Koh Samet — the tourist island closest to Bangkok — is small yet draws a steady stream of visitors throughout the year. Samet may not be the best of Thailand's many island options, but it certainly is convenient!
Despite the comparatively easy accessibility from Thailand’s capital 125 miles away, development on Koh Samet is pleasantly lighter than expected. Most of the island is situated within a protected area. The national park designation and promise of swapping urban concrete for fresh air are too much to resist for travelers who don’t have enough time to hit islands farther south such as those in the Samui Archipelago.
There are some beach options closer to Bangkok, but islands have a completely different vibe than that on the mainland!
Although there is some evidence (bucket drinks and body paint smeared on walls) that Koh Samet once lured in backpacking travelers following the Banana Pancake Trail through Southeast Asia, price increases have filtered the crowd. Today, you’ll mostly find European families watching the fireshow at dinner. Locals come on weekend getaways, and the island always has a handful of budget travelers who are burning the last days before catching flights home from Bangkok.
How to Get to Koh Samet
You can easily make your own way to the island by taking a public bus, minibus, or private taxi southeast from Bangkok to the Nuan Thip Pier in Ban Phe, just outside of Rayong. The drive takes between 3 – 4 hours, depending on how stupendous Bangkok's traffic is on that particular day.
Aside from hiring a private taxi, the quickest option is to grab one of the minibuses to Ban Phe departing from Victory Monument in Bangkok. The cramped minibuses aren’t a good option for travelers with a lot of luggage.
You can also take a larger bus from Ekamai, the eastern bus terminal in Bangkok. Buses depart every 90 minutes until 5 p.m. The ride takes around four hours, sometimes much longer, depending on traffic.
Once in Ban Phe, take a 45-minute ferry over to the island. Purchasing a return ticket is optional and doesn't save anything. If you already have accommodation booked, some of the resorts run large speedboats that cut the travel time in half; check with them first. Although the ride is short, it can get rough in stormy conditions.
Tip: Hot sauce enthusiasts will be interested to know that getting to Koh Samet involves passing through Si Racha, namesake and inspiration for Sriracha sauce.
Koh Samet is wide at the top then progressively gets more narrow toward the southern tip. The island measures only 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometers) long from top to bottom!
Public ferries arrive at the main pier in Ao Klang (adorned with a topless statue of an ogress from Thai folklore) on the northern end of the island. Most of the popular beaches are strewn along the eastern side of the island; a single road runs south through the interior with branches going out to disconnected bays and beaches.
You will arrive at Na Dan Pier at the top (north) of the island. Town is so compact that you won't need transportation from the pier. Ignore any offers! You can walk from the ferry pier to the center of town in around 10 minutes.
Haad Sai Kaew (Diamond Beach) and Ao Phai are arguably the busiest beaches with the most options for eating and drinking. Quieter beaches are scattered around the island; Ao Wai remains mostly undeveloped and has the longest strip of pristine sand with good swimming.
Unsurprisingly, food prices are cheaper in town than in resort areas. Two 7-Eleven minimarts, literally across the street from each other at the national park entrance, stay perpetually busy. Take advantage of the operational water-refill machine next door to be a more responsible traveler by keeping your bottle out of the plastic-mountain landfill for as long as possible.
When to Go
Koh Samet isn’t geographically far from Koh Chang, but the weather is often different; the island experiences a bit of a microclimate.
Koh Samet typically receives significantly less rainfall than the other islands in Thailand, hence the higher cost of drinking water on the island. Although rain isn’t as much of a problem during the monsoon season, storms in the region can cause rough seas.
The busy season for Koh Samet roughly follows the dry season for most of Thailand (from November to April). The wettest months on Koh Samet are September and October.
Weekends and holidays get particularly busy on Koh Samet due to the close proximity to Bangkok.
Koh Samet National Park Fees
Koh Samet has an interesting setup: a majority of the island exists in the Khao Laem Ya Mu Ko Samet National Park. As soon as you exit the main town and enter the park (where most of the beaches are), you’ll need to pay a one-time national park entrance fee.
Entrance Prices for the National Park on Koh Samet:
- Thai Adults: 40 baht
- Thai Children: 20 baht
- Foreign Adults: 200 baht
- Foreign Children: 100 baht
Foreign workers living and working legally in Thailand may be able to show a government-issued ID and pay the local price. You can probably also get a discount if you speak Thai. If arriving at a resort by boat, you’ll probably be approached on the beach by an officer to pay the entrance fees.
Some budget-restricted travelers miffed about the dual pricing scheme have found ways to avoid paying — and technically you don’t need to pay if you never leave town — but all of the best beaches are located within the boundaries of the national park. Really, just paying the fee is easier than worrying about it every time you pass through the checkpoint to go to town.
Sadly, fees clearly aren’t being put toward cleaning up the abundance of litter and rubbish literally within eyesight of the national park office!
Finding non-resort accommodation on Koh Samet is getting more difficult. There are still some lovely premium-priced bungalows, but most budget accommodation comes across as neglected, beaten up, and overpriced when compared to Koh Chang and other islands in the area.
Although staying in town is cheaper and more convenient for eating and drinking, doing so is certainly not as nice as staying on the coast.
Getting Around on Koh Samet
Travelers in reasonably fit condition won’t have any trouble walking between the main town and Sai Kaew Beach or Ao Phai.
Because Koh Samet has beaches and bays spread all along its narrow shape, many tourists opt to rent a motorbike to see other beach options. Unfortunately, driving on Koh Samet isn’t as pleasant as driving on other Thai islands. Scores of oversized speed bumps and dangerously steep hills make driving more of a chore than a thrill.
If you do decide to rent a scooter, prices are far cheaper from rental shops in town than from individual resorts. You’ll need to leave your passport with the shop; expect to pay around 300 baht per day or 250 baht if you negotiate. Renting four-wheeled ATVs and golf carts is also an option if you aren't comfortable on two wheels.
Note: If you don’t feel confident about driving in Thailand, Songthaews (pickup truck taxis) are available everywhere to move travelers between the various beaches. Assuming that you don’t mind waiting for other passengers, prices for songthaews are fairly reasonable and are based on distance traveled. Private trips cost a lot more, or you could hire a driver for the afternoon. If unsure, always ask the estimated fare before getting inside.