Travel in Thailand Ko Samet
Ko Samet is located about 200 km southeast of Bangkok and as the word "Ko" designates, it's an island. Travelling from Bangkok you will need to get to Bahn Pe where most of the ferries leave the mainland from, bound for Ko Samet, or Samet Island as it should technically be called in English.
Ko Samet can be reached from Bangkok in about four hours and there are a couple of different ways of getting there. The easiest way is to go to the bus station at Ekamai, almost beside the Ekamai skytrain station, and take the bus to Bahn Pe, a small fishing town on the mainland from where most boats depart for the island. The cost of the bus is under 200 baht and although the port may not be the last stop for the bus, it stops there and the driver will ask if anyone wants to go to Samet at which point you get off the bus.
Once at Bahn Pe, you take a boat over to the mainland. There are a number of different piers with ferry boats going to the different bays on the island – so you need to know which part of the island you wish to go to. The cost of the ferry was 40 baht each way the last time I took it and you buy your ticket before you get on board. I'm not sure if there are any schedules and it may just a case of getting on the first boat while the captain waits for enough people to get on board. You don't usually have to wait too long.
The other way to get to Ko Samet is to buy an all inclusive ticket from one of the many travel agents in Bangkok, particularly in the Khao San Road area. The all inclusive price to get there varies but is usually around 300 – 400 baht. If you arrange the travel yourself, you will get there cheaper.
In choppy seas, the boat trip over can be a nasty affair and many a foreigner has suffered a bout of seasickness and sent some undigested food overboard! The boats usually stop going over to the island early evening so if you arrive in Bahn Pe late it can be difficult to get one to take you over. If you really wanted to go over, you could hire a boat to take you over – no idea how much it would cost but I guess in the region of several hundred baht. You can also hire a speed boat to take you over which is obviously going to save time, and these go for upwards of 1,000 baht.
When you first arrive at Samet, presumably by one of the slow boats (speedboats are available but expensive), you will arrive at a pier where you will see a number of songtaews (pick up trucks with bench seats in the rear). The drivers will take you over the small hill to one of the beaches at 20 baht per person to one of the near beaches, or more for one of further beaches. I believe you can hire the entire songtaew yourself at upwards of 200 baht. It is only a few hundred metres to the first (and biggest) beach, so it's an easy walk. A great way to explore Samet is by foot – just wander around and see where you end up!
In a shock move that even the TAT complained about when it was first introduced, the government changed the rules applying to the entry of national parks in Thailand. Previously it cost 20 baht per person to enter a national park, a fair and reasonable figure. But in all their lack of wisdom, the Thai government decided to fleece foreigners and put the price FOR FOREIGNERS ONLY up to 400 baht per person. What is most insulting is that you get NOTHING for this. There is little in the way of signs in English, the people taking your money often speak no more English than "you pay 400 baht" and it is foreigners who respect the national parks much more than Thais. Whereas many Thais think nothing of discarding rubbish in a national park, the average foreigner hangs on to that which they intend to throw out and discard it into a bin.
You can (or at least you used to be able to) get around this 400 baht but it is not too easy. I do however downright encourage you to try. When on the mainland, you can buy a ticket for 50 baht, instead of the usual 400 baht. What the local entrepreneurs do is go over to the island in the morning and buy a stack of entry tickets for 20 baht, saying that they are for Thai people. They then sell them on to foreigners at 50 baht, making a profit of 30 baht a ticket and the foreigner saves 250 baht. The tickets are identical and do not say whether they are for a Thai or foreigner. It's hard to say how long this will last…
The first time I went to this island with beautiful little beaches, I was very impressed. The soft, white sand and the rows of beautiful palm trees and coconut trees nestled up where the sand ends all have an immediate effect on you. It truly feels like you have reached paradise.
Samet is small in size and there is very little industry on it apart from tourism, fishing and basic services offered for both tourists and the island's residents. With this in mind, a lot of what is sold on the island has to be brought over from the mainland and this means the prices of basic goods can be much higher on the island than on the mainland. While it won't break the bank, a bottle of water or an ice-cream may cost several baht more than at the 7 Eleven at Bahn Pe.
I have hard people rave about the food on Ko Samet but frankly I have never been too impressed. What is of some concern is that some of the food available may not be as fresh as it could be as again, it needs to be brought over from the mainland. With seafood one hopes that you'll be ok as there are fishermen operating in the waters surrounding the island but with some other foods, particularly meats such as chicken, pork and beef which must be brought over, they may not be as fresh as they could be. Have you ever seen the boats that everything is brought over on?
Samet is small and frankly, there isn't a huge amount to do there. If you are happy just lazing away on the beach, reading, swimming and just relaxing the days away, you'll probably really like it but if you are looking for an exciting time, this is not the place. I have never stayed more than three days and doubt if I could stay much longer than that – but that is me and you could well be different.
