The tiny port town of Ban Phe sees a stream of visitors, but purely because it's the jumping off point for nearby Ko Samet. Cooled by a sea breeze that smells slightly of drying fish, Ban Phe doesn't charm many visitors, and few people spend more than a mandatory 30 minutes or so waiting for a bus or ferry connection out.
You can however eat, sleep and check your email in Ban Phe, so don't panic if you get stranded. Businesses catering to travellers are clustered along the main drag across from the piers. Most travellers congregate at Christie's, a popular bar and restaurant, with many popping into Blue Sky Books next door to snap up a light beach read from their relatively large selection of used titles.
Though nowhere near as enticing as the beaches on Ko Samet, exploring the town will show you life in a typical Thai port town with a particularly welcoming lot of locals. Head away from the bus station and the seashell stands and you'll get a different sense of Ban Phe -- the further you walk, the more interesting and local it becomes.
Take a stroll down the beach to the east of town if time allows -- it's a pleasant tree-lined stretch of sand, and beats sitting in a traveller cafe waiting for your boat or bus. Travellers tend to only sleepover if they're waiting for a boat to the island, but if you're interested in a 'Thai style' beach experience, head west along the coastal road to Rayong, or to Laem Mae Phim beach 25 kilometres to the east.
Ban Phe is also a popular way station for potential English teachers in Thailand, as TEFL International has a school here. For more info or to arrange a tour, call them at (038) 652 280 or check www.teflintl.com.
Buses from Bangkok disembark in a side street directly across the main coastal road from Nuanthip pier. At Nuanthip you'll also find a large roofed market with stalls selling dried squid, fish, other local products, swim suits and souvenirs. Head west from Nuan Thip and you'll reach the larger Municipal pier, a stand where songthaews depart for Rayong, a tourist police office and a Tesco Lotus supermarket beyond that.
Head east from Nuan Thip to reach most of the accommodation, bars, restaurants and the main police station and hospital, all in the town centre. A few internet cafes are found along the main drag, and WiFi is available at Christie's, Lovely Coffee or Coffee Today.
ATMs are found at the piers and in the town centre. A handful of other piers jut out from the town centre and mainly service the private boats of several Ko Samet resorts.