Ko Samet, Thailand: Photos & Review

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Sai Kaew Beach on Ko Samet, Thailand

Ko Samet, Thailand (also spelled Koh Samet and Ko Samed) is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand with beautiful white sand beaches and clear, sapphire waters.

At only 4.2 miles/6.8 kilometers from north to south and roughly 5 miles/13 kilometeres squared, Ko Samet is a really great size for visitors. It’s big enough to have multiple marvelous beaches and spots to visit, but it’s not so big that it’s difficult to get around or leaves you feeling like you haven’t seen much of the island.

Ko Samet is also very accessible in comparison to other islands in Thailand. If you are visiting or flying in/out of Bangkok, this island is only about 140 miles/225 kilometers away. You can easily catch a bus and ferry from the capital to Ko Samet (which is what we did).

You don’t have to fuss with getting an airplane and then another airplane or bus/ferry combination to get there. Including both the bus and ferry, you can get to Ko Samet in approximately 4-5 hours.

Maybe that doesn’t seem super close, but many of Thailand’s more popular and famous islands (e.g. Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Pha Ngan) are located in the south, much further away from Bangkok. For instance, you can fly from Bangkok to Phuket in about an hour and a half, but you still need the time to get to the airport (and early enough) and from the airport to your accommodation.

The more southern islands are gorgeous, but Ko Samet is quite lovely too. I was quite happy with all the beaches on Ko Samet that we visited!

This post goes over my trip to Ko Samet, Thailand in December 2016, including why we chose to go there, getting around, and what we did. It also features plenty of photos of Ko Samet and review of the island as a whole.

Why Ko Samet

So why did my travel mates and I choose Ko Samet over some of the aforementioned, more famous islands for a first venture into Thailand?

Well, Bangkok, for one. We wanted to explore Bangkok for a few days and one of Thailand’s many beach destinations for a few days. It was easy to fly in and out of Bangkok from Seoul (where we all lived at the time). Ko Samet’s proximity to Bangkok and the ease of getting there was a huge factor in choosing it over other destinations.

Second, the island looked quite pretty from photos, compared to other nearby beach areas. There were plenty of lovely-looking beaches on Ko Samet to explore. Plus, we thought it would be cool to actually stay on an island in Thailand versus a coastal spot like Pattaya.

Day 1: Getting to Ko Samet

We left Bangkok early on the bus and caught the ferry to Ko Samet. The bus ride to the port was pretty scenic, passing by plenty of mountains. The port itself was filled with all kinds of boats. We arrived to Ko Samet at some point in the afternoon.

Do note that there is an entrance fee to get onto the island, as much of the island is part of Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park. It’s about 200 Thai baht for adult tourists (~$6 USD) and 100 baht for children (~$3 USD). We paid the entrance fee at the office near the pier.

A view of Thailand from our bus

A random scene from the bus trip from Bangkok

Boats around the pier

We arrived to Ko Samet at Na Dan pier, on the north side of the island. This pier is very famous for the statue in the sea nearby it. This statue is of Pisuea Samut, a female giant from the poem Phra Aphai Mani by Sunthorn Phu, Thailand’s most famous poet. This poem actually features Ko Samet in its story!

Statue of the female giant Pisuea Samut by Na Dan pier on Ko Samet, Thailand

The statue of the female giant

The part of the island near the Na Dan port has a number of accommodations, shops, and restaurants. It’s also located by a massive beach lined with impressive palm trees and restaurants with seating right on the beach (and thus with superb views).

Exploring the town area

We stayed in this area, making it very easy to get to our accommodation, as well as arrive to and leave the island. It also made it easy to find food for breakfast and dinner.

On our first day, we mostly explored the town area a bit and got some dinner.

To get around Ko Samet, you have a couple of options. Obviously, you can walk between your destinations. Many spots are just a quick walk apart. You can also grab a ride with a songthaew (truck used as a taxi or bus), tuk tuk, and so on. These would be good for groups of people.

Songthaew around the island

Motorbike rentals are also a great option. They’re economical and get you to where you want to go on your schedule. There are places to rent motorbikes all over. Random shops will offer rentals, but often hotels will also offer rentals (which makes it easy to grab a bike and return it).

