Ko Samet

For the smaller Ko Samet in Chumphon Province, see Ko Samet (Chumphon).

Ko Samet (เกาะเสม็ด), also spelled Koh Samed, is a small island off the Eastern Gulf Coast, within easy reach of Bangkok and Pattaya.

Understand

Just 200 km from Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand, the T-shaped island of Ko Samet is known for its white sandy beaches, exotic coral and clear waters. Ko Samet has developed steadily over the past decade or so, but it hasn't been the victim of over-zealous construction found on Ko Samui and Ko Chang. The island is surrounded by tropical coral reefs and relatively clean seas. Tourists can also enjoy delicious cuisine and fine nightlife.

It's a popular tourist destination for both Thais and foreigners. As Ko Samet is close to Bangkok, the island is ideal for those in the capital wanting to relax with their families for a couple of days, without having to go through all the rigmarole of travelling down south. It's only a 2.5 hour journey to Ban Phe, where one can take a 20 min ferry to the island.

Climate

Even though Ko Samet is only a few kilometres from the mainland, the island with its micro-climate (the driest archipelago in Thailand) gets much less rainfall than the rest of Eastern Thailand. The rainy season is May-Sep but even then it still has significantly less rain than the other islands in Thailand.

History

It is believed that once upon a time, Ko Samet was the home of pirates and that to this day there is still buried treasure somewhere on the island. Thailand's legendary poet, Sunthorn Phu, was the first one to put this island on the map when he set his classical epic, ‘’’Phra Aphai Manee’’’ ("The Story of Princes, Saga, Mermaids and Giants").

Even though Bangkok residents have known about the beauty of Ko Samet for decades, the Thai government put this island off-limits and restricted overnight stays there until 1981, when the Forestry Department of Thailand declared Ko Samet and its surroundings to be a national park and thus open for business.

Get in

Most of Ko Samet, including all the good parts, is part of Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park and thus has an entry fee. Thai adults, 40 baht; children, 20 baht. Foreign adults, 200 baht; children, 100 baht (Jun 2009). This two-tier pricing policy is applicable to all national parks. However, if you can demonstrate that you live or work in Thailand you may not have to pay the "tourist" price.

By car and taxi

As Ko Samet is an island, you first have to drive to Rayong. From Bangkok, you can take Sukhumvit Rd (Hwy 3) passing Chonburi, Si Racha, Pattaya, Sattahip and onto Rayong. The total distance to Rayong is approximately 220 km. If you drive onto Hwy 36 at Bang Lamung (before Pattaya), you'll take a shortcut inland and save about 45 km, although the scenery is not as impressive.

Taxi services are available from Rayong. You need to specify Ban Phe since the pier at Ban Phe is at the lower outskirts of Rayong itself. The metered fare is approximately 1,600 baht, but most drivers will want to go "off-meter" for a fare ranging from 1,500 baht to 2,000-2,500 baht. Expressway tolls of about 100 baht are additional. You can either take a taxi from your hotel or guesthouse that is willing to make the drive on the spot, or pre-arrange a pickup from a taxi driver you like by asking for his mobile phone number and calling to make a booking. This works best if you have a native Thai speaker to help you.

By bus

The bus from Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai) to Ban Phe usually takes 3.5 hours, costs 173 baht, and terminates opposite the ferry piers. There is no direct service to Ban Phe from Bangkok's Mo Chit Bus Terminal. It only takes you to Rayong, from where you can take a songthaew (20 baht) to Ban Phe.

There are direct first-class bus services between Rayong and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. If you take a regular bus from Pattaya or Sattahip, you'll need to take a songthaew or charter a tuk-tuk to the ferry piers.

There are also minivans that leave from Victory Monument in Bangkok's Phahonyothin district. They charge 250 baht per person and take you directly to the ferry piers. This is a slightly nicer alternative to the larger tourist buses that depart from bus stations. The minivans drive faster than the tourist buses, but they also make several stops along the way in Rayong which makes the trip about the same time. Also, the ride is quite bumpy, so even reading a book is a challenge.

