Still some nice relaxed beaches on Samet - this is Ao Pudsa aka Ao Tubtim, looking north.
Listen up island-seekers, this is what I learned.
It’s not a real good idea to form a firm impression on an island:
- after travelling all night by overnight buses from the Andaman with little sleep.
- arriving so early in Ban Phe you have to hang around interminably for the first ferry.
-getting RAINED ON on that first ferry (dry season, no less).
- getting quoted a rip-off fare for the short journey from the pier to the beginning of the beaches by Samet’s sleazy songthaew mafia.
- trudging along with yer bag dodging puddles through that tacky looking shopping street before the National Park gates (admittedly that strip has a good selection of services these days).
- paying the rip-off 200baht NP entrance fee …. for what? (maybe being able to say at least it's better than the old 400 fee, which tezza refused to pay the whole time it existed) and then finding the concrete road turns to muddy slush 30m past the NP entrance (couldn’t the cheap bastards spend a bit of our money paving the road at least as far as the 3rd of the first 3 (all popular) beaches - nah, too busy building luxury concrete condo-style holiday places for NP bigwigs on Ko Kradan and similar).
- being shown a crap value 400 baht share-bathroom room at Naga Inn on AO HIN KOK (2nd beach down) with a lovely outlook over piles of building debris (particularly when you have just left a great 200b with bathroom place overlooking a gorgeous beach on Ko Phayam).
- noticing Naga have put in a beach bar/nighclub across the road and someone else has a Reggae Bar next door, both of which didn’t exist on your last visit in ‘98 and would be sure to make the nights restful.
UPDATE 2010 - well Hin Kok might be a bit noisy at night but I found it the least busy of the first 4 beaches from the north during the day. And with some of the whitest sand when not wet.
That's Ao Phai and then Ao Pudsa/Tubtim further south in the background. Click to expand the shot. Note that shots taken in 2008 don't expand - those taken in 2010 should, although it could depend on your browser.
So yeah - by this stage of the game I was pretty pissed and tended to agree with those who have been claiming Samet has gone to the pits.
So I decided to head south, where in ‘98 there I’d seen some real laid back places.
Well not at the next beach, AO PHAI which these days is pretty built out by several bungalow outfits including one I was determined to stay in next visit - Samed Villa, - but whose neat headland bungalows have been replaced with bigger, decidedly upmarket jobs seemingly closer together - yet way beyond tezza’s budgetary reach. Ao Phai also has a reputation for partying.
But hold the weddin’ trendsetters, I walked around the headland on the coastal path and as Samed Villa ended Pudsa Bungalows started, with nice old-style bungalows almost on the seaside rocks and 20m from the ocean. I went a bit further and WHOA, the compact beach itself (AO PUDSA aka AO TUBTIM) looks just like I remember from 1998- real nice - and there seems to be only one other bunglalow place on it, the widely praised Tubtim Resort.
So hey, all of a sudden I’m thinking old Samet may not be as bad as a lot of people are saying. So I grabbed a bungalow.
This 600fan hillside second-rower with an interrupted view of beach and sea wasn’t great, wasn’t bad - plenty of room, a big comfy bed, soap/toilet paper supplied, no towel, no sink, good water pressure, clean but starting to look a bit tatty (the adjacent bungalow was being renovated - hey, perhaps mine was next). Grounds were clean but there was a lot of scratchy looking bare earth (see section on water shortage), paths well lit at night.
Tubtim also has a small sunbathing platform moored in the bay near the southern headland which was a nice spot to spend some time.
UPDATE 2010 - I spent a fair bit of time checking Tubtim this trip. The place is huge, with dozens of bungalows including a hell of a lot of fan with bathroom jobs at 600-700 when I asked. Just about all of these looked a step up from basic traveller bungalows.
I also had a look off the southern headland for coral etc on account my stalker, TT poster somebodyelse, is always giving me grief when I don’t. Samet is not known for good snorkelling and sure enough, when I dived down (the choppy wavelets had turned visibility to crap) the scraps of coral were rubbishy and the fishies were limited. I also managed to bang my shin on and unseen rock and break the skin. Curse you SBE!
