Koh Samed (or Koh Samet), about 220 km southeast from Bangkok, is the best island option if you’re planning a quick getaway from Bangkok and don’t want to take any flight. Spread along Koh Samed’s coasts there are over a dozen white sand beaches with turquoise waters, surely not as pretty as some southern Thai islands, but certainly beautiful, and no doubt the best that can be reached in a quick getaway from Bangkok. Except for Baan Nadan area, all of the island is part of the Khao Laem Ya–Mu Koh Samed National Park, which includes as well another 9 small areas and a small portion of continental coastal land in Rayong Province, and this is the reason why visitors are charged 200 THB on arrival. Weather wise Koh Samed can be visited any month of the year, since it is one of the driest islands in the country, even though is better to avoid the rainiest months, September and October. With not even 7 km long from north to south, the island is so easy to navigate that many don’t bother to rent any kind of vehicle, even though green public songthaews are available to move around, and is possible as well to rent a motorcycle or bicycle. Altogether, if you’re short in time Koh Samed may well be the perfect Thai island destination for your holidays.
Despite the 220 km distance, many refer to Koh Samed as ‘Bangkok’s beach’, since alongside Pattaya and Hua Hin it’s the most popular beach destination for Bangkokians. Therefore, if you want to avoid the crowds, better skip weekends and local holidays.
ℹ️ Top Things to Do in Koh Samed
Koh Samed island has altogether over a dozen quite beautiful beaches, but if you want to experience something closer to rather unspoilt paradise islands, you can always join a boat tour and visit a selection of the other 9 smaller islands in the archipelago, which altogether form the Khao Laem Ya–Mu Koh Samet National Park. This speedboat tours are offered all year-round, weather allowing, and can be booked through any of the small local tour agencies found in Koh Samed, usually for a price of 1,500 THB/person. Only a short 20 minutes ride away, Koh Thalu is one of the highlights you shouldn’t miss, with a gorgeous white sand beach and crystalline waters offering quite good amateur snorkelling.
While in Koh Samed, many like to enjoy the sunset from a beach bar in Ao Phrao, the only west-facing beach in the island, and this is indeed an excellent option. But if you’d prefer to add some action to this rather contemplative activity, you can go to one of the higher viewpoints along the rocky western coast, and on the way maybe take the chance to explore a bit this less visited part of the island. The most easily reached of these viewpoints is on top of a hill just south of Ao Phrao. More atmospheric ones are found further south, across the road from Ao Wong Deuan, Ao Sang Thian, Ao Kiu Na Nawk and Ao Pakarang, on the southern tip of the island. Ask for directions once in the area, since the paths leading to this viewpoints are poorly marked, when marked at all.
Even though Koh Samed is far from being considered a scuba diving destination, along Koh Samed’s coast and around some other islands in the archipelago there are more than enough good diving spots to keep even serious divers reasonably satisfied. There’s various scuba diving agencies scattered around different Koh Samed’s beaches, and they offer the usual range of courses, including day open-water dives, night dives, beginner lessons and PADI certification. In the waters off Ao Phai’s coast there’s plenty of porcupine pufferfish and manta rays, and at the southern tip near Ao Kiu is usual to spot black-tipped sharks, stingrays, star fish, corals and barracudas, among others.
Wat Ko Kaew Phitsadan
Wat Ko Kaew Phitsadan is certainly not an outstanding Thai temple, but since it’s the only one in the island and is very easily reached, it is well worth a visit if you happen to be nearby. It’s located east off the road behind Haad Sai Kaew beach, next to Baan Samed village. Being the only temple, many refer to it simply as ‘Wat Koh Samed’, but it’s real name means ‘Temple of the Magic Crystal Island’, and comes from the 19th century epic poem ‘Phra Aphai Mani’, set in Koh Samed. The main feature for the visitor is an 8 meter high white Buddha made of concrete, sitting in the quite uncommon vitarka mudra, a hand position that simbolizes the discussion and transmission of the teachings of Buddha.
No wonder that the so-called Bangkok’s Beach has all sorts of water sports on offer for Bangkokian weekenders and other tourists. Eco-friendly canoeing and kayaking are a great way to exlore the island’s coastline, better by the calmer east coast than the rocky and rough west. The area north of Haad Sai Kaew, with offshore winds and strong currents, is good for sailing and windsurfing, and the equipment rental can be easily arranged through any guest house or resort, while catamarans are only available at high-end resorts. Noisy and environmentally unfriendly jet-skis are also available for thrill-seekers at some of the most popular beaches.
