KO SAMET IN BRIEF
WHY GO: Ko Samet is the closest place to Bangkok you can call a paradise island. Ko Samed’s sand is incredibly fine: snow white and soft as powder. You cannot find much better beaches anywhere.
WHY NOT: Koh Samet is a small island, and does not have that much activities to keep you busy. Keep in mind too that bungalows and resorts on Ko Samet are a bit overpriced compared to many other beach destinations in Thailand.
FAMILIES: Ko Samet is ideal for families who are looking for an island paradise, but don’t want to travel too far to get there. Ko Samet’s recommended beaches for families are Had Sai Kaew and Ao Vong Duan, the former for its hotels with pools and the latter for its sheltered bay.
GAY: Koh Samet has a reputation as a weekend getaway for Bangkok’s gays, which is partly true. Yet don’t expect to see a lot of rainbow flags waving in the wind on the island. Ko Samed’s gay scene is quite indistinguishable, and mostly concentrated to the beaches Ao Phai and Ao Tubtim.
BANGKOK & BEACHES: If you are looking for a stunning beach destination close to Bangkok, Ko Samet is the clear winner. Travel time from Bangkok to Ko Samet is about four hours.
PARTIES: Young Bangkokians come to the island for beach parties on weekends. Ko Samet’s most popular beaches for parties are Had Sai Kaew and Ao Phai. Be sure to also visit the island’s strangest bar, Papa Rogers, which is run by a flamboyant, retired Finnish actor.
Ko Samet (Koh Samed) is the closest place to Bangkok that deserves to be called a paradise island. Ko Samet’s sand is so white it dazzles the eyes. There are no high-rise hotels in Ko Samet, and most of the bungalow resorts are right by the beach. For dinner, the island’s restaurants expand their tables over the sand.
On weekends, Ko Samet draws a lot of holidaymakers from Bangkok, but during the week the island is very quiet.
Orientation: Ko Samet’s Best Beaches
Although the dagger-shaped island is only six kilometers long, Ko Samed is blessed with many beaches, each more splendid than the other. Most of Ko Samet’s beaches are on the island’s eastern side, often separated by only small capes, easily accessible on foot over the rocks.
The island’s administrative center is a small village of Na Dan next to the main pier. Na Dan has a school, post office, and a handful of shops, restaurants and inexpensive guesthouses.
Haad Sai Kaew – Ko Samet’s Main Beach
Ko Samet’s longest and most beautiful beach is Haad Sai Kaew also known as Diamond Beach, which is located a mere 10-minute walk from the island’s pier. The beach is also the busiest, but rarely annoyingly so, at least during weekdays.
Haad Sai Kaew is a safe choice for most holidaymakers, if you can just find an accommodation that fits your budget (cheap accommodation is on short supply on Diamond Beach). You will find it all here: beautiful beach, great choices for restaurants and parties, but also quiet stretches of sand on the far ends of the beach.
Check out discounts for Had Sai Kaew’s hotels!
Ao Hin Khok – Ko Samet’s Backpacker Beach
Only a handful of rocks separate Haad Sai Kaew from the next beach, Ao Hin Khok, Ko Samed’s backpacker beach. Beautiful Ao Hin Khok has three affordable guesthouses and one of the island’s most famous restaurants, Jep’s Beach, great place to drop by at least for a coffee and cake.
Ao Phai and Ao Tubtim
Next beach, Ao Phai, is best known for its weekend parties held at Silver Sand Resort. Ao Phai’s beach is small and a little rocky. Together with the next beach, Ao Tubtim (also known as Ao Phutsa), Ao Phai is popular with gay travelers.
Ao Nuan – Ko Samet’s Hippie Beach
All of the beaches above are almost attached to each other, and it is easy to walk from one to another. From Ao Tubtim the trail goes over a larger cliff to tiny Ao Nuan, which has the island’s most bohemian guesthouse. The bungalows are very basic, and cannot be booked in advance: you will get one only on the fist come first served basis.
