When we were planning our trip to Thailand last September, we knew we were going to stay awhile. After traveling across four continents, we were ready for a break and our plan was to rent an apartment for the month of October. We had new two goals in mind: Resting and relaxing.
We asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers for recommendations. “If you had a month to spend in Thailand, where would you stay?” We got all the answers you might expect: Party in Phuket, stay cheap in Bangkok, visit the temples in Chiang Mai. After our downtime, we would go on to tour all of Thailand, so our ideal location for October would be a quiet, out-of-the-way place with a solid internet connection. Perhaps one of those picturesque islands with the white sand beaches, plentiful coconuts, and some snorkeling hot spots…
We read up on the suggestions we’d received: Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Phang-nga, Koh Samui. Advice from my ex-girlfriend had me worried. She told me that, years before, she’d passed up Phang-nga (too touristy) for Koh Tao. There, she had found a quiet spot on the back of the island where she could relax and interact with the locals, but still take in a little SCUBA diving if she felt like it.
But Koh Tao isn’t like that anymore. She told us that since she visited, the island has developed into yet another tourist hotspot with ATMs and 7-Elevens on every other corner.
The Thailand of yesterday sounded just like what we were looking for, but I wondered if we’d even be able to find it. We did, but not until much later…
We took the easy way out and spent our month in Karon Beach, on Phuket. It wasn’t the island getaway we’d imagined, but it was cheap and we had our internet access. Come November, though, we were ready to hit the road again.
We traveled with friends up into Laos, then parted ways and traveled through Vietnam and Cambodia on our own. We were in Siem Reap, visiting the temples around Angkor Wat, when we sat down to plan out the last few weeks of our round-the-world journey. I wanted to see Kuala Lumpur and Singapore before flying to Australia. Oksana petitioned for one last week of beach time. Once again, we found ourselves pouring over a map of Thailand, looking for the perfect island getaway.
And then, a funny thing happened. I was skimming updates in a travel blogger’s Facebook group when I came across something another blogger had posted. She wanted to know if anyone was interested in managing a Thai island resort for a year. She went on to explain that the owners wanted to embark on a round-the-world trip of their own and needed to find someone to run their business while they were away.
I didn’t think much of it at first. In fact, I didn’t even mention it to Oksana until the following day because managing a resort just wasn’t something I thought we’d be interested in. But then I started thinking. We were planning to spend a year working in Australia… why not Thailand instead? And since we had to pass through Thailand again on our way to Malaysia…
When Opportunity is knocking, one should at least open the door to see who’s there.
I sent an email to the blogger and explained our situation. Probably not interested, but since we were in the area, we thought we should at least get some more information. I got a quick reply. She was forwarding our contact information, along with six or seven others’, to the resort owners. It would be up to them if they wanted to get in touch.
They did, just a day or two later. Would you like to come inside, Opportunity?
Yodying and Kerstin, the owners of the resort, jumped at the chance to invite us to stay with them on Koh Mak Island. Since we were at the end of our round-the-world trip, they wanted to ask us about our travels. Not much was said about managing the resort, but I got the feeling they would be evaluating us while we were there.
The best part was that Koh Mak was right across the Cambodian border. We wouldn’t have to travel far.
I sent a reply, telling them to expect us the next day. Unfortunately, a slow border crossing and two confusing bus connections meant that we arrived at the dock just after the last ferry to Koh Mak had departed. We made it as far as the island of Koh Chang and overnighted there.
The next morning, we caught a speedboat to Koh Mak. The weather was beautiful and the water calm; it took us less than 30 minutes to get there. Normally, someone would have been at the dock to greet us, but hadn’t arrived when we said we would. We hopped on a songthaew, and the driver took us up a small hill and dropped us off in front of the Good Time Resort.
We hadn’t done a lot of research, so we didn’t quite know what to expect. Was it going to be a Hilton-like concrete high-rise or a palm-frond bungalow on the beach? Neither, it turned out. The Good Time Resort was perfect for us.
The resort itself is made up of houses and villas spread around a hilltop that was still old-growth jungle less than ten years ago. Instead of clear-cutting the vegetation to make room for villas, paths, and swimming pool, they managed to landscape around the most scenic trees and fronds. Now, each accommodation feels like it resides in its own secluded patch of jungle. Reading a book on your private patio, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re all alone even at the height of high season.
Although the resort is rustic by 5-star resort standards, it seemed luxurious to us after the backpacker hostels we’d become accustomed to. There was a television and DVD player in every room (with a huge library of movies to choose from on rainy days) as well as fans and air conditioning. The biggest hardship was having to walk up to the resort’s restaurant to pick up a wifi signal (which is no hardship at all if you’re looking to “unplug!”)
