From Bangkok Thailand, it can take a whole day to get to the islands in the south. Instead of wasting time in transit, try closer to the capital and look no further than the white sands of Thailand’s Koh Samet. Only 3 hours from Bangkok to the beach, you can be sipping from a coconut overlooking turquoise waters before midday.
Step 1. Getting There – Quickly or Cheaply?
If less fuss and time is your main goal, get a car to take you to Ban Phe pier in Thailand’s Rayong Province. Flag down a taxi to take you the 2.5 hours for 1500 to 3000 baht. You can book a car in advance for around 2000 baht from any travel agent around town or online car booking companies.
If you are taking a car, leave as early as possible. REALLY EARLY. Like 6:30 am. This might sound excessive, but beat the traffic and you will save yourself up to 2 hours on the trip.
If you are less worried about time and more budget conscious, then a bus might be best. You can get one from Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal at Ekkamai to Ban Phe which takes 3.5 to 4 hours, for under 200 baht.
From Ban Phe, getting to Koh Samet is simple. There is a reception desk at the pier restaurant where you buy tickets for the ferry. The slow ferry takes about 30 minutes and costs 50 baht each way. It leaves every hour on the hour. There are speedboats too. The price starts at 200 baht per person, but you have to wait till the boat fills up. You can hire the whole boat for around 2000 baht if you are in a hurry or in a group, and the bonus is that it will go to whatever beach you are staying on, saving you a taxi ride on the island.
With the slow ferry, you will arrive at Nadan Pier on Koh Samet pay a 20 baht per person landing fee, then exit to a queue of green truck taxis or “songthaew” in Thai. Find a driver and tell him your beach and hotel name. The key here is “go now” if you don’t tell them this, they will wait till the truck fills up. From the pier to the closest beach is 200 baht and it goes up in 50 baht increments from that.
At the entrance to the national park, guards will ask you to buy a ticket. It costs 200 baht per person and is valid for one week. Carry it on you at all times to avoid paying the fee again.
Step 2. Which Beach?
In Thailand, the beach you choose will determine your whole trip. DO NOT stay on the main beach of Hat Sai Kaew. Your nights will be sleepless, you will be woken early by the din of excitable tourists and roaring speedboats, you will face crowds in the water and on the sand, and you will wonder where your peaceful mini-break went.
Koh Samet is so small that everything is a 5 to 10-minute taxi (or motorcycle) ride away. You can walk between many beaches easily and all of the beaches have a unique personality and different natural features so check them all out.
In three visits to Samet, this writer has stayed at five different hotels on five different beaches. Here they are ranked in order of favourites:
1. Ao Phrao – Coco Lima
2. Ao Cho – Grandview Hideaway
3. Ao Thubthim – Tubtim Resort
4. Ao Phai – Samed Villa Resort
5. Ao Wong Duen – Samed Cabana Resort
The Best Beach
Ao Phrao – Literal Paradise
By far the nicest water on the whole island where you can snorkel right off the sand. If one is lucky, they might see an amorous pair of octopuses, large mud crabs, scary stone fish, giant clams, and luminescent coral. The beach only has three resorts on it; Le Vimarn, Ao Prao Resort, and Lima Coco the first two are very pricey, the third is more reasonable. Reserve a “Coco Beachfront” room if you want to avoid walking up several flights of stairs a few times a day.
Another Great Beach Choice
This beach is quiet, small, and relaxing with great swimming and snorkelling. There are only a couple of bungalow hotels, no rowdy nightlife, a handful of beach dining options and a lovely cliffside restaurant at the northern end of the beach. The Grandview Hideaway is a good hotel. Prices start at just over 2000 Baht per night but even the cheapest rooms are close to the beach and on flat land not up a million stairs like many other places on Samet.
Another Beach to Avoid – Ao Wong Duen
Along with Hat Sai Kaew, stay away from this one. Ao Wong Duen is the second most developed beach with many hotels, dozens of restaurants and bars. The beach is very popular with tour groups. They come in groups of 20+ and take over. They are loud, they stand in front of your bungalow at 6 am yelling and taking selfies, and they leave behind a lot of trash.
You can easily stay on a budget with dozens of rooms for under 600 Baht per night on Samet. The fanciest place on the island is Paradee Resort on Ao Kio (Kiew) for 10,000 to 20,000 Baht per night. The majority of beach-front bungalows with air-conditioning cost 2000-3000 Baht per night on average.
Samet has many hotel options and sometimes walk-in rates are better than online, so going without a booking is feasible. We got an ocean-view cabin at Samed Villa for 2500 Baht per night during low season when the online rates stated 4000+ Baht.
Fun Things To Do
Koh Samet is a tiny island and a national park. There is not much in the way of entertainment. There is one lovely temple with a giant Buddha statue to see …. and that’s about it. Beach shacks adorned with posters of Bob Marley and swinging hammocks make up most of the nightlife. There are a couple of good drinks spots on the busy beach of Sai Kaew. Notably, the Sai Kaew Beach Resort has delicious cocktails which are buy-1-get-1-free between 4 and 8 pm. Beachside massages are always a good way to while away the hours in between yummy meals and dips in the ocean. Canoes are available for rent and even jet skis and paragliding for the more adventurous.
The ubiquitous island-hopping tours are available for as low as 500 Baht per person, but you will be crammed onto a small speedboat with 30 other people if you go for this option. Private speedboat charters are available for about 5000 Baht for a few hours. With a visit back to Nadan Pier, you can find some different options for getting out to the more remote snorkelling spots. We did a trip on a large catamaran which was pretty relaxing. You were able to jump off the back and swim or snorkel when you wanted to. They did a great buffet lunch and the boat was not crowded.
The sad day always comes when one must pack their wet swimsuit into a plastic bag and make their way back to the big city. Jump on the nearest speedboat heading to back to Ban Phe, or go to Nadan Pier for the ferry. Back on the mainland, you can choose from a bunch of transportation options. Private cars, taxis, mini-vans, coaches, and buses are all right there.