Known for its sunsets, crystal clear waters, and lush beachside forests alive with “Samet Trees,” Ko Samet is a great place to take a scenic walk through an indispensable piece of Thai folklore.
There are approximately 1,430 islands in Thailand that accommodate locals and tourists from all walks of life. Among the rank of Thailand’s most scenic havens, you’ll find islands; such as, Ko Lipe in Satun province, where the mountains meet the sea, as well as photogenic wonders like Ko Phi Phi Don.
Many of the islands in the Kingdom make up some part of the 22 marine national parks that exist here. The most memorable of those are genuine wonders of the sea; such as, Tarutao National Marine Park and the symbolic Ko Lanta National Park in Krabi.
Each national park in Thailand, island group or otherwise, has a unique story of how it came to be and the resources it is known for. Considering that nearly 20% of the country is occupied by land designated as a national park, there is no shortage of stories about their origins and current use.
One such island is Ko Samet, which belongs to the Khao Laem Ya–Mu Ko Samet National Park, Rayong. Known for its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkeling year-round, Ko Samet is also home to one of the most epic stories in Thai history. Though the story was written over a century ago, visitors to the island today will still see that history on full display throughout the island.
Finding Mermaid Island
After driving approximately 3.5 hours from Bangkok to Rayong, visitors traveling to Ko Samet can take a ferry from the Ao Prao Pier to Ko Samet, which takes roughly 30 minutes to an hour depending on the weather.
When arriving at Ko Samet Pier, visitors will notice a massive statue sitting in the sea reaching out towards the Pier where passengers are boarding boats.
This enormous statue of Phi Suea Samut, also known as the ‘Butterfly of the Sea,’ is an essential piece of the history and current landscape of Ko Samet.
Dotted throughout the island are colourful statues of sea creatures and mermaids. Like Phi Suea Samut, the sculptures placed around Ko Samet nod at the history of this land summarized in one of the most famous epic poems of Thai past, Phra Aphai Mani.
Initially published in 1870, Phra Aphai Mani is a 48,700-line epic poem written by legendary Thai poet Sunthon Phu, one of the most widely-respected royal Thai poets in history. This story took two decades to complete and is an essential benchmark for Thai poetry because it was written in line with Thai tradition, but also so that the wider public (including young students) could understand without struggling.
In short, Phra Aphai Mani is the story of the young, flute-playing Prince Aphai Mani and his journey after being exiled from ancient Siam in preparation for royal duties. Although his brother had a relatively “usual” preparation period, Phra Aphai Mani learned a more unconventional skill while he was away – he learned to play the flute.
Upon returning home to their father to brandish their new skills, the King was furious that Prince Aphai Mani had learned to play the flute, while his brother returned with expertise in sword fighting. And so, the epic began.
Phra Aphai Mani left again to find himself and encountered many marvelous, magical, and somewhat romantic things along the way. At some point, he ended up on the island that we now call Ko Samet.
To pay homage to this story, its author, and the importance of Thai folklore, visitors will see statues of the flute-playing Prince and the mermaids that eventually saved his life speckled throughout the island.
These statues enhance the island’s beauty and celebrate a beloved Thai poet and his focus character in the story. The mystical mermaids gave support, protection, and enlightenment to the Prince and the statues of them on Ko Samet are now meant to retell that story and their role in it. In addition to touring around Ko Samet to relive this classic Thai epic poem, there are endless beaches upon which to relax, enjoy fresh seafood, and watch the sunset on this unique island named for its “Samet (cajeput) trees”.