Once we settled in, we set about exploring the rest of the island.
Koh Mak is tiny – only 10km long by 5km wide – and shaped sort of like a cross. From the top of the hill, we could walk down any of three different roads, two of which led straight down to the calm, clear water. Oksana and I made it a goal to go snorkeling in the every day.
The rest of the island was nothing short of a tropical paradise. Driving or walking along one of the very few roads, you’ll likely see just two things: Rubber trees and coconut palms. Everything on Koh Mak has been owned by one large, extended family for generations and while many members of the family support themselves with tourism now, fully 70% of the island is still covered with coconut and rubber plantations.
The family has no intention of opening the island up to foreign investors. No Hiltons or Sheratons buying up valuable beachfront property. No McDonald’s or Starbucks setting up shop next to the tiny restaurants and seafood shacks down near the shore.
No ATMs, no 7-Elevens. We’d found our Thailand of yesterday.
Our “three or four days” at the Good Time Resort turned into a week. We slept in every morning, went swimming during the day, and brainstormed with Yodying and Kerstin over dinner each night about how they could improve business. Oksana ended up rewriting the bedside binders that reside in every room and I shot and edited a promotional video for their resort.
View the same video in high-definition (720p) on Youtube.
Time went by too quickly (as it always does when you’re enjoying yourself) and before we were ready, it was time to go. We had a plane to catch in Bangkok (as well as a tourist visa set to expire.)
I wish I could tell you we were going back to Koh Mak later this year to manage the resort for Yodying and Kerstin when they set off on their own round-the-world trip, but the timing’s just not right for us. By the time they’ll be ready to leave, we’ll have been on the road for close to two-and-a-half years.
However, that’s not to say we won’t see Yodying and Kerstin again. The next time we’re in the market for a “relaxing” vacation, we’ll find our way back to Koh Mak and the Good Time Resort!
Are you a backpacker traveling around Southeast Asia? Want to extend your holiday by six weeks or more? The Good Time Resort could use your help during the high season (February to the end of May!) In exchange for help around the resort and restaurant, they’re willing to offer free room and board, plus a little pocket change, to the right candidate. If you’re interested, either let me know or get in touch with Yodying directly through the Good Time Resort website. (Couples also welcome to apply.)
The following is a transcript of the above video for Google’s benefit (ignore it, watch the video instead!)
The Good Time Resort
So, my first time to come to Koh Mak was in 1998 and I was traveling with a woman from Germany and she was used to traveling around the world. And she told me, “I know a spot which is really nice in Thailand and it’s unexplored right now.” So I told her, “Okay! Next year, we will go.”
Good Time Resort
My name is Kerstin Clausenius. Together with my husband, I’m running the Good Time Resort on Koh Mak in Thailand.
So we have around 25 houses. Every house has a special setup. So, we have 1-floor houses, 2- or 3-floor houses, depending on the guest request. And… yeah, most of the time the big houses are rented by families or friends. They like to share a house and they like to stay together, but they also like their privacy.
In Good Time Resort, we are running a full-service, Thai-style restaurant. We are serving breakfast here as a buffet and you can also get lunch and dinner.
One thing is for sure: Koh Mak is not a mass-tourism destination, so if you are expecting things going on like in Pattaya or Phuket, you will not feel comfortable with Koh Mak. Koh Mak is more or less like Koh Samui, twenty years before – very quiet and very laid back. And it is a good destination for somebody who is just trying finding a place for relaxing.
So the water conditions on Koh Mak are not good for surfing, because the water is very shallow and calm, this is a good thing for families with small kids, but the visibility is most of the time very good for snorkeling and diving.
So you can reach Koh Mak via airplane. You fly in to Trat airport. Or you can just take a minibus or bus from Bangkok. The buses leave from the Ekkamai and Morchit bus station, or we can organize a private transfer for you.
So if you take a bus or car, the driving time will be around 4 hours… and the speedboat will need 45 minutes to take you to the island.
You can also do… a real island hopping means you start in, like for example, in Koh Chang, go to Koh Mak and then go to Koh Kut. So, which is already three islands and which will cover one week or ten days of your holiday.
We hope when guests are leaving Good Time Resort that they are really relaxed and… yeah, found the hideaway they might look for!
Postcard Valet: Episode 18
The Good Time Resort
Postcard Valet is a Travel Podcast by Arlo & Oksana Midgett
Koh Mak, Thailand
Thanks to Kerstin Clausenius &
Good Time Resort
Koh Mak, Thailand
© 2011 Arlo Midgett
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