Difference between revisions of "Ko Samet"
Revision as of 00:01, 31 August 2007
(there's also a smaller Ko Samet in Chumphon Province)
Ko Samet is not overly renowned for its parties (unlike Ko Pha Ngan) or its diving (unlike Ko Tao), but it has both convenience and quietness in its favor. It's a popular tourist destination for Thais as well as foreigners for its proximity to Bangkok.
Most of Ko Samet, including all of the good parts, is a national park and has an entry fee. Thais pay 40 baht, foreigners 400 baht - a classic example of Thai dual pricing. 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.
The 1st class bus from Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai) to Ban Phe usually takes just over 3 hours, costs 276 baht, and terminates opposite the ferry piers (there's no direct service to Ban Phe from Moh Chit - nearest alternative is to Rayong, from there you can take a Song Thaew to Ban Phe). 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. Minibus services go straight to the piers.
Ferries from Ban Phe to Ko Samet take around 30 to 45 minutes. Only buy a one-way ticket, as there's no discount on round-trip tickets and you won't have to worry about losing it. The ticket sellers may also offer to sell you the national park ticket - don't bother.
The nearest airport fielding commercial flights is U-Tapao, just east of Sattahip - about 45 km from Ban Phe.
There are two methods to get around the island. The first is by songthaew, this is just a pickup truck with the passengers sitting in the back. It costs 200 baht for a private trip, or between 20 and 60 baht per person for a full car, depending on which beach you are going to. This is a rather expensive method to get around the island, and the dusty roads can make it an uncomfortable trip. The second way is by renting a motorcycle. Signs advertise 300 baht per day or 100 baht per hour, but when you go to enquire about renting they will often say 400 or 500 baht per day. Insist on paying 300 baht. You will usually be able to rent it from the hotel you are staying at. Leaving your passport or a deposit is not necessary or advisable.
A boat trip with any of the number of companies should cost around 600B and can include snorkeling, fishing, a visit to the fish farms and floating restaurant, or a tour around the island.
Ko Samet doesn't have much in the way of shopping beyond basic beach accessories (sarongs, T-shirts, etc).
Most hotels have some books to trade or rent, and there are a growing number of hawkers selling books as too.
Seafood, seafood, and seafood, some of the best barbeques are found along Ao Phai and Haat Sai Kaew beaches. But there's also meat and veggie curries as well as Western favorites like pizza, and a bakery that makes fresh bread at the Naga Bar and Bungalows on Ao Hin Khok. The best burgers on the island can be found at Saffron, while Jep's Restaurant offers cooking you'll still be missing a year after you leave -- try the chicken and cashew nuts with steamed rice. Almost every hotel and bungalow operation has its own restaurant but it's only the movies that differentiate them. Many also set up tables and chairs at night for dining on the beach.
If you are relaxing on the beach during the day there are plenty of hawkers selling fresh fruit, BBQ chicken wings, dried squid, papaya salad (can be extremely spicy) and even ice creams at reasonable prices.
Also if you need a break from Thai cuisine a number of the restaurants along Haat Sai Kaew make excellent club sandwiches. They also offer western style breakfast. (eg. bacon and eggs, yogurt or breakfast cereal)
In town (Na Dan), there are two smallish, more traditional Thai eateries that serve good quality Thai food at fairly cheap prices. One is located across the road from the 7/11 near the national park entrance, and the other is just a few shops down from the same 7/11. Both have menus in English.
If you've jonesing for some sticky rice and other country fare head down to Ao Wong Duan.
If you are after a traditional Thai breakfast there are a couple of ladies who set up their mobile eatery daily next to the Tourist Police checkpoint that services Haat Sai Kaew. They serve boiled chicken on rice (khao man gai tom), fried chicken and rice (khao man gai tort) or rice porridge (jok) for 20-30 baht. The food is fresh and they do a brisk trade serving locals as well as a few tourists.
Gecko Bar, located at the end of Ao Phai beach next to Silversand Resort, does an excellent barbeque with chicken steaks smothered in mushroom sauce and sizzling beef and chicken hotplates. Between 100 and 200 baht, these meals are definitely good value, try the fries.
Although Koh Samet is not a renowned party island, Haat Sai Kaew and Ao Phai do get their fair share of backpackers, and therefore have their fair share of parties. Everyday on Ao Phai flyers are handed out from the different bars that advertise the drink specials for that night, and might even give you a free drink. Biggest nights are generally Thursday-Saturday, when more of the backpackers and expats come to the island. The main bars along Haat Sai Kaew are:
and along Ao Hua Khok / Ao Phai are:
The local special can be reproduced as follows:
Place all ingredients in sandbucket and drink via straw. Repeat until the sandy beach rises up to meet you.
There's also the usual assortment of Thai beer - Chang, Tiger, San Miguel, Leo, and Carlsberg. Prices are significantly higher than on the mainland, but most bars have some form of happy hour. Alternatively, there's always the option of buying a 6-pack and sitting on the beach; for non-drinkers there are tropical fruit drinks.
Most of the accommodation centers around the beaches on the east coast; try to arrive on the island as early as possible to have the best selection to choose from. Tourist season on Samet is generally from November - February and June - August, at which time finding vacant accomadation can be a challenge. Also, beware any public holidays, the island fills up like crazy!
The northern-most beaches of Hat Sai Keaw and Ao Hin Kok have many bugalow operations with typical Thai concrete bunker-style rooms. If your room doesn't have air conditioning it can get a little hot during the day. At the very northern end are a few upscale resorts. At beaches further south you'll find the bungalows ranging from dismal shacks to four-star, air-conditioned mini suites.
Unless you've made the mistake of booking your room with the touts back at the dock you'll find a place by strolling down the beach. As this island becomes more and more popular it's getting harder to find rock-bottom prices. On some beaches you can expect to pay 600 baht for the basics. Most of the accommodation is first-come, first-served and the cheaper bungalows tend to go fastest. High-end establishments usually take reservations by phone, fax, and via the web.
Always ask to see the room before taking it. Many rooms will have minimal bedding so you might want to bring your own sleep sack or sarong. Towels, soaps, toilet paper, etc. may not be provided in basic bungalows but should be for sale cheaply somewhere close-by.
Always check that the windows on the room have well sealed mosquito screens. Dawn and dusk are the times that the mosquitos are out and about. It is well worth buying a mosquito aerosol spray and giving your room a blast before going out for your evening meal/drinks. Personal mosquito sprays or lotions are also recommended whilst you are out in the early morning or evening. Also if your room has an en-suite close its door as this will take away one water source for the mosquitoes. Also sleeping with a fan panning over the bed while you sleep makes it harder for any mosquitoes that you may have missed to actually land on you.
Always take a padlock and key with you if staying at some of the cheaper establishments. Some bungalow doors can be opened with a knife in seconds, and robberies, though less common than in the past, are still present.
Most accommodation operations on Koh Samet offer a variety of different types of rooms, most of which fall in the mid-range category. If you are willing to spend between 600 and 1500 baht/night, you shouldn't have any trouble finding accommodation, no matter what beach you are on. A few such places are: