Koh Samui lies 34km from Donsak Pier on the Thai mainland was discovered by backpackers in the 1970’s, covered by green lush tropical forest and a mountainous interior is Thailands third largest island.
Samui is part of the Ang Thong (Golden Bowl) Marine National Park which encompasses 80 mostly uninhabited islands.
Recent developments, including luxury resorts, health spas, four international hospitals, an international airport, banks, restaurants and golf courses, have made Koh Samui is the destination of choice for more than 2 million tourists each year.
Koh Samui has a population of about 300,000 thousand (source: Samui Mayor’s Office) and is based primarily on a successful tourist industry, as well as exports of coconut and rubber. It even has its own international airport, Samui Airport, with flights daily to Bangkok and other major airports in Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malayasia. While the island presents an unspoiled image to the public perception, economic growth has brought not only prosperity, but changes to the island’s environment and culture.
Despite the development, Samui still maintains the feel of a tropical beach island with an incredible variety of tranquil beaches, and bays around the island.
December – March is called the the dry season on Koh Samui. Normally not much rain, but it can be some refreshing winds or breeze on the island at this time. Great for sailing and other water sport activities. Also, the sun is shining a lot at this time of year and the water conditions are usually great for swimming.
April – August is the hot season in Koh Samui. The weather is very dry and rather hot in this time of year. In May and June however, you can experience a little increase in the rain. This is a great period to visit Samui, if you can stand 30-35 degrees Celsius daytime, as the Thai New Years Celebration, Songkran, is celebrated between the 12th and 14th of April. This is the largest water splashing festival in the whole of South East Asia.
November – Mid December is also known as the monsoon season. It is still hot in the daytime and, normally, there are many sunny days. However, you can experience that the evenings are getting cooler. Sometimes the refreshing monsoon showers only last for a moment and then it clears up again. So, every year the monsoon is different. From a whole week of rain non stop to daily afternoon showers. No year is the same.
Chaweng Beach is Koh Samui’s most popular beach. This is undoubtedly the most popular tourist area on Koh Samui, and with its 7-kilometere white-sand beach, water sports, entertainment venues and shopping facilities, as well as a fabulous range of dining options, it is easy to see the attraction. Accommodation ranges from a few remaining backpacker bungalows, which are nevertheless considerably more expensive than elsewhere on the island, to five star hotel & resorts.
Lamai Beach is Samui’s second most popular and most naturally beautiful beach, and is a little smaller and quieter than Chaweng. The general atmosphere is laid back and Lamai has slightly older, and by extension cheaper tourist facilities than Chaweng, although there is some indication that the area is slowly being rejuvenated. Lamai beach is lovely – a stunning crescent of palm-fringed powdery white sand that’s perfect for whiling away the day sunbathing and a deep central stretch of water great for swimming and watersports.
Close to Samui’s famous Big Buddha landmark lays Bophut Beach. Two kilometers of white sandy shoreline fringed by leaning coconut palms – an ideal place to chill out. Bophut includes the charming Fisherman’s Village lined with old wooden houses, small trendy shops and relaxed restaurants. Fisherman’s Village is fast gaining a reputation that stretches way beyond Samui for being the most elegant and well-preserved place on the island. At the western end, beyond Fisherman’s Village, No less than three five star resorts are located in close proximity to each other. That said, the average quality of accommodation in Bophut has always been higher than in neighboring Maenam and the existing hotels & resorts tend to attract well-heeled independent travelers drawn to funky and fashionable places.
The tranquility of Maenam Beach still continues to draw those in search of peace and quiet, retaining its old Samui character. Maenam is home to both backpackers and well heeled guests. Some of Samui’ most expensive new deluxe resorts can be found here.
Maenam beach is one of Samui’s prettiest and quietest beaches where a quiet evening with your loved one is bound to be more than sipping cocktails with your partner as the sun sets.
Choeng Mon beach is made up of a series of bays on the north-western tip of the island, which are dominated by a handful of three to five star resorts. Most of the resorts attract an older, package tour crowd, predominantly from Germany and France. This is reflected in the food and entertainment on offer in many of the resorts’ restaurants.
If you’re a shop-alcoholic then you won’t be disappointed in Koh Samui because you can find all the usual Thailand souvenirs, both genuine and counterfeit. Tailor made clothes, designer labels, traditional handicrafts, gold, gems, opticians, oil paintings, furniture and antiques. The list goes on and on and with some careful haggling you can pick up some real bargains. While prices on Samui are generally higher than in Bangkok, there are nevertheless many bargains to be found in Chaweng.
