Koh Samui, the third largest island in Thailand, is fast becoming one of the world’s most sought after holiday destinations. Blessed with outstanding natural beauty, stunning beaches and a relaxed laid-back lifestyle it has everything to make your tropical escape a very special experience. Koh Samui also promises a vibrant nightlife and a superior international restaurant scene, making it ideal for a long and relaxing Thailand holiday.
A part of the Angthong archipelago, Koh Samui’s major claim to fame is the untouched Angthong National Marine Park, an area so exotically beautiful that it inspired Alex Garland to pen his famous book, “The Beach.” Explore the inner reaches of this stunning marine destination and discover why it is considered nothing less than an earthly paradise.
Koh Samui is also a haven for water sports. Scuba diving, sailing and kitesurfing are just some of the popular activities that you can indulge in the beaches fronting a spectacular coastline. Chaweng Beach is easily the most popular area on Koh Samui. This endless sandy beach promises a fun-filled day of activities and at night it transforms into a lively entertainment area with the choicest of clubs, bars, and restaurants vying for your attention.
Enjoy the palm-fringed serenity on the quieter towns of Bophut, Maenam and Lamai. Offering fantastic views, these beach areas are an idyllic escape from the stresses of everyday life.
Farther afield, is the neighboring island of Koh Phangan, renowned for its monthly full moon party on the crescent shaped Haad Rin beach. Bringing together revelers from across the globe, the event is like none other you would witness on this planet. For the rest of the month, the island is quiet, relaxed, and promises a perfect escape.
Festivals and Events
Songkran: The Thai New Year is celebrated on the full moon in mid-April. The event is marked with religious and family duties. Trucks drive around the ring road with barrels of water and passengers armed with super-soaker water pistols drench everyone. Much music and merriment results and everyone gets sopping wet and is covered in talc.
Koh Samui International Regatta: Held in the first week of June, the annual Koh Samui Regatta is an important event on the island. The clubs, restaurants and bars host regatta parties for sailors and spectators.
Loy Kratong: Loi Kratong, the beautiful ceremonial festival of lights, is held in mid-November. The scene of small floating offerings made from flowers, leaves and candles set off to float on the rivers and ocean is truly enchanting. The main venues are the beaches of Bohput, Chaweng, and Lamai. The bobbing ocean-bound candles, combined with the air-borne lanterns dotting the sky create a mesmerizing scene.
Koh Samui offers a remarkable selection of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. You can choose from standard beach villas to luxurious hotels and beach resorts.
Though there is no shortage of upmarket hotels and resorts dotting the beaches, a large part of the island still remains covered with coconut groves and rice paddies and you can find a quiet villa in which to stay, far from the madding crowds.
Chaweng Beach: The longest and most popular beach on Samui has accommodation options along its entire length. The beach is home to a vibrant nightlife and has a high concentration of restaurants and shops.
Lamai Beach: Samui’s second-largest beach also has a fair share of accommodation options ranging from top-end and mid-range to budget. The restricted area on and around the beach means that a majority of housing is actually found on the surrounding hills.
Maenam: Located on the North coast, the beach offers a wide selection of budget accommodation with a sprinkling of top end luxury resorts. Maenam is also home to many of the new villa developments on the island, in fact this was one of the first areas on the island to feature such developments.
Big Buddha: Home to the island’s most important landmark, the Big Buddha itself, the area has some relaxed and relatively low priced resorts.
Bophut: One of Samui’s recently developed villages, Bophut combines traditional Thai charm with a distinct Mediterranean feel. The area is more relaxed given the fact that there is less traffic here. You’ll find a number of converted shop-houses that are perfect for fine dining.
Dining is one of the greatest pleasures of life and more so if you are on a vacation to an exotic locale. In this respect, Koh Samui does not disappoint. The island offers outstanding dining options from casual dining to more sophisticated fare.