SOUTH OF AO PUDSA
Pudsa is about a third of the way down the island from the north. There are 8 or so beaches to the south. So next day I took the beach path to see how much they had changed in 10 years.
Well, all of them have a fair bit more development, except for:
- VONG DUERN which was pretty built-out back then. Actually it seems improved - back then it was known as the haunt for sex-tourists and a lot of the places were a bit tacky, now it doesn’t look too bad at all. However it still looks to be one of the busier noisier beaches on the island with mainly midrange accommodation and quite a few bars etc.
UPDATE MARCH 2010 - for part of my latest visit I decided to stay on Vong Duern, at Vong Duern Villa whose second rockside restaurant above has real nice views over the beach. The beach is indeed a pretty nice place to stay with good sand, nice swimming most sections at all tides and plenty of variety in places to eat, grab a beer etc. Not particularly noisy at night.
About 5 minutes gets you to quiet Candlelight Beach to the south - less than 2 minutes to Ao Cho to the north. Vong Duern Villa had a great position beachside/rockside/hillside at the south end, but I would not say our tiny rockside bungalow was particularly good value or in great condition. Lady Tezza is has filed a report with lots more info and pix in the TRIP REPORTS section.
- And AO NUAN - the tiny beach first south of Tubtim which has just one traditional backpacker style place, Ao Nuan Bungalows.
A 2010 shot of Ao Nuan which is by far the most laid back beach north of the far far south. But the bungalow joint might be taking advantage of this - it has a wide range of accommodation from tiny rustic outside bathroom traditional bungalows to big aircon jobs, but wanted 700b for the former in almost shoulder season 2010 (2000b for the latter). Apparently there is no road access here - but it is only about 3 minutes walk from the beaches each side on the coastal track - Ao Pudsa to the north being the easier trek with a pack. Of course a speedboat drop-off would be the go and this is one place a National Park ranger would be unlikely to be waiting on the beach for his 200b. That's the far northern end of White Sand Beach in the far background - you could walk up there in about 25 minutes and cross 3 other beaches.
AO CHO just north of Vong Duern surprised me - a recently printed guidebook said its isolation meant it was one of the more laid back but the two or three places there seemed to crowd the bay out and the beach was reasonably busy.
UPDATE 2010 - umm, I'm gonna revise that. Lady Tezza and I walked to Ao Cho several times from Vong Duern (less than 2 minutes to cross the low headland saddle) and found the beach delightful - not busy, good water for swimming, some nice bars and restaurants.
AO THIAN (aka CANDLELIGHT BEACH) - AO LUNG DAM was my favourite last visit; lovely patches of sand, sparsely settled and with some very eclectic bungalows belonging to Candlelight Resort on the northern headland and corner of the beach.
Well bungalows are now built just about everywhere possible, Candlelight Resort has gone considerably upmarket and has moved maybe 100m south away from the corner of the beach - but I thought Thian still attractive because somehow it doesn’t appear crammed, some of the wooden seaside accommodation blocks at the north end have multi-tiered balconies virtually overlooking the sand (I’m a sucker for sitting waaay up on my balcony with a bottle of Maekhong watching the passing parade of bikini babes) and the southern most bungalow place, Apache (technically on Ao Lung Dam - the longish bay is divided by small sections of rock into several patches of sand - Lung Dam is the southern most) was real appealing with okay looking beachside trad style fan bungalows for 600 and a neat rickety pier with some outrigger sitting platforms over the water, the perfect place for a beer or 5.
Still they looked way hot.
Jeez, I’m starting to get seriously worried about me!!!!!
2010 pic of northern half of Ao Thian shot from the end of Apache's pier. There are some real nice rockside and hillside bungalows belonging to other operators which look to be budget/flashpacker to left of frame before the pier. This is a nice shot to expand - Candelight Bungalow's restaurant is that biggish beachfront job closest to the water a bit away from the corner - their bungalows are on the low hillside behind (to our left).