Angthong National Marine Park, consisting of 42 islands featuring limestone massifs, tropical rainforests, secluded beaches and wildlife, was established as a national park in 1980. Also known as the Golden Basin, the park in Koh Samui is renowned for activities like snorkeling, walking and swimming. Similar nearby islands are Ko Sam Sao, Ko Prayad, Ko Hin Dap and Ko Kha.
Wat Khunaram. Koh Samui This temple is the island’s most famous temple for its mummified monk on display. The mummy sits upright in a glass casket and devotees offer it flowers and incense. The mummy is in fact the body of a very revered former abbot of the temple who was also a meditation master and was reputedly able to predict his own death.
Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo. Koh Samui The undersea world of the aquarium has an amazing collection of tropical fish and other vibrant aquatic animals such as turtles and colorful coral. The tiger zoo is home to Bengal tigers and leopards. Those who are daring enough can have their photograph taken with the animals.
Laem Sor Pagoda. Koh Samui This chedi (pagoda) situated at Laem Sor temple is one of the most important shrines on Koh Samui. The structure with its yellow tiles which gives off a golden aura is quite impressive.
Big Buddha statue. Big Buddha is a twelve-metre high statue of the Buddha, which lies at the top of ceremonial dragon-steps at the Wat Phra Yai. Samui also has a number of other impressive temples, including Wat Khunaram, where the mummified body of Loung Pordaeng, a monk who died in a meditating position is on display.
Grandfather and Grandmother stone. The Grandmother and Grandfather rocks on the south end of Lamai beach are an occasional source of amusement for tourists due to their striking similarity to a vagina and penis. For those who would like to hear a legend or two surrounding the rocks, they need only ask a local.
Mountain jungle in the interior of the island is an excellent day out, and is home to a number of impressive gardens built by legendary Samuian farmer Nim Thongsuk, the impressive waterfalls at Na Muang, real working rubber plantations and the most amazing views over the Ang Thong archipelago. The roads in the jungle are an adventure in themselves, and tourists normally take a tour with an experienced local Samui driver/guide.
Muay Thai boxing takes place regularly at the island’s stadiums in Chaweng and Lamai.
Ko Pha Ngan has a full-moon party at the appropriate time each lunar month, and tourists in Samui often hop a slow ferry or speedboat to the nearby island to join in the dusk to dawn high energy dancing and drinking marathon.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling Koh Samui’s clear waters are not the best but snorkeling and diving are still popular at Angthong Marine National Park. The dive boats tend to leave from the pier at Bophut.
Sea Kayaking. With a coastline composed of mangroves, limestone, small coves, caves and islands, and an interior with rivers lined with cave systems, Koh Samui provides a popular environment for kayaking.
Sailing Yachting & Cruising. All types of boating have soared in popularity in Samui over the past decade. This is probably the result of the success of the Koh Samui Regatta and day cruises and sunset cruises aboard The Siam Lady
Thai Boxing or Muay Thai has risen in popularity in Koh Samui and there are a number of gyms such as Lamai, WMC and Pinyo, Super Pro.
Trekking & Elephant Trekking. Due to diversity of the landscape and tropically lush forests, Samui is a great place for trekking, either on foot or by elephant.
Spa. For those who love to ‘spa’, Thailand is the perfect destination to indulge in this pastime therapy. The country prides itself in countless spas offering the highest world class services at extremely reasonable rates. Much of the recent success of this therapy is due to the tremendous support given by the Thai Spa Operators Association. Not only have they assisted in the training of therapists to international standards but also trained them in keeping methods traditionally and distinctively ‘Thai-style’. Spas can be found at major hotels and resorts on Koh Samui.
90% of Koh Samui’s Thai residents have migrated to the island from other Thai provinces and they have brought their own cultures and ceremonies with them. Every month there is some sort of colourful and noisy festivals or public holiday. The most popular celebrations are:
Songkran. During April 13-15, everyone celebrates the traditional Thai New Year. In every home, Buddha images are washed with rose scented water. People also pay respects to their elders by pouring a little water over their hands. Outside, people go a little wilder and buckets of water are thrown over everything that moves.
Visakha Bucha Day. The full moon of the sixth lunar month (mid-May) is the most important date on the Buddhist religious calendar. It celebrates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Every year on this day, teachers from the local school take part in a candle-lit procession around the main chapel of a local temple. They carry with them flowers, three incense sticks and a lighted candle. They walk around the chapel three times in a clock-wise direction. Afterwards they listen to a sermon from a monk.
Loy Krathong, most picturesque of the Thai festivals is held on the full-moon of the 12th lunar month, usually the first week in November. Little candle-lit ‘krathongs’ are launched onto the water as an offering to Mother Water. No one apologizes for polluting the water but they do promise to do better in the future.