Koh Samui Travel Guide

Nestled on the east coast of Thailand in the Gulf of Thailand, lies Koh Samui which has become known as a top Thai tourist destination, competing with the older and better-known spots in and near Bangkok and Phuket. The island of Koh Samui is one of a group of small islands, many seen in major motion pictures and photo galleries exemplifying the tropical paradise so many of us yearn to find.

The island is around 230 square kilometers, large enough to boast at least twelve beautiful beaches, an international airport, and several small towns bustling with activity. It is surrounded by at least 60 smaller islands, which comprise the vast Ang Thong National Marine Park, which is reputed globally as a true snorkelers’ and divers’ paradise.

Koh Samui is not only about beaches and beachfront activity; the island has a mountain at the center which rises over 2, 000 feet. This provides some fantastic views of the island, the sea, and the many surrounding islands of the archipelago, and some nice waterfalls are there for exploring.

Hotels, restaurants, bars, and nightlife vary from beach to beach. For those looking for the livelier spots, Chaweng Beach and Lamai Beach will fit the bill. For those looking for quieter, more romantic spots, Bhoput, Big Buddha Beach, and Na Thon are recommended. Hotels are widely advertised on the Internet, with detailed descriptions and rates, ranging from simple Inns to world-class luxury hotels who charge the rates to prove it.

The weather is tropical, meaning HOT. January through March tend to be around 30C, while later in the year it can be as high as 36! Pick your time carefully, and beware the rainy season – this peaks normally in November, but no two years are exactly the same.

As they say, getting there is half the fun… Flights to and from Bangkok are almost hourly, and quite expensive by local standards. Regular flights are also available from Hong Kong, Singapore, and other airports in Thailand, including Chang Mai and Phuket.

Many prefer the lower-cost and more scenic bus/ferry method of travel for the final leg of their trip. Busses leave Surat Thani airport continuously, taking you for a paid-combination to the ferry, most arriving in the port of Na Thon. If possible, it has been recommended to take the Seatran combination – the ferries are much larger and more comfortable. Be careful of the ferry you take; this part of the world is notorious for overcrowding ferries, especially at peak season and around holidays.

All in all, Koh Samui offers a tropical adventure for those who are looking for it.

The Beaches of Koh Samui

If you love beaches, if you crave the tropical breeze in the rustling palms, turquoise-blue waters, and powdery white sands, you’ll love Koh Samui, Thailand. Nestled on the Southeast coast of Thailand in an archipelago of around sixty islands of a variety of sizes, Koh Samui pretty much epitomizes the ideal sought by so many tourists. Whether you are a backpacker or a seeker of luxury, Koh Samui has what you’re looking for.

The beaches of Koh Samui offer a huge variety of styles of life, accommodations, nightlife (or not!), and recreational activities. Each beach has it’s own look and feel, and there are plenty of them!

Chaweng Beach was the earliest site developed in the early backpacker days of the 1970s and 80s. This long beautiful beach is the liveliest spot on the island, offering many water sports in the daytime, including simply hangin’ at the beach. This area is also home to the majority of nightlife on the island, with a restaurant and bar scene which includes basic pubs and nightclubs. Accommodations here vary from simple rooms to high-end resorts. However, if you are simply looking for relaxation and a good night’s sleep, the scene here might be a little too exuberant.

Lamai Beach, which is adjacent to Chaweng, is a little quieter, though it still offers some of the same sort of social scene. Because the water tends to be a little rougher at times, you’ll not find as many sports here as at Chaweng. There is a nice village behind the resorts, where Thais still live in a semblance of their traditional lifestyle. Developed around the same time as Chaweng, it can have a more laid back feel. Accommodations again span the spectrum, allowing you a choice of lifestyle. This beach and Chaweng are usually more popular among the younger tourists because of the nightlife scene.

Bhoput is the compromise between the lively scenes at Chaweng and Lamai and the serene, peaceful spots on other parts of the island. On a beautiful, calm bay, Bhoput has its share of small shops and restaurants, and offers some alternative water sports that may not be available everywhere, such as Jet skis and kayaks. Two kilometers of white sand, the proverbial swaying palm trees, and a good meal by the beach at dusk… You get the picture.

Choeng Mon Beach is situated on a small peninsula, separating it from much of the surrounding area and making it quieter. This is probably the most exclusive and expensive area on Koh Samui. There are many expensive homes in the area, and the highest concentration of luxury resorts. There are a few restaurants and shops, but most people eat where they stay, preferring not to delve to far into local culture. If you want nightlife, you simply go a few miles to one of the other beaches, but you’re not going to be awakened by disco music in the middle of the night!

Mae Nam Beach is probably the quietest beach on the island, and furthest removed from nightlife. There is an old Buddhist temple at one end which is said to be a beautiful spot at sunset. Generally thought of as the least expensive area on Koh Samui, Mae Nam still offers some upscale resorts and a few reliable places to eat and shop. If you want to get out of the area, bikes are offered for rent. Many believe this beach, in spite of not having sand as white as some of the others, to be the prettiest spot on Koh Samui.

