Photo: Time to stock up for island time.

Introduction

Cooled by a fish-scented sea breeze, the coastal town of Ban Phe is mainly known as the jumping off point for Ko Samet — few travellers spend more than a mandatory half-hour here before hopping on a ferry. Wander away from the piers and seashell stands though to get a feel for the fishing lifestyle that unfolds along vast mainland beaches. The further you go, the more interesting it gets.


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Ban Phe doesn’t make the best first impression, but give the area a chance and you might find yourself hanging around for longer than planned. Its location at the centre of Rayong province’s long coastline makes it a good base for exploring modest beaches stretching for many miles. Other nearby attractions include the scenic Khao Laem Ya cape, the well-put-together Rayong Aquarium and some incredible seafood markets.

You come here to get one of these.

You come here to get one of these. Photo: David Luekens

The nearby town of Klaeng is well known among Thais as the stomping grounds of Sunthorn Phu, the “Shakespeare of Thailand” who invented the Nirat form of travel poetry. A continual traveller, frequent fighter, heavy drinker and notorious adulterer, Phu spent parts of his life in jail, as a Buddhist monk and as royal director of scribes for King Rama IV. His travel-inspired works, like Nirat Muang Grang and Phra Aphai Mani, still make for captivating reading while on a trip to Thailand. A monument dedicated to Phu is found just northeast of Laem Mae Phim beach in Klaeng, 30 kilometres east of Ban Phe.

As for Ban Phe town, expect a tacky look on the main drag fronting the busy ferry piers. Package tour buses rumble by as travel agents shout, “Where you gooooo!?” There’s also a bit of sleazy spillover from Pattaya, located 80 kilometres to the west, with a few sex worker bars and “massage” shops found in side lanes near the piers.

A trip out to Khao Laem Ya is worth it.

A trip out to Khao Laem Ya is worth it. Photo: David Luekens

Ban Phe is a comfy enough place to eat, sleep and check your email, so don’t panic if you get stranded here. Many travellers join locals to down beers while catching Premier League action at Christie’s, a fun pub and guesthouse located within sight of several piers. Quite a few expats have settled in Ban Phe, resulting in some great burgers and sausages to cure any homesickness in Western travellers.

And if you’re one of the many who couldn’t care less about anything except scoring a boat ticket to Ko Samet, we’ve got you covered with an in-depth rundown on Ban Phe’s various piers and boat options in our Travel section.


Orientation
The medium-size town of Ban Phe (rhymes with “Day”) is located at the centre of Rayong province’s coastline within sight of Ko Samet and Khao Laem Ya. Rayong town can be reached with a 20-kilometre ride west down Route 3, also known as Sukhumvit Road, which continues on to Pattaya, Chon Buri and Bangkok, located 200 kilometres northwest of Ban Phe. Follow Sukhumvit east out of Ban Phe and you’ll reach Chanthaburi after 90 kilometres.

All six of the most frequently used Ko Samet piers are located within a two-kilometre stretch of the main coastal drag, Liap Chai Fang Road, where you’ll find plenty of ATMs, convenience stores and shops brimming with swimsuits and floaty toys. Ban Phe’s police station is centrally located across from Phe Pier, a short walk east of Christie’s. There’s also a tourist police station located a bit further east at Municipal Pier.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom. Photo: David Luekens

A few small medical clinics are found in Ban Phe, but anything serious will require a trip to the hospital in Rayong town. WiFi is available at several restaurants and cafes near the piers, including Christie’s, or you can head to an internet cafe found on the road that cuts inland just west of the Diamond Hotel.

Coastal roads make for some fine motorbiking adventures while allowing you to avoid Sukhumvit altogether. Head west out of town on Liap Chai Fang and keep straight on the narrower Sukhaphiban Soi 2/8 to pass a bustling seafood market on the way to Rayong Aquarium and the turnoff for Khao Laem Ya and Mae Ramphueng beach. Go east to pass the tree-lined Suan Son beach en route to Laem Mae Phim beach and the pier for the Ko Mun group of islands.






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Onward travel

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