Thailand’s Most Instagram-able Fishing Village Goes Digital

Samaesan is a picturesque seaside village almost halfway between Bangkok and Thailand’s frontier with Cambodia. Its score of long piers is sheltered behind a sprinkling of verdant islands, allowing for particularly calm and crystalline waters.

This ideal location has long attracted vibrantly colored fishing boats, which will drop off the night’s catch at daybreak for eager buyers to haggle over. But behind the postcard appearances, Samaesan’s fishing crews also face many challenges such as stringent export regulations and a scarcity of labor.

A few enterprising locals thus turned to hosting the occasional diving and fishing trips to supplement their incomes. But it wasn’t until the eruption of social media that Samaesan started to take off as a hotspot for nature-starve Bangkokians.

Instrumental to this transformation is Umnat Chuanak. Although born in Samaesan, Mr. Umnat worked for 15 years as an engineer before fully committing himself to running a homestay, Yaya Malee Resort & Snorkeling.

“I always loved to come home. Even when I was an engineer, I’d come back here between jobs. But I thought that even if I ever got to realize my dream of having a homestay here, it would just be four rooms for friends,” he told dtacblog.

That might have been the case were it not for Mr. Umnat’s photography skills. He originally operated only a tour boat that took guests snorkeling in the clear waters just across from his family home. But he also took pictures and videos of his guests frolicking among the “Nemo” fish.

“I’ll take about 500 or 600 pictures—maybe up to 1,200 for a big group. And I send it the customer via the LINE application. This is how the business really took off. Every share of the pics can reach a 100 of their friends—or more. Then those friends will call up our guest and ask, ‘Where is that? How was it?’” Mr. Umnat said.

Thanks to this organic marketing, Mr. Umnat was able to build an eight-room resort, Yaya Malee Resort & Snorkeling. But that’s not to say the charm of his original vision has been lost. The family home remains, and more importantly, his mother is still at the wok, dazzling guests with the bright flavors of the catch-of-the-day.

“It’s so important for people to be connected now. They want to share pictures with their friends instantly. And even during the COVID-19 lockdowns, I was able to stay connected with my customers over social media,” says Mr. Umnat, who is a dtac customer. “Even why I go kayaking out at sea, I get a good signal.”

Today, Samaesan continues its quiet digital transformation. With the COVID-19 epidemic improving nationwide, city folk are once again visiting on weekends. But locals are also looking to generate new revenue streams for the weekdays. Many have taken to selling their seafood online, either fresh or processed according to their family recipes.

To meet their growing needs, dtac recently added two sites in the village. They operate on multiple bands, including 700 MHz, a low-band frequency that is particularly effective for indoor and outdoor coverage.

“Without connectivity, I could probably survive, but not that well. Only a few people knew about Samaesan. But this number of boats, this number of people—they would not survive. With social media, I can reach everybody,” said Mr. Umnat.

Yaya Malee Resort & Snorkeling is a 2.5-hour drive east of Bangkok. Nightly rates from THB 1,800 per night and a snorkeling trip starts at 3,500 baht. Book at https://reservation.roomscope.com/1450/en