Ko Samet (เกาะเสม็ด), also spelled Koh Samed, is a small island off the Eastern Gulf Coast in Rayong province, within easy reach of Bangkok and Pattaya.
It's a popular tourist destination for both Thais and foreigners. As Ko Samet is close to Bangkok, the island is ideal for those in the capital wanting to relax with their families for a couple of days, without having to go through all the rigmarole of travelling down south. It's a 2½-hour journey to Ban Phe, then a 20-min ferry to the island.
ClimateEven though Ko Samet is only a few kilometres from the mainland, the island with its micro-climate (the driest archipelago in Thailand) gets much less rainfall than the rest of Eastern Thailand. The rainy season is May-Sep but even then it still has significantly less rain than the other islands in Thailand.
HistoryIt is believed that Ko Samet used to be the home of pirates and that there is still buried treasure somewhere on the island. Thailand's legendary poet, Sunthorn Phu, was the first one to put this island on the map when he set his classical epic Phra Aphai Manee ("The Story of Princes, Saga, Mermaids and Giants") here.
Although Bangkok residents have known about the beauty of Ko Samet for decades, the Thai government put this island off-limits and restricted overnight stays there until 1981, when the Forestry Department of Thailand declared Ko Samet and its surroundings to be a national park and thus open for business.
By car and taxiAs Ko Samet is an island, you first have to drive to Rayong. From Bangkok, you can take Sukhumvit Rd (Hwy 3) passing Chonburi, Si Racha, Pattaya, Sattahip and onto Rayong. The total distance to Rayong is approximately 220 km. If you drive onto Hwy 36 at Bang Lamung (before Pattaya), you'll take a shortcut inland and save about 45 km, although the scenery is not as impressive.
Taxis are available from Rayong. You must specify Ban Phe since the pier at Ban Phe is at the lower outskirts of Rayong. The metered fare is approximately 1,600 baht, but most drivers will want to go "off-meter" for a fare ranging from 1,500 baht to 2,000-2,500 baht. Expressway tolls of about 100 baht are additional. You can either take a taxi from your hotel or guesthouse that is willing to make the drive on the spot, or pre-arrange a pickup from a taxi driver you like by asking for his mobile phone number and calling to make a booking. This works best if you have a native Thai speaker to help you.
By busThe bus from Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai) to Ban Phe usually takes 3½ hours, costs 173 baht, and terminates opposite the ferry piers. There is no direct service to Ban Phe from Bangkok's Mo Chit Bus Terminal. It only takes you to Rayong, from where you can take a songthaew (20 baht) to Ban Phe.
There are direct first-class bus services between Rayong and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. If you take a regular bus from Pattaya or Sattahip, you'll need to take a songthaew or charter a tuk-tuk to the ferry piers.
There are also minivans that leave from Victory Monument in Bangkok's Phahonyothin district. They charge 250 baht per person and take you directly to the ferry piers. This is a slightly nicer alternative to the larger tourist buses that depart from bus stations. The minivans drive faster than the tourist buses, but they also make several stops along the way in Rayong which makes the trip about the same time. Also, the ride is quite bumpy, so even reading a book is a challenge.
By planeBangkok Airways has a flight daily from Phuket and Ko Samui to Pattaya's U-Tapao Airport (UTP). For more information, contact Bangkok Airways at or contact a travel agent. From the airport, it is about one hour by car or bus to reach the pier. This mode of transport is only recommended for travellers from Southern Thailand.
By boatFerries from Ban Phe or Nuan Thip (they are about 200 m apart, with Ban Phe to the north opposite a 7-Eleven) to Ko Samet take around 30 to 45 minutes. Only buy a one-way ticket (50 baht), as there's no discount on round-trip tickets (100 baht) and you won't have to worry about losing it or finding that your ticket isn't valid for the most convenient return ferry. The ticket sellers state you must buy your national park ticket from them also but this can be done at the gate as you enter the park.
Nuanthip Pier (tel +66 38 651508/+66 38 651514) runs boats to various piers on Ko Samet. One-way tickets are half the price of a round-trip, you might need to insist of booking one. The boats tend to wait until full so timetable is more like a hint than a fixed departure time.
There are two speedboat companies that operate from Ban Phe. Speedboat prices can range from 600 baht to Nadan Pier to a few thousand baht for the outer-lying bays and beaches.