Ao Lung Dam south of the pier. Apache's bungalows are mainly in this section. Pretty basic trad jobs but a guy staying there told me he was paying only 300 in March 2010 which is a fair bit cheaper than my '08 quote.
Lady Tezza really liked eating and having a beer on the pier - we came down every day from Vong Duern, takes maybe 5 minutes to hit the north end of the Ao Thian but another 10 minutes to walk down here.
I kinda think the guy right background had something to do The Lady's enthusiasm - looked like a 2010 version of Fabio. I didn't mind - his girl was hot. If you expand pic you'll notice a gunship in the left background - the Thai princess was visiting swanky Kui Na Nok to the south and this was part of her escort.
UPDATE 2010 - Sametville has expanded with several more bungalows on the higher area north of the beach itself. And they have thrown a barbed-wire fence and locked gate across the coastal walking track, forcing walkers down onto the difficult rock platform. WTF! This is National Park land and all us suckers have paid 200 baht to walk the tracks. When I go back I'm taking a set of wire-cutters - fix that fence and gate big time. I got a real nice shot of their beach, but bad luck Sametville, aint gonna show it.
The southern most settled beach, KUI NA NOK, has the mega expensive Paradise (Paradee) Resort and Spa. Seems these people don’t want the lower classes on their beach, because the long coastal track thru the scrub on the approaching headland had felled vegetation and spikey vines deliberately set across it. Aint gunna stop a world-class seaside rock-hopper like yers-truly. The security guy glared at me as I scoped out the millionaires' mistresses draped on the seaside banana chairs but I just gave him the big cheesy - ALL beaches in Thailand belong to the King who has opened them to the public. Aint no such thing as a private beach no matter what these goons will try to tell you.
For the same reason as Ao Cho, no KNN beach shots here.
Paradise Resort itself looked real nice, but worth only a quarter of what they charge.
THE NORTHERN SECTION OF THE EAST COAST.
As I said, AO PHAI and AO HIN KOK north of Tubtime/Pudsa are pretty built-out, not unattractive beach-wise during the day and have lots of people sitting at tables and mats on the sand at night. Both have a fair bit of entertainment at night (ie noise).
UPDATE 2010 - despite misgivings about noise, Ao Phai was one of our two home beaches on the latest trip - we stayed at Samed Villa which gets good user reviews and is a place I've wanted to stay from my first '98 visit. I have to say it is one of the nicest places I've stayed at in Thailand and our cheapest-in-resort but very nice backrow aircon/hot water room was about as far as you can get from Silver Sand's disco so that noise was no problem. This pic is shot from Samed Villa's rockside lounges - the beach lounges closest to shot also belong to them. Nice sand, good water quality and depth in a bouyed-off swimming enclosure, lively passing parade, plenty of places to eat/drink on a budget, 2 minutes to neighbouring Aos Tubtim and Hin Kok, 10 minutes to White Sand Beach.
Lady Tezza has included more info and pix on Ao Phai and Samed Villa in the TRIP REPORT section.
By the way, many people confuse Samed Villa with the similarly-named Sametville further down the island on Ao Wai when researching/booking - as said earlier, Sametville are the creeps who have blocked the coastal walking track.
If you are staying at Hin Kok and at Ao Phai's Ao Phai Hut, Sea Breeeze, Lost Resort and some huts at the huge Silver Sand you are going to get traffic noise from the main road which is pretty busy these days. The road heads inland south of these so traffic noise becomes no problem. The beaches further south are accessed by side tracks with not much traffic.
HAT SAI KEW (WHITE SAND BEACH) is just over a small headland from Hin Kok and this northern most east-coast beach is the longest and busiest on the island. It is packed with bungalows, restaurants, bars, beach-chairs an umbrellas and features the dreaded jet-skis, water skiing and paragliding.
