Welcome to Koh Samui
This is my Koh Samui Wiki page and will be updated on a regular basis. If you have something to add please comment at the bottom of the page so everyone can benefit.
Koh Samui (เกาะสมุย) has something to offer everyone; from the bustling nightlife of Chaweng to a more sedate Fisherman’s village vibe. You will find it all here and when it’s over you won’t want to leave. This is the third largest island in Thailand and is one of the most popular destinations. Chao Samui (the native Samui people) have a culture that is unique from the rest of the country. The original settlers came here from Hainan Island in the South China Sea to plant coconuts almost two hundred years ago. Although the native islanders are proud of being Thai they also value their own uniqueness.
It is hard to believe that up until about thirty years ago the island only ever saw the occasional backpacker; now the whole island seems to be aimed at tourism. You once had to catch a coconut boat from Bangkok if you wanted to visit; nowadays there is an international airport on the island. Most of the backpacking crowd now favors the quieter islands like Koh Phangan and Koh Tao; they claim that Samui is just too expensive and commercial. The fact is though that there are options on the island to suit almost every budget. It has to be said though that it can be hard to find any accommodation at all during the high season; this despite the fact that there are so many bungalows, hotels, and resorts now all over the island. If you do plan on coming between December and February you will want to book ahead for accommodation in popular areas such as Chaweng and Lamai.
There is no doubting that tourism has changed the character of this island, but half a million tourists arriving for their yearly Koh Samui holidays each year is going to have an impact. Many might bemoan the rise of the McDonalds and the Irish theme bars, but it is still possible to find a quite time if that is what you are after. Cheweng is where you go to have fun and the nightlife is among the best you will find in Thailand. Many of the visitors end up not only falling in love with the surroundings but also with somebody they met while out partying. If you are looking for love then you just might find it on Samui. Many other people arrive already in love and have chosen Samui as the ideal honeymoon location.
Koh Samui Arrivals and Departures
Koh Samui International has to be one the most beautiful airports in the world. Most of the arrivals and departures are outdoors and you really feel that you arrived in the tropical paradise; it also makes it all the harder when leaving the island. There are flights in and out of Koh Samui every hour for most of the day. The price for plane tickets to Samui tends to be a bit more expensive than flights to other parts of Thailand. A cheaper option is to fly into Surat Thani Airport and then get a bus or taxi and then a boat. Those looking to island hop can also fly from Koh Samui to Phuket on one of the several daily flights.
There are many boats going to Koh Samui from Donsak port in Surat Thani; crossings about every thirty minutes during peak times. It takes about ninety minutes to make the 80 km crossing from Donsak to Na Thon on Samui. If you have a car then you can take this using the car ferry service which runs about every hour during the day. This car ferry docks at Lipa Noi on Samui. If you are going to be on the deck of the boat make sure you apply a liberal amount of sun tan lotion; many people ruin the start of their holiday by getting burnt to a crisp on the crossing.
It is also possible to get to a train from Hua Lamphong Station (สถานีหัวลำโพง) and this can be a comfortable way to reach Surat Thani (สุราษฎร์ธานี); especially if you get an overnight sleeper. If you want to be sure of a sleeper or private cabin make sure that you book your seat in advance, especially during the high season and during any of the Thai public holidays. When you arrive at the train station in Surat Thani you will find a bus ready to take you to Donsak Pier.
There are also many buses going to Surat Thani. The most popular route involves pick-ups around the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. You will have no problem finding local travel agents who can organize this trip for you. Shop around to make sure you are getting the best deal. You will normally be picked up from your hotel by a minivan and taken to the coach for the trip down to Surat Thani.
Getting Around Koh Samui
If you have not brought your own transportation with you to the island you can rent there or just depend on the local transportation options. Many visitors like to hire motorbikes for the duration of their stay. Most of the roads on Samui are good, but those riding motorbikes should still be careful. If you are not an experienced rider it is strongly recommended that you avoid motorbikes altogether. Every year many westerners have bad accidents involving motorbikes on Samui; over 90% of all traffic accidents in Thailand involve this form of transport. If you are going to rent a motorbike make sure you wear a good helmet and never ride if you have been drinking alcohol. It is also possible to rent cars and if you want to get the island feel you could rent a jeep.
There is no real need to have your own transport on Koh Samui as the local transport system covers the whole island. There is a reliable taxi service available; you will see these patrolling all the resort areas or you can order one from hotel, bar, or restaurant. If you are going to use a taxi always insist that the driver turns on the meter or negotiate a fair price for the trip beforehand. If you find a taxi driver who offers you a good service at a reasonable rate you should get their telephone number and try to use them all the time.