For the return from the Ko Samet public pier, take either the Nuan Thip or Ban Phe piers for your destination. It doesn't matter which one you departed from as they are only a short walk apart, and you might get an earlier boat back if you are willing to be flexible and return to a different pier. Both are served by songthaews: Ban Phe has an informal "taxi stand" in front of the 7-Eleven across the street with passenger cars used as taxis but no need to go looking for them as they will find you.
It costs 200 baht for a ride from Ban Phe to the Novotel, quite a distance down the coast.
The island is very small in comparison to the more populated Thai islands, so exploring the island can easily be done on foot, bike, or by hiring a motorbike and driving down the island to visit a few of the smaller more secluded beaches and taking in some of the more naturally forested areas further down to the south of the island. ATVs are no longer available on the island.
The island has only a single main road. Some parts are concrete and some parts are only a dirt trail which get quite bumpy. There are two ways to get round the island. The first is by songthaew (usually a rather well-worn pickup truck with two benches in the back and no roof), which costs 200 baht for a private trip, or between 20 and 60 baht per person when full, depending on which beach you are going to. This is a rather expensive method to get around the island, and the dusty roads can make it an uncomfortable trip. The second way is by renting a motorcycle for 300 baht/hr 500 baht/day. You will usually be able to rent it from your hotel. Leaving your passport or a deposit is not necessary or advisable.
Motor bike hireThe island has more motorbike hire shops than any other shops so they are not hard to locate and prices are standard ranging from 300-400 baht per day for manual or automatic bikes. Before hiring a bike you should be aware that once you enter the main national park entrance the roads are in very poor condition and only people with some experience should to tackle them.
- Gold Shop: This motorbike hire shop is just up from the national park entrance and 7-Eleven (opposite Chilli Restaurant). This family takes very good care of their motorbikes. The owner, Jep, is a very friendly guy and always willing to help. His son also rents their vehicles from next to the 7-Eleven by the park entrance and Bow is also very helpful and if you rent for a few days will often offer good discounts.
- Mountain Bike Rental: Mountain bikes can be rented from Village Cafe (Internet Cafe) opposite the school in the main village. Just ask for Kay and he will be more than happy to help with the mountain bikes or information for any other activities on the island.
- Catch the sunset from dramatic cliff side locations along the southwest coastline.
- A fire twirling show heads up and down Hat Sai Kaew & Ao Hin Khok beaches between 18:00 and 22:30. A donation is appreciated.
Most beaches are on the east side of the island. The beaches hide in small bays and stretch some 200 m. From the north, there are Hat Sai Kaeo, Hat Hin Khrong, Hat Khlong Phai, Ao Phutsa, Ao Thapthim, Ao Naun, Ao Cho, Ao Thian, Ao Wai, Ao Kio Na Yok and Ao Karang. The only beach on the west side is Ao Phrahis. The spelling of beach names can vary due to transliteration.
Beaches from north to south on the east coast:
Hat Sai KaewOne of the most beautiful and most popular beaches on Ko Samet, Hat Sai Kaew is 1 km long and 25–30 m wide. Most of this space is taken up with deckchairs from the restaurants. The name speaks for itself, Hat Sai Kaew, which literally means "crystal sand beach", is a nice beach filled with activities. Visitors can enjoy sunbathing, swimming, jet skiing, windsurfing (700 baht/hr), catamaran sailing (1,000 baht/hr) a banana boat or even partying at night. It can get a bit noisy due to all the motorized activity though.
Ao Hin KhokSeparated from Hat Sai Kaew by a small rocky sea point where there is a mermaid statue. The beach is half the size of Hat Sai Kaew. There are some monk's accommodation along this stretch of sand that have signs asking people to be quiet. It makes for a peaceful spot just past the noise polluted Hat Sai Kaew Beach.
Ao PaiTwo beaches down from Hat Sai Kaew and just past Ao Pai. More or less of the same white, sandy stretches with a few nice restaurants at night and a big, concrete block of a bar where most party goers end up late at night.
Ao Put SaSuitable for those who are tired of crowded beaches and nightlife activities. Ao Put Sa has a small pontoon with some OK snorkelling around it. Best time to stick you head under and have a look is at low tide.
Ao NuanA perfect hideaway for holidaymakers in search of tranquillity. All bungalows are handmade by the owner. Some have great character.
Ao ChoA bit scruffy, and if you have been following the "next beach" signs along the coast, you feel like you've seen better.
Ao Wong DeuanThe second largest beach on the island (the first being Hat Sai Kaew). Ao Wong Deuan has a ferry service with the mainland. It's best to talk to one the bungalows to book this than try and find it yourself.
