Thai Navy Seals

Few people traveling along Route 331 from Satthahip to the Isaan Plateau realize this highway was built by the US Military in the 1960s. The Friendship Highway connected the Thai Navy base with several large airfields operated by the US Air Force throughout the Viet-Nam War. Those airfields are now quiet, however Satthahip remains one of the most important naval installations in Southeast Asia and every May the Thai military host Cobra Gold, a large military exercise involving the troops of the USA, Singapore, Malaysia, and various other nations of the Pacific Rim.


While most troops practice amphibious tactics at the main base, smaller groups of high-trained troops congregate on the idyllic archipelago stretching south into the Gulf of Siam for the intensive training regime of the Thai Navy Seals, whose home base of Koh SamaeSan is located across the channel from the isolated fishing port of Ban Samaesarn.

Sensing a need for a similar strategy during the Cold War, Thailand found the Thai Navy Seals in 1953 to provide Thailand with a fast-reaction unit to defend national sovereignty as well as provide the Royal Thai Fleet with naval warfare support such as underwater demolition and coastal reconnaissance. The US Navy Seals supervised the training of these first units and to this day retain a working relationship with their Thai counterparts scouting, and quick-response missions destined to counter the threat of terrorists.

While boaters are allowed to anchor off-shore from these islands for fishing and diving, actually landing on the beaches is prohibited by the Thai Navy, although with the recent opening of the Coral Islands Museum in Ban Samaesarn tourists are guided on special tours arranged by the Thai Navy Seals. I’ve been lucky enough to accompany these guardians of the sea for the filming of an episode of the highly-popular Thai TV show THE NAVIGATOR starring Tik Jasadaporn. We dove in gin-clear waters for two hours and had lunch on the veranda of the Thai Navy Seals barracks on an island paradise.

While many of the Seals come from inland provinces far from the sea, most are happy to have discovered a love for the sea and each man is proud to follow the tradition of King Taksin, who liberate Ayutthaya through an innovative use of smaller water-borne guerrilla fighters to weaken his enemy’s lines of supply and every year an undisclosed number of candidates are subjected to a rigorous regime of special naval warfare designed to test the limits of each sailors’ physical and mental limits.

Those successful graduates join several elite platoons stationed along the long sea coast of Thailand, where they are further instructed by the special forces of the Australian, German, and the USA special forces, however in recent years the role of the Thai Navy Seal has evolved from a strictly military option into a marine force dedicated to protecting the sea itself.

Sailors are taught about the oceans, the sustainability of fishing stocks, and pollution in accordance with the Thai Navy’s greater awareness of the world in which we live. Each Seal is an expert in preservative diving thanks to courses at the Chulaborn Research institute and cooperate with local authorities to help save marine life by clearing garbage from Pattaya Bay or setting up tether floats for diving boats in the Andaman Sea. On Koh Samaesarn the soldiers gather up thousands of plastic bottles from the beaches to help supplement their income and pass on their knowledge to the fishermen trawling the sea to promote the health of the seas.

April 17 celebrates the anniversary of the Thai Navy Seals. Both the nation and the Thai Navy salute this unit for their unceasing devotion to the sea, especially at their marine facilities at Ban Samaesarn.

To reach Ban Samesarn head south from Sukhumbit on Route 3126 past the U-tapao Airfield and turn left at the signs for Ban Samaesarn. The road will lead pass the shore into town where you drive right to the museum entrance.

Entrance 100 baht for Thai Nationals and 200 baht for Westerners.

Boat tours can be arranged at the pier under the town’s temple.

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