By air

Bangkok Airways has operated a flight daily from Phuket and Ko Samui to Pattaya's U-Tapao Airport. For more information, contact Bangkok Airways at number +66 2 2655678 or contact a travel agent. From the airport, it is about one hour by car or bus to reach the pier. This mode of transport is only recommended for travellers from Southern Thailand.

By boat

Ferries from Ban Phe or Nuan Thip (they are about 1/8 mile apart, with Ban Phe to the north opposite a 7-Eleven) to Ko Samet take around 30 to 45 minutes. Only buy a one-way ticket (50 baht), as there's no discount on round-trip tickets (100 baht) and you won't have to worry about losing it or finding that your ticket isn't valid for the most convenient return ferry. The ticket sellers state you must buy your national park ticket from them also but this can be done at the gate as you enter the park.

Nuanthip Pier (tel +66 38 651508/+66 38 651514) runs boats to various piers on Ko Samet. One-way tickets are half the price of a round-trip, you might need to insist of booking one. The boats tend to wait until full so timetable is more like a hint than a fixed departure time.

Destinations and price
Destination pier Waiting for price
round-trip
Nadan Pier (Hat Sai Kaew) 20 pax 100 baht
Ao Vongduean 7 pax 120 baht
Ao Wai 7 pax 200 baht
Ao Phrao 7 pax 120 baht
Ao Kui (Pakarang) 7 pax 200 baht
Samet cliff 120 baht
Operating hours from Samet to Nuanthip
Pier Schedule
Nadan Pier hourly, 08:00-18:00
Samet Cliff hourly, 08:00-18:00
Ao Kui (Pakarang) 09:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:30
Ao Wai 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00
Ao Vongduean 08:30, 10:30, 12:30, 14:30, 16:30

Alternatively, there are two speedboat companies that operate from Ban Phe. Speedboat prices can range from 600 baht to Nadan Pier to a few thousand baht for the outer-lying bays and beaches.

For the return from the Ko Samet public pier, take either the Nuan Thip or Ban Phe piers for your destination. It doesn't matter which one you departed from as they are only a short walk apart, and you might get an earlier boat back if you are willing to be flexible and return to a different pier. Both are served by songthaews: Ban Phe has an informal "taxi stand" in front of the 7-Eleven across the street with passenger cars used as taxis but no need to go looking for them as they will find you.

It costs 200 baht for a ride from Ban Phe to the Novotel, quite a distance down the coast.

Get around

The island is very small in comparison to the more populated Thai islands, so exploring the island can easily be done on foot, bike, or by hiring a motorbike/ATV and driving down the island to visit a few of the smaller more secluded beaches and taking in some of the more naturally forested areas further down to the south of the island.

The island has only a single main road. Some parts are concrete and some parts are only a dirt trail which get quite bumpy. There are two ways to get round the island. The first is by songthaew (usually a rather well-worn pickup truck with two benches in the back and no roof), which costs 200 baht for a private trip, or between 20 and 60 baht per person when full, depending on which beach you are going to. This is a rather expensive method to get around the island, and the dusty roads can make it an uncomfortable trip. The second way is by renting a motorcycle for 300 baht/hr 500 baht/day or ATV (4 wheeled motorbikes) for 500 baht/1 hr or 1,200 baht/day. You will usually be able to rent it from your hotel. Leaving your passport or a deposit is not necessary or advisable.

Motor Bike Hire -The island has more motorbike hire shops than any other shops so they are not hard to locate and prices are standard ranging from 300-400 baht per day for manual or automatic bikes. Before hiring a bike you should be aware that once you enter the main national park entrance the roads are in very poor condition and only people with some experience would be advised to tackle them.

Gold Shop: This motorbike hire shop is just up from the national park entrance and 7-Eleven (opposite Chilli Restaurant). This family takes very good care of their motorbikes and ATVs. The owner, Jep, is a very friendly guy and always willing to help. His son also rents their vehicles from next to the 7-Eleven by the park entrance and Bow is also very helpful and if you rent for a few days will often offer good discounts.

