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.
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 (in good traffic; expect 3- 4 hours in normal congestion) 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.
It is believed that once upon a time, Ko Samet was the home of pirates and that to this very day there are still lost treasures buried somewhere on the island. Thailand’s legendary poet Sunthorn Phu was the first one to put this island on the map when he set his classical epic there, Phra Aphai Manee “The Story of Princes, Saga, Mermaids and Giants”.
Even though Bangkokians had known about the beauty of Ko Samet for decades before, the Thai government put this island off limits and restricted overnight stay there until 1981. In that year, on 1st October, the Forestry Department of Thailand declared Ko Samet and its surroundings to be a National Park.
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 October 2015); foreigners pay 200 baht for adults, 100 baht for children (current as of October 2015). 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 you are a teacher and work in Thailand you may bring out some form of Thai ID – Driver’s License, Teachers card or something like that and you will get the Thai fee. It seems like the fee is only during peak tourist season, as several tourists walk in and out without buying the pass.
If your ferry arrives at the main pier and you take a songtheaw to the beaches, there will be a stop at the main ticket checkpoint. The journey from the pier to the town centre is a fairly short stroll, taking less than ten minutes. 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. You may also be asked to pay the park entry fee when boarding the ferry on the mainland, but if you mention you are staying outside the park boundaries they won’t make you pay.
By car and taxi
As Ko Samet 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). There is also less traffic.
Taxi services are available from Bangkok. 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 pick up a taxi that will go directly to the ferry piers at Ban Phe at the airports as you can for any other destination. You can also 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 if you can. If fact do not get into older taxi’s period. They are poorly maintained and will give you the run around. No one catches them and so he will try make up for it by taking you the wrong way, driving too quickly or slowly. Take new well maintained taxi’s that look clean and you are less likely to be ripped off. The older drivers have been doing it for years and know all the tricks and all the scams and you will be in an argument before too long.
Pai Rayong Pow – means “Do you go to Rayong?”.
If you are coming from Bangkok, there are a few main spots to take the bus to Rayong or Ban Phe, from which you can take a ferry to Ko Samet: Ekkamai, Mo Chit, Victory Monument, and Sai Tai Mai.
From Ekkamai: the bus from Bangkok‘s Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) to Ban Phe usually takes 3.5 to 4 hours, costs 200 baht (current as of May 2016), and terminates opposite the ferry piers. Tickets for the ferry from Ban Phe to Ko Samet can be bought at the same counter where the bus ticket was purchased. The bus may take a number of side roads or the main road, but could be slow due to road quality or congestion.
From Mo Chit: 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 for about (20 Baht) to Ban Phe.
From the Airport (direct route not possible, as of May 2016): There are direct first class bus services between Rayong and Bangkok‘s Suvarnabhumi Airport (as of May 2016, this bus between the airport and Rayong is no longer running; on the website, it still exists, but when inquiring at the airport, it doesn’t exist. You need to go into the city to take a bus.). From the airport you can go to Pattaya. So, 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.
From the Victory Monument: There are also mini-vans that leave from Victory Monument in Bangkok’s Phahonyothin district. They charge 200 baht per person and bring you directly to the ferry piers. You can find the vans in the lane by Century Cinema near Exit 2 of the Victory Monument Skytrain Station. If you have a lot of luggage, it’s customary to buy one extra seat. If just a backpackers’ backpack or roll-on, you can usually fit it in the aisles.
From Sai Tai Mai: There is a minibus operating from Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai) leaving ca. every 2hrs. It will take you directly to Ban Phe (220thb dec 2014). (make sure you get dropped at the main boat ticket office (24hrs open) at the departing pier, even if you get there late in the evening. Usually they take you to a travel agent that sells you overpriced speedboat tickets. Shared speedboat price should be around 300thb – max 500thb dec 14).
Going back: If you plan to get back directly to Suvarnabuhmi airport Bangkok, you can take a minibus from Ban Phe pier (200 thb May 2016). The tickets can be bought directly from an improvised booth a few meters from the pier main building. Just walk out of the pier building, turn left and find the minibus station on the left side. The bus takes you to Pattaya or the Bangkok Airport link train station, from where you’ll need to take the train one station to the airport (15 thb feb 2017).