Gratuitous shot of Anna K clone. Whoa, maybe not a clone!!! In the spirit of equality, I have a hunk-shot fer all you ladies at the foot of the page. (image - Star Diet Secrets)
Note that once these babes pass 35 the bikinis don't grow but the ladies do markedly - hey lighten up on the borsch and fermented potato sweethearts! Russian guys are biiiiig bulky blokes who favour those budgie-smuggler racer swimsuits hauled way up at the sides and down low below the beer gut in front. Listen up Alexi, Olympic swimmers and Aussie surf-lifesavers can carry the Speedo look, but what you need is a whole lot of surfer board shorts, size XXXXL. Preferably Billabong.****
There is a good supply of shops and tourist services behind White Sand beach and that main road shopping street is less than 10 minutes walk.
Hell, any island can bear a White Sand/Hat Sai Kew. If it don‘t float your particular boat, head south.
Note that some bungalows in the very big White Sand complex at the southern end will get main road noise. The rest have no problems from the road, but could get entertainment noise.
Good news for budget travellers - there is at least one nice looking traditional place left on White Sand, Laem Yai Hut House, way down the far northern end of the beach which is arguably the nicest and quietest section. A good number and range of bungalows spread over a big area across the low saddle of the cape here, one or two actually overlooking the rocks of the north-east coast rather than the beach. Fancier bungalows looked to be flashpacker class - a guy in a slightly more basic place incl bathroom told me he was paying 700.
This is a 2010 shot, but how long will this place last in this prime spot?
AO LUK YUN. When I was leaving in '08, my speedboat turned around the north-east corner of the island beyond White Sand Beach and I saw this rather appealing old style bungalow resort with about a dozen trad bungalows along the shore of a little cove. The place looked budget in standard. Hey, this could be the perfect place for those old time travellers wanting something all by itself - kinda like Sunset, the place I stayed on on Ko Mak. Travelfish's map shows Pineapple Beach Resort in this area. Note that there did not seem to be a real beach here, although that could improve at lower tides. No problems, White Sand Beach is only about 10 minutes walk away. This area is pretty close to town too.
This is a 2010 shot of Ao Luk Yun. Pineapple is the place at right - a fair bit of new building going on here although there seemed to be few guests. The place on left was a nice looking newish midrange joint - didn't get the name but Google might find it. Sand is pretty limited here. A fair few locals fishing off the rocks in the area.
THE WEST COAST.
There is only one beach here, AO PRAO. Back in 98 it was dominated by high-end and midrange joints. I couldn’t see any reason for change and because the trek across is hot and dusty, gave it a miss this time. From memory the beach is pretty nice.
UPDATE 2010 - I got across to Ao Prao this trip - see shot below. It is now a gated community with a security checkpoint on the steep access road 100m behind camera - although I don't know how effective this is as they let riff-raff me through. Some very nice joints along here - and access to speedboat is by a tractor-driven trolley out into the water so you don't get your Manolo Blahnik gym-shoes wet.
Note that 5 star Paradee joint way down south at Kui Na Nok also extends across to the west coast - the island is real thin there.
THE NORTH COAST.
Samed Cliff Resort's wooden walkway-connected white bungalows built on a steep hillside are in another attractive looking midrange joint which has a pool with a small but fairly nice section of beach across the road.
There are a couple of PLACES ON STILTS OVER THE WATER along here - mostly midrange looking or higher. Google for Ban Ploy Samed and Mook Samet.
WET SEASON - Samet is one of the driest islands in Thailand. Check the stats on the Wet Weather Thread accessed from the index. This makes it one of the better islands from April into November. A plus is that almost all beaches face east and so are sheltered from the prevailing wet season westerly winds. So you get much smoother seas and less unsightly flotsam etc blown onto the beaches.
WATER SHORTAGE - the downside is that come dry season the water runs out quickly meaning bungalows have to cart it from the mainland, an expensive process. A bungalow owner told me the main reason bungalows halve prices in “wet” season is not low patronage, but because they don’t have to pay for water.
The shortage of water means less expensive bungalows have a lot of bare earth rather than nice lawns, gardens.
This is a late March 2010 shot of the island's reservoir in the hills between Ao Phai and Ao Prao - probably still a month and a bit before the start of wet season but only running at abt 5% capacity. Water tankers at left were pumping water out - it seems coastal resorts bring water from the mainland by boat while inland places rely on these tankers for water delivery.
