Koh Samui was once a tiny fishing island, and today still feels somewhat lost in time — as though it beats with the same self-sufficient, ancient heart of its roots. Samui is also an ultra-modern, sophisticated Thai holiday destination that offers visitors more options than almost any other. Confused? Don't worry, it’s Koh Samui that’s a little confused. After all, this sleepy isle didn’t even have roads until the early 1970s!
Fast forward 30 years and Koh Samui has cemented its place as one of Thailand’s top tourist hot spots, behind only Phuket in numbers. Its development was momentous, resulting in a key selling point for visitors: variety.
Here you can stay in a fishermen’s hut on a lagoon for $10 a night, or check in to one of Asia’s most sophisticated five-star retreats for 50 times the price. Sample local delicacies by the side of the road for a few Thai baht or eat in a world-class restaurant with a celebrity chef. Enjoy a cheap-as beach massage from an ancient local with hands as rough as sandpaper or a new-age beauty treatment in a health spa for the rich and famous. The choice is yours.
Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui’s busiest epicentre, is perfect for young tourists looking for a cheap night out in the thick of the action. But if you're dreaming of a chance to unwind, Samui has several lovely low-key locations to base yourselves. Just a five-minute drive from Chaweng, Lamai Beach boasts a deep, wide bay and a mix of activities and more relaxed pleasures. Or discover the quaint fishing village (and former French outpost) of Bophut in the north.
The best way to explore the island is to hire a car for a day or two. Discover local waterfalls, dive and snorkel amongst the mesmerising coral, and find the perfect salt-white beach to lay your towel amongst the hundreds on offer. Best of all, you’ll meet a local population of mellow, Buddhist souls who keep tradition alive in these modern times.
Just a 25-minute boat ride from Samui is the stunning island of Koh Phangan, originally famous for its hedonistic full moon parties. Although still a mecca for backpackers, you'll now find the occasional high-end, boutique resort on Koh Phangan. Perfect for couples and honeymooners looking for an easygoing Thai island escape.
Need to Know:
DO spend a few nights on gorgeous Koh Phangnan. Trust us, this island is so laid-back it’s almost horizontal!
DON’T be put off by Chaweng if you are more the relaxed type. Sure, there are girlie bars and buck’s party groups, but there is also shopping, sophisticated lounge bars and a cool live music scene (look out for the Reggae Pub).
COUPLES WILL LOVE exploring the romance of Koh Samui that’s off the tourist trail. Don’t rely on tour buses, hire a cheap motorbike or car and allow yourself to take unmapped roads, discovering glorious beaches, secret waterfalls and unspoilt lagoons. Ride a motorbike to the northern coast where the sunsets drip into the Gulf Of Siam or take a bottle of champagne to secluded Ban Tai Beach.