A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
First published 28th February, 2008
A vendor strolls the edge of the beach, a clutch of large paper lanterns folded neatly under her arm. She walks purposefully, hoping to catch someone's eye. She at last finds some interested customers -- a group of friends out from Bangkok for the weekend, who are enjoying a seafood dinner. They take the lantern out onto the sand, gather around and strike a match to light the wick below, watching as the delicate paper begins to glow. They release it, and it slowly rises to join the other lanterns already floating above the sea. As you sit on the cool white sand watching this, you realise this won't be your last visit to Ko Samet.
Located just three hours from Bangkok, Ko Samet has in part been cursed by its convenient location. It has been rather overdeveloped, and on weekends the shores are flooded with visitors. Despite this, the coconut-palm fringed beaches remain beautiful. The island makes an ideal weekend getaway, perfect both for travellers with limited time in Thailand, and expats needing an escape from the smog and traffic. And don't worry: you can still find relaxation on the beaches of Ko Samet.
Getting from Bangkok to Ko Samet is blissfully easy. Buses leave the Ekkamai Bus Terminal hourly until 20:30, dropping passengers off near the pier in Ban Phe three hours later. Ferries to Ko Samet don't run after 17:30, so, you'll need to charter a speedboat if you arrive after that. Speedboats cost around 1,000B, so try to gather up a group.
The speedboats offer the convenience of dropping you off on the beach of your choice, though this means you should have a good idea of where you'd like to stay beforehand. Finding accommodation can be difficult on weekends, as rooms are generally overpriced, and few take reservations. Your safest option is to ask to be dropped off on Ao Hin Khok. That'll put you close to Tok's, Naga Bungalows, and Ao Phai Hut, and at least one of them should still have a cheap hut available in the back.
After dropping your bags in your bungalow, you'll have just enough time to return to the beach for dinner. Jep's is one of the most popular spots on the island, and a great choice for your first lantern-lit barbecue in the sand.
Though small, Ko Samet offers a number of activities. You could rent a bike and explore the island's dusty tracks; you could go snorkelling with one of the resort's tour boats; or you could take muay thai lessons at Naga Bungalows. The best option, however, is simply to hang out on the beach. The water is beautifully blue, and the sand blindingly white.
Most of the guesthouses have cafes, but you can still eat if you're feeling too lazy to walk to the nearest beach bar. Vendors carry huge bamboo baskets up and down the beach, offering cheap snacks like grilled chicken or papaya salad. In the morning, some even offer jelly donuts.
Toward sunset, most people head over to Ao Phrao, the only west-facing beach on the island. While not nearly as dramatic, dusk can be a pleasantly understated event on the East Coast. You can sip a sundowner without the crowds, while watching a group of Thai youth kicking a soccer ball around in the fading light.
After the sun has set, most guesthouses set up barbecues on the beach, and begin grilling cheap and delicious meat and seafood. The prices are generally all the same, so the best way to choose is simply to wander among them and see who has the best spread and the freshest catch. Few experiences on Ko Samet compare to sitting at the edge of the dark shore and eating a plate of smoky grilled fish.
Ferries back to the mainland leave from the pier in Nadan, so after a morning swim, you'll need to head to the island's north shore. If the cold swim wasn't enough to wake you up, the Pier 1 coffeeshop in Nadan serves the best espresso and pastries on the island in a surprisingly hip setting.
Before heading out, consider having a last seafood lunch on the north shore. One of the best and most unusual options is Ban Ploy Samed, a guesthouse perched on stilts over the water. Ring the bell on their dock, and they'll send a boat out to get you. The atmosphere is friendly and exotic, with bright tropical furnishings, and the seafood menu is guaranteed fresh.
Returning to Bangkok is even more simple than leaving it. After taking the ferry back to Ban Phe, you'll find the bus station across from the pier, a few hundred km east of the 7/11.
Story by Alexander Santillanes
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