The speedboat relaxed onto a brilliant white-sand beach extending halfway around the island. From here we waded into clear aquamarine sea to glimpse tropical fish and coral. We had suspicions before booking, but it quickly became clear that a boat tour to Ko Thalu, Ko Kudee and Ko Kham was worth the money.
At 10:45 a guide picked us up at our guesthouse and drove us to a dock next to Nadan Pier on Ko Samet. After 20 minutes of chatting with the roughly 15 people who joined us, including Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Japanese and Germans, we boarded a twin-engine speedboat and motored east. Once in the open sea we ripped around in a 360-degree circle, the first of many thrilling “doughnuts” to come throughout the day. Our driver didn’t hide his amusement.
Around 20 minutes later we arrived at Ko Thalu, stopping briefly off the west coast to, “Take photo! Take photo!” of a large rock bridge extending from a cliff. We then whizzed over to the east coast and hopped on a gorgeous stretch of powder-white sand. Though a few other boats had beat us here, there was plenty of space both on the beach and in the water.
Seeing a sign for “Viewpoint” after using restrooms maintained by the national park, we used rope supports to pull ourselves up a steep hill. At the top, a trail ran across the island before emerging high above the rock bridge, with views back to Ko Samet among several smaller islands, a couple of which we’d visit later.
Peering down to deep water that splashed several metres below, we couldn’t help but think of the cliff-jumping potential, though you might have to be a crack free-climber to find your way back up. If you consider a jump, beware that we’re unsure about the safety and no tour guides or national park officials hang around here to help in case of an accident.
Back on the beach, we poked around the more secluded northern tip with views to Laem Mae Phim on the mainland.
We strolled back to the busier east-facing section of sand where you can rent beach chairs and buy soft drinks from a national park booth. Umbrella trees provided spindly splotches of shade. After taking a few more shots of crystalline water that was more beautiful than any we’d seen on Ko Samet, we snagged a snorkel and plunged into a large roped-off swimming area.
Though not nearly as dazzling as South Thailand’s top snorkelling islands, like Ko Surin and Ko Tao, the underwater scenery wasn’t too shabby. Siamese tigerfish joined other tropical marine life amid live orange coral with touches of sparkling indigo, sea green and blue. You need to be careful when snorkelling here, as the urchin-laden coral can be quite deep before suddenly becoming shallow enough to catch a foot.
After a solid hour and a half spent doing as we pleased, the guides shouted that lunch was served on a long communal picnic table. The fried rice, grilled chicken skewer, fresh fruit and unlimited drinking water was a solid meal for such a reasonably priced tour. After lunch, we passed on an offer to go fishing and spent another 45 minutes basking on the beach.
We jumped back on the boat and cruised west to a string of smaller islands, beginning with a snorkelling site off the southwest coast of Ko Kudee. The visibility wasn’t great here and the relatively small space was rather crowded with snorkellers. Back on the boat, a fellow traveller slunk into the tiny bathroom, queasy from the rocking waves.
Eager to get this passenger to solid ground, the boat shot around to the exceptionally wide patch of tan sand covering Ko Kudee’s northern point. While lacking the postcard-worthy water of Ko Thalu, it was a fine place to lie back and relax.
Complete with ice cream and a noodle stand, a national park restaurant is found here along with a few rundown concrete fan bungalows fetching a steep 1,500 baht a night. It’s also possible to rent tents for 300 baht a night, though the shared cold-water bathroom was filthy when we used it. In fact we noticed lots of litter strewn all over the island, including at a trash-burning pit next to the beach. If you want to overnight here, simply book a tour and arrange for the boat to pick you up on a certain date.
Ko Kudee’s highlight isn’t the beach but a viewpoint. Following a trail that begins just west of the restaurant, we stomped 300 metres uphill to Nin Mungkhorn Cliff. Looking down over the spot where we snorkelled earlier, the perch afforded a splendid western view to Ko Samet.
The viewpoint path is part of a network of trails covering Ko Kudee’s interior forest. We tried a trail that diverged east, emerging after 10 minutes on a rocky bay that serves as a scenic vantage point for the national park accommodation. From here it was a quick hop back to the main beach, where we boarded the boat for the two-minute trip to our final stop of the day.
Huddled together with several other blip-size islands, including Ko Plateen and Ko Kraui, Ko Kham boasts a wide half-oval of grainy off-white sand that’s similar to Ko Kudee’s beach but with no facilities. Our guide shouted “good snorkelling” while pointing us to the south coast, though the low-tide water was cloudy and difficult to wade through thanks to a rocky floor. It was an anticlimactic finish to a day that started with an impressive bang at Ko Thalu.
Overall we were very satisfied with Nong Boom Tour, which came recommended by a couple of expat islanders. The guides were fun yet professional and the boat appeared to be in good shape. We went with “Program A,” which was billed as a “Five Island-Hopping Tour” even though four islands were advertised (we guess that Ko Plateen was included since it’s possible to wade there from Ko Kham).
Nong Boom also offers a three-hour-long afternoon tour for 500 baht that only runs to the Ko Kudee group, leaving out Ko Thalu, as well as a 400-baht cruise around Ko Samet with stops at a few of the beaches. Ko Thalu was the highlight, by far, so we wouldn’t recommend the shorter tour. A boat ride around Samet isn’t a bad idea, though it’s easy enough to explore overland while perhaps renting a kayak and snorkel at some of the southern beaches.
Several other companies offer very similar speedboat tours at similar prices. For 1,500 baht per person, Sinsamut Tour also does an “Adventure Trip to Nine Islands” that includes a stop at a sea turtle conservation centre on Ko Mun Nai (sister to Ko Mun Nork), which is at least an hour’s ride from Samet. Starting at 10:00, we don’t see how they could squeeze in Ko Thalu along with six other islands, but it might be worth trying for the turtles.
Another option is Jimmy’s Tour, which uses a large catamaran to hit Ko Thalu, Ko Kudee and Ko Kham at a more leisurely pace than the speedboats. It goes for 1,500 baht per person and includes an extensive buffet lunch served on the boat. It’s also possible to arrange a private boat through travel agents on Samet. Though pricey, private trips are worth considering if you’ve got a large group or otherwise don’t mind paying more for flexibility.
Virtually all of the group boat tours can be booked through any travel agent or guesthouse on Samet and include pick up at your accommodation along with lunch and use of a snorkel for the day. Drinking water is also available, but it’s a good idea to bring some of your own. Though offered year-round, the tours depend on weather during the rainy months.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 21st May, 2016.