How bad is the oil spill on Koh Samet?

July 30, 2013


Thailand is in the international headlines again for the oil spill that has hit Phrao Bay Beach on the western coast of Koh Samet island in Rayong province. Some of the latest headlines include: “Thailand resort beach blackened by oil spill” and “Oil Spill Hits Thai Tourist Island”. An oil slick like this is not only devastating for the environment, but also for local tourism. This bay is rightly off-limits to tourists, but in any disaster like this, there is a lot of misinformation in the news about exactly how much of the island and how many tourists are affected by this oil spill.


As you can see by this map of Koh Samet, the oil spill hit Phrao Bay on the western side of the island. There are only a few resorts on this beach which are popular with more upmarket tourists. The majority of Thai and foreign tourists that head to Koh Samet stay on the east coast which has the best beaches. Thai media in Phrao Bay last night said that tourists have started to check out of their rooms. However, most have just switched to the eastern side of the island which is clear from the oil spill. The latest satellite image this morning shows the oil spill already moving away from the island. This is obviously good news for the resorts on the eastern side of the island but not so much for the beaches on the mainland in Rayong.


This is the latest picture from Sai Kaew Beach on the eastern side of Koh Samet. Local media report that both foreign and Thai tourists here have not been affected by the oil spill and are carrying on as if nothing had happened. There are no reports of people checking out of the resorts and hotels on this side of the island. If you have already booked a room for this weekend at one of the resorts on the eastern side of the island then you shouldn’t be concerned. The only place closed down by the oil slick is  Phrao Bay. The other 14 bays around Koh Samet are operating as normal.

For the latest news and updates on this oil spill, please follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow.

It is sometimes very difficult to get accurate information about the extent of the damage done by the oil spill. It doesn’t help that the oil company and the government have underestimated the impact on both the environment and tourism. This isn’t something that can be swept under the carpet or cleaned up over night. There is longer term real damage to both coral and local wildlife. First reports said the clean-up will take just a few days. The truth is more likely to be weeks if not months. This is an ongoing situation, so please follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow and on my blog for the latest updates.

30 Responses to How bad is the oil spill on Koh Samet?

  1. Ronnie on July 30, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    The clean-up will obviously take more than “just a few days” – and I think you’re giving a false sense of relief to encourage people not to cancel their bookings at the other beaches. The truth is (for those not aware) is that this is a very small island, and it beggars belief to think that the oil won’t make it’s way around to the other side in time (days or a week maybe), even if the main pool of oil is moving towards the mainland with the tides and wind. You seem a bit over-protective of the local hotels in my opinion.

    • Richard Barrow on July 30, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks for your comment. All I’m doing is giving people a clearer idea of what is going on. At the end of the day it is up to them if they decide to go or not. I’m just helping them with the facts without being sensational.

  2. DT on July 30, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    “It beggars belief that the oil won’t make its way around to the other side” Really, Ronnie? If you look at the satellite pictures the oil is now heading past Samed and on its way to the mainland beaches. If the wind stays where it is from the south west then how does the oil turn around exactly?

  3. Paul Ward on July 30, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with you Richard. The media has shown the devastating pictures and they are right to do so as this is a disaster and will have immediate and long terms effects on Ao Prao beach, the resorts there and the environment. However, as you say the eastern side of the island where 90% of the tourists stay is completely unaffected. I know this to be true because I am here now. Many of the tourists I have spoken to are completely unaware of the situation on Ao Prao beach, they are more concerned about the weather and hoping the sun will shine tomorrow. My advice would be for tourists to come to Samet as normal and stay on Saikeaw beach or one of the bays on the eastern side. The major slick has now moved on from Samet which is worry for the beaches of Ban Phe and further down the coast. It would be a shame for all the beaches and businesses to be tarred by the same oily brush that has caused problems on Ao Prao beach only. Although my heart goes out to the people affected on Ao Prao.

  4. lothar Bausch on July 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    If the oil make its way arount on the other side (west side beaches)they can close the complete koh samed island because there are the most hotels. i have a booking in november this year at wong duean beach and i dont know whether i cancel my booking or not.

    • Richard Barrow on July 31, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      I wouldn’t cancel just yet. Tomorrow’s satellite image should give a better indication of where it is going. I’m heading there myself soon for a firsthand look of the situation.

  5. lothar Bausch on July 31, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    @ Richard: Thanks for your reply.I will wait for the next satelite image. I am also in contact with the owner of the hotel resort at samed but i think that you have the best information.

  6. DT on July 31, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    @Lother You have absolutely nothing to worry about unless you have booked at one of the three Ao Phrao resorts. The rest of the island is carrying on as if nothing has happened, and I’d be surprised if Ao Phrao isn’t functioning again by November. It really is nowhere near as bad as it looks on the TV where they focus on the affected beach for the strongest impact.

  7. DT on July 31, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Apologies @Lothar!

    PS: Richard you are doing a great job keeping everyone informed, shame CNN, Sky and the BBC weren’t a little more level headed

  8. Sumeet Chopra on August 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Richard,thanks a lot for sharing this useful information; we have our booking for 9th Aug in Vongdeuan Resort at Wongdeuan beach and would like to know the current situation over there. please let me know is it safe to travel at this time or its better to cancel.

