Ko Samui Beaches Pictures
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Ko Samui's famous Chaweng Beach, photo by Jaques Herremans.
Attractions: There's a big choice of fine beaches to suit different tastes. Some international flights go directly to the island. Plenty of night action is available for party animals or more cerebral tourists enjoy cruising some of the many traditional temples on the island (see below).
For cheap thrills, pick up a rental mopeds, scooters or dirt bikes just about anywhere and explore dirt roads through the jungle or along the coast to endless palm-lined beaches.
At coconut plantations monkeys climb the palm trees to bring down coconuts for foreign consumption as well as photos.
Bophut Fisherman's Village is getting a little over-touristed but still retains some of its original charm and houses plenty of excellent sea food restaurants. The beach is a mile of white powder sand edged with palms but the sea is often unclear and unattractive.
Another interesting tourist option on Samui is Namuang Safari Park where you can lurch around on an elephant, which is interesting means of locomotion though the adjacent costumed monkey show is a little tough for those with significant sympathy for trained animals.
Buffalo fighting is a popular sport on Samui and does not involve much bloodshed as the first animal to lmber off is the loser. Alternatively take a stately (euphamism for bloody slow) buffalo-cart ride around the paddy fields instead.
Downsides: Like most classic Thai islands Ko Samui has not retained its rustic, laid-back charm. Thanks to the international airport and a good road network visitor numbers are now overwhelming and property developers have been only too happy to rush-build concrete monstrosities without consideration for scenic values. Hordes of package people colonise some areas and the local culture has disappeared under a heaving mass of farang-friendly bars, girlie bars, clubs, massage parlors and tourist souvenir shops.
The best beaches of Chaweng and Lamai have been particularly hard hit by expensive lumps of concrete, noisy bars, Irish pubs and garish hotels packed with visitors, though other less pretty locations have managed to retain some charm.
Samrong Beach, photo by Hansandre
Taling Ngamis a good choice for avoiding crowds and serves as a great transit point for visiting the Ang Thong National Marine Park, a spectacular seascape studded with lush little islands where you can stay in a bungalow or a tent or just take a day trip and enjoy superb snorkelling or deep-sea fishing.
Maenam beach on the tranquil north coast is much more relaxing than the busier east-coast resorts offering some charming little beach hotels embedded among palm lined beaches, often with swimming pools and even water bungalows.
Ko Samui's Big Buddha
Koh Samui hosts many traditional temples, Buddhas and Tesco supermarkets.
The temple of the Big Buddha is a major meditation centre with a 39ft golden Buddha erected in 1792; while at the Wat Plai Laem temple there is a huge, eye-catching, 18-armed Goddess of Mercy statue in the middle of a lake.
A reminder that this island isn't all about beer, beaches and girlie bars, at the Kunaram Temple there is an orange-robed mummified monk wearing sun glasses. The monk died 40 years ago and requested that his body be displayed in a meditating position to inspire others.
The Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai is Koh Samui's most famous Buddha but there are other Buddhas worth a look too, such as Wat Samret, west of Hua Thanon, where there is the White Marble Buddha and Secret Hall of Buddhas. The Secret Hall is kept locked but it will be opened for you by one of the monks upon request and perhaps a small donation. Then there is the Coral Buddha, a small, dilapidated figure near Wat Samret with a lovely ambience just off the 4169 ring road.
Lamai high street, same old, same old, photo by Toeffie
A bizarre sculpture garden on Samui
Ziplining for those requiring more excitement than snorkeling.
A 45 minute express boat takes back packers and ravers out to Ko Pha Ngan from Samui, or 4 hours from Surat Thani. Hat Rin's full moon party is the place to get wrecked (tho' not on drugs, after a police clampdown, the last we heard) and rave all night.
Getting there from Bangkok:
The easiest way to get to Koh Samui from the capital is to fly on one of many 90 minute flights, but tourists with time to spare and wishing to save money as well as see more of the countryside, take a public bus from the bus terminal in Sai Tai Mai to Surat Thani, then hop the ferry from Don Sak to Lipa Noi or Nathon.
It feels like an adventure but in fact it's a much-frequented back-packer route so it's safe and efficient though if you have big bags to be stored in the luggage compartment find a seat nearby so you can keep an eye on them during stops!