Day 2: Beaches, Massages, and a Fantastic Sunset

Before spending the first part of the day on Hat Sai Kaew (Sai Kaew Beach), the beach nearby our accommodation, we got breakfast at a restaurant along the way to the beach. There are a ton of places to choose from on the road between Na Dan pier and Sai Kaew Beach.

Have you ever tried Thai tea (the orange drink in the photos below)? If you’ve never heard of it, Thai tea usually refers to an orange-ish drink brewed with black tea and sweeted with evaporated or condensed milk. You can get it iced or hot, but it’s likely you’ll want an Thai iced tea in the heat. Some places also offer it without the milk.

More around town – can you spot the 7-11?

Sai Kaew is quite nice. It offers a long sandy beach, clear azure waters, and palm trees galore. There are also plenty of amenities nearby, including beach chairs and toys, water sports, restaurants right on the beach, and shops within walking distance. We hung out in the water, and also got some massages.

Around Hat Sai Kaew

A note about Thai massages. Thai massages are pretty well-known as a concept but not necessarily a practice. What makes a Thai massage different than another type of massage?

At least in the United States, when people think of a massage, it typically involves kneading, rolling, pounding, and so on. But this isn’t really a focus of Thai massage.

A Thai massage is also called a Thai yoga massage. In other words, a major emphasis of this kind of massage is the masseuse pulling and stretching your body parts, arranging them into a variety of positions reminiscent of yoga. If you aren’t used to this type of movement, a Thai massage could actually be kind of rough on your body. So just a word of warning!

So we all received Thai massages right on the beach, underneath the gorgeous palm trees in the photos above. After a while, we grabbed a songthaew to our next destination: Ao Prao (or Prao Beach/Bay).

Some sights on the way to Ao Prao

Ao Prao is a beach area on the west side of Ko Samet, known for its stunning sunsets. It was probably a 10-15 minute ride between the two beaches.

Ao Prao is smaller than Sai Kaew, but perhaps has a slightly more dramatic setting. Ao Prao is a gentle curve of white sand hemmed in by rolling green slopes. It’s bordered by palm trees and a number of seemingly upscale hotels and restaurants.

Scenes of Ao Prao

Ao Prao was quieter and felt more secluded, which made it a placid and intimate setting for watching the sunset.

We ate some dinner inside one of the restaurants, and watched one of the better sunsets I have ever seen while sipping on our drinks (the best sunset I have seen was probably in Bali).

Look at that beautiful sunset and equally-lovely pineapple fried rice

More photos of the changing sky

I know it was an impressive sunset when I took many photographs of it, which I did that day. It was really hard to narrow down my photos to just a few for this post!

For those wanting to hang out at Ao Prao after dark, the beach is lit up by string lights wrapped around palm trees, as well as other lights dangling from the trees.

Some good night ambience

Ao Prao was lovely both during the day and at night. Definitely catch a sunset here and some food or drinks if you have the chance!

Day 3: More Beach Time and A Snorkeling Excursion

The next day, we ate breakfast and took another songthaew to another beach area, this time Ao Tubtim (also called Ao Phutsa/Pudsa).

Along the way, we briefly spied more statues of characters from Phra Aphai Mani, the poem with the female giant. This time, the statues were of the mermaid and the piper prince.

I also ended up catching a photo of a building advertising motorbike rentals. For some frame of reference of prices on the island (which could be different now), renting a motorbike for a day was 300 baht (around $8-9 USD).

Morning views

Ao Tubtim is a sizable beach, with a wide strip of sand bordered by various trees that provide shade. The water of Ao Tubtim was especially beautiful, featuring a range of blue hues. There were a few stalls around offering beach amenities as well.

Like Ao Prao, Ao Tubtim had a relaxed and almost out-of-the way feeling, though both beaches are very accessible. Ao Tubtim definitely has more room than Ao Prao though. We explored the beach a bit, and went swimming and kayaking.

Very blue waters at Ao Tubtim

My friend went for round two of Thai massage on the beach, but I didn’t. But luckily for you readers, I also happened to catch the sign with the prices in a picture (though very grainy). Prices will definitely vary, even on the same island, with more touristy places being more expensive. But at least I can give you a small idea of what to expect price-wise. I’m positive prices will have increased since the pandemic, though.

