Thailand's third largest island has slowly evolved from a tropical
hideaway frequented primarily by backpackers in the 1960's to a
place that now caters to visitors from all walks of life and with
pocketbooks of all dimensions. The primary reasons for its popularity
are its beautiful beaches, easily accessed watersports and the opportunity
it provides to simply kick off your shoes and relax.
The island can be circled by car in a little over an hour, on a
road that parallels its numerous beaches. Each piece of strand has
its own personality and qualities that make it unique and appealing.
The longest and most developed beach on the island is Chaweng. It
is packed with hotels, ranging from a couple of five-star establishments
to rustic bungalows frequented by those on limited budgets. The
road adjacent to the beach is packed with shops, bars, dive shops
and restaurants of every description. Lamai, the second largest
beach, is also highly developed and loaded with places to eat and
drink. These beaches, which are on the eastern part of the island,
have beautiful white sand, clear water and nearby reefs for those
who want to snorkel and do some underwater sightseeing. The beaches
on the north, south and west coasts are less developed and provide
a more relaxed atmosphere. The water, however, isn't quite as clear
and swimming is difficult from October to April. Some of the island's
most impressive resorts, however, are located at these lesser known
beaches. The Santiburi
Dusit Resort, for example, is located at Maenam Beach in the
northern part of the island and Le
Royal Meridien can be found at Taling Ngam on the island's west
Many people come to Koh
Samui for the opportunities it provides for Scuba diving. This
can be enjoyed from both beaches and dive boats, including boats
that go to nearby Koh Tao. Scuba activities range from ½
day sessions for those who simply want an introduction to the sport
to four-day courses that give participants an international PADI
license valid throughout the world. For experienced licensed divers
there are numerous trips available to the nearby Angthong Marine
Park and over 20 sites around Koh Tao.
An increasingly popular activity on Koh
Samui is a visit to a spa. Most of the major hotels now have
a spa on site that offer a variety of massages, body wraps, skin
treatments, herbal steam baths and various beauty services. Independent
spas have also sprung up and many of them have taken a more Eastern
approach offering activities like yoga, fasting, meditation and
colonic cleansing programmes.
There are hosts of other activities on Koh Samui. In Lamai you
can shoot yourself up into the air with the Jungle Bungy Catapult,
an experience sure to get the adrenalin pumping. There is a Buffalo
show depicting how life in Thailand
used to be, staged in the southern part of the island at 10:00 A.M.
and 3 P.M. daily. The Butterfly Garden, Crocodile Farm, Snake Farm
and Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo all provide activities that are
enjoyed by adults and kids alike. Although not native to Samui,
treks on the back of an elephant have become a popular activity
and provide a good way to see some of Samui's jungle areas. Kayaking
in stable sea kayaks can be enjoyed along shores of Samui or in
the Angthong Marine Park. Taking cooking lessons is another activity
that many people find rewarding, particularly since it provides
skills and knowledge that will last long after a Samui holiday is
There are also numerous natural sights on Samui that many find
an appealing change of pace. The Namuang Waterfalls in the south-western
part of the of the island are attractive and popular places to visit.
Two of Samui's most talked about sights are Hin-Ta (grandmother)
and Hin-Yai (grandfather). These stones have been eroded by the
elements so that they resemble gigantic male and female genitalia.
They have to be seen to be believed.
Although it is a small island, several Buddhist temples are interesting
to visit. Perhaps the best known is Wat Phra Yai, home of the Big
Buddha. This enormous statue can be seen from miles away and is
often noticed by passengers leaving and arriving by air. At night,
when it is flooded with lights, it is particularly impressive.
Geting There. There
are two ways to get to Koh Samui: the easy way and the hard
way. The easy way is to fly on Bangkok Airways; the hard way
is to use any other form of transportation. The reason for
this is quite simple. There is only one airport on Samui and
Bangkok Airways has the sole right to use that airport. This
means getting to the island by any other means requires a
boat and some other form of transportation. Generally speaking,
the boats are not the most reliable. Moreover, transferring
from trains, buses and the mainland airport in Surat Thani
to these boats is often tedious and time consuming. Bangkok
Airways operates several flights daily from Bangkok and Phuket
and a single flight each day from Singapore.
When to Go.
If you want to avoid the rains, the best time to visit Samui
is during the period from February until the end of June.
From July until October, there are intermittent rains and
from October to January, it can also get quite windy. During
the rainy season, however, prices are often significantly
Pick-up trucks with two benches in the rear and a roof on
top are the equivalent of a local bus on Koh Samui. Called
songthaews, they operate during daylight hours and have their
final destinations marked in English on the vehicle. The price
is usually about 20 baht, depending upon how far you travel.
There are no official stops; simply hail the songthaew to
board and use the buzzer in the cabin when you reach your
destination. After normal working hours these vehicles, can
be chartered for specific destinations, but the
price can be quite high, so be prepared to bargain. Metered,
air-conditioned taxis can now be found on Samui, but the drivers
are often averse to using the metre. Under no circumstances
should you simply get in the taxi and let the driver take
you someplace without turning on the metre or agreeing on
a price beforehand. If the driver refuses to use the metre
or you do not like his price, get out and try another taxi.
Renting a jeep or car is an excellent way to see the island.
Prices vary from about THB 800 to 2000 per day, without fuel,
depending upon the type of vehicle. Suzuki jeeps are the most
popular vehicles, but recently more expensive air-conditioned
cars have appeared on the scene. You will usually be asked
to leave your passport as collateral. An international driver's
license or a home country license is required.
Many visitors to Samui rent motorbikes. They are inexpensive
(THB 150-300 per day), but present a variety of hazards that
must be taken into consideration. Samui has the highest fatality
rate per kilometre of any place in Thailand and most of the
fatalities arise from head injuries. Although helmets are
required by law, people rarely wear them, an omission responsible
for dozens of needless deaths each year. You will invariably
be asked to leave your passport as collateral.
Virtually any type of accommodation is available on Koh Samui,
ranging from five star luxury hotels to simple and inexpensive
guest houses. It is important, especially between December
and July, to make reservations in advance if you know where
you want to stay or are interested in a place adjacent to
the sea. An added advantage of advanced reservations is that
of being met at the airport by a hotel vehicle. Taxis from
the airport are expensive and the drivers are often insistent
about taking you to hotels that offer them kickbacks for bringing
Food and Drink.
Samui is packed with restaurants serving a variety of Thai
and international cuisine. The major hotels all have restaurants
and places to drink. Each one of the major beach areas is
loaded with restaurants, including chain establishments like
McDonalds and Pizza Hut and an array of drinking establishments.
For a special treat try one of the island's excellent seafood
restaurants and don't forget to try some of the local tropical
Virtually anything available on the mainland is available
for purchase on Koh Samui, but it is an island and almost
everything offered for sale has arrived on a boat. This tends
to make prices a little higher. If you are buying something
at a stall or small shop, be sure to bargain, as prices generally
are not fixed. Goods sold in hotels and large shops have fixed
prices, but these can vary considerably so comparing prices
at other shops is always a good idea.
Koh Samui is a tropical island with a remarkable number of
options and should be seriously considered as a destination
by anyone visiting Thailand. Most people who visit the island
have the time of their lives and vow to return once again.