The Song Thaew (this means ‘two rows’ referring to the two benches in the truck) public service covers most of Samui and it reliable, regular, and cheap. It is also a fun way to see the island and meet interesting people. This service runs all day and well into the night. You can hire a Song Thaew privately or just use the regular services.
What to See on Koh Samui
Chaweng is the biggest town and for many the focal point for all the delights that Samui has to offer. This is somewhere that has grown beyond recognition in thirty years and you will now find all the conveniences that you would associate with a major resort town. If it is entertainment you are after then you will have no problem finding it here as this is the center of Koh Samui nightlife. As well as the many bars and restaurants there is also the longest beach on the island; a great place to people-watch and brush up on your tan. If you don’t like sitting around for too long you will also find plenty of activities on the beach; jet skis, banana boats, windsurfing, and canoeing – plus a whole lot more. You also won’t have to leave your beach towel for drinks or food as there is an almost constant parade of vendors on the beach. Don’t be afraid to try these snacks as food poisoning is very rare.
It is probably the nighttime when Chaweng is at its best. This is when people descend on the town from all over the island to party hard for the night. There are bars to suit every taste from the lively girly-bars where men go to find love, or something of shorter duration, to the trendy places where the latest music pumps out into the night. For most people a night in Chaweng will involve a tour of at least a few different bars; with hundreds to choose from you don’t have to worry about becoming bored. And once a month Chaweng is home to the Koh Samui Full Moon Party; a smaller, but no less raucous version of the original Full Moon Party on Phangan.
The fact that Chaweng is such a popular part of the island means that accommodation prices are usually higher than elsewhere. You should also book in advance if you want to stay in this part of the island and will be arriving during the high season.
Bo Phut is often referred to as Fisherman’s Village because that is what it was until a few years back. The fishing still goes on but now you will also find that this town also has plenty of bars, restaurants, resorts, and hotels. This is a favorite of French visitors but recent years have seen them become outnumbered by Brits. Bo Phut is a lot quieter than Chaweng but there is plenty going on during the day and night to keep people occupied. In fact many people choose to travel here from other parts of the island because they want to avoid the excesses of Chaweng. The price of accommodations on this part of the island can be quite reasonable but rents have risen in recent years.
Big Buddha Beach
Big Buddha Beach is a good choice if you want affordable resorts that offer a more relaxed atmosphere. You won’t get the same type of hassle that you will find on some of the more busy beaches; no parade of vendors. There are plenty of parties going on in this area but if you get bored you are only fifteen minutes away from Chaweng. This is also a great choice if you are looking for somewhere close to the airport. Even if you don’t choose to stay on this part of the island it is worth paying a visit to the beach.
Lamai beach is the second busiest beach on the island, but still significantly less bustling than Chaweng. This beach area once attracted backpackers on a tight budget, but things are changing and more expensive resort accommodations are taking over. A good reason for choosing Lamai is the fact that it is so near to many of the attractions on Samui; places like Wat Khunaram and Hinta HinYai are all nearby. Like visitors to the rest of the island the usual routine is Lamai beach during the day, and the restaurants, bars and clubs at night. The entertainment options are not quite as many as Chaweng, but there is enough to offer plenty of choice.
Mae Nam Beach
Mae Nam beach is to the north of the island and this is a nice quite area with some good accommodation options. The beach is five kilometrers long and there are plenty of secluded spots where you can get away from it all. If you have had enough of the more bustling tourist areas then Mae Nam beach would be a great place to go and relax away from it all. This area is also a popular surfing area and you will be able to rent all the necessary equipment if this is the type of thing you enjoy. Many families choose to stay in this area because it is so relaxed and feels safer than the busier beaches.
This beach is probably the most secluded part of Koh Samui and here you will find some exclusive accommodations. This is an area where many ex-pats have set up home; likely attracted by the fact that this area feels a lot more secluded. Choeng Mon is on a part of the island that juts out and this gives it the feel of almost a separate island. Many visitors to Samui fail to visit this part of Koh Samui, but it really is somewhere worth spending a few hours. There are some nice quite bars and attractive restaurants in the area. If you walk further along Choeng Mon towards Thong Son you will find some spectacular views of the nearby island Koh Phangan.
This is where many people first arrive in Samui but most will just go straight from the port to their resort elsewhere on the island. This is a shame because it is worth spending a bit of time in this town. Na Thon has managed to keep a lot of its original character but is starting to move more and more towards entertaining the tourist. There are hotels in Na Thon, but most visitors prefer to stay in the more touristy areas. If you are a shopper looking for some bargains you will find some great markets here.
What to Do on Koh Samui
There really is a lot to do on Koh Samui and anyone on a two or three week holiday will have no problem keeping themselves entertained. As the tourist industry has grown on the island so has the number of attractions and fun activities. Here is a selection of some of the best Koh Samui things to do.
