If you are in Bangkok, the City of Angels, and need a break from the hustle of the big city, you have a few choices. Not only my favorite beach getaway from Bangkok, but my favorite overall beach destination in Thailand, is Ko Samed. It’s a small island in the Golf of Thailand, only about 4 hours South of the capital, and it still very much feels like a Thai beach, compared to the much more commercial beaches of Phuket, Pattaya, Ko Samui or Hua Hin! So if you want to get away without going too far, check out Ko Samed!
Ko Samed is a small island and a National Park. There is no major airport nearby, so most visitors are either locals from the cities nearby or tourists making their way from Bangkok. And because it is a National Park, most of the hotels are small, one- or two-story buildings hidding among the palm trees, right off the beach. There is one sandy road connecting the different hotels and towns to the ferry at the Northern tip and most of the “traffic” is people walking along the beach. You can still arrive by boat directly to the beach of your hotel, wading through the warm water onto the beach. Many of the small resorts have their very own stretch of beach and only a handful of rooms, allowing for that Robinson Crusoe feeling. Locals walk along the beach to sell fresh fruit and snacks or offer massages right on a blanket in the sand during the day. At night, my favorite dinner is to sit on mats on the beach a few steps from the waves, with local specialties served on low tables while I lean back on a few pillows. And my favorite evening entertainment includes drinks and watching fire dancers in the dark!
If all that sounds like a great getaway, you should start to make plans!
How to get there? Similar to Pattaya or Hua Hin, your first step is a minivan, bus or private taxi to the town of Ban Phe. In a taxi, it’s about 2h from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport or 2 1/2h from the city, without traffic, often 30 minutes more with traffic.
The public bus leaves from the Eastern Bus Station at the Ekkamai BTS station and costs around THB200 or $6. Be prepared to stop a few times to pick up or drop off passengers along the way. The bus stops right across the ferry terminal in Ban Phe, making it easy to find your way.
The minivans, roughly the same price, leave from Victory Monument. They only leave when full, but don’t stop as frequently. I only recommend it when you travel light – there is no room for large luggages and you might have to pay an extra seat for it! You can find directions here!
The easiest way is to arrange transport through your hotel on Ko Samed. They will pick you up at your Bangkok Hotel or Airport and will also arrange a speedboat to take you directly to the hotel, making it fast and easy. The coast is around THB2,500-3,000 and accommodates a group! You can also arrange it on your own, just make sure to negotiate hard and book a round-trip. The local taxi mafia is in control of transport at the ferry and you’ll pay for that…
From Ban Phe, you can take the regular ferry for THB50 (USD1.40) to Ko Samed, followed by a ride on a pick-up truck (THB20) to your hotel. The ferry, like most Thai transport, leaves when full and I have waited to leave for over 1h in the past – for what is a few minutes ride! The speedboat is a faster option, taking you directly to your hotel for around THB 250-300pp.
How to get around? Ko Samed is a barefoot island and the best way to get around is to walk along the sandy beaches. You can ride (or charter) the pick-ups roaming the island, but you need a little luck to catch one. You can also rent a motorcycle for a tour of the island.
Where to stay? There are a few distinct options on Ko Samed.
The easiest and my least favorite is on the main beach of Hat Sai Kaew. It’s walking distance from the ferry and near the “main town”, but it also has hotels and restaurants side-by-side, with markets and stores behind them, making for the most commercial and crowded feel on the island. If you are going for the remote island feel, you won’t find it here and I recommend you avoid it.
Fortunately it’s not far from commercial to deserted beach, just a 15 minute walk. My favorite beaches are Ao Pudsa and Ao Tub Tim. Each beach is a beautiful white sand crescent with small hotels hiding among the palm trees. You’ll find my favorite hotel, Villa Samed, here as well as my favorite “backup” hotel, Tub Tim, as well as the best bar with a dance floor and a nightly party, Silver Sands! While Ko Samed is pretty sleepy during the week, it gets a lot of local vistors for the weekends and Silver Sands has a great party going on Friday and Saturday!
If that sounds way to busy to you, you can keep going South for more remote beaches with fewer people. You can find anything from simple huts with fans and cold water to high-end resorts on their own little beaches, so there should be something for everybody!
Whether you are just looking for a short getaway from Bangkok or are flying around the world to find a beautiful beach, Ko Samed has a lot to offer in either case. It has kept more of its “Thainess” and you pay a lot less than on Phuket or Ko Samui – that made it my favorite Thai beach and keeps me coming back.