You would think a beach destination relatively close to Bangkok would have succumbed to the massive crowds and commercialism typical of Thailand’s most popular coastal stops. Fortunately, you would be wrong and glad for it; the island of Ko Samet is a laid-back, escape, perfect for families taking the short hop over from the capital.
With it taking only three hours to get from Bangkok to Ko Samet by taxi or car, the island is a favored weekend getaway for urbanites. However, full-blown commercialization has been stopped short by the island’s location in Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park.
The park makes the beaches feel a lot closer to nature, particularly as you move away from the settled areas to the beaches farther to the south.
Beaches of Ko Samet
The majority of Ko Samet’s white-sand beaches are located on the east coast of the island, beginning with Hat Sai Kaew immediately adjacent to Samet’s town center. Also known as Diamond Beach, its large resorts and endless capacity for watersports activities makes this the most touristy spot on the island. At the southern end of Hat Sai Kaew, you can find the local nightlife action.
For those looking to simply relax or enjoy the serenity, as you go further south you’ll find beaches with a great balance of privacy and service.
Backpackers, in particular, enjoy the beaches immediately south of Hat Sai Kaew: Ao Hin Khok and Ao Phai. They feel a little like Khao San Road transplanted onto an island, with budget resorts, bars, and beachside restaurants harboring a young, happy-go-lucky crowd.
Ao Tubtim (Ao Phut Sa) south of Ao Phai feels secluded despite the resorts and restaurants nearby. This makes Ao Tubtim an ideal choice for couples and families.
The southernmost beaches feel more rustic and are completely free from crowds. There’s Ao Vong Duan, Samet’s second-longest beach, and a jumping-off point for jet skis and other watersports. Ao Lung Dum is a compact bay with low-profile cabins for rent. Then Ao Wai is a tree-shaded white-sand beach with a single resort for accommodations and food.
Ao Prao, a single beach on the west coast, is home to a fair number of mid-range to luxury resorts. As a result, Ao Prao feels more genteel: no watersports, no screaming children, only a fine white-sand coast where you can enjoy a gorgeous sunset view, cocktail in hand.
The majority of activities around Ko Samet happen on or around these beaches:
-The island’s famous fire-twirling shows, mostly on Hat Sai Kaew and Ao Hin Khok, with the most spectacular one happening at Ploy Talay Restaurant at 8:30pm.
-Beach massages, provided by roving masseurs that charge between 400-600 Baht ($12 – $18) per session.
-Watersports, courtesy of the innumerable kayaks, jet ski, parasailing, and stand up paddle (SUP) boards are offered on Samet’s more popular beaches.
Diving and Island-Hopping off Ko Samet
After spending time on Ko Samet’s pristine beaches, head out to sea. A few, smaller nearby islands offer secluded coves and colorful undersea landscapes, just waiting for adventurous snorkelers or scuba divers to take the plunge.
Hire a boat service that takes you from Samet’s Nadan Pier, then hop around the islands due east of Ko Samet, including Ko Kudi, with its secluded beach, hiking trails, and splendid Nin Mungkhorn Cliff overlooking the sea. Nearby, Ko Thalu is a wildlife haven for seagulls, turtles and bats over water, and coral reef denizens under the water’s surface. The islets of Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin are all worth exploring, as well.
The boat services available from Ko Samet range from large-capacity slow boats to speed boats for smaller groups. A majority of hotels allow you to book boat tours at their front desk, though availability depends on the weather conditions. Tours usually include lunch on one of the islands’ beaches.
Specialty dive operators in Ko Samet can take you on a similar itinerary, though one focused on nearby dive spots. Thanks to Samet’s low tourist density relative to other Thai beach towns, divers enjoy a better chance of one-on-one time with an instructor and have more flexibility when scheduling dives. The diving season around Ko Samet takes place from September to April.
How to Get to Ko Samet and the Best Time to Visit
Ban Phe Pier in Rayong Province is the mainland pier with boat connections to Ko Samet and is about 200 km (125 miles) outside of Bangkok. It can most easily be reached by bus or private car/taxi.
Taxi or private car arrangements cost the most (about $70 USD per ride) but offer the most convenience, picking you up from your Bangkok hotel and dropping you off right at the pier after a 2½ hour trip.
Public transport services to Ban Phe Pier from Bangkok come from either the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) or the Victory Monument. Ekkamai’s buses cost 173 Baht ($6), while Victory Monument’s minivans cost 250 Baht ($8). Both stop directly opposite Ban Phe Pier. An alternative ride, from Mo Chit Bus Terminal, only stops at Rayong, requiring an additional songthaew ride to Ban Phe.
From Ban Phe, public ferries and speedboats can drop you off either at Nadan Pier or right on the beach in front of your resort. One way trips can start at 50 Baht ($2), with higher fares for direct beach drop-offs.
For Nadan Pier arrivals, you can either walk to your resort or take one of the green songthaews there (100 Baht / $3 per trip). For direct beach connections, you’ll have to step off into shallow water, but porters will carry your baggage to dry land.
Once on the island, you can either walk around, ride a songthaew or hire a motorbike from your resort to get around. The motorbike allows you to explore more of Ko Samet on your schedule.
When to visit: Time your visit for the dry season between October and April for calmer seas (better diving visibility) and cooler winds. Ko Samet enjoys a drier microclimate relative to the Thai mainland with less rainfall, even during the monsoon season.
Where to Stay in Ko Samet
The island’s accommodations can mostly be found around the east coast beaches, particularly those close to Samet Town and Hat Sai Kaew. Prices can go lower for the more rustic cottages further south.
Hotels on Ao Prao on the west coast tend to be more upscale, with correspondingly higher room rates and cushier comforts. On the other end of the scale, camping facilities can be found on outlying islands like Ko Kudi.
Book your Ko Samet stay in advance if you’re planning to visit on a weekend or during the high seasons of November to February and June to August.