    • Richard Barrow on August 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      I’ve just arrived on Hat Sai Kaew Beach on the eastern side of Koh Samet. Everything looks normal so far. Cannot see that you will have any problems. The place is full of tourists. I will post some pictures later tonight either here or and also on my Facebook.

      • Anonymous on August 2, 2013 at 12:58 am

        Thanks Richard
        How is food & environment effected by all this and please post some recent pics of the island. Also, let me know how things are in Wong Deuan beach, although the beach is not affected by all this but still it will be great to have update on the same


  9. Lothar Bausch on August 1, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    @ DT: thanks for your comment. I booked for november “wong duean beach” (eastern side) which looked good at this moment but i am still waiting for the new satelite image.

  10. Rei on August 1, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Richard, thank you very much for the information. I will be heading to Sai Kaew Beach next Wednesday. Although the beach is unaffected as of now, I am now more curious about the water activities, whether the tour operators are organizing the activities as per normal and if they are safe, e.g. snorkeling, diving, squid fishing off the island etc.

    Perhaps another ignorant but concerned question, is food and water on the island safe to consume as usual?

    • Richard Barrow on August 1, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      I will be able o rep,y to that better tomorrow as I only arrived at 5pm today. But everything seems fine so far.

    • Paul Ward on August 1, 2013 at 11:58 pm

      I may be able to reply for you on the subjects of food and drink. In our restaurant we have halted the sales of FRESH LOCAL SEAFOOD deliveries. This is primarily a precaution until we are sure that local catches are entirely safe. Bad news for the local fisherman I am afraid. i think most other responsible restaurants will follow suit. Incidentally, due to flooding in chantaburi last week deliveries of fresh water prawns have also been affected. All other food and drink stuffs are safe. As is the water for swimming.

      Boat trips, jet ski hire, kayak and other activities continue as normal and the operators will be more than happy to see you. Although the 11am boat around the island is unlikely to go all the way around the island as near Ao Prao it is still off limits until the clean up is complete.

      A hope this helps you and have a great time. Fingers crossed it’s a rain free trip!

      • Richard Barrow on August 2, 2013 at 12:00 am

        Thanks Paul for that update.

        • Paul Ward on August 2, 2013 at 12:19 am

          Incidentally there are two meetings planned for tomorrow with local business and various officials regarding current situation, promotional and communicative strategies regarding tourists, as well as compensation for local businesses affected. Planned for 3pm and 6pm. You may be interested in that let me know if you want details. Regards, Paul.

          • Richard Barrow on August 2, 2013 at 12:23 am

            Thanks. Where will they be held? Not sure if I will be able to join as I might do a boat tour.

          • Paul Ward on August 2, 2013 at 12:33 am

            The meeting is at Grand View Resort. The meeting will obviously in Thai. My wife will be there also representing our company, Buddies on Saikeaw Beach. You can come there around 2pm if you want to go. I will be in Rayong early morning and not back until lunchtime. The PM is also due to visit Samet on Saturday evening when she gets back to Thailand. Regards

        • Rei on August 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

          Hi Richard and Paul,

          Would like to thank you both for the effort to bring across reliable information. I am really glad that I didn’t cancel my stay at Koh Samet. It was one of the most charming place I’ve been to and the experience there was lovely. Sai Kaew was bustling, snorkelling at Koh Thalu was good, locals were nice, food was delicious.

          Thank you both once again!

          • Paul Ward on August 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm

            Glad you had a great time! Maybe see you there again one day soon! X

  11. Amber on August 14, 2013 at 12:04 am

    I was planning on going to Koh Samet next week and now am nervous. This is my first time to Thailand and I am really wanting to have a nice beach experience.
    Should I cancel and head to Cha Am or Koh Samui instead??
    Thanks for feedback

    • Richard Barrow on August 14, 2013 at 9:47 am

      The east coast of Koh Samet was perfectly fine when I went there the other week and the situation is only getting better. However, it is not advisable to swim in Phrao Bay on the west coast for a few more weeks while they continue testing. But, if you are really nervous then just reschedule for Koh Samui or Hua Hin.

  12. Lothar Bausch on August 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    is an any satelite Image from Koh Samet available ?

    • Richard Barrow on August 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

      There have been no images released since the oil spill cleared.

      • Riccardo P on July 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        hy Richard thank you can i ask you something about the actual contamination in ko samet
        i’ll be in sai kaew in august 2014 do you think is better renounce to the travel?

        if not ko samet is always covered in clouds or in August or I can also find beautiful days?
        please help me and if you want send me some pictures

        • Richard Barrow on July 5, 2014 at 9:23 am

          You do realize this article is dated 2013? One year ago.

  13. Lothar Bausch on August 24, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    thank’s Richard.

  14. kelly watt on September 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Amber I would go to Kho Chang. I have changed my travel plans also for Oct.

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