Ao ThianRocky beach with some nice spots for diving. This beach is very quiet and free from group tours.
Ao WaiShaded by coconut trees, the beach is a quite, scenic, and serene spot for sea lovers.
Ao Kiu NokThis bay is a secluded den for those planning to keep their distance from the busy, crowded beaches and vibrant nightlife. A huge resort is being built with a swimming pool and the small bungalows are slowly being knocked down. The eatery isn't the best but due being the only one on the beach, it's overpriced.
From Ao Kiew Nok, visitors can walk to Ao Kiew Nai along the road but getting a lift is better as it's hot, there's no breeze and not much to see.
Ao KarangIt's very quiet down here and could be the best place to experience the traditional lifestyle of the residents of Ko Samet.
Ao Wiang WanA large bay where lots of sport activities such as fishing take place.
Ao PhraoOne of the quietest beaches of Ko Samet. Quite far away from the lively nightlife of Ko Samet; Ao Prow is an upmarket beach with no budget options. The blue sea, white sand, and sunsets are all top notch.
How to get there: Four operators, namely, Nuanthip, Si Ban Phe, Phe Port, and Saphan Pla, around Ban Phe offer shuttle boat services between their ports and the main port of the island. All operators charge a flat rate of 100 baht per person for a round trip or 50 baht for a single journey. Boats can leave any time more than 20 passengers are waiting. The service is available around the clock, seven days a week. It's best to just buy a one way ticket from the pier and head down to the end to wait.
For groups of at least 7 persons, Nuanthip Boat (+66 38 651508) offers a shuttle boat service to other bays as well, such as Ao Wong Duean (120 baht each) and to the last bay Ao Pakarang (200 baht each). Si Ban Phe Boat (+66 38 651902) also runs a scheduled boat service during weekends between Ban Phe and the main port of Samet. The hourly boat service from Ban Phe runs from 08:00-18:00. On the return trip from Samet, the boat leaves at 10:00, 14:00, 16:00, and 18:00. The company also offers a speed boat service at 1,000 baht a trip for 12 people to the main port, or higher rates for other routes. A parking service on the main land is available.
Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin (เกาะกรวย เกาะขาม และเกาะปลาตีน) These islands are some 600 m north of Ko Kudi. With coral reefs, tourists can enjoy fishing here. A rental boat service is available at the port in Ban Phe.
Ko Kudi or Ko Kut (เกาะกุฎี หรือเกาะกุด) This island is east of Ko Samet, 6 km from the mainland. Ko Kudi totals an area of 63 rai (10 ha). A nice beach and coral reefs make it a nice place for a hideaway. Nearby islands are Ko Thai Khang Khao and Ko Tham Ruesi. Without accommodation, the national park office on the island offers a tent for rent at 200 baht per person/ night. Pitching a private tent requires paying a fee of 20 baht per person/night. For more information, call Tel. +66 38 653034, or Bangkok at Tel.+66 2 56 2919 and +66 2 5612921.
Ko Thalu (เกาะทะลุ) Some 6 km east of Ko Kudi, the island is another scuba diving site among coral reefs. The island has an area of 69 rai (11 ha), most remains lush forest. While high cliffs occupy the west, white sandy beaches occupy the east and south of the island. Ko Thalu is a habitat of seagulls, flying fox, and turtles.
Tourists visiting Ko Kudi, Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, Ko PlaTin, and Ko Thalu should rent a boat from Ban Phe or Ko Samet. They should prepare food and water, as there is neither facilities nor food supplies available on such islands.
For those people who do want something to do the island does have a few activities to enjoy if the beauty of the beaches is not quite enough to keep you occupied. From the simplest of activities such as walks along the beach, all the way through to taking your PADI Scuba Diving certificate there are an array of ways to keep yourself active.
- Boat trips: There are several companies on the island offering a variety of different boat trips from around the island on a large slow boat to a 7-island speedboat day-trip visiting many of the surrounding islands from Samet. These trips are all of good value but be sure to have a chat before you book and make sure you are getting the trip you want and that they are not talking you into another trip as they cannot do the one you are asking for. Also all trips are dependent on weather conditions.
- Samet Boat Trip: One of the original boat trip families on Samet, they offer a daily round-the-island boat trip. If you're lucky it could be a private trip or one with just a few other chilled out people on board. Their fleet consists of 2 large slow boats and 4 speed boats so different trips are available daily.