Mountain Bike Rental - Mountain bikes can be rented from Village Cafe (Internet Cafe) opposite the school in the main village. Just ask for Kay and he will be more than happy to help with the mountain bikes or information for any other activities on the island.

A basic map of Ko Samet is available here

See

Most beaches are on the east side of the island. The beaches hide in small bays and stretch some 200 m. From the north, there are Hat Sai Kaeo, Hat Hin Khrong, Hat Khlong Phai, Ao Phutsa, Ao Thapthim, Ao Naun, Ao Cho, Ao Thian, Ao Wai, Ao Kio Na Yok and Ao Karang. The only beach on the west side is Ao Phrahis. Note that spelling of beaches can vary due to transliteration.

Beaches from north to south on the east coast:

From Ao Kiew Nok, visitors can walk to Ao Kiew Nai along the road but getting a lift is better as it's hot, there's no breeze and not much to see.

How to get there: Four operators, namely, Nuanthip, Si Ban Phe, Phe Port, and Saphan Pla, around Ban Phe offer shuttle boat services between their ports and the main port of the island. All operators charge a flat rate of 100 baht per person for a round trip or 50 baht for a single journey. Boats can leave any time more than 20 passengers are waiting. The service is available around the clock, seven days a week. It's best to just buy a one way ticket from the pier and head down to the end to wait.

For groups of at least 7 persons, Nuanthip Boat (+66 38 651508) offers a shuttle boat service to other bays as well, such as Ao Wong Duean (120 baht each) and to the last bay Ao Pakarang (200 baht each). Si Ban Phe Boat (+66 38 651902) also runs a scheduled boat service during weekends between Ban Phe and the main port of Samet. The hourly boat service from Ban Phe runs from 08:00-18:00. On the return trip from Samet, the boat leaves at 10:00, 14:00, 16:00, and 18:00. The company also offers a speed boat service at 1,000 baht a trip for 12 people to the main port, or higher rates for other routes. A parking service on the main land is available.

Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin (เกาะกรวย เกาะขาม และเกาะปลาตีน) These islands are some 600 m north of Ko Kudi. With coral reefs, tourists can enjoy fishing here. A rental boat service is available at the port in Ban Phe.

Ko Kudi or Ko Kut (เกาะกุฎี หรือเกาะกุด) This island is east of Ko Samet, 6 km from the mainland. Ko Kudi totals an area of 63 rai. A nice beach and coral reefs make it a nice place for a hideaway. Nearby islands are Ko Thai Khang Khao and Ko Tham Ruesi. Without accommodation, the national park office on the island offers a tent for rent at 200 baht per person/ night. Pitching a private tent requires paying a fee of 20 baht per person/night. For more information, call Tel. +66 38 653034, or Bangkok at Tel.+66 2 56 2919 and +66 2 5612921.

Ko Thalu (เกาะทะลุ) Some 6 km east of Ko Kudi, the island is another scuba diving site among coral reefs. The island totals an area of 69 rai, most remains lush forest. While high cliffs occupy the west, white sandy beaches occupy the east and south of the island. Ko Thalu is a habitat of seagulls, flying fox, and turtles.

Tourists visiting Ko Kudi, Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, Ko PlaTin, and Ko Thalu should rent a boat from Ban Phe or Ko Samet. They should prepare food and water, as there is neither facilities nor food supplies available on such islands.

Do

Ko Samet is a laid back island where the emphasis is less on things to do and more on enjoying the islands beaches.

For those people who do want something to do the island does have a few activities to enjoy if the beauty of the beaches is not quite enough to keep you occupied. From the simplest of activities such as walks along the beach, all the way through to taking your PADI Scuba Diving certificate there are an array of ways to keep yourself active.

Boat Trips - There are several companies on the island offering a variety of different boat trips from around the island on a large slow boat to a 7 island speed boat day trip visiting many of the surrounding islands from Samet. These trips are all of good value but be sure to have a chat before you book and make sure you are getting the trip you want and that they are not talking you into another trip as they cannot do the one you are asking for. Also all trips are dependent on weather conditions.