While we recommend that you try the simply delicious Thai food, you can also traverse the long trusted road and stick to the food you are familiar with, be it Indian, Mexican, English, Japanese, Scandinavian, Italian or French. You can pick up one of the local guides listing the restaurants or just stroll around and dine in one that catches your fancy.
Bophut is particularly famous for its laid-back evening ambience and great selection of high-end restaurants. Try out Starfish and Coffee with its decent food and stunning décor. For tasty steaks, The Shack is a must visit. The beach also has a number of good Thai, Italian and Indian restaurants, all within a short stroll. If you are looking for a romantic evening out in Bophut, Shades and Smile house is just the place to head to. For fine dining in outdoor setting, you can try Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa.
Bang Rak is also a famed venue for dining, popular with expats and frequent visitors. For a very personal service and a cozy atmosphere, you can check out Ocean 11.
The eateries and restaurants in Lamai, Chaweng and Maenam also serve fresh seafood. Some good quality eateries in Lamai include Rocky’s and The Pavillon. In Maenam, the old-school Café Talay serves cheap and delicious Thai and foreign food.
Chaweng boasts of the highest number of top-end restaurants. Check out Bellini’s and Rice for Italian, Poppies for Fusion, Zico’s for Brazilian, and The Page for contemporary Thai for good food, elegant style, and beautiful settings and décor.
If you are a holiday on Samui, you simply have to try the local food. You can check out the ubiquitous ‘som tam’ – a spicy papaya salad served with grilled chicken and sticky rice – for around a dollar, on roadside stalls around the island. The stalls and cafes in Nathon, and in the market of Laem Din (Chaweng) also serve sumptuous local dishes. For more upmarket, or ‘Royal’ Thai cuisine, head to the Baan Chantra Royal Thai Restaurant at Baan Taling Ngam Resort and Spa. Lai Thai at the Napasai Resort on the tranquil Ban Tai beach and serves authentic and delicious Royal Thai cuisine.
Chaweng is Samui’s main shopping hub. The entire length of the beach is dotted with stalls selling souvenirs and electronics, as also high end stores stocking designer clothes and renowned brands.
You can shop for sculptures and Buddhist icons carved from various types of wood as also beautifully embellished fabrics of cotton, silk or a mixture of both. Of course, you have to shop for silk, Thailand’s most famous exports. The traditionally designed silk products include anything from sarongs to scarves and shawls.
Sunglasses, low price bags or backpacks, money pouches, sarongs and sandals are just some of the products that you can purchase at bargain prices.
You can buy electronic goods such as DVDs, CDs and computer games at a tenth of price that you would pay back home but beware of pirated copies.
If you’re looking for something really special to remind you of your time on Koh Samui, you can pick up some local art pieces easily available in the numerous local art houses that line the island’s beach roads. Handicrafts are another good bet, and although almost all come from Chiang Mai there are plenty of vendors and night markets selling a wide array of products that make fine gifts.
Beaches in Koh Samui
Koh Samui’s exquisite palm-fringed beaches are perfect for relaxing and taking in the scenery resting in a hammock. Those looking for something more active, can find pleasure in the various marine activities such as kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and diving in the sparkling waters of the ocean. Each beach has its own distinct ambience and different options for things to see and do.
Chaweng Beach: Considered to be one of Thailand’s finest beaches, Chaweng beach has masses of people sunbathing during the day and a crowd of party-goers letting their hair down by the night. The beach offers plenty of amenities and facilities with shops, bars and restaurants close by. It is one of the few spots on the island with surf. You can choose from a good selection of water activities including daily boat trips to the famous Marine Park, sailing, diving and sea kayaks.
Lamai Beach: The beach with its soft white sand is ideal for swimming and admiring the spectacular tropical scenery. The northern side of Lamai beach is home to graceful granite boulders, which are often enjoyed as fishing perches by local fishermen. Activities on the beach include windsurfing, kayaking, water-skiing, and scuba diving.