- Diving: With the calm surrounding waters and coral reefs Ko Samet has something to offer those of all levels of diving, but it is an especially good place to learn to scuba dive with classes nearly always on the smaller side and often one on one with an instructor. With depths ranging from 5-25 m there is a variety of local sites to dive on and explore and there are also the outer islands such as Ko Talu that surround Ko Samet which offer stunning coral reefs.
Blue Aura DiversLed by an English instructor and the guys will be able to help with all your diving needs locally and they are also very knowledgeable about the diving all over Thailand.
If you are relaxing on the beach during the day there are plenty of hawkers selling fresh fruit, BBQ chicken wings, dried squid, papaya salad (can be extremely spicy) and even ice creams slightly more expensive than if you got up to get it.
At night check out the roti stands that pop up everywhere. This crepe-like desert can be filled with banana and topped with chocolate syrup or sweetened condensed milk, or any number of other combinations from 40 baht.
In town (Nadan), there are a few traditional Thai restaurants that serve good quality Thai food priced for locals. Most have menus in English.
If you are after a traditional Thai breakfast there are a couple of ladies who set up their mobile eatery daily next to the Tourist Police checkpoint that services Haat Sai Kaew. They serve boiled chicken on rice (khao man gai tom), fried chicken and rice (khao man gai tot) or rice porridge (jok) for 20-30 baht. The food is fresh and they do a brisk trade serving locals as well as a few tourists.
Cafe Bar Old AmsterdamGreat European and Thai food at good prices.
Gecko BarDoes an excellent barbecue with chicken steaks smothered in mushroom sauce and sizzling beef and chicken hotplates. Between 100 and 200 baht, these meals are good value. Good bar as well.
Joe'sOne of the best value barbecues on the island: large kebab, corn, potato and salad for around 250 baht.
Tapas & TacosA unique place to eat on the island, serving some excellent authentic Spanish and Mexican food in an atmospheric setting right next to the sea.
- one child's sand bucket, small
- one pint Mekong whisky
- one can Coca-Cola or Pepsi
- one bottle Thai Red Bull
- one scoop ice (optional: use tap water ice. Guarantees a massive hangover.)
- one to four straws
Although Ko Samet is not a renowned party island, Hat Sai Kaew and Ao Phai do get their fair share of backpackers, and therefore have their fair share of parties. Every day on Ao Phai flyers are handed out from the different bars that advertise the drink specials for that night, and might even give you a free drink. Biggest nights are generally Th-Sa, when more backpackers, expats and locals from Bangkok come to the island.
The main bars along Hat Sai Kaew are:
Café Bar Old-AmsterdamA classic cosy pub with 70s, 80s, 90s, country, reggae, and rock and roll music.
Lima BarA small bar that's still getting started, but does excellent cocktails. Try the chocolate martini.
- Naga Glow Bar (On the western tip of Hat Keaw Sai) A loud-music dance bar with glow paint and black lights. It makes for some fun times. Buckets are your best option here because the dance floor is where the action is at this bar. Mostly western tourists with a healthy mix of Thai tourists as well. As of July 2016, the music was a little bit outdated but still fun. They have a TV with the music videos playing. Look out for ladies of the night here especially toward the motorcycles on the side toward the beach.
Ploy BarA large, generally Thai-style night spot that often has live acts and some manner of sideshow games. A big establishment, you can't miss it.
Sunrise BarThis small bar is a nice spot to relax with a drink in the late afternoon, or chill out and enjoy their selection of guest DJs.
Along Ao Hua Khok/Ao Phai are:
Baywatch BarPopular bar for foreigners and Thais with very relaxed chairs and an extended cocktail list to enjoy those long Thai nights.
Papa Rodger's BarA tiny bar with great character and interesting regulars. Has inexpensive accommodations as well.
Silversand BarSilversand is generally where everyone ends up at the end of the night. The bar has a dance floor and the fire twirling kids stop by for their show.
Tok's Little BarA small thatched hut serves as the main bar for this laid back, chilled out drinking spot. They generally have good drink specials and a different theme for every night, so grab a bucket and chill out on a mat on the beach. Occasionally has some fire shows and special parties. Have accommodations: air-con bungalows (no cheap rooms) with individual bathrooms from 1,000 baht, depending on proximity to the beach. The bungalows are not necessarily pretty or overly clean
The northernmost beaches of Hat Sai Keaw and Ao Hin Kok have many bungalow operations with typical Thai concrete bunker-style rooms. If your room doesn't have air-conditioning it can get a little hot during the day. At the very northern end are a few upscale resorts. At beaches further south you'll find the bungalows ranging from dismal shacks to four-star, air-conditioned mini suites. Unless you've made the mistake of booking your room with the touts back at the dock you'll find a place by strolling down the beach. As this island becomes more and more popular it's getting harder to find rock-bottom prices. On some beaches you can expect to pay 600 baht for the basics. Most of the accommodation is first-come, first-served and the cheaper bungalows tend to go fastest. High-end establishments usually take reservations by phone, fax and via the web, whilst the cheaper ones do not.
