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Ko Samet

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All around Ko Samet
Ko Samet is shaped like a stingray, with a chunky three kilometre wide triangular "head" to the north and a long, thin tail that reaches for seven kilometres to the south. A large swath of the island's northern interior remains covered in jungle-clad hills. Surprisingly, there are no hiking trails through this area. The main ferry boat pier is found on the northern coast in the tiny settlement of Nadan (aka Samet village). All visitors are now charged a 10 baht "pier fee" immediately after arriving here.

At Nadan pier, a pick-up truck taxi can take you to the beach of your choice for between 20 baht and 200 baht, depending on how far south you're going. If you decide to walk, a right (west) takes you to resorts that mainly cater to Thais on Ao Noi Na, while a left (south) leads to the main kilometre-long drag through the village. This strip passes an international medical clinic, police station, village temple and several convenience stores, restaurants, bars, massage shops, internet cafes and cheap guesthouses before hitting the national park entry booth, with Haad Sai Kaew a stone's throw beyond that. Prices in the village tend to be lower than on the beaches, particularly for air-conditioned rooms and motorbike rental.

The road cuts right (south) immediately after the national park booth and continues in that direction for the length of the island, passing all 12 of Samet's east coast bays/beaches (in Thai, ao means 'bay'), as well as a side road that shoots west to the island's lone west coast beach, Ao Phrao. Stick to the east coast and, from north to south, you'll pass lively Haad Sai Kaew, Ao Hin Khok and Ao Phai, sleepy Ao Tubtim, Ao Nuan and Ao Cho, family-friendly Ao Wong Duen, relaxed Ao Thian and Ao Lung Dam, secluded Ao Wai, a top-end luxury resort on tiny Ao Kiu Na Nok, and finally the remote and rocky Ao Pakarang at the island's far southern tip. At least one place to stay and eat is found on all of these beaches, and signs are clearly marked along the main road.

At time of writing, the road was in shambles from Haad Sai Kaew to Ao Phai, with pot holes that resemble small cliffs and vast mud puddles, plus a fair amount of motorbike, ATV and pick-up truck traffic. The road gets smoother and wider from the southern end of Ao Phai to Ao Thian before merging into steep, rocky hills from Ao Wai to Ao Pakarang. We do not recommend attempting to motorbike on the rough stretches unless you're a very confident rider. Also be careful when walking -- some of the green pick-up truck taxis drive along the smoother stretches at ridiculously high speeds.

ATMs have multiplied in recent years, with at least one now found on most beaches. Two are located at the twin 7-elevens next to Nadan pier, and another two at the other twin 7-elevens on the main drag in the village. We'd be inclined to use the Bangkok Bank ATMs at either of these locations, but we also spotted Thanachart Bank ATMs at the entrance to Haad Sai Kaew, at Tubtim Resort on Ao Tubtim, behind the convenience store next to Samed Cabana Resort on Ao Wong Duen, at Sang Thian Resort on Ao Thian, and at Samet Ville Resort on Ao Wai. Currency exchange booths are located in the village and Ao Wong Duen.

Another tourist police booth and national park station are also located on Ao Wong Duen. Samet has no central post office, though many resorts can send a postcard for you. Along with several in the village, internet cafes are available at Sea Breeze on Ao Phai and in the centre of Ao Wongduen. Many resorts offer free computer stations and most have free WiFi. One exception is Ao Nuan, where no WiFi is available. The 3G and cell signals for all major Thai providers works fine everywhere on the island.

Notes and precautions
In the past, Ko Samet had a bit of a bad rap for malaria, but it hasn't been a serious problem in over a decade. Dengue fever however remains an issue, so take all the usual precautions to avoid being bitten by Samet's notoriously aggressive mosquitoes. In the past rumours also swirled of disease-ridden dogs roaming free in packs -- the truth is a lot of strays wander round, but they're well taken care of by the locals and are used to tourists, so it's unlikely they'll be of any bother. Just be sure not to leave your half-full Sangsom buckets on the beach after a night's partying -- the dogs have been known to imbibe. And though the climate on Ko Samet is generally pleasant, the tides manage to pull a couple of people to their deaths every year, so be wary when swimming.

National park entry fee
Generally speaking, all who pass the national park entry booth at Haad Sai Kaew have to cough up some cash to enter this so-called national park. The entry fee is 200 baht for foreign tourist adults, 100 baht for foreign children, 40 baht for Thais or foreigners with a valid Thai work permit, and 20 baht for Thai children. In the past, it was possible to avoid the fees by arriving on the island at places other than Nadan or Ao Wong Duen. However, proactive rangers now meet arriving boats at almost every location. It is worth mentioning that if you stay on Ao Noi Na or in the village and wander quietly past the booth wearing only a swim suit, there's a good chance you'll slip through without paying.

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