A Quick Guide - The Best of Koh Samui
Introducing Koh Samui
Koh Samui has changed enormously since being ‘discovered’ by backpackers in the 1970s. This lush tropical island has been developed significantly and is rapidly rivalling Phuket as one of Southeast Asia's premier beach destinations. Sitting in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui offers visitors an enticing mix of soft sand beaches, delicious fresh seafood, vibrant nightlife and luxurious boutique hotels. There are also plenty of activities on offer these days - making it a great location for family beach holidays. Despite its changing face the magic of Samui is still there and the popularity of the island grows with each passing year.
On 15th July Koh Samui opened its doors to international travellers once again, with onward travel to the neighbouring islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao allowed after 7 days on Koh Samui. Travel to the island is permitted for fully vaccinated adults and children travelling with their vaccinated parents. Visitors will be permitted to travel to other parts of Thailand after 14 days if they test Covid-19-free before moving on.
Thailand is currently on the UK’s ‘Amber List’, but we are hopeful this will change in the coming months. Furthermore, Thailand’s prime minister has publicly announced that his goal is to completely re-open the country to tourism by mid-October, so if the re-opening of Phuket is a success we can expect Thailand to be fully open in time for the forthcoming winter season.
The best time to visit Koh Samui
The best time for a holiday in Koh Samui is from late December to April. During this period the island enjoys pleasant warm temperatures which gradually rise as one moves from December through to the end of April. At this time of year there is little rain or humidity so it is a great time to hit the beach and undertake outdoor activities such as cycling or watersports.
Other than above, a good time to visit Koh Samui is in the summer months of July and August when the Gulf of Thailand has much less rainfall than other parts of the country. Although it can rain at this time it is unlikely to rain every day and quite often travelling in these summer months can be very pleasant with plenty of sunshine.
Koh Samui’s best beaches
Over the years Koh Samui has become somewhat legendary among travellers because of its pristine beaches and laid-back holiday atmosphere. Samui is Thailand’s third largest island, after Phuket and Koh Chang, and has lots of beaches and bays to choose from. At Bamboo Travel, we know the beaches of Samui well and here are our thoughts on the best ones to visit on your holiday.
Chaweng Beach - World famous for its clear blue-green water and coral reefs, Chaweng is Koh Samui’s longest beach at around 7km, and probably also its most popular. Here you will find beach bars, a good choice of restaurants and lots of opportunities to indulge in a range of water sports from snorkelling to banana boating. Although traditionally one of the more crowded beaches to visit on the island, if you head to the far south of Chaweng beach, away from the bulk of eateries and rental shops, it can still offer a peaceful experience.
Best for: Restaurants, bars and activities
Where to stay: There is a wide range of accommodation styles and options at Chaweng but Poppies Samui is one of our favourites, offering good value beach hut style accommodation with a laid back atmosphere.
Lamai Beach - South of Chaweng on Koh Samui’s east coast, Lamai Beach is quieter than its neighbour but still offers plenty to do. Here you can enjoy water sports in the crystal-clear water, visit the nearby temples of Wat Lamai and Wat Khunaram or hike up through the jungle and get rewarded with a splendid view of the ocean from the Lamai Viewpoint. Heading south of Lamai, you will quickly find a world untouched by tourism, with quaint coastal villages, thick jungle and water buffaloes grazing in lush rice paddies.
Best for: Those wishing to explore the laid back south of the island.
Where to stay: For a special stay at Lamai Beach, look no futher than the irresistible Banyan Tree Samui (see below). This magnificent resort can be found on a small peninsula to the north of Lamai Beach and offers luxurious pool villas.
Bophut Beach - On Samui’s north coast, the relaxed Bophut Beach area is a favourite with Bamboo Travel clients. This 3km long stretch of golden sand is some of the most beautiful in all of Thailand. Bophut Beach is also home to the ‘Fishermen’s Village’, an historic area in the centre of the beach with old Chinese shops, interesting local markets and great dining and entertainment options.
Best for: Those after a beautiful beach and the ability potter to some great restaurants and classy shops.
Where to stay: The Peace Resort is a long-term favourite of ours and just a short walk to the restaurants of Fishermen’s Village. Or for luxury, head to the Anantara Bophut. Both have good setups for families. The delightful four-bedroom villa, Baan Bua Sawan, is in a great spot, sandwiched between Bophut and Maenam Beaches.
Maenam Beach - Also on the north coast and just a short drive east of Bophut is the peaceful Maenam Beach. It is one of the longest beaches on Samui, just less than Chaweng’s 7km, and is an easy place to escape the crowds and relax. The beach is lined with attractive palm trees and some of us would argue that there is no better place to be than sitting under those trees with a beer in hand!
Best for: The length of Maenam and its relatively few beach vendors make this a great beach for those after peace and quiet and it is also good for families.
Where to stay: A former backpacker beach, Maenam now has many accommodation options to meet all budgets. Samui Buri on Maenam Beach has lots of space and is well located for getting involved with the activities available in the area. Or for exclusivity and luxury, the Belmond Napasai (see below) a few minutes north is another firm favourite.
Koh Samui’s best romantic hideaways
The tropical island of Koh Samui with its long beaches, blue seas and lush coconut plantations has plenty of small and luxurious hotels, many of which make the perfect retreat for a romantic breaks or a honeymoon. Below we have listed a few of our perennial favourites.
Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa - Located on the enticing white sands of Bophut Beach, the boutique Zazen Resort offers spacious bungalows spread around tropical gardens, or along the beachfront, and expertly caters for couples looking for a romantic base that is close to local entertainment.
Sala Samui Resort & Spa – The Sala Samui offers stylish and spacious villas & suites, many of which have private swimming pools. Excellent facilities coupled with 80 metres of white sand beachfront provide the perfect setting for romantic getaways.
Banyan Tree Samui – The Banyan Tree Samui is set on an exclusive beachfront facing scenic Lamai Bay. Each of the luxurious villas has a private infinity pool, with sweeping views over the ocean or the tropical garden. First class service and traditional Thai hospitality combine to provide the ultimate honeymoon destination.
Koh Samui’s best luxury hotels
In a former life Koh Samui was world famous for laid back accommodation in the form of simple beach bungalows made from bamboo. These days you can still find a few of these ‘A-frames’ left but the island is now famous for a more sophisticated style of hotel and a number of these luxury properties are genuinely world class. If luxury is your thing then you should consider the following options.
Belmond Napasai -The Napasai is a delightful beachside boutique hotel on the north coast of Samui, hidden amongst dense cashew, palm and coconut trees. The rooms have private balconies and views of the bay from the bathrooms whilst the resort itself includes a magnificent infinity edge swimming pool and a fabulous spa amongst its first class facilities.
Six Senses Samui - The Six Senses Samui can be found on a gently sloping headland on the northern tip of Koh Samui set amongst 20-acres of indigenous vegetation that ensures maximum privacy. The resort has just 66 private villas, many with personal pools, which offer glorious, sweeping panoramas out to the Gulf of Thailand and the surrounding islands.
Four Seasons Samui - The Four Seasons Samui is a delightful beach resort with its own private bay overlooking the Gulf of Siam. The villas are very spacious, with contemporary Thai décor and equipped with the most luxurious amenities possible. Definitely one of Samui’s most luxurious hotels.
Best excursions on Koh Samui
Beyond Koh Samui’s fantastic beaches, its interior is home to fascinating temples, lush green jungle, tumbling waterfalls, bustling local markets, and some seriously delicious food. Here are our top three recommended non-beach experiences on Koh Samui
Sample the local food: Join the locals and be introduced to the wonderful street food of Koh Samui. Head out on an evening tour, taking you far from the tourist strip, showcasing the best of the local cuisine including a variety of seafood, delicious hot pot dishes and barbecued specialities.
Zip lining: Great for kids and adrenaline junkies, the Skyhawk Adventure Zipline Samui offers an exhilarating alternative to the island’s relaxing beaches. A selection of ziplines, abseiling lines and sky-bridges offer the perfect vantage point for views of the jungle interior.
Explore the interior: Koh Samui’s interior is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating temples, thick jungle, and refreshing waterfalls. Leave the beach for a day to explore the best of the interior, including the impressive Na Muang Waterfall, in an open-air pick-up truck accompanied by a private guide.
