A guide about Koh Samet island in Rayong province
Koh Samed (เกาะเสม็ด), also spelled Koh Samet, is a small island in the Eastern Gulf Coast, within easy reach of Bangkok and Pattaya.
Just 200 kilometers from Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand, the T-shaped island of Ko Samet is famed for its white sandy beaches, exotic coral and crystal clear waters. Ko Samet has developed steadily over the past decade or so, but it hasn’t been the victim of over zealous construction which has hit the likes of Ko Samui (or even Ko Chang). The island is typified for its splendid beaches and white silky sand, surrounded by tropical coral reefs and crystal clear sea. Tourists can also enjoy a plethora of delicious cuisine and fine nightlife.
Ko Samet is a small and beautiful island in the Eastern Gulf Coast
It’s a popular tourist destination for Thais and foreigners alike. As Ko Samet is so near Bangkok, the island is ideal for those in the capital wanting to chill-out with their families for a couple of days, without having to go through all that rigmarole of having to travel down south. It’s only a 2,5 hour ride to Ban Phe, where one can take a 20-minutes ferry to the island.
Even though Ko Samet is only a few kilometers from the mainland, the island with its micro-climate (the driest archipelago in Thailand) gets much less rainfall than the rest of Eastern Thailand. The rainy season is May to September but even then it still has significantly less rain than the other islands in Thailand. Tourists should, however, be careful of occasional storms.
How to get Ko Samed
Most of Ko Samet, including all the good parts, is part of Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park and thus has an entry fee. Thais pay 40 baht for adults, 20 baht for children (current as of June 2009); foreigners pay 200 baht for adults, 100 baht for children (current as of November 2009). This two-tier pricing policy is applicable to all national parks. If you can explain, however, that you actually live or work in Thailand, then you may not have to pay the “tourist” price. One excuse for the difference is that “Thai citizens pay taxes”.
If your ferry arrives at the main pier and you take a songthaew to the beaches, there will be a stop at the main ticket checkpoint. If your ferry arrives at one of the beaches, an officer will collect the fee as you step out of the surf. Note that there is plenty of foot traffic in and out of the park to the 7-Eleven, ATM or other shops and restaurants and if you have no bags you can nonchalantly walk into the park without anyone checking your ticket. There is a road via the temple which avoids the checkpoint entirely. Note: some bungalows might give the impression that the entry fee is included in their booking, but it is not.
By car and taxi
As Koh Samed is an island, you first have to drive to Rayong. From Bangkok, you can take Sukhumvit Rd (Highway No. 3) passing Chonburi, Si Racha, Pattaya, Sattahip and onto Rayong. The total distance to Rayong is approximately 220 kilometers. If you drive onto Highway No. 36 at Bang Lamung (before Pattaya), you’ll take a shortcut inland and save about 45 kilometers (but the scenery is not as impressive).
Taxi services are available from Rayong. You need to specify Ban Phe since the pier at Ban Phe is at the lower outskirts of Rayong itself. The metered fare is approximately 1600 baht, but most drivers will want to go “off meter” for a fare ranging from 1500 baht (some drivers don’t realize the meter is slightly higher) to 2000/2200/2500 baht. Expressway tolls of about 100 baht are additional. You can either grab a taxi from your hotel or guesthouse that is willing to make the drive on the spot, or pre-arrange a pickup from a taxi driver you like by asking for his cellphone number and calling to make a booking — the latter routine works best if you have a native Thai speaker to help you. Look for a later model taxi and do a quick visual check of the tires before committing to a trip. As a general precaution with all taxis in all countries, it’s better to double up in a taxi with a friend on a long ride like this.
The bus from Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) to Ban Phe usually takes 3.5 hours, costs 157 baht (current as of July 2009), and terminates opposite the ferry piers. There is no direct service to Ban Phe from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Terminal — it only brings you to Rayong, from where you can take a songthaew (20 baht) to Ban Phe.
There are direct first class bus services between Rayong and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. If you take a regular bus from Pattaya or Sattahip, you’ll need to take a songthaew or charter a tuk-tuk to the ferry piers.
There are also mini-vans that leave from Victory Monument in Bangkok’s Phahonyothin district. They charge 250 baht per person and bring you directly to the ferry piers. This is a slightly nicer alternative to the larger tourist buses that depart from bus stations. The mini-vans drive faster than the tourist buses, but they also make several stops along the way in Rayong which makes the trip about the same time. Also, the ride is quite bumpy, so even reading a book is a challenge.
Bangkok Airways has operated a flight daily from Phuket and Ko Samui to Pattaya’s U-Tapao Airport. For more information, contact Bangkok Airways at number +66 2265 5678 or contact a travel agent. From the airport, it is about one hour by car or bus to reach the pier. This way of transportation is only recommended for travellers from Southern Thailand.
Ferries from Ban Phe or Nuan Thip (they are about 1/8 mile apart, with Ban Phe to the north opposite a 7-11) to Ko Samet take around 30 to 45 minutes. Only buy a one-way ticket (50 baht), as there’s no discount on round-trip tickets (100 baht) and you won’t have to worry about losing it or finding that your ticket isn’t valid for the most convenient return ferry. The ticket sellers state you must buy your national park ticket from them also.
Alternatively, there are two speedboat companies that operate from Ban Phe. Speedboat prices can range from 600 baht to NaaDaan pier to a few thousand baht for the outer-lying bays and beaches.
For the return from the Ko Samet public pier, take either the Nuan Thip or Ban Phe piers for your destination — it doesn’t matter which one you departed from as they are only a short walk apart, and you might get an earlier boat back if you are willing to be flexible and return to a different pier. Both are served by songthaews: Ban Phe has an informal “taxi stand” in front of the 7-11 across the street with passenger cars used as cabs. It costs 200 baht for a ride from Ban Phe to the Novotel, quite a distance down the coast, in early 2009.