Koh Samet Island, Thailand – What we love about this picturesque island and what irritates.
Koh Samet is an island in the Gulf of Thailand approximately 220 kms from Bangkok. It is a typical tropical island with white sandy beaches, palm trees and a green forested centre. Being just 13.1 square kms and 6.8 kms from North to South it is possible to explore most of the island within one day, but 2-3 nights will allow you to be infected with island fever.
Being an island, one has to take a ferry or boat to Koh Samet, and this can bring out the worst of Thailand with parking touts and people offering you the ‘best’ deals on boats descending like locusts. There are 2 main piers on the mainland at Ban Phe, the Municipality Pier with the blue roof and the lesser expensive Nuanthip Pier. The parking locusts will help you park your car for a fee(there is actually free but limited parking at the Municipality Pier). These parking areas run a motorbike shuttle to the main pier where the very confusing process of booking your ticket commences. The ‘ladies’ tell you to trust them(!) that they have the best prices and as you can see from the Official Price Board, they are quite complicated.
You have 3 main choices of transportation to Koh Samet. The first are the old wooden fishing boats that cost THB.70 and take about 45 mins with minimal comfort. Recommended is the relatively new and well organised Koh Kaew Phitsadan Fast Ferry. The ticket price is THB.150 per person and the ticket office is near the Taura Pier. They have regular sailings during the day depending on the number of passengers.
The third alternative is a Speed Boat and subsequently being at the mercy of the touts. A space in a speed boat can be around THB.200-300 but you will be asked to share and wait until they have enough people to make a run worthwhile. No problem in the high season but can be a challenge when there are less customers resulting in our group being begrudgingly offered a refund and then unceremoniously dumped onto the slow ferry having waited more than an hour!
Currently all arrivals on Koh Samet, with the exception of resorts on Prao Beach, must land at the main pier where you will be welcomed by the intimidating Phra Aphai Mani Ogress! As foreigners you will be directed to the right lane as each has to pay the National Park Entry fee of THB.200. Keep your ticket as you will need it should you take an excursion to a neighbouring island.
As you depart the terminal you will see lines of Songtaews (pickup taxis) ready to take you to your destination. You may be lucky and can share but be warned that the prices are considerably higher that other places. Alternatively rental motor bikes are available in the square for THB.300 per day including fuel.
From this small square you can turn right to visit the north of Koh Samet. The road follows the coast and there are a few resorts along it. This is the quietest part of the island and sunsets can be enjoyed along here.
Turn left at the square and this leads you through Samet Town centre, such as it is! The is one spectacular coffee shop Lamoon, with a choice of 3 amazing blends including a spectacular Laos/Thai medium roast. It is not a long walk through the ‘town’ to Haad Sai Kaew Beach (White Sand Beach). Keep going to the beach and you will find most of the resorts to the left and to the right.
Haad Sai Kaew is a spectacular beach, the white sand is fine and the sea clear. It is commercial with every possible plot having some form of resort, bar or restaurant on it. Some parts have seen recent restoration and there are now more lavishly decorated resorts. The remainder are the rather typical large restaurants with rooms/resorts behind. If you are exploring with luggage, it is possible to walk along a pathway between the beach and the buildings. This almost take you through the entrances and in one case a kitchen, but it avoids the exertion of pulling a wheely-bag through the fine sand.
The beach was relatively quiet when we stayed (mid-week) but comes alive in the late afternoon as the bars and restaurants start set up and expand and compete for the evening trade.
Koh Samet is a lovely and relatively easy island to explore on a motor-scooter as there are just a few gentle hills that, unlike some other islands, require minimal mountaineering experience. The only traffic are the Songtaews and other small motorbikes. No outside vehicles are allowed.
Heading away from Samet town centre first follow the signs to Prao Beach. Park your bike and walk the last 300 meters. This is a crescent bay with a lovely beach and some up-market resorts. They also have large floating pontoon enabling you to walk out over the clear water.
Retrace your way to one of the few junctions on the island, and start to follow the spine through to the south. There are many secluded beaches to explore on the east of the island as the west is mostly cliffs. Do drive to the end at Laem Toei where there are two viewpoints one for the sunset and one for sunset.
