Why Koh Samet?
Koh Samet is only about 2 or 3 hours away from Bangkok, depending on the transport. If you are in the city and craving some beach time, this beautiful island is a cheap, convenient distance. Of course, taking a plane to Phuket or one of the Southern islands is always an option, but the fact that Koh Samet is only a bus ride away can make the destination more affordable.
We decided to go to Koh Samet because we had only nine days in Thailand and wanted to spend four at a beach. After some quick research I discovered that although Koh Samet is one of the closest islands to Bangkok, it’s not nearly as busy as other nearby beach towns like Pattaya, and Koh Samet offered an affordable, relaxing beach vay-kay.
How do you get there?
I read online before arriving in Bangkok that there is some kind of public bus that goes to Koh Samet for cheap, but after getting very, very drunk on huge Chang beers the night before, we didn’t wake up in time to catch the bus we’d planned on taking. Also a massive hangover didn’t really leave us with enough brain power to make it to the bus station in a reasonable amount of time.
What we did instead…
We went into a travel agency on Khao San road and signed up for a mini-bus that was leaving at noon. The bus was cramped and left closer to one instead of noon (after making us wait for over an hour), however the price and convenience of taking a more private bus was worth the wait for us.
It was about 350 baht per person for the mini-bus, but this price also included the ferry to the island. I liked that the travel agency included the ferry as when we departed the bus our driver went to the Ban Phe pier and booked tickets for us, so we were mostly able to avoid the touts on the pier.
The ferry took about thirty minutes to get from Ban Phe to Koh Samet, so overall our travel time was about 4-5 hours. However, the ferry portion of this journey was very pleasant and when compared to taking a flight to the south of Thailand, it was worth it to me in order to avoid the hassle of taxis to and from the airport, airport security, late planes, high costs, and all the annoying details of air travel.
Koh Samet is a natural park and there is a 200 baht fee for foreigners upon entering the park. If you’re lucky you might not be charged because it looks like the guards aren’t always stopping people, but plan on forking over the cash when you arrive. Trust me it’s worth it to get to see this gorgeous island.
How to get around
The best way to get around Koh Samet is by motorbike. You can rent one for 300 baht a day anywhere on the island. There’s no point shopping around further inland for a cheaper price, because all bike rental places seem to offer the same. We rented our bike at a stand a few yards from the pier on Koh Samet and were very happy with it.
Renting a bike is great because of the autonomy it gives you. My boyfriend and I visited several different beaches per day, all with different atmospheres just by riding our bike up and down the island. It was also nice to have a bike to travel back towards the pier around meal time as the prices in town outside the park are cheaper than what you’d get on the beach.
If you don’t want to rent a bike…
Koh Samet is quite hilly with lots of speed bumps, so if you’re not comfortable riding a motorbike around the island you can also take the green pickup taxis that hang out near the pier and at most hotels.
Where to stay
The best way to book a hotel is by renting a motorbike and driving up and down the beaches, inquiring at different places. This way you can see exactly what the hotel has to offer and what the beach scene is like near the hotel. Most hotels on Koh Samet don’t advertise online, it’s best to just book on arrival.
We had no trouble finding a nice hotel this way. We stayed at Tom’s Pizza in a small, basic cottage-like room for 800 baht per night and were very happy with our accommodation as it was only a two minute walk down towards the beach in a nice private area.
When you arrive at the pier in Ban Phe there will be touts trying to sell rooms on the islands. I’d avoid them. I’ve heard you’re paying more to include their commission and really there’s no point in panicking and booking on the pier when you can just go look at the rooms yourself when you arrive on the island. A short inquiry at each hotel will give you much better results.
What to do on Koh Samet
If you’ve rented a bike, riding up and down the island and exploring different beaches and lookout points can be really fun.
Other activities include the usual island hopping experience which you can book through most hotels, night-time squid fishing (which can also be booked through your hotel), watching sunsets and sunrises at lookouts, snorkeling, kayaking and a myriad of other water sports. If you want to see coral reefs there are some to be seen just off of Koh Samet. Ask around and you’ll find the beaches with the best reefs. Or you can do an island hopping tour and do some snorkeling with a group. I avoided the tours because I felt there was plenty to do on Koh Samet and I don’t feel that I missed out, but if you have some extra time it might be worth it to see some other nearby islands.
There are loads of different beaches on Koh Samet. Closer to town there are more party beaches, whereas further inland you can find more family friendly beaches. A little exploration will also yield loads of secluded bays where you can swim in clear, virtually deserted, blue waters. These bays were where I spent most of my time on Koh Samet.
Notes on pollution
Before I went to Koh Samet, I was worried about pollution as I’d heard that certain beaches towards the north could be quite bad. Closer to town on Koh Samet there is more motorized activity on the water, so noise pollution and smells are a factor on these beaches; however, I didn’t notice this further inland.
Trash was another concern for me and there were areas of the island that were quite messy, especially near people’s houses away from the beach, but the beaches themselves are well-kept and hotel owners quite concerned with keeping their properties and beaches clean which I appreciated.
Overall the waters were insanely clear, blue and gorgeous. You’ll have a great time in Koh Samet. There is no need to worry about pollution.
For me Koh Samet was a perfect beach get away. It’s a natural park, so the waters are blue, sea life is abundant, and beaches are the perfect white sand you’ve been dreaming of.
Despite being a natural park, there are still plenty of places to eat and things to see and do. There are eateries all over the island to stuff yourself on Thai food and delicious seafood, you have your pick of a variety of accommodations, and you won’t get bored of the clear blue waters even if you’re staying for a longer holiday.
I highly recommend Koh Samet if you want a relaxing beach island experience surprisingly close to Thailand’s metropolis.