All over Thailand you find Western men chasing Thai women but it is al a little different on Samet. There are a bunch of handsome Thai boys on the island who chase Western females. Some of these Thai guys are just trying to bed a Western woman for the fun of it while others are in it for the money. Yep, you got it, the Western woman pays him!
Ko Samet has a real lack of nightlife and the last time I was there you could not find any of the girly bars so popular in other parts of Thailand. There are a few beachside bars but they are not of the girly variety! If you really want to go there with a companion, pick up someone in Pattaya and take her along with you.
Every time I have visited the main beach at Samet there has been a group of transsexuals hanging around, dressed up on drag. I guess that there is some sort of cabaret show (or funny show as the Thais refer to it) held on the island but I've never actually seen it. The katoeys are harmless (unlike their Bangkok counterparts) and seem more than happy to pose and have their picture taken with tourists, especially Asian tour groups which come over for the day.
The beaches at Samet are not that big and it's unfortunate that some tour companies now include Samet as a half day trip for Asian package tourists. Arriving late morning all equipped in exactly the same coloured tour group supplied clothes, these tour groups contribute towards crowding the main beach and generally making it less pleasant while they are there. They usually piss off mid-late afternoon and a degree of tranquility and serenity can once again set on the beach and you have every opportunity to watch the sunset go down with your tilac without them all gibbering away in that foul Chinese language.
One disappointing aspect about Samet is the quality of accommodation available. A lot of very average places charge an awful lot for what they offer. Plenty of places charge several hundred baht a night for a VERY basic room with a fan and cold water shower – which is far too much really. I have heard that in the high season they might charge a lot more. It's quite simply a case of supply and demand and the demand for Samet is most definitely there. There are more higher end places opening but you'll be lucky to escape paying less than 3,000 baht a night. I don't know about this as I always thought that the appeal of Samet was a more rustic spot, and the idea of higher end places sort of puts me off – or at least that is my perception of it.
While one does not want to spend too much time in their hotel or bungalow during the day, in Ko Samet this is further discouraged by the fact that at many establishments the power is off during the day. The beachfront restaurants still have power so if you absolutely need to sit under a fan, head for one of them. Some of the dearer establishments do have power right throughout the day.
Almost all of the hotels and guesthouses on Samet have a restaurant at the front that backs down on to the beach. Unfortunately, a lot of the chairs and tables in these restaurants go a fair way down the breadth of the beach making the beach feel a lot smaller than it actually is. You can use the deck chairs and umbrellas at most of these restaurants free of charge if you are either a paying guest at that particular hotel or are buying food or drinks in that particular restaurant. If you just wish to use the chairs and are neither of the above, there is a 20 baht charge for the use of the chair.
Samet can get quite busy at the weekend, especially long weekends, when Bangkokians escape the madness of the capital and rooms can be hard to come by. Samet is one of few places in Thailand I would not head to without making a reservation first as there is only a limited number of places to stay, and there are even less in Bahn Pe, on the mainland.
I used to really like Ko Samet, but I have gone off it. The encroachment of beach chairs and umbrellas on the beaches means there is less area to play and makes the place less scenic. Add to that the tour groups who come over for the day and make a huge amount of noise and the idea of it being a quite, relaxing place suddenly comes into question. Add into the equation the fact that accommodation is either expensive, or over-priced, and I find that I have crossed Ko Samet off my list of places to stay. What I prefer to do is to leave Bangkok on Saturday morning and drive straight through to Bahn Pe where I take the ferry over to the island and spend most of the day there. Late afternoon I take the ferry back to Bahn Pe where I hop into the car and drive to Pattaya where you can find very good accommodation at reasonable prices, as well as great restaurants and of course, a thriving nightlife.
If I wanted to go somewhere close to Bangkok for a relaxing few days away at the beach I would choose Hua Hin. If one checks into one of the beachside hotels a little outside the main downtown area of Hua Hin you can find a huge, beautiful trip of beach all to yourself which is much to my preference than the chaos now found on Ko Samet.
Sunset at Ko Samet
The people selling boat tickets will always try and sell you a return ticket – there is NO benefit in buying one whatsoever! You might lose the ticket, you may decide to come back by a different means i.e. speedboat and occasionally they play games with the ticket saying that it is no longer valid or it is for a different boat so basically, don't bother.
There are a number of agencies on or near the main road at Bahn Pe who take bookings for accommodation on the island. Why do they offer their service? They make a commission so if you are on a tight budget do yourself a favour and wait until you get over to the island where you can go hunting for accommodation yourself. They may try all sorts of tricks to try to get you to book with them 9ncluding the classic scare tactic of saying that almost everything is full!
Not too far from Bangkok and relatively easy to get to. Beautiful beaches on a paradise island. Low level of development – comparatively.
Not a huge amount to do there – but some would consider that a bonus. Accommodation is expensive for what you get. It can get busy during the high season and the beach can get over run.
The Bottom Line
Paradise is only four hours from Bangkok. A little pricey given the poor infrastructure but a nice place that appeals to some, and not to others.