Koh Samui’s best aquatic experiences
Koh Samui and its neighbouring islands Koh Phangan and Koh Tao offer a wide selection of water activities. Here are three of our favourite aquatic experiences:
Diving around Koh Tao: The reefs surrounding Koh Tao are home to turtles, rays, reef sharks, barracuda and even the odd migratory whale shark. A variety of dive sites ranging in depth and difficulty level make Koh Tao one of Thailand’s premier scuba diving destinations. Koh Tao has a selection of dive focussed hotels, but diving excursions can also be arranged from Koh Samui.
Snorkelling at Koh Tean: Just a 15-minute boat journey from Koh Samui the largely unspoilt island of Koh Tean is ringed by coral reef. The clear waters and excellent visibility provide conditions for some of the best snorkelling in the Samui archipelago.
Visit Koh Nang Yuan: The three small, connected islands of Koh Nang Yuan offer gorgeous white sand, turquoise waters and an excellent viewpoint of Koh Tao and its surrounding islands. Day trips to the island can be arranged from Koh Samui, but it is easier to access from nearby Koh Tao.
Koh Samui’s best family activities
Koh Samui has all the ingredients for a perfect family holiday – family-friendly resorts to suit any budget, a mixture of quiet and busy areas to explore, and plenty of activities to keep absolutely everyone occupied. Here are some of our favourite family activities:
Zipline adventure - Embark on an exciting zipline adventure, which is fun for all the family. We love the Skyhawk Adventure, which has the longest zipline on the island. There are varying routes with up to 33 stations, taking you through the verdant green interior of Koh Samui and giving spectacular views out over the island and the surrounding Ang Thong Marine Park. All the instructors are professionally trained and certified, and children aged 6 and above can join in the fun.
Samui Elephant Sanctuary - The Samui Elephant Sanctuary was inspired by the work of the Save Elephant Foundation and was the first on the island to offer fully a fully ethical and sustainable elephant experience. There is no riding allowed, and the elephants are able to roam and bathe completely free from forced interactions. Visit the Sanctuary to learn about the work they do to rescue and care for these amazing creatures, and embrace the chance to get close to, walk with, and feed the gentle giants for yourself.
Waterparks - Waterparks are always a sure-fire hit with the kids, and Koh Samui has a number of great parks across the island. The Pink Elephant Water Park is found in the quieter Maenam Beach area and has bigger slides for older children and adults as well as plenty to keep the little ones occupied as well. The area around popular Chaweng Beach is home to the High Park Slide Club which has two main slides, one specifically designed for the thrill seekers out there and another slightly more gentle option.
Get active - There is no chance for the kids to get restless on Koh Samui, with plenty of active adventures to try. Samui Go-Cart in Bophut has a range of courses for various ages and skill levels, and the under 7s can ride in a double kart with an adult. Football Golf offers a really fun and active twist on a classic game, and as an added bonus is also set in a beautiful tropical botanical garden.
Best islands to stay on near Koh Samui
Koh Phangan - Just a short ferry ride away from Koh Samui, Koh Phangan has so much more to offer than backpackers and full moon parties. Most of the island is extremely green and peaceful, and we love the opportunities for hiking in the jungle and discovering the island’s hidden coves and beaches. We like to stay around the Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach area, an idyllic beach in the quieter north of the island with several stylish hotels to choose from. The Santhiya Resort and the Buri Rasa both offer upscale boutique accommodation, while the Anantara Rasananda is sure to reward anyone who decides to splash out!
Koh Tao - Koh Tao, meaning ‘Turtle Island’, is the smallest of the three islands. The main attraction here is the natural beauty both over and under the water. The crystal-clear waters around Koh Tao are an underwater paradise, and this is one of the top places in Thailand for diving and snorkelling. Explore the rocky coastline and hidden beaches, take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan and hike up to the spectacular viewpoint, or simply lie back and relax. Accommodation options on Koh Tao are more limited than its larger neighbours, but our pick is the Haad Tien Beach Resort & Beach Club, which provides eco-friendly luxury on a gorgeous and secluded beach.