A bronze mermaid mother statue on Koh Samet island between Sai Kaew Beach and Ao Phai. The very bright lights are illuminating a string of dinner and drinks tables along the beach.
Koh Samet Downsides
• Koh Samet is shabby and trash-sprinkled in places, with ratty power cables and careless building construction and maintenance. This is not Hawaii! But then again neither are the prices.
• Since a few brash resorts have infiltrated this little paradise and occupying the best part of the best beach – Hat Saekaew’s wide white powder sands – positive blinkers and patience to find your little Nirvana will be required. In 2017 the main occupants of Hat Sae Keaw beaches were Chinese.
• In the last couple of years large speedboats capable of carrying a dozen passengers have taken to using many of the beaches as parking/pick-up and drop-off points, leading to a kind of giant coughing roar when they leave as they blast out of the shallow waters leaving a miasma of gasoline fumes wreathing the beach.
• snorkelling is not too good here with little coral of interest and less fishies.
• Weekends and festive seasons can see the island packed with city folk so if arriving without reservations target mid-week. At the Thai New Year in April accommodation is impossible to find.
Prices rise considerably during weekends and holiday seasons. Book in advance!
Getting to Ko Samet
Nadan pier on northeast Ko Samet with typical slow ferryboat just departing. The fast alternatives are speedboats that are pricey, noisy, bumpy and you have to jump into shallow water on arrival, but they will take you to your precise beach.
Three and a half hours bus ride from Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus station (conveniently beside a BTS Skytrain called Ekkamai), buses run hourly to Ban Phe port. From there a slow ferry to Nadan port/village on the northeast coast of Ko Samet will take half an hour, or travel one of the smaller beaches on the central east coast by speedboat from Ban Phe.
The crossing is generally smooth. Ferries leave regularly between 8am to 6pm daily. Choose your ferry destination according to the beach on which you plan to stay.
Minibus, Ban Phe Port to Bangkok
BTW, for your return trip to Bangkok or an airport, all over Koh Samet you will see offers of a minibus from Ban Phe port (the mainland) to BKK airport. The reason for the excessive number of desks promoting this service is that they charge a HUGE commission for booking on the island. It’s a 500 baht ripoff!
Take a regular minibus from Ban Phe port to Ekkamai station at a cost of 200 baht, or preferably take a bus (more comfortable!) costing 150 baht (tho they don’t run 24/7). Beside Ekkamai bus station is Ekkamai BTS (Skytrain) station that will take you directly to Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) for 25 baht. BTS also goes almost to the other Bangkok airport, Don Muang, but you’ll have to do 10 minutes on the frequent A1 bus for the final stretch.
Accommodation on Koh Samet
On this visit I wanted to stay near Sae Keaw beach but on the cheap, so I picked one of the small guest houses just off the village road running from Nadan pier to Sae Kaew beach. Good aircon, good shower/bathroom, decent beds, reasonable space, so-so wifi, cheap. Pleasant staff. Nothing else. Rated at 1.5* by TripAdvisor. No breakfast, no safe, no cleaning your room during your stay. 5/8 minutes walk to restaurants, bars, 7-11 (‘supermarket’) in the village street, and Sae Kaew beach.
Balancing price, quality of beach, tranquility and convenience Tubtim would be my first choice for beach holiday and Ao Phai second, with Ao Phrao on the west coast for 4 star uncrowded serenity. See all three beach assessments below.
Koh Samet weather
The best time to hit the southeast Thailand beaches is December – March apart from peak holiday times such as Christmas and New Year holiday periods.
The worst time to go is May – October on the Andaman (west) Coast where rains are heavy and prolonged but the eastern ‘Gulf Coast’ has a much less rain at that time.
Rainy season benefits:
On Ko Samet endless rain is rare; it’s more scattered heavy showers and those are sometimes only at night. This break from constant sunshine may be compensated by the vastly cheaper accommodation – not to mention availability – space on beaches and tranquility all around.
Rainy season downsides:
It could rain all day for two or three days in a row; or it could be overcast; you may get lonely; the mosquitoes (aka 747s in Thailand) may suck you dry; seas will be rough and water visibility less than clear.