KO SAMUI IN BRIEF
WHY GO: Ko Samui is Thailand’s second most popular island retreat after Phuket. In spite of its popularity, Samui has retained much of its original charm. Ko Samui is diverse enough to experience most of what Thailand has to offer in one single island: Ko Samui has great beaches, intriguing temples, good restaurants, lively nightlife, wonderful spas, and an atmospheric old town to soak in the local atmosphere.
WHY NOT: You will also experience some of the cons of popularity like sex tourism, traffic congestion, and arrogant taxi drivers in Ko Samui.
LUXURY Ko Samui has become Thailand’s hottest luxury destination; luxury hotel after another have been opened in Ko Samui’s more peaceful, secluded bays.
ROMANCE: Ko Samui has a a stylish feel, which is ideal for honeymooners and other couples looking for romantic escape. For example, trendy Nikki Beach Resort is a perfect hotel for couples on the quiet Lipa Noi Beach.
PARTY: Ko Samet’s party central is Chaweng Beach, where clubs fill up every night.
FOODIES: Ko Samui has plenty of world-class restaurants, especially on Chaweng Beach and Bophut Beach.
The best thing about Koh Samui is its island atmosphere: in Ko Samui you can’t forget for a moment that you are on an island. Ko Samui is almost round in shape, and wherever you drive on the road circling the island, you will see sea glistening behind the palm trees.
Ko Samui is a great place to experience most of Thailand’s allure on one island: there are great beaches, romantic hotels, excellent restaurants, and magical temples.
You can pamper yourself in wonderful spas, take a dip under waterfalls and make an excursion to the Ang Thong marine park, whose deserted islands inspired Alex Garland to write his book The Beach.
Diving trips can be organized to the legendary Sail Rock, the best dive site on the Gulf of Siam.
Traditional rural life can still be found on the southwestern part of the island, where one can drive a scooter along quiet country roads, lined with wooden houses standing on poles.
Although tourism has replaced coconut farming as the island’s main industry, Ko Samui still has a huge amount of coconut trees. Coconut milk produced in Ko Samui is known all over Thailand.
As Thailand’s third largest island, Ko Samui is just the right size: not too big but not small either. You can drive around the island in a day or a half depending on how many stops you do on the way.
Ko Samui’s Best Beaches
Ko Samui’s most handsome beach is nine-kilometers long, snow-white Chaweng. It is also the busiest; a lively tourist village full of restaurants, shops and bars is located behind the beach.
Another gorgeous beach is much shorter Choeng Mon, which curves to a perfect paradise bay. This is a great place to stay, if Chaweng feels too busy for you. The atmosphere is relaxed, but you can still find some nice restaurants in Choeng Mon.
Lamai is the island’s second busiest beach after Chaweng. The beach is long but the sand is not as fine as Chaweng’s or Choeng Mon’s.
Phangka, Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi are narrow and peaceful beaches on the island’s southwestern side. Thanks to its rustic atmosphere the area has been nicknamed the Virgin Coast.
The northern side of the island has two long beaches, where sand is rougher and browner than on Samui’s other beaches. Five kilometers long Mae Nam is a very quiet beach and ideal for those looking for a secluded feel. Bophut Beach, in turn, is best suited for those who appreciate comfortable hotels and good restaurants over the natural quality of a beach. The beach is lined with affordable luxury hotels, and next to it is an elegant restaurant area called Fisherman’s Village.
Nearby Big Buddha Beach is not very inviting for swimmers, because of its prominent boat pier, but its few cheap guesthouses are a good option for those planning to catch an early boat to neighboring islands Ko Phangan or Ko Tao.
Ko Samui’s Sights and Activities
Ko Samui has plenty of activities to do and attractions to see. Ko Samui’s most enchanting sight is the mummified monk who sits cross-legged in a glass case in Wat Kunaram, whereas Wat Phra Yai is known is for its gigantic Buddha statue.
A great day-trip from Ko Samui takes to the beautiful Ang Thong Marine Natural Park, where Alex Garland set the secret island of his novel The Beach (the movie was filmed in Ko Phi Phi, though).
Waters surrounding Ko Samui are not clear enough for diving or snorkeling, but Ko Samui’s handful of dive shops do speedboat trips to Ko Tao’s dive sites and the fabulous Sail Rock, Gulf of Thailand’s best dive site.
Those interested in the secrets of Thai cooking should try the half-day cooking courses of SITCA (Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts), and Ablsolute Yoga does high quality yoga classes in Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village.
Ko Samui’s Spas’ are some of the best in Thailand. Especially wonderful spa is the Tamarind Springs next to Lamai Beach. The atmospheric spa is located in a peaceful, natural jungle cove, and the spa’s steam baths and cool pools of water are set among impressive natural boulders. Tamarind Spring’s steam bath and massage packages start from 135 euros.
