Koh Samet Beaches, Thailand

Saekaew beach mermaid, Koh Samet, Thailand

 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.

Visit Koh Samet (aka Ko Samet, Koh Samed)

A short journey from Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus station to Ban Phe port, plus half an hour ferry ride, gets you to Ko Samet in around 5 hours.
Cool, powder white sand, mostly clean seas, an unusually fine and stable climate and plenty of vegetation around make this a superb beach holiday destination.

There is a large choice of beaches with varied accommodation options from pleasant low cost bungalows to a couple of glitzy and sizeable resort hotels (at the north end of Sae Kaew beach), though these monstrosities are not as dominant as on some other Thai islands due to Samet’s National Park status.

Samet is easy to get to from Bangkok, the sand quality is outstanding, the waters shelve slowly and are warm, clear and safe, while food quality – especially seafood of course – is excellent.  Nightlife is lively on some beaches, but hardly outrageous.

The island’s east coast is a good place to relax or party for a decent price though weekends are much busier because locals come over and prices rise. Samet’s west coast only has one beach/resort worth mentioning, Ao Phrao, a quiet and capable upmarket resort hotel.

Koh Samet is also statistically the driest island in Thailand so it’s useable in the cheap-cheap wet season. The island is a mere 6 kms long by 3 kms wide and lined with varied beaches/bays so if one doesn’t suit then the next will. That being said visitors will probably have to commit to a place for the full vacation so choose your accommodation with care.

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.

• the scenery, mainly green and blue, is fine, but not what you might call spectacular, like Krabi or Phi Phi.

• 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 and ferries, northeast Koh Samet, Thailand

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 beaches

Hat (Beach) Sai Kaew

Hat Saekaew beach, koh Samet, Thailand

Hat Sae Kaeo beach, (Diamond beach), aka Hat Sai Kaew or even Haad Sai Kaew.

Hat Sae Kaeo (also Sae Kaew and other spellings) is quite active, with speedboats coming and going, though all Ko Samet beaches have roped off areas separating boats from swimmers.Sae Kaew  beach offers a line of palm trees that make useful shade and an unusually wide strip of exceptionally soft, squeaky white, no-heat sand that’s the best on this island.
Bars and restaurants fringe the beach and during the evenings it’s is lined with dining tables that can be crowded but still have a pleasant ambience makes a great people-watching stroll. Prices are not ridiculous. In 2017 at a beach table run by one of the best hotels (Sae Kaew Villas) I had seafood rice, prawn salad and a sizeable glass of wine for $11.

Hat/Had/Haad means beach, Ao means bay, Ko/Koh means island.

dinner time on hat sae keaw beach, koh samet, thailand

Dinner time on Koh Samet’s Sae Kaew  beach in 2017. One unique feature of Hat Sae Kaew is the dogs lounging around like it’s their living room, digging into the cool sand during the day then alert for food scraps in the evening. They’re generally in good shape – a bit overweight even – extremely relaxed and never aggressive. No worry-pooches.

Ao Phai

Ao Phai beach, Koh Samet, Thailand

Ao Phai  beach, next south to Hat Saikaew and a good alternative with same sand tho’ less of it and much cheaper.

Ao Phai bungalows and main (only) road, Koh Samet, Thailand

A cluster of old Ao Phai bungalows just across the north/south  road from the beach. There are also some smart newer ones nearby.

Ao Phai, just south of Saekaew beach is in fact two small bays, one more developed and one less developed. Ao Phai hosts some of the cheaper bunglaows on Ko Samet in addition to a couple of entertaining clubs and bars. It’s popular with low-budget travelers, backpackers, flashpackers and neo-hippies. Ao Phai would be our second choice of best budget/mid-range accommodation on Koh Samet. The main downside of Ao Phai is the curse of the speedboats coming and going into to the cordoned part of the beach,  with associated noise and fumes.

Tubtim

Tubtim beach, koh samet, thailand

Tubtim beach, next bay south of Ao Phai.