If this is something that you have never done before then Samui is a great place to learn; there are some great dive spots near the island and Koh Samui diving is some of the best in SE Asia. There are hundreds of diving instructors who will be willing to take you on an introduction dive. If you intend to do more diving in the future then it is recommended that you do the PADI Open Water Course. This takes about three days and you will spend some time in the classroom, have a practice session in a pool, before heading out to sea and a proper dive. After you have completed the course you will have a license which means you can dive anywhere in the world. Doing the PADI course on Samui is relatively cheap compared to other parts of the world.
Spas and Massage
There is a wide selection of spas and massage parlors across the island. The most talked about massage parlor are the ones that offer a ‘special soapy massage’ for their male visitors. Other massage parlors are purely intended for medicinal purposes and are performed by some highly skilled individuals; the Thais generally believe that the best massages are given by people who are blind from birth. There are many up-market and more reasonably prices spas around the island; a great choice if you want to spend the day being pampered.
Thai Cooking Classes
If you want to be able to recreate those delicious dishes you ate during your visit then Thai Cooking classes are worth considering. These can be for as short as a day to longer courses of up to a week in duration. As well as learning how to cook the local dishes you also get to eat your work. And if cooking isn’t your thing you will be glad to know that there are scores of great Koh Samui restaurants ready to cater to your hungers.
Thai cabaret has to be seen to be believed. Here you will get to meet the famous Thai Katoey (or lady-boys as they are more commonly called by westerners). The Thai Cabaret shows are truly entertaining and people are often blown away by how stunning some of the performers look. There are a few different cabarets to see on the island; if you have never witnessed this before you really are missing out on a Thai institution. These shows also tend to have other entertainers such as magicians and hypnotists.
If you want to prove your worth on the track then a spin in a Go Kart is a good way to get this out of your system. The Go Karting track near Chaweng is very popular and you will be able to choose between slow or fast go Go Karts.
Samui Golf Courses
Golf has only recently arrived on the island but it now boasts of having one of the best courses in the whole of Thailand. Santiburi Samui Country Club near Mae Nam offers golf tours for the professional and the beginner. It is the only 18 hole Koh Samui golf course, but there are other popular 9 hole courses to try.
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and there are frequent bouts on Samui. Matches take place all over the island at different times and there are usually plenty of signs to warn of the next event. Those who don’t just like to watch might like to learn this fighting art at one of the local training camps – beginners of all ages are welcome.
TEFL on Samui
A lot of visitors are so impressed by Samui and Thailand that they don’t want to go home. One way to do this is to get a job teaching English as Second Language (ESL). If you have a college degree then you might want to sign up for one of the TEFL courses on the island. These will not only teach the basics you need to know about teaching but can also help you find a job at the end of it.
Finding Love on Koh Samui
Many visitors to Koh Samui, both men and women, have fallen in love with one of the locals. In a lot of cases this can work out really well, but some people do follow their hearts and ignore their brains. Those who find the woman of their dreams in one of the girly-bars should be extra careful and take things slow. These romances can work out but most of them don’t. The bar-girl scene is very lucrative and many of the women involved grow to love the excitement involved. It is not uncommon for some of them to have up to ten men supporting them from abroad though they still work in a bar. If you are going to become involved in one of these relationships it is probably best to be a bit cynical; at least in the beginning.
Away from the bar scene there are many examples of westerners finding love with a local Thai woman or man. Maybe this was somebody they met in a restaurant or even in the 7-11 mini mart. Cultural differences and the fact that there will be a huge geographical separation after the holiday put a strain on these relationships, but they can be hugely successful. In order to get the most from these romances it is important that the westerner get to understand a bit about Thai culture and learn some of the language. There have been a few instances of recent years where westerners have approached local Thai woman as if they were bar-girls. This type of inappropriate behavior has led to serious ramifications for those involved.
Getting Married on Koh Samui
Samui has become a popular destination for couples to get married; what could be more romantic than a ceremony on the beach? It also means that all your guests get to enjoy a great holiday. A wedding on Sumui is likely to be one that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives. The only drawback with this is that there will be a bit of paperwork that will need to be sorted first of all. Those wishing to save money can make the journey to Bangkok where the required documentation can be arranged. This will take at least a couple of days and involve visiting your local embassy, a translator to change the documents into Thai, and the Thai Ministry for Foreign Affairs. You can find complete instructions on my Thailand Marriage Process article. Alternatively you can use one of the many wedding services that are available to help you get everything organized.
Some people choose to have a small registry office wedding in their home country and then just have a blessing in Samui. You can then choose for the Thai blessing to be special for you and everyone else; you can then remember this occasion as the time when you really tied the knot.
