Koh Samui is an idyllic tropical paradise and we have all the information about Samui that you need right here. A blend of traditional Thai hospitality and remote island life has joined hands with modern traveller expectations and yet has maintained environmental sustainability. The towns, villages and interior are home to much more than just luxury resorts, restaurants, bars and retail shops. And whilst the main beaches are recognised as some of the best in the world, there are also secluded coves and magical hideaways with pristine environments around many corners – if you know where to look. And this quick guide will point you in the right direction.
Chaweng’s main beach is five kilometers in length and is lined with 5-star luxury resorts, boutique hotels, budget accommodation and great oceanfront restaurants. This is the most popular vacation location on Samui. Behind the resorts, the Chaweng Beach Road is filled with restaurants, bars, spas, shops, street stalls and mobile food vendors. The lake sits to the rear of them and is a wonderful place for an early morning walk or jog.
Near the southern end of the lake is the Soi Reggae entertainment area which also has two Muay Thai boxing stadiums, a temple guarded by carved monkeys and the huge Laem Din market complex. All manner of fresh produce is delivered here every day and the adjoining Dow Seafood market is a hive of activity from the early hours.
Samui’s second most popular beach is around four kilometers long and the waters are perfect for swimming. There’s plenty of vacation choice in accommodation, restaurants, bars, spas and health resorts. It also has a free Muay Thai event every Saturday and just off the Beach Road there’s a children’s water park. Wat Lamai is home to a cultural centre and museum that houses artifacts of Samui life before the advent of tourism. On Sundays there’s a ‘Walking Street’ along part of the Beach Road. And just outside of Lamai town on the ring-road is the famous Hin Ta-Hin Yai rock formations that has dozens of small local Thai restaurants around it.
Nestled on the northern shores of the island, Mae Nam Beach stretches for several kilometers and overlooks the neighbouring island of Koh Pha-Ngan. High-end resorts and beach bungalows are dotted along the coast and many visitors love it for its peacefulness, soft golden sands and wonderful views. It has seven side streets that meander into the mountains: from Soi 1 you can follow the road over the mountains all the way to Lamai; Soi 4 has a ‘Walking Street’ every Thursday from mid-afternoon and also houses an ornate Chinese temple overlooking the beach and a large Buddhist temple set a few hundred metres back from the ring- road; Soi 5 has a tree-top canopy adventure theme park a few kilometers into the hills; there’s a buffalo fighting stadium a couple of hundred meters off the main road between Soi 5 and Soi 6; an early morning market is also in Soi 6; an evening market near to Soi 7; and the world-class Santiburi Golf Course in the hills above Soi 7.
This is the island’s main administrative centre and the major ferry port for boats to and from the mainland. There’re some hotels but it’s more a town you would visit for an afternoon rather than stay in. Beside the terminal, there’s a local food market every day from mid-afternoon until late in the evening. Along what is known as the ‘middle road’ there’re old teak shop-houses and small businesses and a ‘Walking Street’ on Saturdays. And on the one-way road that goes through the town there’re dozens of shops and restaurants. Just off the main road there’s an ornate Chinese temple and garden in Soi 4. And near the far end there’s a renowned open-air duck restaurant – just follow the crowds around lunchtime.
Bo Phut is best known for Fisherman’s Village. It’s a single narrow street that still has authentic wooden houses that Samui folk have lived in for generations. Parts of it have been modernized but it’s still awash with local foods, international restaurants, bars, shops and market stalls. It becomes one huge ‘Walking Street’ every Friday and you’ll find lots of local delicacies that few other restaurants have. Along with small hotels, there’re several 5-star luxury resorts at the far end and the beach curves around a large bay that also overlooks Koh Pha-Ngan. And small speedboats leave from the village pier heading for the Full Moon parties that take place there every month.
