What's it really like?
Looking for a tropical paradise island filled with hot gay guys close to Bangkok? Look no further than Gay Koh Samet.
Possibly Thailand’s gayest Island, Koh Samet (Ko Samed) is only 2 hours drive from Bangkok, 220 km (140 miles) southeast of the capital. Being so close to the city, Koh Samet has become one of the main weekend beach playgrounds for Bangkok’s middle and upper class, especially with Bangkok’s gay community.
On weekends, large groups of gay Thai guys arrive for a weekend of beach partying, creating Gay Koh Samet. As with any weekend destination, accommodation prices rise accordingly, sometimes by as much as 50%. Visiting during the week can mean cheaper prices and quieter beaches, but far less gay partying.
Koh Samet is as beautiful as any Thai island, with white sandy beaches, jungle, and coral reefs – in short everything you expect from a tropical paradise. Koh Samet is part of the Khao Laem Ya Ko Samet National Park which aims to preserve this natural environment, as a result, there is a 200 baht entry fee for the island. Thai residents pay 40 baht.
In terms of public tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, Thailand is one of the most welcoming countries across Asia. Koh Samet has a long history of welcoming gay partiers from Bangkok, so you are unlikely to be bothered or singled out.
As a whole, Thai people value discretion and non-confrontation, so no one should give you any hassle for being seen together. That said, public displays of affection – both straight and gay – are frowned upon.
Male and female same-sex activity is legal in Thailand however gay marriage is not legal yet. Bangkok Post reports that “…while Thailand is viewed as a tourist haven for same-sex couples, the reality for locals is that the law, and often public sentiment, is not so liberal.” LGBT residents of Thailand and Bangkok are not offered the equal legal protections offered to non-LGBT (straight) people.
Getting an HIV test in Koh Samet is less straightforward than in a bigger urban hub, so you might be better off taking the trip to Bangkok and doing it there, especially if you already have plans to visit the city. Local Health Initiative TestBKK offers great up-to-date information on where, when and how much it will cost to get tested.
The Thai Red Cross Clinic in Silom is the easiest place for tourists and non-Thai individuals to get tested. Testing here is affordable (not more than $10 USD) and quick, HIV results are returned in under 1 hour. English is spoken through the clinic and results are kept confidential.
If you would rather stay on the island, you can go get a blood test at the International Clinic Koh Samet near Na Dan Pier, but they do not have a specialized HIV and STD clinic.
Thailand has one of the highest prevalences of HIV in the Asia and Pacific region, and almost 50% of all new HIV infections are amongst gay or bisexual men, male sex workers, and transgender people. Approximately 9% of men who have sex with men in Thailand have HIV. Koh Samet is not particularly known for HIV incidence, but you should still take care to practice safe sex in all your encounters on the island.
Na Dan and Samet town – Na Dan pier is where you will arrive if you are taking the ferry from the mainland. The pier is a short walk away from Samet town, which is small but convenient, with a good selection of hotels, shops, bars, and restaurants. The town sits between Na Dan pier and Haad Sai Kaew, with just slightly over 10 minutes separating the pier and the beach by foot.
Haad Sai Kaew – This is Samet’s most developed beach and the hub of the city’s nightlife. There are also plenty of restaurants, hotels, and hostels. There is a mix of local tourists, both young people and families, as well as the usual international crowd. It does get loud at night, so you may be better off staying a bit further if you want to actually sleep. Despite being quite busy, Sai Kaew is still beautiful and great for lounging during the day.
Ao Tubtim – The location of the Tub Tim resort, and probably the gayest beach on the island. It’s a small and relatively calm beach, but it can get crowded with gay tourists on weekends and during Thai public holidays. There is a good range of restaurants and bars from the nearby resorts.
Ao Hin Khok & Ao Phai – These are two small beaches just south of Sai Kaew. While Sai Kaew is popular with local Thai tourists, these beaches are backpacker territory, with several hostels nearby. They are not as busy as Haad Sai Kaew at night, but there is some nightlife to keep things interesting, including Silver Sands, the gayest club on the island.
Ao Wong Deuan – The second-largest beach after Sai Kaew. There are several resorts and bungalows, but little nightlife. It is a good option for a quieter beach holiday without sacrificing convenience and food and drink options.
Ao Kio Na Nok – A small, beautiful beach on the south of the island that is home to a large resort. Most of the beach is private to resort guests, but there is a strip of public beach which you can use if you come in from the water.
Ao Phrao – The most expensive and exclusive part of the island, and a popular holiday spot for rich Bangkok residents. For this reason, it is amongst the most isolated and untouched beaches on the island. It is only accessible by boat, which you can get from several operators on Ban Phe.
Koh Samet is located on the Gulf of Thailand, about 220 kilometers south from Bangkok. Boats to the island depart from the pier at Ban Phe, on the outskirts of Rayong, and arrive at Na Dan. There is only one real road on the island, with a few dirt tracks stretching from it.
Ferry – The ferry boat takes about 40 minutes, costs 100B return, and departs hourly 8am-5pm. If you are staying further south on the island, you can also take a ferry from the mainland straight to Ao Wong Deuan (return 90B, two to three daily departures).
Speedboat – The speedboat is more expensive (200B – 500B one way), and departs whenever it is full. However, it will drop you off at any beach you need. If you are not in a hurry and are staying in the main tourist area, the ferry is probably a better option. Ticket sellers at Ban Phe may try to pressure you to get a speedboat, saying that there are no ferries for a few hours, but the hourly schedule is usually running. Just ignore them and buy the ticket you want.
From Suvarnabhumi Airport – There is not a direct bus service from the airport to Rayong. You will need to either go to Bangkok to take the bus option (see below), or take a bus to Pattaya and then change at the station for the Ban Phe service (250-350B, about an hour).
Car and Taxi- The drive from Bangkok to Ban Phe pier is 2-3 hour depending on traffic. It is quite a scenic drive along the Gulf. A metered taxi will charge about 1600 Baht for travel from Bangkok to Ban Phe, but an unmetered driver may try to charge you more. It is best to arrange this trip in advance: you can ask your hotel to help you hire a taxi for your trip if you do not speak Thai.
Bus – There is a bus service from Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal direct to Ban Phe, which costs 200B. It can be quite slow due to traffic, and can take up to 4 hours. You can also catch a bus to Rayong (from the Eastern Bus Terminal or Mo Chit Terminal), and then get a songthaew to Ban Phe
Songthaew – Songthaews, or sorng-taa-ou, are a familiar sight throughout Thailand’s islands. Somewhere between a bus and a tuk-tuk, they are beloved by tourists and a good place to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. Songthaews are the main mode of transport around Koh Samet, costing about 600B for a private trip or 100-200B for a full shared ride.
Motorbike Rental – Renting a motorbike is a rite of passage of sorts for tourists in Thailand. It is reasonably cheap – about 200-300B a day in Koh Samet – and allows for far greater flexibility and independence. However, it is worth noting that Thailand has some infamously dangerous roads and infamously reckless drivers. Accidents are common and rental does not tend to include insurance. Also, this should go without saying, but do not rent a motorbike if you have never driven one before. Yes, people do it all the time, and yes some rental companies will turn a blind eye, but it is illegal and not a particularly smart move.
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