About 30 kilometers off of Thailand’s Isthmus of Kra eastern coast (35 kilometers Northeast of the coastal provincial capital, Surathani city) in the gulf of Thailand is Koh Samui, one of the kingdom’s prime leisure tourism spots – an internationally renowned island destination fancied by heaps of holiday makers around the world.
At a Glance
As Thailand’s third largest island by area (behind Koh Phuket and Koh Chang), Koh Samui spreads over 228 square kilometers with approximately 50,000 inhabitants – a mix of island natives and migrant workers who live and work in the islands various beach towns, connected by more than 50 kilometers of modern and fast paced roads that circumference the island.
Samui, which is a district (Amphur in Thai) and municipality (Tesabahn) of Surathani province, comprises of seven sub-districts: six on Samui island itself, with the other encompassing the dozens of pristine islands of the Ang Thong National Marine Park. Amidst an archipelago of 80 + islands in the southwestern part of the Gulf of Thailand, Samui is a prime jump-point for other popular islands such as Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
The economy’s heart of tourism is fairly a recent ordeal of the past few decades. Before tourism blew up in the late 20th century, Samui was an isolated agricultural and fishing community. Prior to the introduction of roads to the island in the 1970’s, getting the 15 kilometers across the island required an extensive jungle trek.
Though the coastline of present day Samui is lined with a full array of local, classy and franchise resorts, hotels, eateries, and restaurants, serviced by Shopping and IT complexes and other such modern amenities, the center of the island – a vast mountainous jungle, is for the most part, still uninhabited.
Outside of Samui’s prime arrival and departure point at Nathon town, the most bustling of Samui’s beach towns are Chaweng and Lamai on the east coast. Chaweng features Samui’s prime entertainment, dining, shopping, and accommodations selections. With a long stretch of white sand and clear waters, the beach itself is one of the island’s most beautiful and popular, though also most crowded, particularly during peak seasons. Just south of Chaweng is Lamai. Smaller and less crowded than Chaweng, Lamai is a preferred by many travelers for a slightly more laid back yet happening scene, featuring affordable accommodations and a clean and beautiful stretch of beach, on par with Chaweng.
Along Samui’s north and northeast coast are several white and gold sand beaches attracting backpackers and heavy pocketed travelers alike. With its golden sand beach and a handful of medium to expensive deluxe resort selections, Maenam beach offers tranquil rejuvenation and some of the best views of Phangan island to the north. Just to the east of Maenam is Bophut, with relaxed seaside restaurants, shops and a small fishing village. Big Buddha beach is named after the big Buddha statue overlooking the beach, one of Samui’s prime attractions. As one of Samui’s most rapidly developing areas within close access to Chaweng and the airport, you’ll find a wide selection low to mid ranged accommodations here. Nearby, on the Northeastern tip is Choeng Mon, catering to a more upscale market.
Perhaps Samui’s most premiere (and expensive) of five star resorts is the Le Royal Palm De Meridian located at Taling Ngam beach on the west coast, providing spectacular sunsets with the Ao Thong islands in the horizon. Also popular for such sunsets is Lipa Noi Beach. Located near the main car ferry pier, south of Nathon, Lipa Noi is popular among families and groups driving to Samui.
For those hoping to get away from it all, seeking maximum peacefulness, your best bet is Samui’s south coast with the three prime beaches at Hua Thanon, Bang Kao, and Thong Krut, with limited selection of resorts and bungalows scattered about, though major projects in queue.
For hotel listings in Samui see: Samui hotels
What to see and do
Aside from just relaxing or swimming, and snorkeling at the beach, Samui has a long list of activities and attractions for everyone. Around the Chaweng and Lamai reefs, there is some decent snorkeling to be had, while there are several diving spots ideal for beginners, most notably at Koh Tan a small island off the south coast of Samui. Samui, itself is a regional diving hub, serving as a spring board for amateur and professional diving trips and courses around the vast Samui archipelago, where spots around the Ang Thong National Park, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan are most frequented.
If seeing the famous Big Buddha and Grandfather and Grand Mother rocks (strangely resembling sexual organs) don’t sate your hunger for thrill, there is plenty more in store. Whether its jungle and canopy treks, elephant and horseback riding, fresh water and sea fishing, shooting range, go carting, paintball wars, four-wheeling, muay thai, bowling, bungee jumping, cinema, mini golf, professional golf, or even football golf, there’s plenty of fun to go around in Samui.
If you are wondering what you can eat at Koh Samui, perhaps an easier question to ask yourself is ‘What can’t you eat?’ With a diverse local and international population, Samui offers a wide selection of international and Thai cuisine. Most 3-5 star hotels and resorts have international restaurants attached or accessible, though one is certainly not limited to their hotel for a hearty meal. Whether one is seeking fresh seafood barbequed, simple Thai noodles and rice, or just can’t eat enough Big Macs, Samui is not lacking in supply.
For the most happening, eclectic, active, crowded, and loudest of Samui’s night action, Chaweng, with its countless bars, pubs, live music venues (foreign and Thai), cabaret shows and dance clubs and disco, is the prime option, followed by Lamai which also features the standard beer and go go bars and handful of music and dance clubs to choose from. The Boxing stadiums in Chaweng and Lamai feature nightly amateur and semi-pro fights, with Lamai’s stadium popular for its female mud wrestling and kickboxing matches. For an evening of quiet chat, drink and eat alongside a peaceful beach, bars and restaurants at Bophut, Maenam, and Big Buddha provide more ideal settings. Beach bar parties following the Lunar calendar are quite frequent, though if one is hoping for a maximum full moon party experience, Koh Phangan is the place to go.
Getting to Koh Samui
The island’s international airport (USM), which was built and is owned by Bangkok Airways is located on the Northeast part of the island between Chaweng and Big Buddha. Currently four airlines (Bangkok Air, Berjaya air, Malaysia air, and Firefly) connect Samui with Bangkok/Pattaya, Chiangmai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Hong Kong. Another option is to fly to Surathani airport via Thai or Orient Air and catch a short taxi and ferry to Samui.
By Bus, Rail, Car, and Ferry
Frequent buses and trains service Surathani town and Chumporn, where you needs to continue to Samui by a 2 and a half hour passenger ferry departing either Ao Ban Don or Thai Thong piers near Surathani town or Don Sak pier about 30 kilometers from town. To avoid commuting and multiple ticket hassles, combined ferry and bus / train, and shuttle ticket can be bought from Bangkok or online tour agents. Passenger ferries dock at Nathon pier while Car ferries, (departing from Don Sak pier) dock at a separate pier south of Nathon. Ferries leaving from Chumphon and Nakhon Sri Thammarat also service Samui (as well as Koh Tao and Koh Phangan), though Surathani town ferry is the quickest and most frequent option for Samui.
Things To Do
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