BIG WEEKEND CROWDS - closeness to Bangkok and Rayong means lots of Thai locals hit Samet for weekends and public holidays. If you intend to arrive on Friday or Saturdays or on public holidays, make sure you are booked or look forward to a lot of searching for a room.
AVOIDING THE NATIONAL PARK FEE - harder these days because the NP guys are waiting on quite a few of the beaches for ferries and speedboats to arrive, as well as at the northern entrance. Didn’t see any on Tubtim/Pudsa, but did on a real unlikely quiet southern beach. Maybe a matter of luck.
THE ROAD SOUTH - note it turns inland near the start of Ao Phai, the 3rd beach down. It has a crap surface and is real steep in parts so take care if you hire a motorcycle - and it is a hot tiring bastard to walk. The beaches are reached by side-tracks, a lot un-signposted. If you are walking, use the coastal path which is very pleasant most of the time.
THE COASTAL PATH - I reckon it has gone downhill from ‘98. I already mentioned the deliberate blockage down south. Why the hell aren’t the NP guys clearing this? (answer, because Paradee Resort probably paid THEM to block it). There are virtually no NP direction signs so sometimes it takes a while to locate the route when leaving a beach - actually the signs you DO see for the path have been created by bungalow operations to stop people wandering around their places looking for the way.
How pathetically slack is the Thailand National Park service!!??
ATMs - there are a couple in town before you come to the NP northern entrance including the 7/11 near the entrance. The word is they often run out of money on weekends and public holidays.
NOISE - I don’t think I saw a longtail boat on the east coast. Speedboats yes, but they hummmm thanks to the American Environmental Protection Agency. For the same reason they also emit about 1/100th of the pollution of a longtail.
White Sand, Hin Kok, Phai and Wong Duan have noise from bars, music etc.
I’ve already mentioned road noise in parts of the first 3 above.
Dogs are in moderate numbers (in a National Park!!!!)
GETTING TO SAMET
Slow ferries from Ban Phe near Ranong to the northern pier at Na Dan roughly hourly (they tend to wait for a decent load) from 0800 to 1700 in high season - the trip takes up to 45 minutes. Buy a one-way 50baht ticket on the boat, not the return 100baht one the travel agents will try to sell you. You may wish to come back by speedboat which is a lot better particularly if you are at one of the beaches away from the piers.
Ferry arrives at Na Dan pier in the island's north. Some are a bit bigger as are almost all the ones which are operated by the east coast bungalow joints.
Those bungalows behind right are part of the afore mentioned tarted up Sunrise Beach Resort. The ones out of frame to right are higher on the seaside rocks and quite attractively sited. Sign advertises "Avoid the National Park Fee"
Ferries run to Wong Duan less frequently. UPDATE 2010 - actually various resorts run ferries to many of the other beaches too - if you book into a place enquire about this possibility. Some of the public ferries will also deliver to the beach for a price - for instance they would take us around to Vong Duern after delivering others at the main pier for a reasonable sum if there were at least 7 of us. Fewer and we would have to pay way more.
A bit tricky is the fact there are at least 3 Ban Phe piers - I've previously only used the central pier which I think is the one most Rayong songthaews and minibuses from Bangkok and Pattaya drop off at, but in the latest 2010 trip we were dropped at the eastern pier opposite the bus station. This pier seems to have a reasonable service but I didn't see any speedboats around. There are budget restaurants and beer if you have to wait.
Ferry services are roughly halved in low season.
There is now a good speedboat service from a number of operators. I think they wait until they get a decent load at Ban Phe - go to one of the little travel agents in the lane near the 7/11 in Ban Phe opposite the pier for info. For the reverse trip there are set times for the first morning run at least. I caught one of these off Ao Pudsa/Tub Tim - it took less than 20 minutes including a pick up at White Sand beach. The cost was 200baht (200 from adjacent Ao Phai in 2010 although Samed Villa's personal speedboat was 250) which was scarcely dearer than the taxi charter back to Na Dan + slow boat.
