Step-By-Step Koh Samet Guide
Is the BTS crush giving you a headache? Are you tired of traffic? Sick of your schedule? Then it might be time to run away for a few days. Instead of wasting time in transit or fussing around with airports and delayed flights, try closer to home and look no further than the white sands of Koh Samet. Only 3 hours from Bangkok to the beach, you can be sipping from a fresh coconut overlooking turquoise waters before midday. With this guide, you get the experience of someone who has been to Koh Samet three times in one year to help you plan the easiest, most relaxing mini-break.
This article was originally written for and published by Travelista.
Step 1. Getting There
Quickly or Cheaply?
If less fuss and less wasted time is your main goal, then get a car to take you to Ban Phe pier in Rayong Province. You can flag down a regular taxi and if the driver wants to go, he will quote you anything from 1500 to 3000 baht for the 2.5-hour journey. You can also 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 private car, leave as early as possible. I mean 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. Just getting out of downtown can add plenty to your journey and you would be surprised about the traffic jams between BKK and Chonburi.
If you are less worried about time and more budget conscious, then a bus might be your first choice. You can take a bus from Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal at Ekkamai to Ban Phe which usually takes 3.5 to 4 hours, and costs under 200 baht.
Once you are at Ban Phe pier, getting to Koh Samet is simple. There is an open-air restaurant at the entrance to the pier, there is a reception desk where you buy tickets for the ferry. The slow ferry takes about 30 minutes and costs 50 baht per person each way. It leaves every hour on the hour. You also have the option of taking a speedboat, the price starts at 200 baht per person, but you will have to wait till the boat fills up. You can hire the whole boat for around 2000 baht if you are in a hurry, and the bonus is that it will go to whatever beach you are staying on, allowing you to avoid the taxi ride on the island. If you are with a few friends, this could be a great option.
Assuming you are on the slow ferry, you will arrive at Nadan Pier on Koh Samet where you will be asked for a 20 baht per person landing fee. Pay the fee and exit the pier to a queue of bright green truck taxis or “songthaew”. Talk to a driver who will be hanging about, 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 with 8 to 10 passengers. The “go now” price is standardized on the island and there are signs all over stating the prices. From the pier to the closest beach is 200 baht and it goes up in 50 baht increments from that, depending on how far your beach is down the island.
Note: 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. You need to carry it on you at all times to avoid paying the fee again. These guards will approach you whether you are on foot, in a taxi or arriving by speedboat.
Step 2. Which Beach?
Your trip to this island will be most greatly affected by the beach you choose to stay on. I am going to say this first, as it is the most important decision you will make when planning your 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. Choose a hotel on any other beach, the further south you go, the more serenity you will enjoy.
Koh Samet is so small that everything is a 5 to 10-minute taxi (or rented motorcycle) ride away. You can also walk between many beaches easily if you want to go exploring to find the best cliff bar or a try a new restaurant. All of the beaches have a unique personality and different natural features so checking them all out is a great idea.
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
This beach is a literal paradise. By far the nicest water on the whole island where you can snorkel right off the sand at the southern end where the rocks are. It is just incredible, and if one is lucky, they might see an amorous pair of octopuses, large mud crabs, scary stone fish, giant clams, and plenty of luminescent coral. The beach only has three resorts on it. Two are really expensive; Le Vimarn, and Ao Prao Resort. Lima Coco is more reasonable but still pricey at between 3000 and 6000 Baht per night. Reserve a “Coco Beachfront” room if you want to avoid walking up several flights of stairs a few times a day, the majority of cabins are up a very steep hill.
Another Great Beach Choice
This beach is surprisingly quiet, small, and relaxing with great swimming and snorkelling conditions. There are only a couple of bungalow hotels, there is no rowdy nightlife, just a handful of beach dining options and a lovely cliffside restaurant at the northern end of the beach. The Grandview Hideaway is a really good hotel. Prices start at just over 2000 Baht per night but the good thing about this place is that even the cheapest rooms are close to the beach and on flat land rather than up a million stairs like many other places on Samet.
Another Beach to Avoid
Ao Wong Duen
Along with Hat Sai Kaew, this is one more beach which you might want to avoid. Ao Wong Duen is the second most developed beach with many hotels, dozens of beach restaurants and a few bars. The problem is that the beach is very popular with tour groups. They come in groups of 20+ and they take over. They are loud, they stand in front of your bungalow at 6 am yelling and taking selfies for 40 minutes, they leave behind a lot of trash in the sand. If you want to relax, this place might not be for you.
Put Koh Samet into Agoda and you will find dozens of rooms for under 600 Baht per night. Most of them will be small guest houses far from the beach, but you can easily stay there on a budget. The fanciest place on the island is Paradee Resort which owns the whole beach of Ao Kio (Kiew) and costs between 10,000 and 20,000 Baht per night for a villa with a private pool. The majority of beach-front hotels and bungalows with air-conditioning cost 2000-3000 Baht per night on average. Prices fluctuate depending on the season.
One final suggestion for choosing a hotel is to not book online. I know that sounds crazy to people who love to plan things, but sometimes the photos just don’t tell you what you need to know about a location. Samet has so many options that you will never be without a bed for the night and sometimes, depending on the season, walk-in rates are even better than online. We managed to get an ocean-view cabin at Samed Villa for 2500 Baht per night during low season when the online rates stated 4000+ Baht. Of course, in the middle of high season, you might need to shop around a bit, but it is definitely an option to just show up on the island and find something you like.
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. Pots of fluorescent black-light paint sit on tables with which tipsy backpackers decorate their faces and bodies. There are a couple of good drinks spots on the busy beach of Sai Kaew. Notably, the Sai Kaew Beach Resort all the way at the northern end of the beach 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, of course, available. They can start as low as 500 Baht per person, but know that 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 some searching, and maybe 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/if 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. Luckily this is a pretty easy task from Koh Samet. Just jump on the nearest speedboat heading to back to Ban Phe, or go to Nadan Pier for the slow ferry. Once you are back on the mainland you can choose from a bunch of transportation options with the touts and agents who will be hanging around. Private cars, taxis, mini-vans, coaches, and buses. Just go with the best option for your budget, be a bit savvy, try to negotiate. You can often get a Bangkok-based car or cab who is happy to have a paying ride back to the city who will go for as low as 1500 Baht.