Koh Samet Island. A perfect getaway from Bangkok
Koh Samet (Also written Koh Samed), Thailand. The perfect weekend getaway from Bangkok. There are quiet, out-of-the-way beaches. Or you can stay where I always go, the best white-sand beach, Sai Kaew Beach. It’s the mini-Boracay Beach of Thailand. Not as scenic as Koh Phi Phi or El Nido (Phils) — but an amazing place to chill that is only a couple hours drive and a short ferry ride from Bangkok. Read on!
Getting to Koh Samet
First, you need to get from Bangkok to the Ban Phe pier in Rayong. You can hire a taxi for as low as 1,500 baht ($50ish) if you know what you’re doing, or a lot more if you don’t. Or you can bus it from the Ekamai Bus Terminal (at BTS Ekamai station) for a few hundred baht.
As shown on the map, Koh Samet is about 220km from Bangkok. This can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to drive, depending on traffic and on how much Red Bull your driver has consumed. Just make sure whoever you drive with has seat belts. Given the huge amount of traffic accidents in Thailand, no seat belt should be a deal breaker.
Once you get to Ban Phe, there are several piers, all of which have 40-minute slow-boat service to the island. These boats are very cheap — usually around 100 baht one-way. If you’re in a hurry, you can hire a speedboat, although you’ll be looking at about 1700 baht for that, although I’ve done it for as low as 700. The cool thing about taking a speedboat is that if you’re going to a remote beach, you can get there without paying the park entrance fee, so the price averages out if there are a few of you in the boat. Of course, there might be a ranger waiting as your boat pulls in, but I like the gambling feeling of never knowing.
Note that the listed park fee for foreigners is 200 baht.
Where to stay
I’ve stayed on Samed numerous times. There are cheap options in the village area, but I prefer to be by the beach. These are my usual places. More info about some of these beaches follows below:
Samed Pier Area: Sunrise Villas
Sunrise doesn’t look like much and the rooms are super basic aircon rooms. But it’s a friendly place that is quiet at night, it’s cool during the day, and all of our group who stayed there barely went to the main beach, preferring to chill and read on our balconies built onto the rocks overlooking the ocean.
Sai Kaew Beach: Tonsak Resort
Super good location and nice, albeit simple, wood air con semi-detached bungalows. But don’t stay in the beach fronted bungalows. They are actually older and not as nice, in spite of being priced higher. They’re also nosier at night. Get a room a bit deeper into the resort.
Ao Phai Beach: Silver Sand Hotel
Silver Sand is on Ao Phai, the beach directly south of Sai Kaew. You can get cheaper places there, and the beach is still OK. It’s also close to the beach front restaurant at Jep’s Bungalows, which is my favorite sunset beers place (look for the stars in the trees). BUT, it’s close to some night clubs on the beach that go until late at night. So if you’re going for peace and quiet, don’t stay here. If you plan to party and want to be central in a nice place with good rooms, this is the place to be.
Vong Deuan Beach: Samed Cabana Resort
This is my go-to place when I want a really nice bungalow room on a quiet beach. They have restaurants on the rocks at the end of the bay that are super nice to chill at. But this is a quiet place at night. If you want to party, then you need to take one of the song taews that take passengers up and down the island. Or you can try to walk it along the beach and over cliffs at midnight like we did last time. Yeah, don’t try that. lol
The whitest sand beach on Samet: Hat Sai Kaew Beach
If you are looking for a white-sand beach, then Hat Sai Kaew Beach is where you’ll want to be. This is the longest stretch of beach on the island and is loaded with resorts ranging from about 1,500baht/room to crazy-expensive. Here’s a quick look at Sai Kaew by day and by night.
To get to Sai Kaew, take a song taew (an open pick-up truck) from the ferry pier 10 minutes to the park main entrance. That’s basically smack in the middle of Sai Kaew Beach.
For those who want to escape the crowds — particularly on weekends when the island gets pretty busy — there are plenty of smaller beaches dotting the coast all the way to the narrow tip of the island. Ao Wong Duean gets good reviews from people who like a bit of tropical peace and quiet.
Note that the Sai Kaew (east) side of the island is NOT the one which had the oil slick in 2013. That was on the west side. Sai Kaew Beach is as pristine as ever. Or at least as pristine as one can expect for water in the northern Gulf of Thailand.
Chillin’ by day on Koh Samet
In most of the major beach areas, there’s plenty to do by day. You can catch some rays, get a massage on the beach, rent scooters and explore the island, swim, jet ski (watch out for jet-ski scams!), snorkel, or just chill with beers in the shade.
For me, a ritual on arrival is to walk to Jep’s Bungalows and have my favorite food on earth, gaprau gai kai dao — Stir fried chicken in basil with rice with a fried egg on top…and a cold Chang beer. Yes, in my world, beer is a legitimate food group.
Jep’s is located on Lung Jeb Beach, 15 minutes walk south of Sai Kaew. Just keep walking until you find the tree with the stars in it.
The most happenin’ beach by night
Koh Samet really comes to life after the sun goes down. Head south till you get to the Ploy Talay restaurants. Don’t eat at the one with the fireshow (see video above). That restaurant is one of the slowest and worst on the island. Go past that till you get to the quieter ones. Enjoy some Thai food and drinks with your bare feet in the sand. Then go back and enjoy the fireshow after dinner.
And a Samet restaurant tip — Always choose from the plates laid out to be BBQed. You’ll get your food fast. Order off the menu and you’ll likely give up and leave long before your food arrives.
Once the fireshow is over, all the package tourists will turn into pumpkins and head home. After that, the beach is mostly populated by people who love to chill over beers to cool Ambient Trance or Deep House, or in some cases Thai music. Either way, you’re mere meters from the waves, so the feeling in incredible.
The bar below, right up on the north end of Sai Kaew, was our favorite. The Rehab Bar. The seats weren’t the most comfortable — but the staff were great, the beers cold, and the atmosphere awesome.
And when the sun finally rises, you stroll up the beach and get some sleep. A few hours later, you get up and have some late breakfast to a gorgeous view… and prepare to do it all over again! Enjoy Samet!