Haad Sai Kaew, the main beach in the island, is the place to go if you want to party, especially on weekends when the number of visitors in the island grows with Thai tourists on a getaway. In the restaurant/bar/disco Ploy Talay, they put on fire shows and good parties every night, both right on the sand and in the disco behind. By the road behind the southern tip of the Haad Sai Kaew’s beach where the mermaid statue is located, you’ll find Koh Samed’s night bar par excellence: the Naga Bar, an open-air pub that gets very crowded on Fridays and Saturdays. For those of you looking to chill out in a quiet bar on the sand, sipping a beer under the moonlight, just walk around and you’ll find quite a few good options.
🏨 Where to stay in Koh Samed
Best Areas & Beaches in Koh Samed:
Koh Samed’s popularity due to easy access from Bangkok and central Thailand makes accommodation prices more expensive than in other islands, but for those travelling on a tighter budget it’s still possible to find guest houses rooms in the price range of 400-600 THB/night.
Best for: Travelers looking for a nice beach with lively atmosphere.
Accommodation available: Mainly mid-range Resorts, but options from cheap guest houses up to 4 star Hotels.
✔️ Longest and busiest beach in the island.
✔️ Main party area.
✔️ Quality resorts on the northern half of the beach.
✔️ Head to neighbour Laem Yai (north) or Ao Hin Khok (south) if looking for a cheaper seaside location.
Best for: Luxury travellers.
Accommodation available: two 4 star Resorts and one 3 star Resort.
✔️ Pretty beach in a kakhi sand bay.
✔️ Large seaside resorts with swimming pools.
✔️ Luxury atmosphere.
✔️ Only beach on the west coast, best sunsets.
Ao Vong Deuan
Best for: Couples and families.
Accommodation available: mainly 3 star Resorts, and a few cheap bungalows.
✔️ All kind of tourist services.
✔️ Reasonably quiet area without all-night beach parties.
✔️ Good location in the middle of east coast.
Best for: travelers looking for quietness and unexpensive seaside accommodation.
Accommodation available: Flashpacker Resorts.
✔️ Quiet atmosphere beach of sand and rocks.
✔️ Good value seaside accommodation.
✔️ Good location in the middle of east coast.
✔️ Right south from Ao Wong Deuan, where all kind of tourist services are available.
Best for: Backpackers.
Accommodation available: Cheap Guest Houses.
✔️ Cheaper rooms, restaurants and services in all of the island.
✔️ Best selection of restaurants.
✔️ Walking distance from Haad Sai Kaew beach and the pier.
🏖️ Best beaches in Koh Samed
We’ve been to all of them, these are the best:
1️⃣ Ao Wai
Rather remote Ao Wai is a strong contender as the best beach in Koh Samed, and in addition to being a beautiful and quiet beach with perfect powder-white sand, it is very easily accessed from the road. Broad headlands on either side of the bay keep waters calm. The beach is backlined by the Samet Ville Resort, and access isn’t easy, either by boat from Baan Phe or by the bumpy road south from Ao Wong Deuan.
2️⃣ Ao Kiu
Another strong contendent as the best beach on the island. It is almost perfect: white sand, calm blue waters and very clean. Unfortunately, access is not easy since the most expensive resort on the island, the Paradee Resort, is located there, and they block access from the road to all non-clients. With a good pair of sandals you can get there walking on the rocks from its neighboring beaches: Ao Wai (north) or Ao Kiu (south).
3️⃣ Ao Phrao
Ao Phrao is the only noticeable beach on Koh Samed’s west coast, a 10 minutes songthaew or motorcycle ride from Haad Sai Kaew beach, or 30 minutes walk. There’s no cheap accommodation here, only 3 large luxury resorts by the beach: Le Vimarn Cottages & Spa, Lima Coco Resort Hotel and Ao Prao Resort. The beach is beautiful although not among our favorites, but no doubt its western location makes is the best one in the afternoon, and especially for sundowners.
4️⃣ Haad Sai Kaew
Haad Sai Kaew is the busiest and most famous beach in all of Koh Samed, as it is the longest and the closest to the jetty. A beautiful beach with white sand and calm waters, although on holidays and weekends can get very crowded, and noisy at night, since here’s the main party area in the island. Sometimes the high boat traffic becomes an annoyance, but there are swimming areas marked with buoys. Next to the beach and a bit further behind there are several resorts and all kinds of accommodation, restaurants and tourist services.
