So you think you know the Thai islands? Think again!
The seasoned traveller is surely familiar with most of the best-known Thai islands: Phuket, Ko Samui, Krabi – I don’t have to introduce these to anyone, who ever opened a travel brochure. These are the postcard-places most tourists, backpackers, gap-year students, families, couples, sun seekers, winter-haters and Asia geeks visit. Thailand’s coastline however nests many other smaller, often neglected islands, with just as much potential and natural beauty than their big brothers.
Koh Samed Island – What you need to know about the island
The tiny island of Koh Samed is located on the eastern seaboard in the Gulf of Thailand, just off the coastline of the province of Rayong, about 200 kilometers southeast from Bangkok. The island has less than 3000 residents but its close proximity to the bustling capital makes it a favorite spot among locals, who often try to escape the smog, heavy traffic and general craziness of the city, especially when a 3 day weekend calls. Of course, tourists also started to discover Koh Samed in the past decades, and hordes of foreigners, expats, families and business people, who might only have a few days or a weekend to soak up some sun, often visit the island, so after all, it’s not so hidden any more from the outsiders as it used to be, let’s say, 20 years ago. The fact that the Thai Government put this island off-limit for visitors up until the early 1980’s, also helped keep the place unspoiled for many years and also kept it undisturbed from the technological revolution of the 20th century. Less than a decade ago there were still only a few internet cafés with dial-up connection available on the island – I remember, it took me an hour to download 20 or so emails – no kidding! But the 21st century invaded the island since, these days visitors can find over 20 high-speed internet cafés on the island, as well as several resorts, hotels, guest houses, restaurants – everything you need to spend your vacation in a comfy, yet secluded environment.
Koh Samed Info and Guide
How to Get to Koh Samed
Since Koh Samed is an island, it is only accessible by sea – there is no airport on the island (and I hope it stays that way). But worry not: you most likely will be coming from Bangkok anyway, and your choices are not limited to only one service provider from the capital. In Bangkok the main get-on spots are Ekkamai, Mo Chit, Victory Monument, or Sai Tai Mai. Take a bus, coach or taxi to Rayong or Ban Phe, the journey lats about 2 hours, depending on traffic. (Those with an adventurous soul can also try and take a tuk-tuk from Bangkok – but if you have a lot of luggage, I wouldn’t recommend it). Once you arrive at the pier, you can take a ferry to Koh Samed. Speedboats are also available for rental or as a water taxi. Beware of the usual tourist scams: the coachline or bus will drop you off at the main pier/ticket office, where tour operators will literally jump on you, trying to sell you overpriced services for speedboats, ferries and whatnot. Unless money doesn’t matter, don’t fall for these ‘fantastic offers’ – head to the main ticket window directly where the official ferry tickets are sold. Normal price should not exceed about 300-500 bahts for a shared charter speedboat service. The regular ferry is much cheaper, you will pay about 70 baht one way.
Choose Your Right Transportation to Koh Samed – Take a Coach, Ferry or Speedboat
You might want to check both (coach and ferry) schedule prior departure to avoid unnecessary wait times. We had to wait about 2 hours for the next scheduled boat to take us to the island, but we arrived very early in the morning. Also, during high season, if a boat is full, they won’t let you on board, you will have to wait for the next one. (But to be honest, this will happen many-many passengers later than you might think. They will pack as many pax on board, as possible without sinking the boat. Pray for life-vests, just in case…) Again, locals are favored when it comes to giving away the free spots, so be consistent. The journey on sea takes about 40 minutes by ferry and 10-15 minutes by speedboat. I personally favor the regular ferry – but don’t expect a luxury ride – I was actually sitting on the top of my larger suitcase during the whole ride J Another surprise awaits upon arrival: when too many ferries are parked next to each other, in order to get to land, you will have to climb over all the other boats that arrived before you. I have no idea how we managed it with our luggage: boats are moving, even when the sea is calm, and we had quite some amount of baggage on us. (I know, I should learn to travel light, but I’m just not the ‘one t-shirt per week’ girl, lol…)
Koh Samed is part of the Thai national park and nature reserve system, so there is an entry fee to the island, which is significantly higher for foreign visitors than it is for locals. I don’t have the latest info on this, but while Thai citizens pay only 10-20 baht upon entry, foreigners need to reach into their pockets deeper: it will cost 100-200 baht per person to set foot in paradise. The reasoning behind this is that Thai people pay taxes, which helps keep the nature reserves for the next generations, while tourists only use these places – which, let’s be fair – bears some logic. You might try to explain/prove that you live and work in Thailand, if this is the case – the officials might waive the out-of-the-country entry fee. (Or you can just be generous and pay the higher fee without trying to sneak in for cheaper – consider it as a donation. After all, this would be the price of your morning coffee back home.)
The island is really just a tiny little piece of land in the middle of the ocean – it’s only about 13 square km, which means that you can easily access both ends on foot, on bike or by the Thai national vehicle: scooter. There is also a local taxiservice available, but don’t except air-conditioned limos here: locals transfer tourists back and forth between the hotspots and the harbor with their beat-up trucks. Just jump on the back of the truck with your luggage and enjoy the scenery! Good news for those who hate the wet season: Koh Samed has its own micro-climate, so it might be pouring down monsoon in Bangkok and yet, blinding sunshine awaits you in your own personal paradise! Occassional storms do occur though, so be prepared for those, especially if you are visiting in the rainy season, which starts at the end of May and usually ends during the last days of September.
Upon Arrival to Koh Samed
Ok, so you arrived. Let’s head for the hotel or to the nearest coffee shop/restaurant/internet place. Come with me and enjoy the next episode of the ‘Blond Traveller’ – we are going to explore the beautiful island of Koh Samed together.
Planning your wedding on this beautiful island? I will have some advice for you too, so stay tuned for more!