Ko Samet: 220km (137 miles) SE of Bangkok. Ban Phe: 25km (16 miles) southeast of Rayong City

Tiny Ko Samet, better known simply as Samet (or Samed), is well known to Thais through an epic poem by Sunthorn Phu, a venerated 18th-century author and Rayong native who set his famous work, Phra Aphimani, on Samet. Just 1km (2/3 mile) wide, it is the closest island to Bangkok but feels a world away. The island is a long, triangular pennant shape, split by a rocky ridge, with some gorgeous beaches on the east coast. It's deemed a national park, hence there's a 400B per-adult landing fee (children pay half that price). As with so many of Thailand's "protected" areas, though, developers have devoured so much of the long sandy coastline here that one has to wonder what is being protected with the admission fee.

Ferries from Ban Phe land at Na Dan, the island's main port on the northern coast, from where shared songtaews run passengers to the various beaches -- Had Sai Kaew (Diamond Beach), a popular stretch with a serious party vibe, Ao Wong Deuan, or the more isolated Ao Tubtim (Had means "beach," and Ao means "bay"). Rates are posted by the ferry landing. Ao Phai's beaches just south of Had Sai Kaew can be treacherous for swimmers, so take care; in contrast, Ao Thian is popular with divers. Right down south is the chilled-out bay of Ao Kiu Na Nok. There are also a few upmarket resorts on the west side of the island at Ao Prao where speedboats run guests over to Ban Phe. Some ferries also run directly to Ao Wong Deuan, in the middle of the east coast.

Accommodations here get overpriced on weekends and in high season, and bookings may not always be honored. Stay cool and shop around. If you need to kick back and chill, avoid the busy weekend rush, when big groups of young Thai weekenders come over for some serious karaoke and drinking sessions. Peak season is similar to Pattaya's, with July through October bringing fewer travelers and lower rates.