You can also admire the Hi Ta and Hin Ya, the weathered formations known as Samui’s grandfather and grandmother. You can also take in the strange sight of tourists clambering around to have their photo taken with a penis shaped rock. Thai boxing, a violent and exciting spectacle, has a strong presence in Lamai. The beach area also has the highest concentration of book shops on the island.
Big Buddha Beach: Named after the huge golden statue, this is one of Samui’s calmer beaches. Its popularity is also due to its proximity to the Koh Samui Airport with people making it their first or the last stop on the island. There are many colorful statues and temples in the area that are all worth a visit.
Bophut Beach: Once a simple fishing village, Bophut still retains its traditional charm even as it has turned into a fashionable center for shopping and dining. The beach is good for families and those seeking a romantic ambience. You must check out the Fisherman’s Village, which is home to plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes. The beach even offers facilities for Go-karting.
Mae Nam Beach: This long stretch of beach on Koh Samui’s north coast is popular with budget travelers though some expensive residential developments have also taken place recently. If you are a golf enthusiast, you can visit Santiburi, where you will find an international golf course with outstanding standards and superb views of the Golf of Siam.
Ban Tai Beach: Ban Tai is a group of sandy bays running from the western-most point of Mae Nam through to the north-west corner of Koh Samui. The central beach is a rather long stretch with stunning views over to Koh Phangnan. You can detox yourself at one of the specialist day spas in Ban Tai that offer a full range of well being treatments including massages.
Taling Ngam Beach: The sunsets over the Marine Park are simply spectacular. Keep a look out for the five islands and the Angthong National Marine Park. You can also get a taste of the local lifestyle at the traditional Thai village, mostly untouched by western influences. Also visit Nathon, the administrative capitol of Koh Samui, with its concentration of shops and restaurants. Even though it is a small area, Taling Ngam has an impressive selection of top quality restaurants including “Five Islands” and those at the Baan Taling Ngam Resort.
Bang Por Beach: This postcard perfect beach offers stunning views of Koh Phangnan. The waters are good for swimming and year round sailing thanks to the refreshing breezes over the Gulf of Siam. The Language school Ming Your Language, located here, welcomes all who wish to learn the native language.
Choeng Mon Beach: Choeng Mon Beach enjoys a relatively quieter ambiance. You’ll find a number of massage salas on the beach throughout the day, which offer all types of Thai or oil massages and other treatments.
Laem Set Beach: The beach is perfect for a quiet family holiday amidst peaceful surroundings. Walk through the tropical gardens of the Butterfly Farm, nestled in the hills above the beach and admire the scintillating waterfall nearby. You can also see the Samui Aquarium with an interesting display of turtles, sharks, catfishes fish and other coral species. If you are brave enough, you can have your photo taken with a tiger at the nearby Tiger Zoo.
Laem Sor Beach: Situated off the beaten track, the beach is famous for an ancient pagoda located here. There is a meditation forest nearby where you can savour the silence of the scenic surroundings. You can also visit the man-made lagoon, home to some mangrove trees planted along the ocean side. There are only a few villas located in this area, so if you wish to stay here you will need to book in advance.
Lipa Noi Beach: Here you can enjoy the fantastic sunsets over the Marine Park. Situated away from the noise and bustle, the surrounding atmosphere is peaceful and attractive. The beach is dotted with many eateries and restaurants providing evening entertainment such as Thai dancing and acrobatics. Pamper yourself at the Dhama Healing Centre, one of Samui’s more sought after spas. You can also visit the Paradise Park Farm, which has on display many different species of animals and birds. The entrance ticket covers free use of the pool and its facilities.
Samui Beach Village: Apart from the beautiful natural scenery, the added attraction is the original lifestyle of the local fishermen who reside here.
Secret Beach: Samrong Bay or “The Secret Beach” is a picture perfect remote and private beach on the island. The beach allows for privacy and space, and at the same time it is within reach of the main entertainment areas of the island.