From what I can make out through extreme zoom, a Thai massage was 350 baht, with three other options also being 350 Thai baht. There were three other options that were 400 baht, one that was 200 baht (a foot scrub, I think?), and two that were 100 baht (one appears to be facial massage). 350 baht is roughly $10 USD. For a massage right on the beach! The sign doesn’t indicate how long the massages were through.

I also caught massage prices on a picture in town. At this place, the services that I could make out were as follows: standard Thai massage (250 baht), oil massage (250 baht), foot massage (250 baht), back and head massage (200 baht), Thai herbal massage (700 baht), after sun massage (400 baht), facial treatment (300 baht), body scrub (700 baht), and foot scrub (200 baht).

More around Ao Tubtim

After some time, we caught a taxi to get to the pier where we would be picked up for our snorkeling excursion. This was around Khao Laem Ya National Park sign. The area around the pier was very striking, with hazy faraway islands and some of the most aquamarine water we saw on our trip.

Our expedition had two parts. First, we went snorkeling in some area, but I’m not sure where exactly. I think the snorkeling was alright; unfortunately, snorkeling in most of the world just isn’t what it once was because the coral reefs are dying out. There isn’t as much sealife and it isn’t as colorful.

Extraordinarily azure waters around the pier, our snorkeling spot (bottom right)

In the second half, we visited and chilled on Ko Ku Dee, a small but extremely gorgeous island northeast of Ko Samet. We basically just explored the island and its scenery, and ate the fruit they provided as a snack (which was absolutely delicious, by the way).

The setting around Ko Ku Dee is splendid. Mountainous land and emerald isles float in the distance in a sapphire sea. The island itself was covered in trees providing shade. There was also a cute little swing hung from one of the trees.

Sights around Ko Ku Dee

After arriving back to Ko Samet from our excursion, we had dinner at a restaurant along Sai Kaew Beach, the beach near the town and port. As we ate, the sun slowly sunk into the horizon and a rainbow of lanterns begun to light up the spaces above and around us.

Sunset and dinner, right on the beach

Sai Kaew Beach at night (and Christmastime; the Christmas tree isn’t random)

Sai Kaew was very pretty during the day, but with all the lanterns along the beach, it was totally awesome. Usually after the sun sets, there isn’t much to see on a beach. However, Sai Kaew’s lights make it a picturesque place to hang out after dark.

Day 4: Leaving Ko Samet

We didn’t have much time on Ko Samet on our last day, as we had a bit of a journey back to Bangkok. We also had to catch our ferry back in the morning. But we did have breakfast at a nice spot on Sai Kaew to take in the nice sands and pretty waters of Ko Samet once more.

Breakfast on the beach, featuring some cat friends

It was a very pleasant way to end our time on Ko Samet. Definitely get the most of your island vacation by eating as many meals as you can right on the beach.

And for some prices we saw on our last day. I have pictures of one place in town offering washing service for 60 baht (~$1.75 USD) and washing and ironing together for 120 baht, both for 1 kilogram of clothing. A place closer to Sai Kaew had washing service for 70 baht for 1 kilogram of laundry.

Here are some bonus photos of food around the island:

Some very fresh fruit, seafood, and meats

We took the ferry back to a port on the mainland, and then a bus back to Bangkok for the last few days of our trip. We arrived back in the capital at some time in the afternoon.

Leaving Ko Samet

Riding back to the mainland on the ferry

Overall Thoughts

So is Ko Samet worth visiting?

I think so! It’s a really nice island. I enjoyed the beaches on Ko Samet that we visited; they were all quite beautiful, with soft sands and crystalline waters.

It also offers a range of activities, including water sports and snorkeling. If you are looking for a Thai massage, you can get one right on the beach and relax to the sounds of the ocean waves.

There are a number of good restaurants and bars along many of the beaches. You really can’t beat the view of a table literally on the sand. In general, there seemed to be enough shops, restaurants, and so on to be able to fulfill most needs or wants.

It’s not hard to catch a songthaew or tuk tuk to get you around the island, or even walk between locations. It’s also easy enough to get from Bangkok to Ko Samet. The island’s nearness to Bangkok make it a great getaway for those living in the capital, as well as tourists looking for a beach destination to pair with a trip to Bangkok.

If you’re looking to visit only one Thai island for vacation from outside of Thailand, it might be easier for you to fly into an island with an airport, like Phuket. Even so, Ko Samet provides an enjoyable and compact island experience.

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