The Closest Island to Bangkok: Koh Samed

Our first trip out of Bangkok upon our return here was to the closest island with a beach: Koh Samed (or Samet).

It was to join our friends Greg and Aom for a little laidback gathering after their wedding last weekend. With the long trip ahead we were a bit concerned about the extra cash, but fortunately we had a lot of reward points with Agoda.com (my go-to hotel site) and were able to book two nights for nothing at all. It did, however, land us in a place a few minutes walk from the beach up the hill at Lost Resort. Lost indeed; the front desk at the hotel just down the hill had never heard of it. Not a bad thing. Basic air-conditioned accommodations, clean, and quiet. (Some of the beach establishments are close to thumping dance music at night.) A big hat tip to Lost Resort, by the way: We left a memory card full of photos in the room and called from the mainland later on the day we departed. Searched for, found, and EMS mailed to us in Bangkok. Fantastic save!

I say the place is quiet, but I suppose some would disagree. That’s people quiet. There is plenty of natural night chatter in the trees (which your a/c will block out, don’t worry). At night we walked back up to Lost Resort and we could hear the large geckos crying “kin tub,” so my wife tells me, which means “eats liver.” Thai mothers and grandmothers would warn children not to try to sneak out late at night because the little creatures would eat their insides. “Just listen. See?” And the night forest is a-chatter with kin tub! kin tub! kin tub!

The bay we were on, Ao Phai, is a busy place. We were there on a weekday and the beach is still rather full. On weekends, the place really fills up. Silver Sands Resort’s restaurant and bar, right below us on the beach, had everything a tourist – Thai or foreign – might want. We had none of the Western food except some breakfast items, but what we did eat of the Thai menu was quite good and not unreasonably priced given the beach setting.

Avoid: Jeab Restaurant – We went here for dinner one night, noticeably more expensive than all other places yet much smaller portions, and I’d call the taste of the food forgettable, but I am reminded that we paid extra for it.

If one resort starts something, the rest will soon follow. Wherever you stay, you are likely to be able to find a fire show nearby at night. Young men – and in some cases even young children – twirl poles with flaming ends or fiery hula hoops — and they are pretty damn good at it.

Watch my video of the fire dancer kids

If you want five-star digs, the west side of the island with its small private beaches will do. Plus you get the sunsets there.

The diminutive Sai Kaew a short walk up the beach offers the closest semblance of a town. The Thai, nevertheless, will stock up on the mainland with cheaper junk food for their rooms.

Clearly, they’ll let just about anyone onto the island.

On our previous trip to Koh Samed we stayed along Ao Vongduan which was much quieter and had the added benefit of a bit of birding: hornbills were right outside our little cabana.

I admit I crinkle my nose a bit at Koh Samed, but that’s a little unfair. Sure, it can’t compare to the islands in the south on either the Bay of Thailand side or the Andaman Sea. But it is also easy to get to from Bangkok in just a few hours of driving and ferrying, and beats the hell out of Pattaya.

Getting here:

Take a bus from Ekkamai Station in Bangkok (near the BTS Skytrain station of the same name) to Rayong (about 4 hours) where it stops at Baan Pae pier. The slow ferry, which is pocket-change cheap (around 50 baht), takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the bay (Ao) it takes you to. There are somewhat pricey pickup truck rides around the island as a taxi service if no one is going specifically to your bay.

Speedboats get there in about 15 minutes, and cost around 300 baht each way.

Visitors must pay the national park fee which is higher for foreigners (farang) — about 200 baht.