Ko Samui, Thailand: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Ko Samui is an island in the Gulf of Thailand located at the southern region of the country. It is the one of the largest islands in Thailand that has an area of about 247 square kilometers. The island is a part of the Samui Archipelago with its two neighboring islands; Ko Pha Ngan, the home of the Full Moon Party, and Ko Tao, the smallest island in the archipelago. Ko Samui is a cosmopolitan melting pot that attracts many tourists and travelers that either spend a budgeted stay in the simple beach side bungalows for a month or two or spend a luxurious stay in one of the luxury resort or villa over the weekend. The island features some of the best developed beaches with a great number of accommodation, resorts, bars, restaurants, and shops. Despite its liveliness, the island managed to have a relaxed atmosphere. This makes it a unique magnet for everyone who wants to have an ideal vacation.
Ko Samui is blessed with world-famous beaches with fine white sands and crystal clear waters. There are some beaches that play host to nightly parties and some beaches that offer peace and relaxation. The majority offer everything you could want or need from a day by the sea. The most popular and commercialized beaches are the Chaweng Beach and the Lamai Beach.
Chaweng is Ko Samui's busiest and biggest town that has became one of the island's best beaches. The beach has a majestic five kilometer long crescent that is bordered by rocky headlands. The Chaweng Beach offers a great spot for swimming and other water sports like diving and snorkeling. During both summer and winter seasons, the beach is packed with a number of tourists who want to experience the fun, holiday atmosphere of Chaweng Beach.
Being the most commercialized spot in Ko Samui, Chaweng Beach features a lot of accommodation and resorts like the Chaweng Regent Beach Resort that offers 16 Deluxe Villas, 12 Deluxe Rooms, 63 Deluxe Regency Rooms, and 24 Premier Rooms. Aside from the great number of accommodation that can be spotted here, Chaweng is also a nightlife central with bars and restaurants that caters to everyone's cup of tea. Some of the best night spots are the Soi Reggae and the Soi Green Mango that feature bars, pubs, and dance clubs. It is also the home of the Paris Follies Cabaret that features three shows nightly with some 20 performers that bring out their inner female with songs, dance numbers, and extravagant costumes. The Chaweng Beach is also a shopping hub. Some of the popular spots are the Central Festival Samui, the latest shopping haven featuring a plethora of brand-named boutiques, and the Walking Street, a riot of items and food stalls at an affordable price.
There are other great things and sights to explore in Chaweng. These are bungee jumping, the Samui Shooting Sport, watching the Muay Thai at the Petchbuncha Boxing Stadium, the football golf, the crazy golf, and attending the Thai cooking classes. It is also the home of the Wat Khao Hua Jook, a temple that is believed to contain a replica of the Buddha's footprint.
The Lamai Beach is the second largest resort area after Chaweng. Compared to the bustling Chaweng Beach, Lamai Beach is more peaceful and more tranquil, but still offers plenty accommodation, resorts, shopping options, and some tourist sites to explore. In addition, there are cheaper tourist facilities in Lamai than Chaweng. The beach itself is considered to be the most beautiful one in the island.
There are accommodation and resort in Lamai Beach from the simple and less expensive accommodation to the high-end accommodation. One of the most booked hotels in Lamai Beach is the Banyan Tree Samui that is nestled on the hillside of a small peninsula with 78 all-pool villas that boasts its charming Thai contemporary style. The pool villas are categorized as Garden, Ocean, Sanctuary, Hillcrest, Royal Banyan, Grand Sanctuary, and Presidential. In terms of nightlife, Lamai hosts a good number of cool bars and clubs, although its not as bustling as Chaweng. A popular spot is the Central Lamai Beer Bars Plaza with a dozen of beer bars with dance poles. On the other hand, shopping is also a highlight in Lamai. It's ever popular spots for shopping are the Lamai Night Plaza, which looks like a mini version of the Bangkok's Patpong Night Market, and the weekly Walking Street, which is held every Sunday on Lamai Beach Road that is closed off to traffic and is full of stalls selling clothes, handicrafts and local street food. Both of these shopping spots are offering goods at lower prices.
