Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
First published 10th November, 2013
Though it's thought of as a quick and easy escape from Bangkok, Ko Samet is one island where it pays to do some planning before you arrive. Each with its own distinctive vibe, a dozen different beaches are spread over a long sliver of land. Whether you seek to party with friends, have fun with the family, relax with a lover, indulge in luxury or keep it cheap and basic, Samet has what you're looking for -- if you know where to find it.
Connected by a rough, hilly road, the relatively long distances between some beaches can turn a last minute accommodation search into a frustrating ordeal. Knowing what sort of experience you're after will make arriving a lot easier. It's also wise to be aware of when to visit Ko Samet. While the island sees the usual peak season tourism in late December and January, it gets packed with Thai holidaymakers almost every weekend. Arrive on a Saturday or Thai holiday and you may be forced to pay greatly inflated prices for a mediocre room.
Where are you heading?
Most of the nightlife is found on Haad Sai Kaew, a kilometre-long stretch of powdery white sand that also has the most resorts, restaurants and other services of any beach on Samet. It's no Patong or Haad Rin, but it gets lively after dark -- especially on weekends -- when beach bars, fire spinning shows, live music and thumping DJs attract a wide mix of people. Anyone hoping for tranquility should look elsewhere.
Gearing up for a Saturday night on Haad Sai Kaew.
With a stack of mainly overpriced midrange resorts, you have to pay a premium to stay on Haad Sai Kaew. In the mid to high-end range, Tonsak, Grand View and Sai Kaew Beach are all decent choices. Those on a budget could stay at Sinsamut or Laem Yai Hut, though you may be better off with a comfier room for less cash in the nearby village.
Just past Ao Hin Khok to the south of Haad Sai Kaew, Ao Phai is anchored by a loud and colourful beach party on weekends. With the exception of one great midrange choice in Samed Villa, the accommodation here is notable only for a few off-the-beach budget spots (see below).
Ao Wong Duen -- family playground.
Where should I bring the family?
For a comfortable holiday with no shortage of conveniences, Ao Wong Duen is probably the best bet for families with kids of any age. As Samet's second most popular beach, it offers a more relaxed vibe than Haad Sai Kaew to the north, though plenty of restaurants, low key bars and activities ensure that there's enough to do.
Wong Duen boasts some of the island's best midrange resorts, including Vong Duern Villa, Vong Deuan Resort and Samed Cabana. For something cheaper, Nice & Easy or Sea Horse 2 should do the trick. Families who want to escape the crowds -- and forgo the conveniences that come with them -- might also check out the more secluded bays.
Ao Nuan Bungalows -- Haad Sai Kaew feels a world away.
Seclusion and romance?
Some of our favourite places to stay are found in the serene little bays that dot the east coast of Samet's long southern tail. Tubtim Resort on Ao Tubtim is a quiet, well-managed low to midrange spot that's not too far from the livelier northern beaches. Just south of that, tiny Ao Nuan's lone bungalow joint feels like the Samet of years past. Guests read books rather than surf the net, which is not available here, and instead of concrete blocks, a few simple wood bungalows blend into lush forest.
Cottage life at Nimmanoradee.
Further south, Ao Wai is arguably Samet's most idyllic bay. With no less than 17 different room types that range from 1,000 to 7,000 baht, the beach's only resort, Samet Ville, ensures that couples can enjoy quietude without sacrificing comfort. All the way down at Samet's southern tip, staying at midrange Nimmanoradee Resort on Ao Pakarang feels like being cast off to a hidden paradise that happens to have charming octagonal sea-view cottages nestled into a hillside of orchids, frangipani and birdsong.
For a sense of isolation without straying so far from the village and Haad Sai Kaew, Mooban Talay's elegant midrange villas on northern Ao Noi Na seem designed specifically for a romantic retreat.
What about luxury?
Quality midrange resorts can be found practically everywhere on Samet, but those seeking a true luxury experience usually head to one of two places. On the island's west coast, Ao Phrao boasts a trio of massive upscale resorts that are about as far from backpacker land as you can get. While all three are plush, Le Vimarn's exotic hillside villas, beachside swimming pool and full-service spa make it one of the best choices for well-heeled travellers. At time of writing, the July '13 oil spill had been largely cleaned up and Ao Phrao's resorts were readying to reopen.
Ao Phrao -- no oil in sight.
For some serious isolation to go with top-end pampering, head to Paradee on scenic Ao Kiu Na Nok in the island's far southern reaches. After enjoying an evening massage while surrounded by dozens of scented candles and the lapping waves, settle into a salubrious villa. The top-end suite, which comes complete with a private butler, can be yours for just 71,000 baht a night.
Okay, where's cheap?
Though Samet has seen an upmarket trend in recent years, budget travellers still have some options. Many choose to stay at one of the reasonably priced guesthouses in Samet village, such as Smile House, Barbados or Red Ginger. With a comfy 500 to 1,000 baht room as home base, you can venture out to a different beach every day and return to the village's cheaper food and drink after dark. If you want to join the beach parties, Haad Sai Kaew is a five-minute stroll away.
A bungalow at Ton Had on Ao Lung Dam; it's not much, but it's on the beach.
Backpackers who want to stay at the beach often end up at Ao Hin Khok, a small but fine stretch of white sand wedged between the main road, Haad Sai Kaew and Ao Phai. With rates from 300 to 1,000 baht, the accommodation at Naga and Jep's is nothing to write home about, but the atmosphere is great for making friends while sipping buckets into the wee hours. Just south of Ao Phai, Sea Breeze's basic and laughably colourful bungalows also draw a steady stream of backpackers. Note that all of these places are slightly off the beach.
When it comes to the simple seaside fan bungalows that many travellers daydream about, options are limited on Samet. Pudsa Bungalows on Ao Tubtim has bare bones huts with sea views, but the best options are on the twin beaches of Ao Lung Dam and Ao Thian further south. For as little as 700 baht at Horizons or Ton Had, you can wake up to the sunrise in a rustic bungalow perched on a beachside hill or directly over the sand.
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