For passing tourists, the island of Koh Samet might seem like a small-scale version of its southern neighbours, Koh Samui, Phangan and Tao. However, this bustling beachy island should not be overlooked. Any Thai long weekend will mark a boom in Samet’s tourism. Students, young professionals, and urban-weary Bangkok residents make pilgrimages out to the island in search of sand, sun and fun. For Western travelers, this means an opportunity to holiday like Thais, with Thais, sharing SangSom buckets and bungalow accommodation with Thailand’s most diverse mix of beachgoers.
Unlike other Thailand beaches, where your interactions with natives may be limited to bargirls and tuk-tuk drivers, Samet is a place to meet peers looking for tranquility by day and parties by night. If you’re keen for a beach holiday, but still hoping to take a few steps off the Western tourist path, Samet might be your Eden.
From Bangkok, the beaches of Koh Samet can be reached by an easy 4-hour bus-ferry-taxi trip. While travel agencies throughout Bangkok will easily coordinate a package trip, the journey is a simple one. From Ekamai Station, travelers will be dropped directly at the pier in the coastal town of Bang Phe. From here, the island is an easy 30-minute boat ride away.
The beaches of Koh Samet vary from bustling to secluded, and its narrow, 2-road layout provides easy navigation. However, motorbike enthusiasts should note that outside the busy northern part of the island, the roads start to resemble motorcross courses in their uneven rockiness. Novice bikers might be better off traveling by taxi, or else choosing one beach and parking their rucksacks there.
Those looking for quieter beaches are best heading south, where coral reefs populate the secluded sands of Ao Kiu and Ao Wai. More social-minded travellers are best off staying in the north. On the northeastern tip, Hat Sai Keaw and Ao Phai are Samet’s most popular beaches. Here, the scene is clean beaches crowded with a great mix of people; university students, young families, and intrepid backpackers swim and sun among vendors selling sarongs or fruit, henna tattoo artists, or masseuses patrolling the beach.
Here, beachside restaurants compete with extensive Western-friendly menus and nightly movie screenings. Come nightfall, parties ignite along the beach. Share cocktails in buckets at Naga Bungalows’ bar, or dance til all hours at the ever-popular White Sands Resort bar. Day or night, people-watchers will delight in the mix of Thai and foreign vacationers, traveling families and backpackers, couples and singles. This variety makes Koh Samet a unique Thai travelspot; diverse crowds are proof of the island’s diverse attractions. Divers, snorkellers, campers, partyers, relaxation-seekers, scenery buffs can all leave Samet satisfied.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.