Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Samui
Koh Samui evokes feelings of tranquility, relaxation and a little bit of glamour.
The island perimeter is a mix of beaches and granite cliffs all dotted with exclusive villas, atmospheric beach clubs and five star resorts. A typical day on Koh Samui? A spa treatment in the middle of the jungle, riding an ATV to a waterfall, then partying all night in an open-air dance club. It’s the island of exclusive experiences, from luxurious to off-the-beaten-path, all against a backdrop of white sand beaches and lush coconut groves.
Koh Samui is the second largest Thai island after Phuket (next comes Koh Chang) and one of the most established tourist destinations in Thailand. With the long-running tourism trade comes a diverse range of island activities, accommodation, cuisines and party spots. You can find everything from budget guesthouses to luxury villas. On the surface Koh Samui might seem like one giant resort, but it also has a strong local culture, fascinating history and unique cuisine.
If you get off your motorbike and explore some non-touristy spots on the island, you’ll discover the vibrant local population that’s been calling Koh Samui home for centuries. Historically the island was one of Thailand’s main sources of coconuts and seafood. Much of the population descends from Chinese merchant settlers and the influence of Chinese culture can still be seen in the island’s temples, food and culture.
What really stands out about Koh Samui is the ability to treat yourself to a rewarding beach experience. If you want luxury and isolated relaxation, there is no better island than Koh Samui. But even if you don’t want to blow thousands of your hard-earned baht on massages and spa treatments, Koh Samui is still filled with enriching, rewarding experiences. If you’re a beach bum who wants to focus on you for once, then you’ve come to the right place.
Get your beach on
If you want to be close to all the action look no further than Chaweng. This beachfront neighborhood is Koh Samui’s busiest and most developed area. Central Festival shopping mall towers over rows of shophouses alternating between beach bars, massage parlours, souvenir stands and shabby chic Thai restaurants – and, of course, all the big nightclubs. The actual beachfront is a long stretch of sand bustling with bars, restaurants and people parasailing, jet skiing and banana boating.
On Chaweng Beach you can relax on the sand within reach of all the food, beer and entertainment you could imagine. But if that sounds a little hectic then head south to Chaweng Noi where the crowds are slightly upscale and older. This smaller stretch of beach has fine white sand and waves that pick up just enough to go boogie boarding. Find a spot under the palm trees for lunch; there are a few beachfront resorts and restaurants to choose from.
Chaweng Noi Beach
To the north of Chaweng is Bo Phut Beach. This area is also one of the island’s more developed neighborhoods with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants. The highlight of this beach is Fisherman’s Village, a row of restaurants and bars along the beach. There is also a new open-air shopping mall called The Wharf which has a branch of the famed Koh Samui restaurant Sabieng Lae.
If you want to be a bit removed from the action, but still conveniently close to food, drinks and other travelers, then stay on Lamai. Lamai Beach is the second most developed beach on Koh Samui, with tons of places to stay and restaurants to enjoy. Walk around the risque rock formations of Hin Ta Hin Yai at sunset and chill at the local reggae bars set up on the sand. During the day people head to Lamai to try watersports like jet boarding, jet skiing and banana boating.
If you just can’t get enough island hopping, then spend the day snorkelling and hiking on the uninhabited islands of Ang Thong Marine Park. This national park is made up of around 42 small islands, which makes a stunning panoramic view from any of the national park’s viewpoints.
Where to eat
Koh Samui is famous for fresh seafood and local island cuisine. In Lamai try Sabieng Lae for local island dishes like Wai Khua a unique dish of marinated squid in spiced coconut milk sauce or Muu Kho, sumptuous braised and fried pork belly.
If your goal is to eat like a local then check out Khao Hom on Bo Phut Beach. This humble wooden restaurant is an inexpensive, laid back island favorite. Near Lamai, set a bit back from the beach, is La Fabrique French Bakery. With big breezy ceiling fans and a crowd of expats (yes, they exist on this island) and relieved tourists, it’s easy to spend the whole morning here.
Craving Mexican food on Koh Samui? Not as random as you might think! There’s a great Tex-Mex joint on Chaweng called Gringo’s. Owned by a friendly American with a passion for Mexican cooking, the big plates of fajitas and tacos really satisfy. For more tastes of back home, especially if your home is a quaint Italian village, try Duomo. This family-run restaurant has been here for years and the pizza and pastas are the best on the island.