Other than the beach life, there are other attractions in Lamai that are worth the visit. Some of these are the Hin Tai and the Hin Yai; rock formations that look like male and female genitalia. There are also places for recreational activities like the Coco Splash Adventure & Water Park, the Samui Aquarium & Tiger Show, the Lamai Boxing Stadium where lady fights are organized, the Hua Thanon; a traditional fishing fleet. Lamai is also a home to some temples like the Wat Khunaram and the Pagoda Khao Chedi.
Aside from Chaweng and Lamai, there are other popular beaches that Ko Samui boasts. Bophut is one of the beaches that also has a lot of attractions. It is mainly two places; the Bophut Beach, one of the oldest places on the island, and the Fisherman's Village, the most elegant and well-preserved place on the island. There are also dive shops in the area that offer scuba lessons or day dives to sites in Ang Thong Marine Park. Other attractions include the Samui Crocodile Farm and the Samui Go-kart.
The Maenam Beach is Ko Samui's last predominantly backpacker beach because of its resorts that are located at the end of long rambling pathways. However, it is still a place for budgeted travelers to stay for a few weeks or months. There is also a five star luxury accommodation in Santiburi Resort for tourists who want to have a worry-free stay in the beach. Some of Maenam's attractions are the Samui Canopy Adventures, the Arun@Samui Cooking School, and activities like kite surfing.
The Big Buddha Beach is also one of Ko Samui's fastest developing areas. It is the home of the island's most popular attraction; the Big Buddha Temple. Aside from the temple, the beach itself is also a tourist attraction. It is a long sweeping beach that is lined with cheap to mid-price bungalow operations, dive shops, restaurants, and some bars.
Other beaches to check out in Ko Samui are the Taling Ngam; the most remote spot on the island, the Choeng Mon Beach that is made up of a series of bays on the north-western tip of the island, the Hua Thanon and Bang Kao; the least developed parts of Samui with a few resorts, the Silver Beach; a 250 meter long tropical beach paradise set in a charming little bay, and the Thong Krut; a peaceful shallow-water bay where you can charter long-tail boats out to neighboring islands.
Aside from the stunning beaches, Ko Samui has a lot to offer in terms of attractions; both natural and cultural attractions. There are waterfalls, rock formations, man-made attractions, temples, and recreational sites. Ko Samui is also full of fun-filled activities like water sports and other activities that can boost one's adrenaline.
Within the sight of Ko Samui is the Ang Thong National Marine Park. From Ko Samui, there are boat trips to the national park. It is an archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand with a protected area of more than 100 square kilometers. It features towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, fertile mangroves, waterfalls, hidden coves and lakes, and exotic wildlife and sea creatures.
There are a lot of natural attractions in Ko Samui. The island also offers a majestic set of two cascades; the Na Muang Waterfalls. The first waterfall, Nang Muang 1, flows down to a natural pool to plunge in and escape the heat. A 10-minute walk further up the mountain leads to Ko Samui's most beautiful waterfall; the Na Muang 2. Between Na Muang 1 and 2 is the Na Muang Safari Park. It features elephant rides, monkey shows, and other entertainment that are mostly enjoyed by children. This waterfall area offers activities like swimming, hiking, exploring, and picnicking. Another natural attraction is the natural geological formations; the Hin Ta and the Hin Yai Rocks. These are also known as the Grandpa and Grandma rocks, which look like male and female genitalia. These rock formations are located near the beach of Lamai.
