.
"Actually, the Ao Phrao Resort has been here for 14 years," manager Santipong Kosolyuthasarn tells me when I mention the good old days.
"It enjoys its lowkey image. The resort has become known among the Europeans and Japanese, as well as the expatriates, as a quick escape from Bangkok."
Over on the eastern shore, kids in Bob Marley T-shirts are in pursuit of another wild night. The Ao Phrao Resort studiously ignores them, lost and content in its peaceful isolation.
The bay here is offlimits to jet skis and banana boats. If you want to skim across the waves, you have the wind, not an engine, to propel the catamarans and windsurfing boards.
On the brown beach, children mould sand into castles in between pockets of European sunbathers and card players. Occasionally someone frolics about in the water.
"We just renovated the resort recently," Santipong says. "The private villas got all new interior designs - modern contemporary. We also added the infinity pool and some cosy daybeds by the beach."
The hills rise steeply, lifting some of the private cottages up with them for a better view of the bay. The sense of mountain and ocean is rare in Thailand.
And, adds the manager, "Our sunset is second to none."
My cottage is a Deluxe with a view of bobbing fishing boats far in the distance. The room is generic - whitewashed walls with flourishes of decorative paint - but spacious with a large bedroom and a comfy sofa. There's no wifi to be found, nor staff when you really need them.
The restroom, with a standing shower, is big and impressive. Along with a fragrant set of soap and shampoo, there's a pair of toothbrushes and tubes of paste. The thoughtful manager is obviously ready for forgetful travellers like me.
On the other side of the shower, sink and dressing area, the toilet stall is a tight fit and doorless. Guests desiring a bit of privacy might be a little put off, but the bathroom is otherwise sleek and clean.
Breakfast and dinner are served at Breeze, a nice seafront restaurant. You can start the day with a selection of European dishes, nothing unusual. The Thai food was lovely at dinner at Buzz, the cosy restaurant at Le Vimarn Cottages & Spa, Ao Phrao's sister resort a short walk away.
For lunch, try the traditional pizza at their Italian restaurant.
Overall, the Ao Phrao Resort is a fine tropical villa at an affordable price. Its villas might be secondrate compared to the more stylish. Mediterranean cottages at Le Vimarn, but your money gets its value.
You'll love the isolated beach and the privacy. The resort may well be, "a love shack for grownups", as the playful bartender put it when I paid my last call.
AT A GLANCE
High points: a peaceful, little crescent beach with cosy tropical villas
Low point: Most villas are perched on the hillside, out of range for older and disabled people.
Find it: Ao Phrao Beach, Samet Island
Pay for it: Two nights, with breakfast for two, starting at Bt12,200 (S$530)
Phone it: (02) 438 97712
Browse it: www.SamedResorts.com