Off the Beaten Track on Koh Samui
As well as the beaches and the bars there are also plenty of other Koh Samui attractions. If you want to get the most of out of your trip it is a good idea to try and get off the beaten track. Here are just a few suggestions for the things you might try.
Na Muang Waterfall
A trip into the center of Samui provides a different view of the island. One of the places worth visiting here is Na Muang Waterfall. ‘Muang’ in Thai means purple and this refers to the fact that the nearby rock has a purple tint to it. This waterfall has two levels, but to reach the second level requires a bit of a hike. If you really want to try something a bit different you can hire an elephant to take you up to the second level. You can swim most of the year in the bottom level of the fall, but it does get a bit busy at times. The road to Na Muang can be found near Hua Thanon; the nearest large resort would be Lamai.
Tiger Zoo & Aquarium
The Tiger Zoo and Aquarium is somewhere you could probably spend most of the day and not get bored. If you are really brave you can have your picture taken with a Bengal tiger. The Aquarium contains a huge collection of exotic fish and if you don’t plan on going on a local dive this could be the next best thing. If you have children in tow then the Tiger Zoo is one of the Koh Samui activities not to be missed. The Tiger Zoo and Aquarium is situated near Ban Harn beach.
Baan Lamai Cultural Hall
Baan Lamai Cultural Hall is situated in Lamai Temple. Here you can learn a bit more about the cultural heritage of Samui. The exhibition is mostly made up of ceramics, but these have been an important part of life on the island. An abbot has taken on the responsibility of maintaining this folk museum and a warm welcome is guaranteed for any visitors who take the time to drop by.
Secret Buddha Garden
The Secret Buddha Garden can be found at the highest point of the island. It is worth making this journey for the view alone. The garden is not so much a garden but more a stream with some interesting stone statues. The area is surrounded by rocky cliffs and lush jungle.
Wat Khunaram is a meditation center and it is here that you can see the island’s famous mummified monk. Luang Por Daend (Luang Por means respected father in English) died in 1973 while sitting in a meditation pose. He remains on display today and visitors might be surprised because there is not much sign of decay on his body. He is also probably one of the few mummified Buddhist monks who wears dark glasses. If you are a bit squeamish you might want to avoid this one.
Chinese Temple Mae Nam
It is quite surprising the number of people who stay at Mae Nam and don’t bother to visit the Chinese Temple. This really is a beautiful building and it does not take long to walk around. The temple is situated in the middle of Mae Nam village.
Samui Butterfly Garden
Children especially will love this place, but adults also tend to enjoy the experience also. As well as the many exotic butterflies there are also other insects to discover. It only takes a couple of hours to see everything, and it is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
Full-Moon Party/ Half-Moon Party on Koh Phangan
Many visitors to Samui will make the journey across to Koh Phangan for the full-moon or half-moon party. This is one of the top party events in the world and well worth experiencing if you like that type of thing. There are plenty of longboats that can take you across to the island for the night.
Emergencies on Koh Samui
There are some good hospitals on Koh Samui that will be able to handle most emergencies. Bangkok Samui Hosptial (077 429 500) is considered to be of international standard and Samui International Hospital (077 421 781) also has a good reputation. There are other smaller hospitals dotted around the island. There is also a free rescue service that provides paramedic services for visitors and locals on the island (077-421444).
If you are the victim of a crime then it is generally recommended that you deal with the tourist police. These people have been especially trained to deal with foreigners and there will be translators on hand. The emergency tourist police hotline is 1155.
Highlights of Koh Samui
- A night on the town in Chaweng; even if you prefer the quite life you should at least experience this once.
- An early evening walk around Bo Phut fisherman’s village followed by a meal in a local restaurant.
- Swimming in Na Muang Waterfall followed by a trip through the jungle on the back of an elephant.
- A day spent relaxing on Big Buddha beach.
- The view of the nearby island Phangan which can be seen from Thong Son.
Where to Next?
If you want to move on from Samui and experience some more of what Thailand has to offer you will find many options.
- If you want to experience a more peaceful and laid back Island you might want to go across to Koh Phangan. This is only a short distance from Samui but feels like a different world. This is also home to the famous full-moon and half-moon parties.
- Koh Tao is even quieter than Phangan and a great choice if you like to Scuba dive.
- If you want to experience a completely different side of Thailand then there are planes to Chiang Mai in the North. Many people claim that you haven’t really visited Thailand until you have been to the North of the country. Chiang Mai is a great base for exploring this part of Thailand.
- If your desire to party has not been sated then you might want to go to Thailand’s ‘sin city’. Pattaya makes Chewang seem almost a bit sedate in comparison.