Forget those other tropical destinations that promise so much. The beaches of Koh Samui don’t just promise, they deliver.

Activities

Koh Samui , nestled of the coast in the Gulf of Thailand, offers a virtual treasure trove of activities, if just hanging out at the beautiful beach is no longer amusement enough. There are things to do on the water, on land, and even in the air, if you’re a bit adventurous!

Surrounded by the Gulf, and the rest of the Archipelago (sixty or so small islands, some with their own fantastic beaches), the waters of Samui are varied enough, based on position, wind, reefs, and tides, to offer the water sports enthusiast a continuous blast of things tried and things new – Jet skis, kayaking and sailing are all available, with Hobie Cats and Jetskis for rent, especially near the bay at Choeng Mon. The clear waters of the Anthong Marine Preserve, inspiration for the book “The Beach” (and which encompasses a large portion of the archipelago), present opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling, with boats and guides available at most resorts for rent to take you to destination dive spots. Always take a picnic, unless food is provided on your boat, and spend the day. For those who require slightly more civilized surroundings, there alre sailing yacht charters with various levels of creature comforts.

And, of course, if you’re feeling athletic, windsurfing and the aeronautically-oriented test of kite boarding are available at various spots on the island 0 the best spots are determined by the prevailing winds at the time of year. I haven’t seen any parasailing yet, but I’m sure they have it by now.

If you’ve had enough of the water for a while, spend a day touring the island for some other great activities. Koh Samui has a full-on eighteen-hole golf course for those who can’t stand to stay off the links for a whole vacation, and there is mini-golf in Chaweng for those who are either too young or disinclined to spend an entire afternoon on the course. While activities like paintball can be found, there are also ATVs for exploring the hills, and tours of the different beach areas. One of the things I think everyone must try is the Elephant Tours, also billed as “Ecotours”, during which guests ride on the Thai national animal, up into the hills for some surprise spots including waterfalls and spectacular views.

As the sun goes down, The Chaweng and Lamai areas light up with a variety of bars and nightclubs, for those who came to party. These spots can get pretty rowdy, so if you want a quieter dinner and relaxation without the rock and disco beats, you can try Bhoput Beach, Maenam, or Choeng Mon, for some very nice restaurants, both Thai and Western. Be careful where you eat Thai food, because not all the restaurants cater to Westerners and the food can be VERY hot!

All things considered, your days and nights on Ko Samui can be filled with exciting new things to do, or can simply afford you some well-deserved relaxation. It would be impossible to do everything, so pick carefully and make every minute count.

Cultural Hotspot

Koh Samui, the third largest island in Thailand, was virtually undeveloped until the 1970s and 80s. As a result of this, much of the historical Thai culture, especially that particular to the island itself, remain unsublimated. Despite the march of what some consider progress, the Thai culture remains proud and visible, and you can see it for yourself.

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and, in their tradition, temples have been built for both residents and travelers. Since Koh Samui is not as ancient as many places, the temples are not especially old, some are relatively new, but all exhibit Thai culture. The Big Buddha, for instance, was built in 1972, at Wat Phrai Yai. This imposing Buddha shrine is also surrounded by a bit of a souvenir market, but such is the price, and the reward, for being a tourist site. There are temples which are more hidden, some requiring a certain amount of walking. One curious and interesting temple called Kunaram was inhabited by a monk who was a famous meditation expert. He died while meditating and his mummified corpse remains seated where he died, complete with sunglasses! There are several “Chedi” (pagoda) temples, in varying states of repair, some requiring a good hike, but offering fantastic views.

The native industries offer some unique and fascinating glimpses into the culture and ingenuity of the Thais. Coconut farming was the staple of local farming before the arrival of tourists, and is very entertaining to watch. The laborers are especially entertaining, due to the fact that they are trained monkeys! The monkeys are apparently quite trainable, and very dextrous in their labor.

Elephants, the Thai national animal, also lend a hand, so to speak, carting tourists through the jungle on Ecotours. That must beat a bus by far! Food, of course, is a huge part of Thai culture, and is available in all forms.

There are small open-air spots and upscale restaurants, spanning the scope and price range of Thai cuisine. Certain places cater primarily to foreigners, so the food will not be spiced to normal Thai standards – but in the traditional restaurants and small eateries, remember that “medium” is enough to make your whole face burn! For those inclined to try Thai cooking when they get home, another possibility is the Thai cooking schools attached to some of the better-known restaurants and resorts. These spots normally include classes for all skill levels, and sell hard-to-get ingredients for students to take home.

After a hard day playing in the sun, you may want to try a classic Thai massage. With roots traceable back to India and China, there are similarities to traditional Shiatzu, based on the energy lines in the body. Some of the spas on the island will offer treatments complete with herbal bath and steam. Otherwise, you may find cabanas in front of the major hotels where the services are offered.

At many times of the year, local festivals will celebrate aspects of Thai life. Enjoy them as they occur, and Have a great time on Koh Samui.

Map of Koh Samui / Surat Thani

Koh Samui Map Placeholder
Koh Samui Map
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