Visitors to Bangkok do not need to travel far and wide in order to find themselves on fine, white sand beaches. The island of Koh Samet is only a few hours’ drive from the capital, and it is the perfect weekend destination for those who need a break from the bustling City of Angels. Here, a weekend guide to the island of Koh Samet.
Koh Samet is found off the province of Rayong along the Gulf of Thailand. While there are beaches off the mainland, they simply cannot compete with Koh Samet’s stunning stretches of sand. Visitors first started making their way to the island for pleasure in the early 1970s. The dreamy tropical island has been attracting locals and tourists alike ever since.
The island has been a national park since 1981, which is why it is able to keep its beaches and shores relatively pristine in comparison to other islands around the country. This also explains the ฿200 (US$6) fee visitors are meant to pay after they exit the ferry or speed boat and arrive on the island.
The island is a seemingly perfect destination for all types of travelers: relatively affordable accommodation is just as available as there are luxury villas lining the island’s shoreline. We opted for a room right on the beach of Ao Hin Khok for less than $30 each at the Samed Villa Resort.
Those visitors hoping to spend the weekend here will want to arrive on Saturday morning. After checking into your accommodation option, make your way to Hat Sai Kaew, otherwise known as Diamond Sand Beach. It is found on the northeastern tip of the island near the Na Dan Pier, which is the main pier on Koh Samet.
Diamond Sand Beach certainly lives up to its glamorous name, and it is the longest and arguably the most beautiful beach on the island. It is clean yet busy, with restaurants, food vendors, bikini-ridden tourists, and more occupying the entirety of the beach. Meander to the beach’s furthest point to the north and you will find a statue as well as some solitude from the other tourists.
Visitors are likely to come across many of statues on the island of Koh Samet. This is because the country’s most famous poet, Sunthorn Phu, has a history with the area. His father was born in Rayong, and Phu visited him here often. Because of this, there are a handful of statues based on some of his poetry which oftentimes described a whimsical world.
Phu is regarded by many as the Shakespeare of Thailand, and one of the most popular statues is the colorful make-up of Prince Aphai Mani and the mermaid. It is found on Hat Sai Kaew Beach. The statues are based on a 150-year-old story written by Phu. There is another statue based on his work on Ao Hin Khok Beach, as well.
After a day on the beach and seeing the poem-inspired statues, visitors should try to catch a few photographs of the sun going down on the island. Try to venture to a stretch of sand or viewpoint that is a bit more secluded than Diamond Sand Beach, including the Tay Koh viewpoint. Other great spots to see the sunset include Ao Phai and Ao Prao, where we ventured to while we were on the island. That being said, any beach is a good beach to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Thailand on the island of Koh Samet.
With the sun having gone down, it is time to indulge in a seafood dinner before taking on Koh Samet’s nightlife. Any restaurant along the water will do, but be prepared to be patient as many of the restaurant’s staff are on ‘island time.’ We waited upwards of an hour for what we considered to be relatively easily made dishes.
After dinner, visitors should beeline to Ploy Bar, a venue notorious for its relatively affordable buckets of booze in addition to its incredible fire shows. Bar-goers will watch as greased up locals set fire to their tools, utilizing everything from a jump rope to fire balls to impress the crowd with their dangerous set of skills. Brave bar-goers are welcome to join in on the show and limbo under the flaming stick, and those who do are rewarded with a mysterious yet potent shot of booze.
Grab a coconut water to recover from last night’s party-induced hangover as we take to the island via scooter to explore the viewpoints. A motorbike costs anywhere from ฿300-400 (US$9-12) per day, but this price, as with most things in Thailand, can easily be bartered down to a lower number. The island of Koh Samet is relatively small, making it easy to spend the morning zipping around to the top spots before catching the last ferry back to the mainland.
One viewpoint visitors must be sure to include on Sunday’s itinerary is at the Ao Toei National Park. The park is equipped with two separate viewpoints, both of which are noteworthy in their own way. The one of the left has a swing and great views of the Gulf while the other is stunning because of the manmade rock formations found all over the jutted peninsula. Circular rocks have been stacked and look similar to those from the Blair Witch Project, for those of you who are horror movie fans.
How to get there
Visitors can easily make their way to the island of Koh Samet by taking a bus or minivan from Bangkok. The Ekkamai Bus station, otherwise known as the Eastern Bus Terminal, has minibuses that leave about every hour and are headed to the island. We opted to book a minibus for ourselves for ฿255 (US$7.67) each, as they can hold 12 people and we went with a group of eight.
The bus arrives in Rayong, where visitors can get round trip ferry tickets to the island for only ฿100. Visitors can also opt to take a speedboat, and prices range depending on how many boat passengers there are. Prices start at ฿1,200 (US$36) for a speedboat. The minibus on the way back to the capital was ฿200 (US$6) per person. The prices may be inflated as there are less available buses going back to the capital than there are departing Bangkok to get to the island.