Santiburi Samui Golf Course is one of Thailand’s most beautiful golf courses.
Samui’s administrative center is Nathon, a small port town, inhabited by descendants of immigrants from China’s Hainan Island. Old Chinese atmosphere has been preserved, especially on Angthong Street, which is lined with old teak wood houses, birdcages hanging from their eaves.
Ko Samui’s Best Hotels
One of Ko Samui’s strengths is its lack of big, colossal hotels. The island’s building code forbids any constructions higher than coconut palms, what makes Ko Samui’s hotels feel very intimate.
Ko Samui has its fare share of international luxury hotels like W Retreat, Four Seasons Resort and Six Senses Samui.
Most of Ko Samui’s hotels are geared towards couples, and the island has become a popular honeymoon destination. Great choices for romantic places to stay in Ko Samui are Sala Samui, which has jacuzzis on every room’s balcony, and The Library famous for its stunning red swimming pool.
Sareeraya Villas And Suites is another beautiful boutique hotel, which its modern take on traditional Asian design.
Probably the best place to stay in Ko Samui for families is Chaweng Regent Beach Resort, which has a big pool for kids to splash around.
Party goers will enjoy the upbeat atmosphere of Samui Resotel on Chaweng Beach.
Check out discounts for Hotels in Koh Samui.
Ko Samui’s Restaurants and Nightlife
Ko Samui has become one of Thailand’s leading culinary destinations. Ko Samui’s restaurants excel especially in the international cuisine.
Some of Ko Samui’s best restaurants are Cher’s Table in Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa and Page at the The Library Hotel.
Koh Samui’s most extensive selection of restaurants and entertainment spots can be found in Chaweng Beach.
Another good restaurant area is the Fisherman’s Village, a former fishing village that has been transformed into an elegant restaurant lane close to Bophut Beach.
Ko Samui’s nightlife is centered in Chaweng Beach, where Ark Bar organizes beach parties. Green Mango has famous local and occasional international DJs playing in its big club.
Friends of beach clubs should head to the lively Sunday brunch of Nikki Beach Resort in Lipa Noi Beach.
Shopping in Ko Samui
To be honest: Ko Samui is not Thailand’s most versatile shopping destination (true shopaholics should travel to Bangkok or Hua Hin instead).
Ko Samui’s best place for shopping is the extensive shopping mall Central Festival. The atmospheric shopping and dining district Fisherman’s Village has some nice boutiques, as does Chaweng Beach on its main street.
Best Time to Travel to Ko Samui
Koh Samui is located on the southern Gulf of Thailand, where the rainy season takes place later than in the rest of Thailand. On Ko Samui rainy season starts in October, November being the rainiest month. Ko Samui’s rainy season is short but intense and may continue until the end of the year.
The best time to travel to Ko Samui lasts from January to the end of September.
Read more: Thailand’s Climate and Weather
How to Get to Ko Samui?
Bangkok Air flies to Koh Samui nonstop during day. The airline owns the island’s airport, and the lack of competition has kept air flight fares higher than to the rest of Thailand. There are also flights to Samui from different parts of Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore. Beaches can be reached by minivans from the airport.
Low-cost carrier Nok Air flies both to Suratthani and Nakhon Si Thammarat, from where travelers are taken to Samui by bus and ferry. The total travel time from Bangkok to Ko Samui with this cheaper option is close to six hours.
A good option is to take a night train from Bangkok to Suratthani, from where the boats leave to Samui in the morning. From Bangkok’s railway station you can buy a combo ticket including the train and the boat ride. Trains are often late, so leave few hours of time between the train’s arrival and the boat’s departure.
Get Around Ko Samui
Cheap but sometimes slow shared songthaew taxis take passengers from beach to beach. They also run along the main street of Chaweng. Private taxis are expensive.
There are plenty of car and motorcycle rentals on the island. A mini-jeep can be hired for about a thousand bahts per day through local travel agencies.
Next Destination from Ko Samui
Samui has good ferry connections to the neighboring islands Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The ferries leave alternating from Nathon, Mae Nam or Big Buddha piers.
You can actually join Ko Phangan’s famous Full Moon Parties from Samui: the two islands are connected by frequent speedboats during the party nights, so you can go to Ko Phangan in the day time and return to Ko Samui late at night or early morning.
If you want to experience authentic Thai atmosphere out of the tourist trail, it is worth to combine a holiday in Samui with a few days in the wonderfully laid-back Khanom on the mainland.
Good to Know
Samui has good, world-class hospitals and every other possible service one might need or wish for.