Located 60 kilometres west of the ferry piers in Ban Phe, Utapao-Rayong-Pattaya Airport is serviced by AirAsia with direct flights to/from Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and Hat Yai. Bangkok Air also advertises flights to Utapao but nothing turned up when we searched at research time. Zipping down to Ko Samet from Chiang Mai or Udon could be worth it you have a few beach days to spare at the end of a trip.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is 175 kilometres northwest of Ban Phe and at least two daily minibuses run direct between the airport’s transport centre and the Samet ferry piers.
Regular buses depart for Ban Phe’s Nuan Thip Pier -- where you can jump straight on a ferry to Ko Samet -- from Bangkok’s Ekkamai (Eastern) Terminal every 1.5 hours from 07:00 to 17:00 for 155 baht. The ride takes three to five hours, depending on traffic. The buses return to Bangkok every two hours from 05:00 to 18:00.
Hourly minibuses also run between Ekkamai and Ban Phe from 07:00 to 18:00 for 200 baht. Daily minibuses also connect Ban Phe to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Pattaya, Chanthaburi and the Ko Chang pier. You can also take a songthaew from Ban Phe to Rayong to find more long-distance bus options. See the Ban Phe travel section for the full scoop.
Public ferries and speedboats depart for Ko Samet from at least five different piers in Ban Phe. Departing roughly every hour from 07:00 to 19:00, all of the large slow ferries disembark at Nadan Pier on the north coast of Samet after a leisurely 40-minute cruise, returning to Ban Phe every hour from around 08:00 to 18:00. Pricier speedboats can drop you anywhere on Samet within a half hour, with prices depending on which beach you’re headed to (see below).
The most widely used pier by foreigners in Ban Phe is probably Nuan Thip Pier since this is where regular buses from Bangkok drop off. Here you can catch a public ferry for 70 baht one-way or 100 baht roundtrip -- hang on to that paper ticket if you go with the roundtrip. Speedboats depart from Nuan Thip Pier after collecting 10 passengers and motor to several of the east-coast beaches on Samet, though you might be better off taking the more consistent speedboats departing from nearby Phe Pier.
Located a short walk west of Nuan Thip Pier, Phe Pier (the sign says “Tharua Phe”) also services large ferries but is best known as the base for the reliable White Shark and Black Pearl speedboats. White Shark departs for Samet at 10:00, 12:00 and 14:00, returning to Ban Phe at around 11:00, 13:00 and 15:00 (exact pick up times depend on the beach). Black Pearl departs for Samet at 09:00 and 13:00, returning to Ban Phe at around 10:00 and 14:00. Expect to pay 200 baht to/from Haad Sai Kaew; 250 baht to/from Ao Tubtim; 300 baht to/from Ao Wong Duean; 400 baht to/from Ao Wai; and 500 baht to/from Ao Pakarang. These are examples; the speedboats can stop at any beach. Tickets can be purchased at the companies’ offices at Phe Pier and at resorts on Ko Samet.
If you arrive in Ban Phe late and don’t want to spend the night there, head to Municipal Pier (Tha Ruea Thesaban), located a short walk east of Nuan Thip Pier at the east end of town. Several travel agents stay open late and can arrange private speedboat transfers to Ko Samet departing at any time of night, or so we were told. A travel agent at Municipal Pier quoted us 2,500 baht for a one-way private transfer to Nadan Pier. White Shark’s office advertised the same route for just 1,600 baht at Phe Pier, but its office doesn’t stay open late.
A few other piers located further west along the main drag in Ban Phe include Chokkrisda Pier and Sri Ban Phe Pier, both servicing hourly ferries with the same rates as Nuan Thip. These are good options if you’re arriving in Ban Phe with your own wheels, as both offer roofed car parks. Also note that some of Ko Samet’s upscale resorts maintain their own piers for boat transfers that are often included in the room rates. The Samed Resorts group, for example, has its own boats departing from Seree Pier in Ban Phe.
Green songthaews pick up at Nadan Pier and charge 20 to 200 baht per person to drop you at your accommodation of choice, depending on how far you’re going. These can also be flagged down as they pass anywhere on the island, except in the far south. They also park and wait for passengers at designated areas behind Haad Sai Kaew, Ao Phrao and Ao Wong Duean.
While it’s easy enough to walk around certain sections of the island, like from Ao Noi Na to Haad Sai Kaew and Ao Tubtim to Ao Wong Duean, you’ll need some wheels to really explore. A plethora of good-quality mountain bikes are available for rent at roadside stands and resorts all over the island. Expect to pay 200 baht for one day or 150 baht for two or more days -- it sounds pricey but most of the bikes are of a high quality. Keep in mind that the far southern road gets extremely hilly.
Motorbikes are also widely available from 300 to 500 baht per day, with prices generally rising as you go further south. Completed in 2014 at a cost of 61,950,000 baht, according to a couple of signs erected by proud provincial officials, the island’s main road has been sealed all the way to the far southern end. This helped contribute to the end for ATVs on Samet, but you can now rent a golf cart for 1,000 baht per day.