Quite a few bungalows have their own speedboats (and slowboats) and will take other paying passengers to the particular beach.
There are hourly buses to Rayong from Bangkok’s eastern (Ekamai) bus terminal, and a few direct to Ban Phe. UPDATE 2010 - now much better - Cherd Chai Tour runs every hour to Ban Phe from counter 5 - also has boat tickets.
Time a bit less than 3 hours to Rayong - maybe 3.5 to Ban Phe.
There are also fairly frequent buses from the northern/central bus terminal (Mochit) to Rayong and fewer to Ban Phe.
A similar service to both Rayong and Ban Phe runs out of the new Transport Centre at Survanabhumi airport.
Songthaews leave from beside the Rayong bus station to Ban Phe frequently - about a 40 minute trip for 25 baht.
You can also get minibuses from and to the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. Minivans or Ban Phe leave frequently from the Victory Monument area of Bangkok. Apparently the large sign is hard to miss. There are also frequent vans to Rayong from here.
There are also vans from Pattaya and from the Trat piers where you arrive from big Ko Chang.
Leaving Samet, buy your tickets at the agents in Ban Phe, small travel agents in the village at Samet plus a lot of the bungalows' and resorts' travel desks.
Note the minibuses from Ban Phe to the Trat Coast tend to drop you at travel agents some distance from the operating piers, the hope is to sell not only ferry tickets but accommodation, daytrip excursions etc - the travel agency we were dropped at in 2010 was charging 150 one way for the ferry tickets, well over normal. No problem, a similar place 100m down the road was charging 80 including the 3km transport to the Centerpoint pier. There were people from our minibus who were dropped off at this second travel agency - I think it depends on who you originally book your minibus ticket with - we booked through Samet's Ao Phai Hut's travel desk.
Car with driver transfer Bangkok Airport and Bangkok downtown to Ban Phe (also vans for large groups)
There are no ferries from Samet to Ko Chang or across the Gulf to the Samui area, a fairly frequent question on travel sites.
SONTHAEW TAXI TRANSPORT ON SAMET - in my opening rant I moan about a rip-off quote from the northern pier to my destination. This was because there was way too few people for a full load (around 8 people from memory) - with a full load the fares are quite reasonable. But if you have to charter a songthaew taxi it can be ridiculous - for instance the 5 minute trip from Vong Duern to Samet Villa cost Lady Tezza and I 200baht in March 2010..
The good news is that rates are now posted at the northern pier and most beaches.
Fares board at northern pier. Bit hard to read shot even when expanded - 2010 rates ( full load/charter) - White Sand Beach 10/100, Ao Phai 20/200, Tubtim 20/200, Ao Cho 30/250, Vongduern 30/250, Candlelight-Lum Dam 40/350, Ao Wai 50/450
Note there are plenty of motorcycles for hire near the pier, in the village and at most beaches. Be careful if not skilled - the road south can get bumpy with those nasty trippy transfers ruts and steep in parts.
Some of the places mentioned in this report. Click to expand image which is looking from the north-east towards the north-west. That's Na Dan village to left of MAIN PIER - the north east corner of the island is at bottom, west coast at top.
***DISCLOSURE - the author owns a truckload of Billabong stock. Well that aint quite true - the Mutual Fund I hope to finance my early retirement (The Nigerian Trust and Fidelity Fund) owns a boatload of Billabong stock. Or so they tell me.
My personal equity is about one millionth of one percent of the company’s shares - I figure I own the sign on the executive washroom door.
Listen up dudes and dudettes, keep buying that great Billabong gear and maybe I’ll be able to upgrade to flashpacker in my dotage.
Buy more Billabong trendsetters! BTW, this is the only shot on the net of yours-truly. You have to trust me on this. (image Surf Skate Online)
Julie has done a Ko Samet trip report with more info and pix here.
If you are considering Samet perhaps you might be thinking of calling in to:
PATTAYA on the way from Bangkok
KO CHANG AND NEIGHBOURS further east