Samet Boat Trip - One of the original boat trip families on Samet, they offer a daily round-the-island boat trip. If you're lucky it could be a private trip or one with just a few other chilled out people on board. Their fleet consists of 2 large slow boats and 4 speed boats so different trips are available daily.

Diving -With the calm surrounding waters and coral reefs Ko Samet has something to offer those of all levels of diving, but it is an especially good place to learn to scuba dive with classes nearly always on the smaller side and often one on one with an instructor. With depths ranging from 5-25 m there is a variety of local sites to dive on and explore and there are also the outer islands such as Ko Talu that surround Ko Samet which offer stunning coral reefs.

Eat

Seafood, seafood and seafood, some of the best barbecues are found along Ao Phai and Haat Sai Kaew beaches but they are found on all beaches and most serve the same as the next. There's also local food, curries, pizza, steaks and hamburgers. Almost every hotel and bungalow operation has its own restaurant but it's only the movies that differentiate them. Many also set up tables and chairs at night for dining on the beach. Crowds don't always mean they are good. The day trip companies make deals with restaurants and take their customers there.

If you are relaxing on the beach during the day there are plenty of hawkers selling fresh fruit, BBQ chicken wings, dried squid, papaya salad (can be extremely spicy) and even ice creams slightly more expensive than if you got up to get it.

At night check out the roti stands that pop up everywhere. This crepe-like desert can be filled with banana and topped with chocolate syrup or sweetened condensed milk, or any number of other combinations from 40 baht.

In town (Nadan), there are a few traditional Thai restaurants that serve good quality Thai food priced for locals. Most have menus in English.

If you are after a traditional Thai breakfast there are a couple of ladies who set up their mobile eatery daily next to the Tourist Police checkpoint that services Haat Sai Kaew. They serve boiled chicken on rice (khao man gai tom), fried chicken and rice (khao man gai tot) or rice porridge (jok) for 20-30 baht. The food is fresh and they do a brisk trade serving locals as well as a few tourists.

Drink

The local Beach Bucket drink can be reproduced as follows

  • one child's sand bucket, small
  • one pint Mekong whisky
  • one can Coca-Cola or Pepsi
  • one bottle Thai Red Bull
  • one scoop ice (optional: use tap water ice. Guarantees a massive hangover.)
  • one to four straws

Place all ingredients in sand bucket and drink via straw. Repeat until the sandy beach rises up to meet you.

Although Ko Samet is not a renowned party island, Hat Sai Kaew and Ao Phai do get their fair share of backpackers, and therefore have their fair share of parties. Every day on Ao Phai flyers are handed out from the different bars that advertise the drink specials for that night, and might even give you a free drink. Biggest nights are generally Th-Sa, when more backpackers, expats and locals from Bangkok come to the island.

The main bars along Hat Sai Kaew are:

Along Ao Hua Khok/Ao Phai are:

Sleep

Most of the accommodation centres around the beaches on the east coast; try to arrive on the island as early as possible to have the best selection to choose from. Tourist seasons on Ko Samet are generally from Nov-Feb and from Jun-Aug, at which time finding vacant accommodation can be a challenge. Also, beware of weekends and public holidays as the islands will be very busy.

The northernmost beaches of Hat Sai Keaw and Ao Hin Kok have many bungalow operations with typical Thai concrete bunker-style rooms. If your room doesn't have air-conditioning it can get a little hot during the day. At the very northern end are a few upscale resorts. At beaches further south you'll find the bungalows ranging from dismal shacks to four-star, air-conditioned mini suites. Unless you've made the mistake of booking your room with the touts back at the dock you'll find a place by strolling down the beach. As this island becomes more and more popular it's getting harder to find rock-bottom prices. On some beaches you can expect to pay 600 baht for the basics. Most of the accommodation is first-come, first-served and the cheaper bungalows tend to go fastest. High-end establishments usually take reservations by phone, fax and via the web, whilst the cheaper ones do not.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Ao Phai Beach. Samed Villa on the left (not really visible between the trees).

Go next

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