Ko Samui’s wonderful beaches, excellent hotels and ease of access make it an attractive proposition for anybody planning a trip to Thailand. As the biggest and most developed of the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Samui enjoys a broad appeal that makes it suitable for a family holiday, romantic getaway or a solo adventure. Testament to Ko Samui’s enduring popularity is the number of repeat visitors who are drawn back year after year to the soft sandy beaches and warm aquamarine waters.
What to see and do on Ko Samui
If you visit Ko Samui, don’t miss the opportunity to take a trip out to the gorgeous Ang Thong National Marine Park. The myriad of islands off the coast of Samui were once a haven for pirate ships, but these days it’s tourists who board the boats in search of natural treasures in the form of isolated beaches and hidden caves.
Although tourism is vital to the local economy on Ko Samui, there are still local families on the island who make their living in the traditional way from fishing and from the coconut plantations just as generations before them did. Explore some of the local culture of Ko Samui with a half-day or full-day bicycle tour. For more examples of local culture, some lovely old wooden houses and shops can be found in the Fisherman’s Village at Bophut which also hosts an excellent night market every Friday.
At the southern end of Lamai Bay, the rock formations of Hin Ta (Grandfather Rock) and Hin Yai (Grandmother Rock) feature on all Ko Samui day tours. Located in close proximity, Hin Ta and Hin Yai are renowned because they resemble the male and female sexual organs which usually leads to ribald comments when photos of the rocks are posted on social media.
Wat Phra Yai is the temple which is home to the Big Buddha statue and the walk up the stairs to the viewing platform provides fine views over the ocean. Two more temples of note are Wat Khunaram and Wat Kiri Wongkaram. Both temples contain glass display cases which hold the mummified remains of two famous monks. The bodies can appear macabre to non-Buddhists, but the figures also serve as a powerful reminder that nothing in life is permanent.
If you are looking to do something active during your holiday, there are an abundance of options on Ko Samui. You can try your hand at kiteboarding and golfers should take the opportunity to play a round at the scenic 18-hole Santiburi Golf Course. If you’re worried your golf skills won’t do the course justice take a look at two fun alternatives: frisbee golf and football golf. For Thai boxing fans, you can train with Muay Thai at Superpro (they also offer yoga and MMA classes) or Lamai Muay Thai camp who offer classes for all ages and all levels of fitness. Find more details for Muay Thai holidays on Ko Samui here.
Where to stay on Ko Samui
There are a number of beaches to choose from on Ko Samui with the two longest stretches of sand, Chaweng and Lamai, offering the widest range of accommodation options.
Bangrak Beach (Big Buddha Beach)
Watched over by the Big Buddha on the hill at one end of the beach, Bangrak offers a relaxed atmosphere. The beach at Bangrak is attractive rather than stunning and staying here you will see and hear the occasional aircraft arriving and departing from the nearby airport. Apart from that, this is a generally quiet beach with convenient access to the Fisherman’s Village at Bophut in one direction and the shops and nightlife of Chaweng in the other.
Saboey Resort and Villas
Bophut Beach is one of the most charming places to stay on Ko Samui. As with Bangrak, the beach at Bophut rates as average by Samui’s high standards, but the views are pleasant and there is a local feel here thanks to the Fisherman’s Village. Although the area has attracted more development in recent years, Bophut retains much of its original charm. With a small shopping mall, a range of accommodation options and a selection of cafes and restaurants, Bophut is an excellent choice for families or couples.
Anantara Bophut Ko Samui Resort
Bophut Resort & Spa
Six Senses Samui
The sweeping expanse of soft sand that makes up Chaweng Beach (and the adjacent Chaweng Noi) is regarded by many Samui regulars as the most attractive beach on the island. It’s also one of the most developed areas on Ko Samui which may or may not appeal depending on what you are looking for. Fortunately, Chaweng Beach itself has retained its natural beauty and the development that has taken place in Chaweng Village has not blighted the beachfront. The variety and choice of accommodation coupled with a plethora of restaurants and plenty of things to do make Chaweng a popular choice for a range of visitors. Whether it’s families, solo travellers or couples, Chaweng has enough going on to keep most people happy. There is nightlife to be found in and around Soi Green Mango and Soi Reggae while those looking for a romantic setting can enjoy candlelit dinners or evening drinks on the beach.