Ao Cho – Pretty and Quiet Beach
After Ao Nuan you have to climb over more hills to reach the next beaches, but the walk is not yet too arduous. Ao Cho is a beautiful and quiet beach, which has only a few places to stay. The beach is distinguishable for its wooden pier.
Ao Vong Duen – Ko Samed’s Best Beach for Families
Handsome Ao Vong Duen, which curves almost a full circle, is ideal for children, since the beach is shallow and protected from the waves. The beach is quite busy on its central part but nicely quiet on the edges.
Beaches continue even further south all the way to the island’s tip, but the terrain gets more challenging, as well as the road linking the beaches. The secluded beaches have lonely inns best reached directly by speedboats from the inland.
Check out discounts for Ao Vong Duen’s Hotels!
Ao Prao – The Beach on Ko Samed’s Western Coast
The only beach on the western side of the island is Ao Prao, which has become the island’s luxury beach. Ao Prao’s three hotels are some of the best on the island. If you stay here, be prepared to eat most of your meals in the expensive hotels, since the beach is rather isolated from the rest of the island. The walk to the beaches on the eastern side is quite long and the taxis charge high fares.
Ao Noi Na – Ko Samet’s Best Beach for Boutique Hotels
There is also a beach on the northern end of Koh Samet, little-known Ao Noi Na, next to Na Dan village and the pier. It is not quite as beautiful as the other beaches, but it has some cozy boutique hotels such as Bar and Bed Sleepless Society, which is known for its swimming pool parties gathering wealthy and trendy crowds from Bangkok.
Things to Do in Ko Samet
Let’s face it: Ko Samet is not the ideal place for an active holidaymaker. Ko Samed does not offer many other things to do except to relax by the beach. And why should you wish to do anything else; Ko Samed’s beaches are so gorgeous they keep any traveler happy for a good while.
Boatmen do organize island hopping and snorkeling trips to close by small islands, but don’t expect any world class snorkeling – the visibility is often poor in the waters around Ko Samet.
The only real sight on the island is the Mermaid Statue, which stands on the rocky outcrop between Had Sai Kaew and Ao Hin Khok beaches. The statue’s inspiration is an epic poem of Thailand’s national poet Sunthorn Phu (1786-1856).
In the poem a playboy prince charms beauty queens and mythical creatures after another with his magical flute. In the end, an ugly ogress imprisons the prince to a cave in Ko Samet, and a mermaid has to comes for a rescue.
Ko Samet’s Best Restaurants
One of the best things in Ko Samet are the dinners you can enjoy right by the sea, your toes in the sand. Every evening the beach side restaurants set they tables on the sand with counters brimming with fresh seafood and barbecue dishes.
There is not a big difference between the different restaurants, just pick any you wish, or play safe, and choose the one where you see the most Thais eating.
For the lunch you can buy delicious papaya salad and bbq chicken sticks from vendors walking by the beach, or if you are looking for a little change in you diet, you can opt to wander to the small beach village off Had Sai Kaew beach. Here you will find Funky Monkey and Red Ginger, which both do good western food, and Sausage Factory if you are craving for some bangers and mash or hearty British breakfasts.
For more special dinner our recommendation is the stylish Baan Ploy Samed restaurant, which lies on piles over the sea on Ao Noi Na beach. The seafood is fresh and delicious; you can choose your crustaceans directly from their tanks, and tables have been designed so that your feet are dangling free over the sea.
Ko Samet’s Nightlife
For such an otherwise mellow island Ko Samet has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife. During the week Ko Samet’s night might be very quiet, but come the weekend and Ko Samet’s nights sparkle to life with beach parties on several venues and for several tastes.
Shopping in Ko Samet
In your dreams. You will find some basic beach wear but nothing more. For shopping the best bet is to go to Pattaya’s or Rayong’s Shopping Malls.
