Sunrise in Koh Samed
When my husband and I travel, we usually go to capital cities and visit lots of museums. My husband’s an artist, so when he travels, he likes to see art. But art was not the goal of our trip to Thailand. We thought of it as a sort of belated honeymoon – we got married 10 months ago – and besides, my husband is mostly into European art. Once we decided to go to Thailand, though, I was a little surprised, to be honest, that he was the one suggesting we go to the beach for a couple of days.
Beaches are something that Thailand does well, and there are plenty of options for good places to go to the beach. Most of the really famous places are in the southern part of the country, however, and would have required us to take either an all-day bus ride of a plane from Bangkok. Luckily enough, some friends of ours had recently been to Thailand and recommended Koh Samed (also spelled Koh Samet) for spectacular beaches not far from Bangkok. That certainly made the decision easy.
The view from the boat that took us to Koh Samed.
Koh Samed is an island about 3.5 hours south of Bangkok by bus (plus there is another 45 minutes or so on the ferry to the actual island). During the high season, which apparently lasts from about October to January, it is apparently packed with visitors both from elsewhere in Thailand – especially Bangkok – and the rest of the world. Our trip was in mid-May, and the weather was still perfect but the island was not swarming with vacationers.
The bungalow we stayed at on the island of Koh Samed
After reading a bit about Koh Samed, we decided not to book a hotel in advance. When we arrived at the island at around 4pm on a Tuesday, we walked along the beach with a couple we’d met on the ferry, looking for a good room on a good beach.
On Koh Samed, there are several beaches, each one with a different name and slightly different atmosphere. The picturesque, concave beaches are separated by rocky outcroppings, and some but not all of the beaches are connected by the road that runs more or less parallel to the waterfront – some beaches are quite a hike away from the road, whereas others are relatively close. As you walk further away from the main ferry terminal that connects the island to the mainland, the hotels get progressively less expensive and slightly more isolated, although some beaches were more happening than others.
The first potential room we saw was at Jep’s Bungalow, the same place our friends had recommended. The rooms with just a fan and no bathroom in the room was 300 Baht, or about $10. Those rooms were acceptable and looked perfectly clean, but we decided to keep looking before deciding where to stay for the next couple days.
A couple minutes later, the road diverged from the beach and we decided to take the beachside trail. Just as we were walking past one of the rocky outcroppings separating two beaches, we saw a guy lounging in a hammock in a simple bungalow right next to the path and about 15 feet away from the water. Up till that point, none of the places we’d seen had been beachfront. We hurriedly found the front desk and asked if there were any vacancies. Success! We took a quick look at the bungalow next door to the hammock-lounger. It was equipped with a fridge, a shower and toilet and, of course, ceiling fan and bed. There was a spacious balcony with a view of the ocean, and was a 1 minute walk away from the beach. It cost 900 Baht per night, or $30. We nabbed it immediately, hurriedly changed and were in the water before the sun went down.
We planned to stay 3 nights, but ended up staying another day because of the coup. Most of the time we spent swimming in the extraordinarily warm water, drinking mango smoothies (they cost between 50 and 70 Baht – around $2) at the many beachfront restaurants and exploring the island.
On our second day, we took a 6-hour snorkeling trip that involved traveling to different, smaller islands around Koh Samed. Our first stop for snorkeling and lunch was at a spectacular island with some corral near the beach that we could easily snorkel and head back to the beach whenever we wanted. It was my first time snorkeling, and although it wasn’t quite as spectacular as I’d imagined, it the fish were spectacularly colorful, the corral was not like anything I’d ever seen – both stunningly beautiful and a little scary. We also got to admire the feral chickens hanging out on the island. No, we didn’t get any hatching eggs to take home to the states.
Being almost as white as a ghost, I was warned that snorkeling presents extreme sunburn threat, and was careful to wear a shirt while snorkeling and to lather up the back of my legs, since it’s most your back that is exposed. In spite of my best efforts, the burn on the back of my legs made it a bit painful to sit down the following day. Next time I visit a tropical island, I’m going to seriously consider getting a full-body swimsuit so I can swim as much as I want with minimal sunburn.
Koh Samed Tips
Accommodations: Many of the cheaper hotels don’t accept advance reservations, which is why budget traveler are probably best off just showing up and walking around until they find something they like. The place we stayed at was Ao Pudsa, an they did not appear to take reservations. Prices for accommodations tended to run from about 300 Baht per night for a room with a fan and shared bathroom to about 3000 Baht per night for a beachfront room in a new resort with air conditioning and en-suite bathroom.
Activities: The main thing to do is to hang out in the water! If you’re on the beach, there are plenty of people offering Thai massages on the beach, lots to eat and drink. You can also take a snorkeling trip either to other nearby islands or to a couple locations on Koh Samed. It’s also possible to rent a kayak to paddle around the island.
Double-fisting my mango smoothies :)
Eating: Most of the hotels have attached restaurants located directly on the beach, and the prices are actually less than or equal to the prices in Bangkok – that is, cheap. On the recommendation of a Norwegian man who said he had been coming to Koh Samed every year for the past 15 years, we got lunch one day from a woman who carries barbecued chicken and salad from beach to beach – and it was delicious. There are also vendors who carry coconuts, mangos and other fruits around the beaches, so it’s easy to get a snack if you’re just hanging out at the beach.