There is a vast variety of accommodation on Koh Samet. For most a stay of 2 nights is the norm but some may like to stay longer and relax in one of the resorts. There is an immense choice with ample information, ratings and location on the major booking engines(Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels etc). Pre-booking is essential for the weekend, and you will find that some Thai companies will book out a hotel for a day or two.
Samet Town and the area around Haad Sai Kaew is where you will find the majority with many hotels/resorts located on or very close to the beach. Look above most shops and you will find reasonable quality rooms at sensible prices. The general rule seems to be around THB.1,000 for an acceptable double room with a/c and private bathroom, however this will increase to at least THB.1,500 at the weekend or any Thai holiday. Resorts in this location run from THB.1,500 to THB.5,000(weekdays/low season). We stayed at the totally adequate Whitesand Resort, a complex of bungalows located behind the restaurant. The rooms are very clean, well maintained with simple but functional bathrooms. Most of the bungalows enjoy a quiet location but some are a little noisy from motorbikes. This resort is generally not available from the Booking engines but can be contacted through their Facebook page here.
As mentioned, the Prao Beach on the west of Koh Samet, has 3 exclusive resorts; The Ao Prao Resort from THB.8,840 (weekend 17,780!), The Kerala Coco Resort from 2,800 and Le Vimarn Cottages & Spa from THB.6,500. The bay and beach is heavenly and must be a wonderfully quiet place to stay with the advantage of being in the sunset side of the island.
As you explore further south on Koh Samet there are roads and tracks leading down to the left(east). Ao Phai is the first followed by Ao Phutsa, Ao Cho, Wono Duen Bay, Sangthian Beach Resort with a small private beach(from THB.4,400) and then the picturesque Wai Beach with charming, well equipped bungalows directly on the water’s edge. We stayed at the Tonhad Bungalow and nearby the Jellyfish Restaurant and Apache Restaurants are rustic, simple and serve good food and cold beers.
The road continues South and the lovely Ao Wai beach is well worth a visit with the Samet Ville Resort enjoying a scenic and peaceful location (from THB.1,300). An ideal stop for lunch!
Undaunted by the slightly steep hill through the exclusive Paradee Resort (from THB.18,500) the road ends at a Ranger Station where you can view the Sunrise or the Sunsets
Fire-shows have become synonymous with beach holidays around the world and Thai beach resorts have embraced this attraction. Originally thought to have been introduced from Austronesia more than 60 years ago, Fire Art – Fire Spinning – Fire Juggling – Fire Dance are now prevalent throughout Thai islands. One must admire the dexterity and skill of these artists but as all good ideas, there are suffering from their own success striving to create more spectacular shows.
Most artists in Thailand use Kerosene for their performances as it has a longer burn and harder to extinguish enabling them to create these stunning performances. Now, you may be asking where this thread is leading!
On Koh Samet there are Fire Shows of varying levels on probably every beach. On Haad Sai Kaew you can probably see 6-8 fire shows every evening, with more visible on the neighbouring Koh Samet and Ao Phai beaches. Walk on the beach in the morning and in front of some resorts, the stench of kerosene is noticeable with considerable traces of oil on the water. The reason is that the most spectacular climax of the show where the performers spin special apparatus producing astounding arcs of ‘sparks’.
Sadly, the next morning this kerosene-soaked coconut fibrous husk(exocarp), is to be seen floating on the waterline oozing oil into the beautiful clear water. I only saw one fire-show that had a cleaner removing this debris before it was swept into the sea. Difficult choice, breath-taking show but swim through the kerosene in the morning. Strangely on Haad Sai Kaew it was the more upmarket resorts that had the most concentration of first show debris in front of their properties in the morning!
To surmise. Koh Samet is a lovely island to visit, and it ticks all the boxes of a tropical island. Not far from Bangkok, easy to get to and, generally reasonable prices. This was our third visit and I still feel that we have more to explore. Pack light and don’t forget my warning about wheely-bags on the super fine sand!
Enjoy Koh Samet!
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand. Any questions or comments on this post? Please do feel free to contact me through our ‘Contact Form’ or directly [email protected]