Ko Samet’s Recommended Hotels
Koh Samet is a popular weekend destination for the Bangkokians, and the prices and occupancy for resorts vary a lot between weekdays and weekends. Especially busy are the so called “long weekends“, when Monday or Friday falls on a national holiday. To secure your favorite place to stay in Ko Samet for a long weekend, better reserve your bungalow weeks in advance.
For those looking for luxury, Ko Samet’s most gorgeous hotel is Paradee. The luxury hotel is situated on its own, on the narrowest part of island, and has beach land facing both to the east and west. This is probably one of the only hotels in the world where you can see both sunrise and sunset.
One of our favorite hotels in the island is Sai Kaew Beach Resort, which has two pools and many different kind of rooms, what makes it ideal for many different kind of travelers. The location is perfect too, on the quieter end of Had Sai Kaew Beach. In this resort everything is in walking distance, yet it still feels secluded.
If you are looking for a place with good price-quality ratio and a quiet beach, check out Grandview Ao Cho Hideaway Resort on Ao Cho Beach. The bungalows are airy and well kept, yet the price is very affordable.
How to Get to Koh Samet?
Boats to Ko Samed leave from Ban Phe pier in Rayong proving, 240 kilometers from Bangkok. By bus or taxi, the journey takes two and half hours from the capital, plus a 45-minute ferry ride or a 15 minutes by speedboat. Ferries (around 50 bahts/person) run every hour; speedboats can be hired for 1,500 to 2,000 bahts for a group.
Speedboats go directly to the preferred beach, whereas slow boats dock to the Na Dan Pier from where pick-up taxis take travelers to the beaches. Had Sai Kaew and Ao Noi Na are both only 10-minutes walk away from the pier.
Buses to Ban Phe leave from Bangkok’s Ekamai Bus Station. An alternative is to take a faster minivan from Victory Monument.
A taxi from Bangkok to the pier costs around 2,000 bahts. For the return journey you can get a taxi from the pier much cheaper, as the taxis have to return to Bangkok anyway.
Some of the hotels in Koh Samet offer a free boat transport to the island; in that case remember to check the right pier in advance.
If you miss the last boat, Ban Phe has shops, restaurants and inexpensive guesthouses next to the pier.
If Ko Samed starts to feel too small, you can continue eastwards to the larger island Koh Chang, or go back to Bangkok via over the top Pattaya.
Transportation in Ko Samet
Most of the island’s beaches are easy walk away from each other. Scooters and quad bikes are for hire too, but beware of the island’s bumpy roads. Shared pick-up taxis drive between the beaches and charge 50 bahts up per person depending on the distance.
Best Time to Travel to Ko Samet
Koh Samet is a good place to go year around. The island is located in Thailand’s driest region, and the weather is usually good even during the monsoon season from June to end of October. But occasionally it does rain on the rainy season, so check the weather report beforehand.
Good to Know about Ko Samet
On paper, Samed is protected as a national park. In practice you only notice it when you have to pay the 200 baht national park fee upon arrival.
However, the fee may be avoided, if you take a speedboat directly to some of the smaller beaches instead of the main pier. Usually the payment is only collected when crossing the checkpoint little after the pier, although occasionally the rangers are waiting for the arrival of speedboats by the beaches.
The checkpoint only checks tickets from people traveling with luggage; you don’t need to have the ticket with you every time you go to Na Dan.
Due to the dryness the island has severe water shortage. Smaller inns get their water from the island’s small water reservoir, but some medium-sized hotels have to bring their water from the mainland. Samed Resorts has organized their water affairs the best way, filtering its resorts’ water from the sea.
A local health center is located on the road running between Na Dan and Sai Kaew beach.
ATMs can be found both in Na Dan’s pier, and on the Had Sai Kaew and Wong Duan beaches.
The island has a lot of mean mosquitoes, so take mosquito repellent with you.