Ko Samui is also homing several religious architectures. The Big Buddha Temple, also known as the Wat Phra Yai locally, is the most well-known landmark in the island. It's 12 meter high golden Buddha can be seen from several kilometers away. Inside the temple grounds are shrines and other small ornate Buddhas. There is also a small market that sells lucky charms and souvenirs. Another temple is the Wat Plai Laem. It is located near the Big Buddha Temple. This is a colorful temple that features an 18-arm image of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, and a large white Chinese Buddha set on the lake. Other temples are located at Lamai such as the Wat Khunaram. The Wat Khunaram is the last residence of Koh Samui’s Mummified Monk; Luang Pordaeng. He died over 20 years ago and his body was placed in a specially designed glass case that is displayed in the temple even the body shows little sign of decay. Other religious sites in Lamai are the Pagoda Khao Chedi and the Laem Sor Pagoda.
Other places that are worth a visit are the Samui Aquarium & Tiger Show in Lamai, the Secret Buddha Garden in the hills of Ko Samui, the Crocodile Farm in Bophut, the Samui Butterfly Garden, and the Snake Farm in Baan Taling Ngam.
Being one of the largest islands in the country, Ko Samui offers many choices when it comes to activities and enjoying the rest of the island. It is a hive of activity. There is a great number of water sports and other recreational activities in the island that are enjoyed by most of the tourists.
Being a land of beaches, Ko Samui has a wide range of water sports like diving and snorkeling. Scuba diving is also a main activity in the island offering clear blue waters and amazing marine life. It is a popular destination for experienced divers and beginners, especially the neighboring island of Ko Tao. There is a wide range of dive shops offering all levels of instruction. Snorkeling in clear water to encounter the ocean life is also best enjoyed in its sister island; Ko Tao. Kayaking to the nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park is also a must-do. Kite surfing or kite boarding is a popular activity in Maenam Beach. It is an excellent location that is sheltered by Ko Pha Ngan to the north with the perfect wind conditions from November to March. Fishing trips are also available in the island on a traditional Thai fishing trawler.
Out of the water activities are also enjoyed in Ko Samui. These activities are the elephant trekking, the Sky Fox Tree Top Cable Ride that has seven separate stations, the Samui Canopy Adventures that offers a day of fun and discovery in Maenam hinterland rain forest, the go-karting at the Samui Go-Kart, attending Thai Cooking class, and a Safari Tour in a 4WD.
If planning to arrive by plane, the Ko Samui Airport caters daily flights from Bangkok. It is a private airport owned by Bangkok Airways; the only airline that services to Ko Samui for a long time ago. A one-way ticket may cost 3,000 baht to 4,500 baht if purchased via reservation and may cost double if via walk-in purchase. There are also daily flights from Phuket that cost 2,000 baht to 3,000 baht for a one-way ticket. In addition, there are two daily flights from Chiang Mai. Alternative airports include the Surat Thani Airport and the Chumphon Airport on the mainland that connects to Ko Samui via ferry.
It is not difficult to get around Ko Samui due to the modest but adequate range of transport options. The island also adopted most of the transport options common in the other tourist destinations in the country except tuk-tuks and a formal bus service. Songthaew is also available in Ko Samui. It is a pick-up truck with a roof covering two benches fitted in the back. One can flag down a songthaew anywhere because there are no official bus stops. It is the cheapest form of transportation in the island with the cost of 20 baht per person depending on the distance, but fare will never exceed 60 baht. There are also taxis in Ko Samui that are uniformly yellow and maroon. These are certainly the most comfortable form of transportation with well maintained and air-conditioned vehicles. However, this is an expensive transport option. There are cheaper form of taxis; motorbike taxis. It can be distinguished by looking for the riders in brightly-colored vests.
Other options are car and bicycle rentals. Car rental is among the safest, most comfortable and most convenient means of getting around available, however, it does come in an expensive cost. Most of these can cost at around 2,000 baht per day. On the other hand, bicycle rental is a cheaper way in getting around the island. This may cost about 80 baht per day. Although this is the slowest and tiring option, this is a popular way of touring the island that is eco-friendly.