Tucked away on Samet’s western shore, Ao Phrao feels like a different world. Its quiet beaches and calm, shallow waters cater to an upscale crowd. Forget the busy beachfront and rowdy nightlife of Sai Kaew, or the backpacker’s stretch at Ao Phai. Ao Phrao has only a few luxury resorts, each claiming an expansive beachfront area ideal for swimming and water sports like catamaran sailing, scuba diving, canoeing and fishing. The idea behind landing on Ao Phrao is to stay and enjoy the serenity of a ‘private’ beach as well as to benefit from all the resort facilities available.
Ao Hin Khok
This 200-metre stretch of powdery beach is popular among backpackers and budget travellers who often touch base here to share travel tales and plan their next adventures. Many have compared the friendly Hin Khok atmosphere to Bangkok’s laid-back Khao San Road. So, expect to see lots of familiar faces if you are a regular of Bangkok’s most famous backpacker strip. The beach here is one of the best for swimming and sunbathing. Cheap accommodation can be found a bit further up the hill and often comes at better value than that in neighbouring Sai Kaew or Ao Phai.
Ao Kiu Na Nok
Tucked away on the southern tip of the island, Ao Kiu Na Nok offers complete isolation from other beaches and is best accessed via a boat ride from Ban Phe. With a picturesque beach front, where calm, azure waters meet and melt into powdery soft sand, this is as close as it gets to a ‘paradise beach’ on Samet, making it an ideal choice for honeymooners and romantic couples. You can catch both sunrise and sunset as the beach is situated on a narrow, walkable swathe of land facing both east (Kui Na Nok) and west (Kiu Na Nai).
Right next to Sai Kaew Beach, Ao Phai has a backpacker feel to it and overall is relaxed and pleasant. The beach is a continuing stretch from Sai Kaew, only separated by a low, rocky headland. Snow-white sand, turquoise waters and a lineup of oceanfront restaurants and bars with fire dance shows are all featured here. Nightlife is, however, more low-key than neighbouring Sai Kaew. Think candlelit tables and comfy cushions neatly spread out on the sand, ideal for chilling out until late into the night.
Ao Tubtim/Ao Phutsaa
Just a five-minute stroll from Ao Phai, Ao Tubtim/Ao Phutsaa occupy pretty much the same stretch of white-sand beach and have somehow managed to stay off the tourists’ radar. They are popular amongst foreign visitors in search of a quiet spot not far from the main Na Dan Pier. Rather than a sweeping beachfront, you get a cosy stretch that is perfect for lazing around with a book or MP3 player. The crystal-clear water is ideal for swimming in.
Ao Vong Duen
Another popular beach among local tourists, Ao Vong Duen can be accessed directly via boat from Ban Pae or songtaew from Na Dan Pier. There is a good range of restaurants and bars on the beach, with a rather low-key ambience if compared to Sai Kaew or Ao Phai. The sweeping beach front is blessed with clean, clear waters, but a range of motorised water sports means that it can be quite loud during the day. Most of the accommodation on Vong Duen is in the three-star category.
Remote but not completely isolated, Ao Wai offers a tranquil and picturesque beach front, a far cry from the honky tonk backpacker scene of Sai Kaew Beach or Ao Phai. However, being this remote means that your resort is pretty much all of Samet that you will see unless you venture out to neighbouring Ao Thian, a long-time favourite of local college kids, with its beachside bars and restaurants. Access is limited to either a bumpy ride on a dirt road from Vong Dueng Beach or via a boat from Ban Phe. Accommodation is basic here, but if all you need is a place to sleep, eat and a secluded beach escape, then Ao Wai is an ideal choice.
Sai Kaew Beach
The most developed of all the beaches, Sai Kaew has been subject to mass tourism, which means endless rows of restaurants, a lively nightlife scene as well as a crowded beach and loud music. Luckily, the nightlife zone is relegated to the southern strip, leaving the rest of the beach somewhat peaceful after dark.
There are plenty of water sports here, such as water skiing, wakeboarding, jet-skiing, banana boating, canoeing, and scuba diving. Speedboat operators are more than ready to get you on board for a half-day or full-day sightseeing or diving tour. With so many things going on, Sai Kaew is an ideal destination for families, fun-loving travellers and those travelling in large groups.