Koh Samui (koh meaning “island”) embodies a tropical island paradise for the 2 million-plus annual visitors. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, off the lower east coast of the Thai-Malay peninsula, it is the kingdom’s second most popular island destination. And for good reason.
It has long sandy beaches, inviting turquoise waters, coconut palm-filled lowlands, densely forested mountains, and that year-round tropical climate. Water sports, jungle adventures, entertainment and shopping for all ages, plus spa and wellness for every budget. Add in the famous Thai hospitality and world-renowned cuisine, and Samui has it all.
With the construction of roads on the island in the 1970s, backpackers started flocking here to hang out in beachside bamboo huts enjoying languid island life. Today, Samui’s tropical beach holiday options cater to all with accommodations from simple to high-end international resorts. Notably, the island has retained a more natural tropical feel due to a long-held requirement that buildings be no higher than the tallest coconut palm.
1. Beautiful Beaches
Koh Samui, at 13 miles long and 10 wide, is easy to navigate, with a ring road getting you to most corners. With 20-plus beaches around the island, the east and north coasts host the most popular selection.
Chaweng Beach on the central east coast is Samui’s most famous beach, and at 2.25 miles of fine sand and calm waters, its attraction is understandable. By day, sunbeds, friendly beach vendors, swimming, and water sports like jet skiing abound. As the evening arrives, sun loungers make way for fairy lights and lanterns as the beachfront resorts entice diners.
A short drive south is my favorite, Lamai. A gentle crescent-shaped beach just under 1.5 miles long and easily accessed by beachfront roads. Bring your own beach mats or rent a shaded beach chair or cozy bean bag at beachfront restaurants. Lamai is beach bliss with great swimming and a relaxed holiday feel. In the streets behind the beach are casual boutiques, laid-back bars and cafes, and low-key resorts.
Bo Phut Beach
On the island’s central north coast is the family-friendly Bo Phut beach with its coarse golden sands. Bo Phut is also home to Fisherman’s Village Walking Street Market on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, beachside bars and restaurants, and trendy boutiques.
Many visitors hire motorbikes and spend their days exploring the island’s lesser-known and glorious beaches.
2. Ang Thong National Marine Park
Though snorkeling opportunities are available from some of Samui’s beaches and headlands, Ang Thong National Marines Park is the best option for exploring these tropical waters. Situated 17 miles west of Ko Samui, this marine national park comprises 42 islands. Visitors can experience towering limestone cliffs, thick jungles, white sand beaches, waterfalls, hidden coves, and marine lakes. It’s a 35-square-mile area of rich biodiversity.
Activities to expect when on the highly popular day trips to Ang Thong include snorkeling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, and simply relaxing.
Pro Tip: With numerous tours on offer, I recommend choosing a long-established, safety-first operator who places guests’ comfort and overall tour experience as their top priority. One such company is 100 Degrees East, and we loved our day at Ang Thong with them. Restricting guest numbers to 12 on their 35-foot twin-engine boats means space and comfort. And with a crew-to-guest ratio of 1:3, the staff’s attention was outstanding, in and out of the water. The quality of equipment, snacks, and lunch provided by the English-speaking crew added to the overall experience.
3. Koh Samui Boat Charter
A collection of islands newly opened to day visitors is visible from the southern end of Samui. You could negotiate with local fishermen to take you to the islands on his long-tail boat, but I recommend an outing on a classic Thai wooden yacht with Ko Samui Boat Charter.
Snorkel the coral reefs off Koh Taen and savor the onboard chef’s freshly prepared Thai-fusion lunch. Visit Koh Rap and feed the resident deer, relax on a secluded beach, loll in the clean, clear waters, or head to the island’s bar for a cooling beverage. The return journey along Samui’s southern coastline provides lasting memories of this tropical paradise.
4. Samui Elephant Sanctuary
Elephants have long been part of the Kingdom of Siam’s history, leading kings and armies into battles. To this day, Thai people hold the elephant in the highest reverence. Elephants were used in logging Northern Thailand’s teak forests until logging was banned in 1989. Those elephants were then used for trekking and other tourist-related activities.
Wild elephants continue to be captured, broken, and used for tourism or breeding programs. However, in recent years trends have changed. Additionally, international visitors have moved away from riding and elephant bathing scenarios, where elephants are chained and there for the visitors’ “entertainment.”
Samui Elephant Sanctuary is where rescued elephants are provided with a chains-free home and can live the remainder of their lives being elephants and released from the need to amuse, entertain, or transport people. Ethical sanctuaries like this allow visitors to observe, feed, and be near the elephants while these aging giants live in peace.
We loved our afternoon making and feeding nutritious snacks to the herd as we wandered with knowledgeable staff around the sanctuary’s bushland, learning about these rescued animals’ sad backstories. Your tour admission fee goes directly to the feed, upkeep, and medical care for the now-retired elephants. This is humanity in action in the best possible way.
5. Tamarind Springs Forest Spa
Thailand’s ancient massage and natural therapy traditions are well known, and most international visitors experience this first-hand when traveling in the Land of Smiles. Pampering options seem endless, from the beach and street-side massage parlors to high-end day spas in the island’s hotels and resorts.
Tamarind Springs Forest Spa is a must-do when looking for therapeutic pampering. Since opening in 1998, it has achieved international recognition, with some heralding it as one of Asia’s most unique and outstanding destination day spas.
Tucked away on a forested hillside in Lamai, Tamarind Springs is a stunningly beautiful green hideaway. The facilities are integrated into the giant granite rock formations native to the site. For example, steam rooms are built between 20-foot tall rocks that have kissed together at their skyward tips, while walkways and plunge pools also utilize the natural granite formations of the site.
