Koh Samui, Thailand

Ko Tan beach, Koh Samui Thailand. Roma Neus

A day trip out to Ko Tan beach,  near Koh Samui, Thailand. Photo by Roma Neus

Why holiday on Koh Samui?

This popular island offers a great choice of fine beaches to suit different tastes and quite a few cultural or adrenalin activities too. Plenty of night action is on tap for party animals while more cerebral tourists enjoy visiting some of the many traditional temples on Samui.

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.

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.

Some international flights go directly to the island.

The fisherman's village on Ko Samui at Hin Ta Hin Yai, Thailand

A traditional fishing village on Samui near Hin Ta Hin Yai. Photo by  Balou46

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.

Downsides

Koh Samui luxury villa, Thailand. chriswdd

How the other half live on Koh Samui…. Photo by ChrisWDD

Like most classic Thai islands Koh 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.

Koh Samui best seasons

Ko Samui has a micro-climate that differs slightly, but importantly, from the rest of the east Thailand. Beware especially December which is not one of the dry months  (in fact statistically it’s one of the three wettest months and one of the hottest at 33C), though it comes at the end of the rainy period so by Christmas holidays the rain should be irregular and bearable. The best, dry season runs from January to April when temperatures average around 30C.

Koh Samui best beaches

Lamai beach

Lamai beach, Koh Samui, Thailand. Dirk Enthoven

Lamai beach, Koh Samui, Thailand. Photo by Dirk Enthoven.

Arguably the top three beaches on Koh Samui are Chaweng, Lamai and Maenam, but not necessarily in that order. Preference will depend on your needs.

Big, beautiful and loaded with action – particularly night scenes –  means Chaweng.

Big and beautiful with less excessive development means Lamai, with good swimming and some erotic art from mother nature at the south end but painful coral chunks at the other, north end. Lamai beach is about 10 km (6 miles) south of Chaweng.

A crying need for a really quiet, pretty beach points the finger at Maenam.

Chaweng beach

Koh Samui, Chaweng Noi beach, Thailand. Roma Neus

Koh Samui, Chaweng Noi beach, Thailand. Photo by Roma Neus

Koh Samui’s famous Chaweng Beach. Photo by Jaques Herremans.

This is the 7km (4.5 miles) beauty that triggered the island’s tourist trade and still offering wide, soft, near-white sand and clear waters, but now lined with ranks of bars, restaurants, dance bars, Cabaret clubs, Thai Boxing arena and resort hotels large and small. This is Samui’s nightlife hub – especially the Green Mango zone – packed daily with mostly young travellers looking for a wild time.

Maenam beach

Mae Nam beach, Koh Samui, Thailand. Elmschrat

Maenam Beach on the quiet north coast is narrower than Chaweng and Lamai but still offers clear waters and soft sand backed by palm trees and very little activity. If hustle and bustle  alongside the sand is not your idea of a tropical beach holiday then Maenam could be the place for you. Photo by Elmschrat

Big Buddha beach

Big Buddha Beach  in northeast Samui offers decent sand, good swimming and an attractive environment though it has – of course – become much more developed recently, which may be a good thing or not, depending on the level of support needed.

Coral Cove beach

Coral Cove beach, Ko Samui, Thailand. Fabio Achilli

Coral Cove is  a cute little pair of beaches between Lamai and Chaweng, a 10 minute drive from either. Photo by Fabio Achilli

The main beach is 180m long and the  sand is coarse but the water is clear and deep (too  deep for some?) and the rocky/palm backdrop is lush and beautiful.

Half a dozen small hotels perch above the beach but if staying here ensure you book a room with a sea view down the slope a bit because it’s gorgeous and more importantly it’s away from the noisy road.

It’s important to have some kind of rental vehicle here as public transport is rare and inconvenient.

Samrong beach

Samrong Bay, Koh Samui, Thailand.

The white sand and clear waters of Samrong Beach in the far north-east of Samui. Nice but a bit remote. Photo by Hansandre

Choeng Mon’s collection of white sand bays/beaches is another worthwhile destination conveniently just 15 minutes north of Chaweng and 5 minutes across from Big Buddha, with clear waters, relatively few visitors and sufficient facilities to be useful but not intolerable. Dominated by a few  upscale, family-oriented resorts, budget accommodation is a rarity here.

Koh Samui attractions off the beach

Big Buddha temple, Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand. Maksim Sundukov

Big Buddha in Wat Phra Yai. Photo by Maksim Sundukov

The island embraces many traditional temples and Buddha statues in addition to Tesco supermarkets.
The temple of the Big Buddha is a major meditation centre with a 39ft golden Buddha erected in 1792. 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.

The Secret Buddha Garden is a lush, tropical grove packed with quirky statues of both humans and various deities. The garden is also located on the highest point of Koh Samui so panoramic views are to be found here.

Hin ta hin yai rocks, Ko Samui, Thailand.

Hin Ta Hin Yai male/female rocks, otherwise known as Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks, these huge, natural sex organs can be found quite easily near Lamai beach. Photo by Balou46

Namuang Waterfall, Ko Samui, Thailand.

Na Mueang Waterfall, photo by Maksim Sundukov. Actually there are two pretty waterfalls around here, with the rather better Na Mueang 2 about half an hour’s walk away.

Koh Samui Activities

There are a variety of animal shows on Koh Samui that we don’t wish to promote as

a) animal care in Thailand is suspect, particularly after an enraged elephant not only killed his mahut (pilot) but also the tourist riding him. (ah, that’s what those tusks are for).

b) conditions the animals – monkeys, elephants, Bengal Tigers etc – are kept in are poorly designed/maintained and inappropriate to the animals concerned.

If none of this worries you there is the Bophut Elephant Camp; Monkey shows beside Bophut beach; Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo.

Places that are more ethically correct are  a snake farm; a Butterfly Garden and Insect Museum.

Lastly, ethical or not, buffalo fighting is a long tradition on Koh Samui so look out for notices. It happens in varied arenas and primarily for locals but tourists are welcome too.

Other activities on the island  range from the usual ATV tours, Snorkelling trips across to Ko Tao, Bungee Jumping, Ziplining and Crazy golf to less normal Thai cooking classes, Football Golf (yup, exactly as it sounds!) and  Shooting –  not just .45 automatics but also AK-47 Kalashnikovs and full-on  assault rifles!

Full Moon party fire skipping, Koh Phan Gan, Thailand. Per Meistrup

Hat Rin Full Moon Party, fire-skipping-rope, Koh Phangan. Photo by Per Meistrup

A 45 minute express boat takes back packers and ravers out to Ko Pha Ngan from Ko Samui. More information on Ko Pha Ngan and Full Moon Parties

Getting to Samui 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!