Big Buddha and Plai Laem
The magnificent golden Big Buddha statue that watches over the island from the north-east corner of Ko Samui is one of the first things you see as you fly into Samui Airport. Built on a tiny island (Koh Farn) with a connecting causeway, it’s the most iconic image of the island. Many Thais pray at the temple so dressing and acting appropriately is expected when you enter the site. There’re some very good Thai restaurants and small stores around the temple. It also affords some beautiful views and along the road from it you’ll see another large Buddha image at Wat Plai Laem. Half-way along the road between the temples is a side road that cuts through to Choeng Mon. Down this road there’s access to some quiet secluded beaches, although some of them are through resorts.
Choeng Mon lies just 15 minutes or so from the middle of Chaweng but it seems like worlds away. There’s a small town that the road runs through with a couple of dozen restaurants and bars. The beach is a favourite for many locals as it’s quiet, picturesque and safe for swimming most of the year round. There’s every class of accommodation with some old-style beach bungalows at one end. And they all overlook the tiny deserted island of Koh Farn Noi which you can walk out to if the tide is low.
In between Fisherman’s Village and Big Buddha is where you’ll find Bang Rak. There’s a few very good resorts and some private villas for rent along the beachfront that stretches around for several kilometres and has stunning views. Bars and restaurants line the main street and there’re two piers. The one nearest to Big Buddha has daily ferries to Koh Pha-Ngan, Koh Tao and on to the mainland port of Chumpon, from which a VIP bus takes passengers to Hua Hin and on to Bangkok. Start to finish, it’s a 12-hour journey with about half of it on the boat. Just beside the ferry terminal in Bang Rak is one of the busiest fish markets on the island. Local fishermen drop their catches here and the place is bustling with people all day long. At the other end of town there’s a short-cut into Chaweng on a road called Soi Bond Kai (which the locals refer to as the ‘Ghost Road’).
Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi
The south-west part of the island is known as the ‘Virgin Coast’. It’s largely unspoiled with lots of secluded bays, although most of the shoreline tends to be rocky. The west coast overlooks the famous ‘five islands’ and some of the closer islands of the Angthong National Marine Park (which is a perfect getaway for a day’s boat trip excursion). In this part of the island there’re some hotels, private villas for rent, up-market and local restaurants and several temples of note, including two that house a mummified monk.
A second car ferry terminal is located in Lipa Noi and, like the one in Nathon, boats to and from Donsak on the mainland arrive and depart every hour from 5:00 am until 6:00 pm (check for details). And inland on the island’s main ring-road there’re several large waterfall sites and a safari park with elephant trekking, animal shows and adventure tours. Further along, next to the Ford and Mazda dealers is a new Butterfly and Insect Kingdom Park.
With its brightly coloured fishing boats and backdrop of small islands to the one side, and coconut plantations to the other, Thong Krut is a picturesque little village. Located in the southwest corner of the island, this is where you’ll come if you’re after a long-tail boat to take you to the nearby islands of Koh Tan and Koh Matsum. Lining the shore you’ll find a selection of simple restaurants offering Thai food, and particularly good seafood, as well as tour operators offering trips to the islands.
Hua Thanon beaches
This predominately Muslim village is home to the descendants of some of the island’s earliest settlers. There’s still a thriving fishing fleet and fish market and a natural coastline that’s survived the ravages of time. Just after the village (coming from Lamai) you can turn off the ring-road to the left and signs will direct you to the nearby Tiger Zoo, Aquarium and Sea-life Show, the Butterfly Farm, the Snake Farm and the local Rum Distillery. There’re also dozens of little side roads that lead down to quiet beaches and out of the way local restaurants.
Samui predominately consists of hills, mountains and coconut plantations. And few visitors make the time to appreciate its hidden beauty. One way to do so is to take the turning into Mae Nam Soi 1. A new road has recently been constructed that goes over the mountains all the way to Lamai. The drive is only about 20-25 minutes over 15 kilometres with a couple of stopping off areas that offer fabulous views. Another way to really get the full picture of Samui is from Tar Nim’s Magic Garden at the top of one of the island’s highest peaks. Built during a 25-year period by a local farmer the stone statues in the garden were sculpted by hand and sit over 2,000 feet above the beaches below. It’s a part of Koh Samui that shouldn’t be missed.