Pro Tip: Try the 4-hour Forest Dreaming package. You spend the first hour and a half drifting between the steam caves and plunge pools, which are interspersed with self-administered organic body scrubs. Then comes your choice of massage (2.5 hours) in one of the open-air forest pavilions. Pampering while surrounded and ensconced in nature? Bliss!
6. X-Quad Samui ATV Tours
Getting atop Samui’s highest hills and close to its jungle vegetation, plus experiencing incredible panoramic island vistas and a visit to a hidden waterfall, is what X-Quad Samui ATV Tours promised, and they delivered.
With a 1.5-hour beginner’s tour and a 4-hour mountain top tour for experienced Quad bikers, anybody 12 years of age and above can experience the more natural side of Samui’s hinterland, with the adventure of Quad biking as a glorious bonus.
You can pilot your own vehicle or buddy up as we (Quad bike newbies) did. The hilly trails were on wide dirt roads surrounded by green. Attendants at the front and back kept the group together, allowing for a leisurely pace while two “outriders” scooted alongside overseeing Quad bikers.
We 60-something first-time Quad bikers loved this adventure and thoroughly recommend it to those keen to add some more kicks to their holiday.
7. Beach Clubs
Beach clubs are much more than restaurants or beach bars with sunbeds. They differentiate themselves by offering guests the experience of enjoying a beach day while combining luxury, comfort, design, music, good food, delicious cocktails, and excellent service. Here are two Samui beach clubs I can personally recommend.
On the island’s north, Chi Samui sees itself as Samui’s premier beach bar and restaurant, serving modern, fresh cuisine and hand-crafted cocktails. Its 82-foot saltwater infinity pool with a swim-up bar fronts Bangrak Beach. Spend your day lazing on the beanbags, sunbeds, loveseats, and sunloungers, hang out on the swings, or party into the night with the DJ’s vibe. Their new cannabis-infused experiences may add an extra buzz to your day. Open daily from 10 a.m. till late.
Nikki Beach Club
On Samui’s western shoreline — ideal for stunning sunsets — Nikki Beach Club traces its roots to the original Florida beach club of the same name. Now with beach clubs across the Med, Caribbean, Oman, and Miami, Nikki Beach Clubs have been dubbed the “Sexiest Place on Earth.” Guests at Nikki Beach Club Samui can relax on day beds around the pool and by the beach while sipping signature cocktails and dining on Nikki’s globally inspired menu.
8. Coco Tam’s
A day out and about experiencing Samui’s delights is often made complete with well-crafted cocktails on or near the beach. Sun setting, a balmy tropical night descending, friends or loved ones at your side, and attentive staff keeping the drinks flowing. One beachside bar in Bo Phut’s Fishermans Village has turned sunset drinks into a must-do experience.
Coco Tam’s extends onto the sand each afternoon with rows of large comfy bean bags and low occasional tables. Mixologists turn out the drinks while cool DJ house beats set the relaxed, linger-longer mood. Sunken into your bean bag, toes in the sand is the ideal way to enjoy your sundowners. Stay (or return after dinner) for the nightly fire show.
9. Supattra Thai Dining
Many consider Thai cuisine a favorite, and it is recognized accordingly on the international stage. From street-side vendors, local family-run noodle shops, and beachside eateries to upmarket restaurants, it’s all available on Samui. Add to those options cafes and restaurants specializing in international cuisines from Japan to Europe and beyond.
Given that depth of offering, it’s challenging to create a list of recommended dining. So instead of plowing into a Samui dining list, I want to highlight one local restaurant that was a happy surprise.
Supattra Thai Dining is a small, unassuming alfresco restaurant in Bangrak, open evenings only from Tuesday through Saturday. Lady Thai Chef Supattra helms the kitchen and produces an ala carte daily blackboard menu focused on the quality fresh seafood and ingredients she has sourced from trusted local suppliers and markets. Partner Thomas, originally from Austria, looks after the service team and has curated an inventive wine list, including several natural, biodynamic Demeter-certified wines.
What To Order At Supattra Thai Dining
Though seafood is dominant, meats and vegetarian dishes are also available. Regularly available signature dishes include blue crab in yellow southern curry with betel leaves and the Australian free-range lamb with massaman curry sauce. Reservations are essential.
Getting There And When To Visit
Samui is Thailand’s second largest island, and it sits in the lower Gulf of Thailand. Surat Thani, with its rail and bus connections and a major regional airport, is its nearest mainland city. Access to the island is easy, either by a 45-minute direct flight from Bangkok or ferry from the mainland port of Donsak in Surat Thani province.
Samui’s 31-mile ring road makes navigating the island easy, with car and motorbike rentals available for those wanting independence. Taxis and local transport called Songteaw are readily available in all the main tourist areas, and your hotel concierge will quickly arrange one as needed.
Thanks to its year-round tropical climate, you can visit Samui throughout the year. There are both dry and rainy seasons, although there are usually plenty of hot, perfect sunny days, even during the wetter months. Any rainfall usually comes in heavy showers that clear quickly.
The best (and most popular) time to visit is between December and March when the weather is most settled (72 to 82 degrees), and ocean water visibility is excellent. April to September are the hottest months, with daily averages ranging from 75 to 91 degrees. October to early December sees the most rain, with daily average temperatures around 80 degrees.
Editor’s Note: Planning your trip? Don’t miss Michael’s 3 Meaningful Travel Experiences I Loved In Northern Thailand.