Think + Retro Cafe on Koh Samui’s west coast of Lipa Noi is a hotel and a cafe creatively made of shipping containers and other repurposed items. The design of this place is probably the most thoughtful and unique on the whole island. Lay out on triangle pillows, place your beer on a table made of an old oil drum, and watch the sun go down over the water. Order up dinner while you’re there; the pasta with seafood is our favorite.
Party in Samui
Koh Samui is home to some of the best beach clubs in the world. Beach Republic on Lamai is so beautiful that it’s become a favorite location for destination weddings, but, luckily the prices aren’t out of reach. You can spend a whole day here going from the spa to the restaurant to the pool party to the beach and back again.
The poolfront looks out onto Lamai’s famous rock formations and there’s always a DJ spinning cool, eclectic tunes. Continue your evening on Lamai at the beachfront sports bar Swing Bar or with some rowdy live music at Shamrock Irish Pub.
Chaweng is the party capital of Koh Samui. From beach raves at Ark Bar to top DJs spinning at Cha Cha Moon this is the place for nightlife. The epitome of which is Soi Green Mango. Named after the massive open-air club Green Mango, this soi has it all: strip clubs, dive bars, nightclubs, hip hop, live music and techno. Fridays and Saturday nights are the most pumping, but you’ll find a party happening here on any day of the week.
Sleeping it off
Koh Samui has a more sophisticated vibe than the other islands, perhaps rivalled only by the five star service available on Phuket. Rent an enviable Airbnb villa for a few days. They are surprisingly affordable on Koh Samui, and infinity pools are de riguer.
When it comes to resorts and hotels Koh Samui has everything you could ask for. From uniquely stylish boutique hotels like Chaweng’s The Library (with it’s Insta-famous red pool) to the world-renowned W Retreat. That said, there are tons of budget friendly backpacker joints and guest houses.
For a comfortable and clean budget stay try Yousabuy Residence on the southern end of Lamai Beach. The matriarch of the Thai-owned hotel will happily dispense advice on what you should do and see in Koh Samui. She’ll even help you rent motorbikes, book tours and make you breakfast.
You Sabuy Residence
Just south of Chaweng Noi you’ll find the stylish Kala Resort, with its chic cement lobby and minimalist rooms complete with gorgeous views. For a home away from home on Koh Samui’s northern coast, check out Secret Garden Beach Resort on Bophut Beach near the airport.
Koh Samui is all about treating yourself to unforgettable experiences and there are so many to be had on this diverse island. It all depends on the type of island hopping experience you’re looking for; adventure, culture, relaxation and rejuvenation are all readily available on Koh Samui.
Thrill seeking in Koh Samui
One of the best ways to traverse the island terrain, and get in touch with your adventurous inner child, is an ATV ride through the jungle. Take the all-terrain vehicles off road through the trees, over rocky streams and up the hills in Koh Samui’s dense interior to see beautiful waterfalls and mountain viewpoints. If that’s not thrilling enough, head to EasyKart in Chaweng and try go karting, indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel and bungee jumping all in one adrenaline-pumped place.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the typical sightseeing stops, like the Big Buddha on Bo Phut Beach, there are other ways to experience Koh Samui culture. Drive ATVs to the Secret Buddha Garden, a peaceful and serene garden filled with statues of Buddhas, people and animals. The remarkable garden was established by a local farmer who started collecting statues in 1976 until his death at age 91. Each statue tells a story from Buddhist mythology or Thai culture. If you’re in Lamai, take a look at the antiques and artifacts at Puthakhun Phra Krueng store. This store supplies the local island community with statues, Buddhist amulets and other religious items and it makes an interesting browse.
Wellness and spa retreats are a massive draw in Koh Samui. You’ll be able to find a great massage experience on pretty much every beach, but if you’re looking for an extra dose of pampering try one of the island’s many spas. Beach Republic has luxurious spa facilities that are perfect for going from massage table to beach party. Tamarind Springs is one of the more unique spas on the island. Located in what can only be called jungle paradise, this retreat lets you disrobe in the middle of the jungle and get scrubbed and massaged with the best, natural ingredients. Now if that isn’t the epitome of island pampering, we don’t know what is.
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