Koh Samui is developing fast, becoming an international tourist destination to rival Phuket. It's much smaller than its Andaman Sea counterpart, so it's easier to navigate, and there are still far fewer tourists than in Phuket, though the tourist infrastructure is just as sturdy. Situated in the Thai Gulf, Samui has a different monsoonal season to Phuket, which means it's sunny and mostly dry when the rest of Thailand is rainy. Conversely, the wettest months are November to February, when most other places are cool and dry.
Samui has a high number of western expats, many of whom run restaurants and bars on the island, so there's no shortage of choice when it comes to drinking and dining. All the main fast food chains can be found around Chaweng Beach, plus countless venues aimed specifically at the tourist market. The range of accommodation in Samui is also vast, offering everything from rustic beach bungalows to luxury pool villas. As far as tropical islands go, Samui is one of the most flexible, accessible and affordable. Here are four different types of holiday you can have in Koh Samui.
While it's comparatively expensive to fly to Samui airport (around 8,000 THB return from Bangkok, give or take), you can fly into nearby Surat Thani, on the mainland, with a low cost carrier for as little as half that. A combined van and ferry ticket from the airport is around 800 THB and takes approximately 2.5 hours. Alternatively, there are overnight buses and trains that cost 1,000 THB or less.
To get the best value out of a beach holiday in Samui, stay away from the tourist crowds – and prices – of Chaweng Beach and instead head to Bangrak and Bo Phut beaches. They are near the airport and offer a wide array of accommodation and low-key bars and restaurants, plus easy access to Big Buddha Pier and Seatran Pier for transfers to Phangan, Koh Tao and the mainland. It's cheaper to eat and stay in this area than Chaweng or Lamai, the water is clean and clear, the beach is very quiet and sunset views are amazing. Chaweng is only a 10-15 minute drive away, so if you do plan to party "in town" the taxi price will hover between 200-400 THB (as opposed to 700-900 THB if you're saying down on the southern beaches.) A beachfront room in a resort such as Saree Samui will suit you just fine.
Luxurious and Lazy
Luxury travelers are really spoiled for choice in Samui. Big brands are represented, such as the Four Seasons, Conrad, the W, the Intercontinental and the Banyan Tree, then there are your boutique properties such as The Library, X2, Tongsai Bay Hotel and Sala Samui. Private pool villas and fully self-contained suites that cater to couples and families are widely available, and in low season (generally between March-October) offer fantastic discounts on the rack rate. It's not uncommon for five-star resorts to have rooms available from around 5,000 THB per night.
For fine dining, check out different hotel restaurants as they are usually of the highest quality, with internationally trained chefs. The Romantic Le Jaroen at The Scent hotel offers French cuisine with wine-paired meals right on the beachfront of Bangrak. The Six Senses Samui has Dining on the Rocks, which offers dramatic views over the headland to Koh Phangan and modern molecular cuisine. In Bo Phut, Zazen Boutique Resort's Arabic-style dining room offers ambient beachfront dining.
Not everyone comes to Samui to indulge – the island has many remote peaceful areas that offer the perfect natural setting for detoxing the body and mind. Some detox resorts are very high-end – properties such as the Kamalaya and Absolute Sanctuary spare no expense to make your detox as comfortable as possible. They provide yoga, meditation and detox/fasting programs, coupled with prime real estate in the hills and on the beach so you can reconnect with nature.
The more affordable Spa Resorts has two properties in Samui, one on Lamai Beach so guests can mix swimming and socializing with their health program. Wooden bungalows satisfy needs for a more "rustic" experience, plus detox and fasting regimes, boot camp, yoga, raw food, meditation and spa treatments. Scores of independent yoga and detox centers are located all over the island – you don't need to stay at a retreat to enroll in one if you would prefer to source your own accommodation.
If you came to Samui to party, it makes sense to base yourself in Chaweng and minimize transport costs. This is the main entertainment area of the island where people of all ages come to dance into the wee hours. The epicenter of the action is around Ark Bar, which is your typical high-energy beachfront bar with commercial dance music, buckets and shisha (oversized drinks and flavored tobacco pipes, respectively). From here, the crowd usually migrates to Green Mango Club across the road, but there are all manner of pubs and bars here offering pool, live music or late night snacks.
For something more sophisticated, Cha Cha Moon next to Ark Bar draws a slightly more upmarket crowd, with house DJs, a pool on hand for night-time dips and monthly full moon parties. Q Bar is also popular, though it’s outside Chaweng on the hillside and can get pricy when you factor in cab fare and drinks. If you like house music, Bar Solo offers DJs and live percussion outdoors on the beachfront of Chaweng.
On the other end of the island at Lipa Noi beach, is Nikki Beach – the place to go for Sunday Brunch. The global brand puts on its weekly pool party with trademark glamour, enticing locals and visitors with hours of house music and a fantastic sunset. Once you've exhausted all of Samui's party potential, you can head to the nearby island of Ko Phangan on the Haad Rin Queen ferry (from Big Buddha Pier) – in less than an hour you can be in Full Moon Party territory, ready to start it all up again.