Koh Samet (often written also as Koh Samed) is one of the closest and easily reached islands to Bangkok. Located only 175 kilometers from the capital, the island is also called Koh Kaew Phitsadan by the Thais, which means “Jewel Island”.
Despite not being as touristy as Phuket or Phi Phi Island, Koh Samet is frequently visited by local tourists and foreign residents from Bangkok, who escape for just a weekend from the chaotic life of the city.
There’s no one best time of the year to visit the island, since it has a dry climate all year long. It’s for this reason in fact, that Koh Samet is a popular destination during the months when monsoons strike the majority of Thailand, namely May to the end of October.
The island’s beaches are composed of white sand and clear water. Nature is master here, even if imposing luxury resorts are sprouting up like mushrooms, especially near the biggest beaches.
The only beaches where you can sunbathe and take a dip are those on the eastern coast. On the other side of the island there are no beaches but rather rocks that make water sports practically impossible.
Due to its wonderful beaches and tropical nature, Koh Samet was declared as a Thai national park, and as such, as soon as you get off the boat onto the beach at Haad Sai Kaew, you ‘ll see a local policeman who will ask you to donate (it’s mandatory) 220 THB to support the park.
This sum of 220 THB is only asked from non-Thai residents (Thais pay 60 THB), and as I said, it is used to support the national park. Unfortunately, as soon as you go a little off the main roads, you’ll see garbage of all sorts and the nature is not well tended.
This type of behavior, intended more for economic gain than the natural preservation of the landscape, is also evident on other islands, as well as Koh Chang.
The entire island, 7 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide, hosts about 3,000 people and the only town on the island (Sai Kaew) is next to a beach with the same name. The rest of the island is composed only of beaches with a few restaurants and hotels.
The services offered are predominantly, if not exclusively, for tourists. There are little restaurants on the water (and not) where you can have dinner, pubs frequented by young locals, and a really small hospital for emergencies. Just as on the mainland, on Koh Samet there are also 7/11’s (24 hour convenience stores), and small pharmacies.
An essential thing to keep in mind is that there are no banks on the island; the only banking service available are the few ATMs that are mainly found only in town. Note too that credit cards are accepted only at the larger hotels.
How to get to Koh Samet
Regardless of where you are in Thailand, getting to Koh Samet is simple and fast. There are various forms of transportation available: buses, minivans, and taxis.
Buses and minivans
From Bangkok to Rayong, the city on the coast where you can take a fast boat or ferry for the island, the ride takes about three hours depending on the traffic.
Buses and minivans leaving from Bangkok are found at Ekkamai bus station, right under the BTS stop of the same name.
The price for a bus is 200 THB, the same as the minivan. Both have departures that leave every hour from 5 in the morning to 7 in the evening.
The main difference is in how long the trip takes, which is often less if you take the minivan, but also in terms of comfort. Bus seats are bigger and there’s an ample compartment for luggage; minivans instead don’t have much space for luggage and you’re often asked to pay a surcharge for bigger bags.
Both buses and minivans will bring you directly to the port of Ban Phe, located in the city of Rayong. When you get to the port, head straight for the tourist office you’ll see on the right so that you don’t get caught up in a local scam, where for a ride in a fast boat you’ll have to pay exorbitant prices.
At this point you have two options: take the ferry boat which takes about 45 minutes to get to the island (a ticket costs 70 THB a person – one way, – or 100 THB, round trip). Keep in mind that ferries leave from 8 in the morning and make their last trip at 18.
If instead you wish to opt for a quicker way of getting there, I recommend that you get tickets for the speedboat, and in 30 minutes you’ll pull onto your desired beach. Since the speedboats are rather small, you can get real close to the shore of the beach and tourists can get off with their feet in the water.
In this case, I recommend you put on some flip flops and shorts since the water level can come up to your knees when getting out into the water.
From Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, as well as the center of Bangkok, you can take a taxi that will bring you to the port where the ferries leave. Prices depend on your ability to haggle, but usually start at 2,000 THB for the car (for those leaving from the airport), and 2,500 from Bangkok city.
If your budget is less than that what the taxi drivers offer, but you want to get to the island the same day you land in Bangkok, since there are no buses that leave directly from the airport, I recommend a combination option; take the train from the airport to the city center for the tiny sum of 45 THB. From here you can continue on the Sky Train to the Ekkamai stop, where you can then take a minivan or bus.
Another option would be to take a taxi directly from the airport to the bus terminal at Ekkamai. Pay close attention to only take taxis that use a meter, so as to avoid an unpleasant situation where you’d have to pay an exaggerated price.
The average price for a trip by taxi from the airport to the city center is around 300 THB, plus the cost of the highway (from 50 to 80 THB), if you’re looking to avoid traffic (a useful option during peak hours).
Where to stay on Koh Samet
Let’s start by saying that Koh Samet is a rather expensive island, especially regarding lodging and food. However, if you book well in advance and don’t go during busy seasons such as the Thai new year (celebrated in the middle of April), you should find affordable accommodations. A cute place located not too far from the main beach is the Sidewalk Boutique Hotel, located on the main road, Sai Kaew.
If instead you have a bigger budget available, the Sai Kaew Beach Resort is an excellent place to stay. The hotel is located directly on Sai Kaew Beach, and room prices start at 7,000 THB a night.
Koh Samet’s beaches
Koh Samet’s beaches are among the most beautiful and evocative of all Thailand. In fact, despite being a paradise-like destination, Koh Samet has still not been invaded by mass tourism.
This is an important characteristic, since like all Asians, the Thais don’t love swimming nor sunbathing. Thanks to this particularity the beaches are often deserted, especially in the further parts of the island.
My advice is to rent a scooter for 300 THB a day, and drive between the beaches. Unfortunately there is no public transportation, and the few taxis ask for 300 THB a person for a one-way ride.
The main beach is called Sai Kaew, and it’s about a kilometer long and 4 meters wide. It is characterized by white sand and rather clear water. It is not the most beautiful or enticing beach, mainly because it fronts the town and is therefore more heavily trafficked, both by a number of boats and tourists. Along the beach there are various restaurants that also offer umbrella and chair services for a cost of 50 THB a person.
The other beaches are far less visited compared to Sai Kaew. Those considered the most beautiful with white sand and clear water are Ao Phai, a true oasis where you can relax and immerse yourself in nature, and Ao Wai Beach, surrounded by coconut trees.
The only beach located on the west of the island is Ao Prao, often called Paradise Beach. Around the beach are three luxury resorts, among which is the Lima Coco Resort. The beach is only 200 meters long and is considered one of the most peaceful on the whole island.
What to do on Koh Samet
Most of the available activities have to do with the water, such as snorkeling and diving.
There are two schools that organize dive trips: one on Ao Prao Beach and the other near the port. As far as the first one goes, their offices are found inside the Samed Resort, whereas the second school – Blue Aura Divers – is located in the Sunrise Villa Resort.
You can also take a tour of the islands of Koh Thalu and Koh Kham. This type of tour, like those organized for the island of Koh Chang, offer the opportunity to practice snorkeling and visit small deserted beaches.
The only Buddhist temple on the island is Wat Ko Kaew Pitsadan. This temple complex hosts a large seated Buddha statue inside (7 meters tall), and is usually watched by a nice monk that will come up to you to recount the history of the temple.
Wat Ko Kaew is easily reachable from the island’s main road, which fronts Haad Sai Kaew Beach and leads to the school of the village bearing the same name.
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): www.flickr.com/photos/stephrev/]