ChilisA nice hotel/ restaurant. Friendly, English speaking staff, clean, secure, quiet and spacious rooms.
Jep'sClean, nicely designed fan with hot showers (only 3 available) and air-con bungalows. Has a good restaurant. A favourite among Thais, this establishment fills up very quickly on holidays.
The Lost ResortAn old, ratty hotel owned by a British expat, this resort offers triple-share rooms with attached baths for about 1,000/night or double rooms with air-con for 800 baht. The small reception/restaurant area does some breakfast, but much better options are available on the beach.
Lung Dam BungalowVery basic bungalows. It's on a small bay that is excellent for swimming. The restaurant has excellent service and is one of few on the island that is open early for breakfast. This beach is not accessible directly by road; unless you arrive directly by boat, you must walk on the beach for at least part of the way.
NagaBamboo huts with fan and mosquito net for 500 baht. A favourite among backpackers. 300 baht per night for fan huts, great value. They have acquired a CD for the boxing ring in the Naga Bar, which in the bar sounds like hardcore classical Thai violin playing, but from the rooms is sounds more like a bagpipe. The Naga Bar was once "the" bar on the island, it has gone downhill somewhat in the last few years, but still a good place to hang and enjoy cheap drinks and a few games of pool with locals and tourists alike.
NuanGreat if you are looking for some deserted areas on the island. Get a bike and drive down on the gravel road. A bit hard to find, just go down to the beach and walk along. A small bunch of bamboo huts, with mosquito nets and a fan. Comes with a little deserted beach.
Sea BreezeA dingy little place offering fan bungalows with attached bathroom from about 400 baht/night, about as cheap as you will get, and in a fairly decent location.
Silversand ResortSilversand still offers a few decently priced fan bungalows with attached baths for around 600 baht.
Sunrise VillasA group of concrete built bungalow style rooms all with 180 degree sea views. There's a bit of noise from the pier. Air-con rooms 800-1,000 baht, fan rooms 500-700 baht, all have hot showers.
Ton Had Bungalowsphone: +66 87 7833262A collection of wooden huts, very close to the water, on a rocky beach. The rocks are an advantage as no speed boats dock there so it's the place to have some peaceful and quiet atmosphere. The facilities are basic, bordering on the run-down, but still charming.
Tub Tim BungalowUsually reliable and has rooms in the range. It's in a quieter area, although at night you might find the sound of bar music drowns out the lull of the ocean waves.
White Sands ResortIf Jep's is full, head back past the mermaid statue to this place.
Sai Kaew VillaClean and serviced bungalows and some concrete bunker-style accommodations starting at 700 baht (fan, without breakfast) up to the 3,000 baht price range (air-con) set in well-groomed gardens. Their large dining and evening beach restaurant on Haat Sai Kaew serves good food and the staff is friendly. They are also a 2-min walk from the 7-Eleven and Internet shops.
Samed Club ResortRooms with air conditioning, bath, minibars and fridge with two complimentary bottles of water daily, IDD telephone and satellite TV.
Tarn TawanA clean, pleasant spot with decent bungalows, friendly service, and excellent food. The air-con bungalows are good value.
Tonsak ResortGorgeous wood-paneled rooms under a canopy of trees.
address: Koh Samet : 8/1 Moo 4, Tumbol Phe, Amphur Mueng
Ao Prao ResortPosh resort. You might see some of the Thai glitterati lounging about, if only you could recognize them.
phone: +66 38 644077
Samed Villa ResortRestaurant serves delicious Thai & European cuisines. BBQ is also recommended.
- Bangkok — most return to the buzzing capital of Thailand
- Ko Chang — more sandy beaches and jungle await
- Ko Kut — undiscovered island, again with sandy beaches
- Ko Si Chang — virtually no night life, but a very relaxed atmosphere
- Pattaya — den of sleaze trying to clean up its act
- Rayong — the beaches near Ranong are known for their decent surfing