Excursions From Koh Samui
Koh Phangan: Hidden away in the wide expanse of the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Phangan is one of Thailand’s best kept secrets. Surrounded by the azure ocean waters and complete with exquisite bays, beautiful valleys, and stunning white sandy beaches, the island is perfect for an idyllic tropical escape.
Koh Phangan is world famous for hosting perhaps the biggest beach party on the planet– the full moon party on Haad Rin beach. The party under the starlit sky is held on the full night every month and attracts more than 20,000 people from across the globe.
The story goes that some people arranged a party along the crescent-shaped beach on a full moon night when the moon was its enchanting best. From then onwards, a party is held on the beach every full moon night and people from all over the world come to join in the celebrations.
The party begins at dusk when the yellow moon makes it appearance on the distant horizon. Thousands of lamps lighting up the beach make it nothing less than a fairytale setting. As the evening progresses, the beach explodes into a dancing frenzy with local and international DJs playing everything from trance, techno, drum and bass to commercial dance and reggae. Jugglers and fire-eaters also pitch in to entertain the crowds. As the night goes on, impromptu fireworks light up the sky. The beach is lined with tables where you can dine and chill out over drinks with your friends and then hit the dance floor again.
The fun is Samui does not end with the sun set. If you are a night owl, you really must experience the justifiably famed nightlife of the island. The busier resorts of the island have a fair sprinkling of bars, pubs, and cabaret shows.
Chaweng Beach: Chaweng is considered to be Samui’s nightlife capital. Here you will find plenty of places to hang out after the sun sets. Tropical Murphy’s Irish pub is nothing less than an institution, with 11 draught beers on tap. The live music begins from around 10 PM. Bar Solo with its cool interior and great music is another major draw. For a really happening party scene, the Soi Green Mango is the place to head to. The area is home to a lot of clubs and Go-Go bars. Christie’s, the most famous Lady-Boy Cabaret on Samui, is not to be missed. Dust Bar on the lake road is also worth checking out. The stylish Q Bar generally plays House. From the open air terrace, you can take in the panoramic views over the lake.
Bophut Fisherman’s Village: For a more relaxed surroundings and a laid-back nightlife, the ideal venue is the seaside Bophut Fisherman Village. You will find a few chill-out bars, perfect for couples to have an after dinner drink. You can grab a cocktail on the beach or relax in one of the bohemian bars that line the street. Some bars worth checking out are Flair, Frog and Gecko and Starfish and Coffee.
Lamai Beach: The entertainment venues in Lamai mostly cater to single guys though there are a few clubs that offer late night dance options for party seekers. There are plenty of open-air beer bars as well as good selection of British-style pubs along the entire beach road strip.
Samui is a year-round travel destination mainly because it enjoys good weather for about ten months (the other two being the monsoon months).
Temperatures reach 30 to 35 degrees till May and then 35 to 40 degrees till September with odd showers from July to September. From mid October to mid-end December the temperatures are around the 25 to 30 degrees. Brief tropical rain showers may occur in late December and early January.
By Air: Koh Samui is located about 80 kilometers off the coast of Surat Thani and about 560 kilometers from Bangkok. The island has a very nice international airport. You can reach the island by air from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Phuket or Singapore with Bangkok Airways, the only airline to serve Koh Samui.
By Ferry: You can also reach Koh Samui via ferry from Surat Thani on the Thai mainland.
A 50-kilometre ring road encompasses the coastline, providing ready access to all beaches and the administrative center of Nathon. The best and safest form to travel around the island is by self-driving an air-conditioned car or jeep. There are also plenty of cheap taxis on hire. You can also hire a motorbike to traverse the island but you will need to be careful of the traffic hazards. You can also travel in Songthaews (Lorries or vans with wooden benches for sitting) but remember to determine the fare before you start off.