5️⃣ Ao Nuan
Ao Nuan is a small quiet cove backed by a forested hillside, with a remote atmosphere even though it has a northern location within easy reach from much busier beaches. There’s one only accommodation option, the flashpaker Ao Nuan Bungalows. If after enjoying Ao Nuan’s calm you feel in need of a livelier atmosphere, or some variety of restaurants and bars, you can visit the neighbour beaches of Ao Tubtim (north) and Ao Chao (south).
6️⃣ Ao Tubtim
Laidback Ao Tubtim and Ao Phutsa are two contiguous stretches from the same beautiful white sand beach, just a five minutes stroll south from Ao Phai. Despite its northern and easily accessed location, it’s always a quiet beach that attracts few tourists. Walk to the northern edge to admire a bunch of phallic sculptures made out of rocks, supposed to be some kind of good luck charms. There are 2 flashpaker resorts by the sand, and a couple of cheap guest houses behind them.
7️⃣ Ao Hin Khok
Ao Hin Khok is a rather small beach with powdery white sand, just south of Haad Sai Kaew, the most popular and busy beach in Koh Samed. The beach is good both for sunbathing and swimming, and it has a backpacker vibe even though the few accommodation options here are in the flashpacker range, but it’s still possible to find cheap basic fan-cooled bungalows on offer at Naga Bungalows.
8️⃣ Ao Wong Deuan
Ao Wong Deuan means ‘Bay of the Crescent Moon’ in Thai, and indeed it’s shape draws an almost perfect half circle of soft sand embracing crystal-clear waters perfect for swimming if you keep an eye on the speedboats. Despite being the second most popular beach in Koh Samed, only behind Haad Sai Kaew, Ao Wong Duan has managed to keep much quieter but at the same time offers almost the same commodities. Accommodation options are mainly in the mid and flashpacker ranges.
9️⃣ Ao Lung Dam
Ao Lung Dam, ‘Black Uncle’s Bay’ in Thai, is a beautiful small bay in the south of the eastern coast, separated from Ao Thian by just a few rocks. Alongside Ao Nuan, Ao Lung Dam is the only beach in Koh Samed that has managed to retain its original backpacker vibe until today -even though the accommodation prices have climbed up to flashpacker range-. The beach is great for swimming, and the wooden pier that stretches well into the sea is an irresistible jumping spot.
🔟 Ao Thian
Ao Thian or ‘Candle Bay’, just south of Ao Wong Deuan, gets its name from the times when electricity hadn’t yet arrived to this beautiful beach that combines stretches of sand with rocks. The popularity of its northern neighbour, combined with the rather remote southern location and the preference that many feel for non-rocky beaches, helps keeping this beach really quiet. At high tide, some stretches of sand completely disappear underwater. The few small resorts at Ao Thian are in the flashpacker price range.
✈️ Getting to Koh Samed
From Bangkok, you can get there by combining bus or minivan with boat:
Bus or minivan + boat
➡️ From Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus terminal (located right next to the BTS Skytrain Ekkamai stop), you can take a bus to Nuan Thip pier, and from there a boat to Koh Samed (also included in the ticket price).
➡️ The journey to Nuan Thip pier takes about 3 or 4 hours, and the ticket costs about 400 THB inlcuding the ferry, with departures every 1,5 hours between 07:00 and 17:00. Departures later than 14:00 are unlikely to catch a public ferry until next morning.
➡️ Alternativelly, you can depart from Khao San Rd (tour agencies sell tickets) or Suvarnabhumi Airport.
➡️ Another option is to take a van to Ban Phe, departing from Bangkok’s Ekkamai (Eastern Bus Terminal), with hourly departures between 07:00 and 18:00. Price 200 THB. Again, departures later than 14:00 are unlikely to catch a public ferry until next morning.
➡️All piers serving Koh Samed are located at Ban Phe. Nuan Thip pier is the main one, but there’s a few others: Phe pier, Sri Ban Phe pier, Tha Reua Thesaban pier (Municipal Pier) and Chokkrisda pier.
➡️ Nuan Thip pier is the most popular option for ferries, and the trip takes about 40 minutes and costs 70 THB.
➡️ Phe pier is the most popular option for speedboats, departing from 09:00 to 14:00, with price ranging between 200 and 500 THB depending on the beach of your choice.
➡️Ferry departures are generally between 07:00 and 19:00. If you get to Ban Phe later and don’t want to wait until next morning, you can charter a private transfer at the Municipal Pier for about 2,000-2,500 THB.
➡️Koh Samet’s upscale resorts have their own small piers for boat transfers, usually included in the room rates.