Koh Samet, one of the island options closest to Bangkok, is compact but draws a steady stream of visitors throughout the year.
Despite the easy accessibility from Thailand’s capital, development is lighter than expected because most of the island is situated within a national park. 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.
Although there is some evidence (bucket drinks and body paint parties) that Koh Samet was once an island that 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, locals on weekend getaways, and a small handful of budget travelers who are killing time before catching flights out of Bangkok.
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. Koh Samet measures only 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometers) long from top to bottom.
Koh Samet Weather
Koh Samet isn’t geographically far from Koh Chang, but the weather is usually 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). Weekends and holidays get particularly busy on Koh Samet due to the close proximity to 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. 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 Ekkamai, 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 upon Bangkok’s infamously bad traffic.
Once in Ban Phe, take a 45-minute ferry over to the island; purchasing a return ticket is optional. If you already have a booking, some of the resorts run large speedboats that cut the travel time in half. Although the ride is short, it can get rough in stormy conditions.
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. If arriving at a resort by boat, you’ll probably be approached on the beach by an officer to pay the entrance fees.
Some 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.
Sadly, fees clearly aren’t being put toward cleaning up the abundance of litter and rubbish in the national park.
Koh Samet is wide at the top then progressively gets more narrow toward the southern tip.
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.
Haad Sai Kaew 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 landfill for as long as possible.
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 aggressive 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.
Note: If you don’t feel comfortable 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. If unsure, always ask the estimated fare before getting inside.