Kirikayan Boutique Resort
Choeng Mon Beach
The beautiful bay of Choeng Mon is tucked away in the north-east tip of Ko Samui. With a more exclusive feel to this part of the island, Choeng Mon tends to attract couples looking for a quiet retreat. The beach area at Choeng Mon is a lovely mix of sandy beach interspersed with rocky coves set against a backdrop of casuarina and palm trees.
Along with Chaweng, the beach at Lamai is the most popular on Ko Samui. The attractive white-sand beach at Lamai stretches for around two miles and makes for delightful walks. Similar to Chaweng, the wide range of accommodation options on Lamai attracts a diverse range of visitors including families, backpackers and couples. There is nightlife here too with a cluster of bars and of an array of restaurants to choose from.
Rocky’s Boutique Resort
Lipa Noi Beach
With calm waters and some of the best sunsets you will see on Ko Samui, Lipa Noi makes for a relaxing stay. Although the beach isn’t as pristine as others on Samui, if you are looking for a quiet beach away from the busier alternatives, Lipa Noi is worth considering.
Baan Kilee Villa
Nikki Beach Resort
The long and understated stretch of sand that forms Maenam Beach has traditionally been a favourite for budget travellers but has also found favour with repeat visitors to Ko Samui. Maenam is a good choice for a relaxing holiday with value-for-money accommodation to be found alongside the more expensive hotels.
Taling Ngam Beach
As one of the quieter beach locations on Ko Samui, there is a distinct charm to Taling Ngam. The area still feels like it belongs to the local community and with fine views looking out to the nearby islands, Taling Ngam is an excellent choice for those seeking some serenity and solitude.
Centra by Centara Coconut Beach Resort
InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort
Food and drink
On Ko Samui, Fisherman’s Village in Bophut is home to some very good restaurants. Try the atmospheric Happy Elephant or for a special treat head to the award-winning Dining on the Rocks at Six Senses with panoramic views of the Gulf of Thailand. For families and children you will find many Western favourites in Chaweng and Lamai together with a good selection of local food stalls and cafes. Ark Bar on Chaweng is the place to go if you want your Massaman curry served with a sassy side order of house music.
Travel to Ko Samui
There are direct flights to Ko Samui international airport from locations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya (U-Tapao) and Phuket. Try to bag a window seat for glorious views of the surrounding islands as you fly in or out of Ko Samui and have your camera ready on arrival at the delightful tropical airport. It’s also possible to fly or take a train to Surat Thani on the mainland from where you can connect for ferry services across to Ko Samui.
Good to know
The islands of the Gulf of Thailand are affected by different weather systems compared to the Andaman Coast and other locations in Thailand. Although temperatures remain high throughout the year, there are variations in monthly rainfall. Like the rest of Thailand, there can be seasonal variations and heavy rain can arrive during the dry season, just as the wet season can see periods of uninterrupted sunshine.
January to March are statistically the driest months of the year for the islands in the Gulf of Thailand with late December through to March and early April corresponding with the tourist high season. March through to May are the hottest months with temperatures dropping off slightly in June. The south-west monsoon usually blows in from late June/mid-July through to October and the islands in the Gulf of Thailand can experience tropical showers although July and August still see lots of good weather. November is traditionally the wettest month, but the rain tends to come in short, intense downpours. The seas can be rough during this time as storms blow in. Some years there can be heavy rain and localised flooding on Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan at the end of November and beginning of December. The weather usually quietens down by mid-December with prolonged periods of sunshine and blue skies the norm. Tide and currents can be deceptive and at all times of the year, please take note of warning flags and no swimming signs.