Our choice of best place to stay in Ko Samet would be Tubtim, the next bay/beach down (south), from Ao Phai.  It’s smaller than Ao Phai, home to some very nice looking bungalows and doesn’t appear to have a speedboat parking/arriving issue, so that would be our first choice of place to stay on Ko Samet, though we suspect that the bungalows – which are clearly smarter than Ao Phai – may be  pricier.

The beach offers good but limited budget and mid-range accommodation options but is still within an easy stagger of the party beaches of Ao Phai and Hat Saekaew. Tubtim is popular with Bangkok residents so weekends are likely to be booked up.

Ao Vong Duern (Wong Duan)

Vong Duean beach, koh samet, thailand

Vong Duean (Vongduan?) beach, popular but very narrow and frequently visited by speedboats.

Vong Duan beach, sea water, koh samet, thailand

Vong Duern (aka Wong Duen/Duan) beach, possibly at high tide but it’s always been like this when I visited so maybe that’s the way it is!

Half way down Samet’s east coast Vong Duern hosts a cluster of convenient bungalow operations and some decent little seafood restaurants as well as a landing stage for ferries from Ban Phe, though the beach is narrow.
The cheapest bungalows are generally the furthest from the two main landing points (Na Dan Pier and Wong Duan), so backpackers should be prepared to walk a while.

The downside to Vong Duern is that the bungalows are not only pricier than those further away but also much desired by people who don’t want to lug their bags a few hundred metres, so book early. Furthermore, as the island’s second landing point, smelly, noisy boat traffic will be regularly in your face, as will the hordes of tourists being off-loaded.

Ao Thian

Ao Thian, another narrow beach backed by facilities, encompasses good value backpacker bungalows and an interesting bar, even if the beach is narrow and rocky in parts. The bungalows are mostly smaller and simpler (but still comfortable) than those on other Samed beaches and give an idea of what Samet was like in the old days.

There are another half dozen bays/beaches running down the bottom third of the east coast. We haven’t visited them but would assume them to be also narrow but wilder and less developed than those further north. However, there is access to all beaches via a road – taxis here are green pickup trucks, walking trail (photo below) and speedboats in some cases.

Walking trail down east coast of Koh Samet, Thailand

This is a typical section of the very pleasant walking trail down the east coast of Ko Samet, wandering from bay to bay. Generally beaches are no more than 5/10 minutes walk from each other, fairly easy going and safe in the daytime. Probably in the night time too but night walkers would certainly need a torch

Ao Prao (Phrao), Koh Samet west coast

Ao Phrao beach, ko samet, thailand

Ao Phrao beach is a private strip of light brown sand (as opposed to the white stuff on the east coast) on Koh Samet’s west coast, where beaches are as  scarce as lips on a chicken. The 4 star hotel running the bay  – Ao Phrao Resort – comprises a series of neat bungalows along a green and pleasant hillside, a swimming pool and a handful of very smart core service buildings, all built low and maintaining a very tranquil environment. The resort is very much quieter than the east coast and seems to appeal to families and couples. Any resident looking for a 7-11, souvenir shopping or alternative eating would require the help of a tuktuk or rented motorbike.

email advice from Phlashmair: If you don’t like the sedentary life-style with a 10 o’clock curfew, then the choices are limited on Samet’s west coast. There are lots of diving and swimming opportunities, but like everything else, these seemed over-priced with staff hanging around the beach area waiting for clients that never came. If you want to stay beach-based and be served by friendly, attentive staff, this is definitely for you and the night-time quiet is broken only by lapping waves, whilst the serenity of watching the distant green-lit squid boats sipping an Ao Prao Sunset is hard to match.
Wildlife was lurking in the vegetation and we saw the famous hornbills, plus a golden tree snake that almost fell into our laps on the beach.

Ao Phrao bad beach villas, koh samet, thailand

And finally from the sublime to the ridiculous…I couldn’t help noticing a lot of promotion material for Sunrise Villas on Ko Samet east coast beside the port. Understandable because some moronic investor has financed these hideous little huts on the west coast and is desperately trying to make some money out of them. Why you would want to stay next to a busy port (Nadan, main arrivals point for visitor ferries and fishing or supply boats), directly below a quite busy road, in a cramped hut with no beach and diesel-tainted water I cannot imagine. Just say No.

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.

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