Ko Samui (also sometimes called Koh Samui or just Samui) is a very popular island and beach destination in the Gulf of Thailand about 700 kilometres south of Bangkok. Being in the gulf, rather than on the Andaman Sea side of the peninsula, it doesn’t have much in the way of surf beaches but there’s lots more to do in Thailand than surfing!
We prefer to go to Ko Samui over Phuket or Pattaya because it’s quieter, more laid back, easier to ride around on a scooter, but still has great places to eat, fantastic nightlife, awesome swimming and diving and is also a lot cheaper than most tourist islands in Thailand.
Because it was not connected by road to the mainland until the 1970s, Ko Samui has been a bit slower to develop than some of the other popular tourist destinations in Southern Thailand. It started out as somewhere that adventurous backpackers travelled out to on coconut boats for the hiking and diving it offered, and the accommodation and facilities were extremely basic. Since the 1990s, however, tourists have been arriving in increasing numbers and the inevitable development has followed them.
Despite the recent wave of tourism developments, Ko Samui still offers a great combination of natural scenery, sparkling coral and long sandy beaches that rank it as now the second most popular tourist location in Thailand after Phuket. This has led to some overcrowding at the most popular tourist beaches, like Chaweng and Lamai, but there are still some quiet, laid back spots to enjoy.
It’s important to know that Ko Samui’s location in the Gulf of Thailand exposes it to different weather patterns to Phuket, so Samui has its wettest months from October to December and the best time to visit is January to March.
Unlike Phuket, Ko Samui does not have an international airport as such, just a private airport with connections about every hour from Bangkok (Thai Airways) and daily connections from Phuket, Chiang Mai and Pattaya. However there are limited international direct flights into Ko Samui from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong as well. If you’re flying directly into Samui, you can get “visa on arrival” there for 30 days.
Chaweng is the main tourist area of Ko Samui, so most visitors arriving there catch a minibus into Chaweng for about 120 Baht (taxis charge 500 Baht or more and don’t use meters, so be prepared to haggle). Don’t be fooled by offers of free taxis from the airport – there are always strings attached and most are related to timeshare properties.
Places to get away from it all on Ko Samui
Once in Chaweng, you’re more than likely to quickly decide to hightail it out of there to somewhere more quiet and laid back, unless you’re a party animal or you’re booked into one of the more up-market resorts where you can be isolated from the touts and crowds. If you are a party animal, you’ll want to head straight for Chaweng Beach or Lamai Beach and partake of the legendary action there … but it’s not my scene.
Some popular destinations away from Chaweng and Lamai include:
- Big Buddha Beach - north-east of Chaweng, has nice beaches and scenic views and is developing some good accommodation and restaurants.
- Bophut Beach - on the northern end of Ko Samui, popular with diving groups who head offshore from here – but some good facilities.
- Choengmon Beach - in the north-east corner of Ko Samui, very close to Chaweng, but a lot quieter and more relaxed.
- Maenam Beach - on the northern end of Ko Samui, popular with families as it has safe swimming spots and shallow water.
Things to see and do on Ko Samui
Most people go to Ko Samui for the relaxed beach environment, the coral sea diving and snorkelling, or the party scene in Chaweng, but there are a few attractions to while away your spare time:
- Diving is obviously one of the big attractions, with clear water and good visibility. You can dive on coral reefs, under water mountains and some spectactular rock formations. One of the best is the Samran Pinnacles, where the big fish swim, but it is a place for experienced divers only so don’t go there on your own. Ko Losin and Ko Kra, two small islands off the main island, are also popular diving locations where you can get up close with sharks, turtles and manta rays, but there are no facilities and they can be hard to get to.
- Golf – pack your clubs if you’re into spoiling a good walk, as Ko Samui has its own first class golf course located at Santiburi Resort, up in the hills above Maenam Beach.
- Samui Butterfly Garden and Insect Museum – located in the south-east of the island with some of the biggest butterflies you’re likely to see anywhere and some quite rare insects.
- Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks - an oddity, but well worth a look, as they uncannily resemble shriveled male and female sex organs. You’ll find them near Lamai Beach and you may even see some of the odd rituals that go on nearby!
- Secret Buddha Garden – strange and wonderful sculptures of people set in lush jungle surroundings at the peak of the island.
- Monkey Show – open air theatre with performing monkeys and elephants, on the main road behind Bophut Beach.
- Temples – The Laem Sor Pagoda (really a chedi) is one of Samui’s more significant temples and glows gold in certain lights. Wat Khunaram is the most famous temple in Samui and features one of its founding monks, mummified in a lotus position in a glass case.
- Night life – mostly around Chaweng and Lamai Beaches, especially the Green Mango Club, the nearby Mint Bar, and the famous Black Moon Party at Chaweng Beach. There’s also the somewhat infamous Full Moon Party, which is at Haad Rin on Ko Pha Ngan island (boats leave from Big Buddha Pier three times a day.
Map of key locations on Ko Samui
View Ko Samui Travel Guide in a larger map
Chance of a Thunderstorm29°/27°
Chance of a Thunderstorm30°/27°
Chance of a Thunderstorm29°/26°
A traveller’s view of Ko Samui Island
Here’s a look at just some of the things you can do on Ko Samui Island, filmed by Tunihot T.