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Guide to Koh Samui

Updated on May 18, 2014

Welcome to Koh Samui

Koh Samui is a very popular holiday destination in the Gulf of Thailand. It belongs in Thailand’s top 4 destinations for foreign visitors to Thailand along with Bangkok, Changmai and Phuket. Many thousands of people visit the paradise island every year. They are drawn by the beautiful beaches, the excellent facilities and amenities, the wild nightlife, the wellness centers and the world class accommodation.

Quick Koh Samui facts

Here are some facts about Koh Samui

  • Koh Samui is Thailand’s second biggest island
  • It has a population of about 50,000
  • Land area: 228 km²
  • First populated fifteen centuries ago. Appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687
  • Economy: tourism, coconut farming and rubber farming
  • Tourism started in the 1970s
  • One of the few Thai islands with an airport

The Legend

Koh Samui was virtually cut off from the mainland of Thailand until the Twentieth Century. Legend has it that two intrepid backpackers made it to Koh Samui in 1971 and came back declaring the island to be ‘paradise’. Word soon got out on the traveler’s grapevine and very quickly Koh Samui developed a big tourist industry. Today several celebrities including David Beckham have luxury private residences on the island.


The administrative capital of the island is Nathon on the west coast. Prior to the building of Samui Airport in the north-east of the island this was the first place where visitors to the island arrived. Nowadays many people fly to Koh Samui. Nathon is not really a tourist hub as it doesn’t have a beach. Nathon is a good place to do souvenir shopping, change money, renew visas etc.

The real hub of the island is Chaweng. It is the most popular beach area in Koh Samui and has a large tourist orientated town built next to the beach. The east and north coast have the best beaches. The south and the west are less developed and often cater to families, pensioners and those looking to escape the crowds.

There’s plenty to do and see in Koh Samui by day and by night. It is also excellent for self-catering as there are a number of big supermarkets such as Big C and Tesco Lotus.

Luxury accommodation in Koh Samui


The biggest and best beach is Chaweng on the east coast. It has fine, powdery white sand. Next to the main beach of Chaweng is the smaller beach of Chaweng Noi. Chaweng is a sprawling town with many bars, restaurants, nightclubs, bike rental shops and places that deal in prostitution. The young and the old, backpackers and those seeking luxury all stay at the many resorts on the beaches and in the town. For many people there is nowhere better to be than Chaweng. By day there is the beach to enjoy and by night the allure of the bright lights and the free and easy atmosphere is hard to ignore.

There are a few bars in Chaweng that put on live music. Others have a ‘cool’ boutique feel and many are in the ‘beer bar’ mould that cover places like Pattaya like a rash.

Just off the coast of Chaweng there are a few corals to explore as well as a couple of islets worth snorkeling near.



Lamai is just south of Chaweng and is the second best beach on the island. It also has a town with lots of bars, restaurants and places of dubious repute. The beach at Lamai has the same fine sand as Chaweng and is excellent for year round swimming.

Lamai has some cheaper accommodation options than Chaweng. It is also the home of a Muay Thai stadium that shows bouts of female Muay Thai fighters.


Bophut is the trendiest and most fashionable area in Koh Samui. It has the popular Fisherman’s Village that still retains much of the original Chinese wooden shop architecture. Many of the bars have a back on stilts with views over the sea looking towards Koh Phangan.

Next to Fisherman’s village is a long stretch of beach with mostly mid-range and boutique resorts. Bophut attracts those looking for a good beach with plenty of amenities but without the seedy nature of Chaweng and Lamai.

Nearby at Bang Rak is the famous Big Buddha golden statue that stands 12 meters high.


Maenam is also on the north coast just west of Bophut. It has a long stretch of beach. The beach is not as nice as Bophut, Chaweng or Lamai but is less crowded. Maenam has a medium sized village that has plenty of bars, shops, travel agents and restaurants.

There are a number of budget places to stay in Maenam. It is an area that attracts backpackers looking for better facilities than those found on Koh Phangan. It is also popular with those who want to attend the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan as there are regular boats to Haad Rin from Maenam. There is also a speed boat service to Ban Tai in Koh Phangan.

Bang Kao beach

Other Beaches

Other famous beaches in Koh Samui include Taling Ngam, Tongsai, Big Buddha, Cheong Mon, Laem Set, Lipa Noi, Laem Set, Thong Tanote, Bang Kao and Phangka. These beaches are very quiet in comparison to Chaweng, Lamai and Bophut. They tend to have coarser sand and the sea gets deep slowly. Many people staying on these beaches tend to use the swimming pool more than the sea. The attraction of many of the lesser known beaches in Koh Samui is that the locals are often more friendly; there is a sense of connecting more with traditional island life in Thailand. Also these places often have some great local seafood places with some cheap and delicious dishes to try.

Activities in Koh Samui

Activities in Koh Samui

There is a great range of things to do in Koh Samui. Here is a list of a few them:

  • Learn how to scuba dive. There are several great dive spots near Koh Samui including Sail Rock and Angthong National Marine Park.
  • Near Bophut there is a go cart course with some powerful carts to try.
  • Koh Samui has a few golf courses including a full size course near Maenam called Santiburi Samui Country Club
  • There’s a small zoo with an aquarium, an aviary and a tiger show (not for those who have moral qualms about mistreating animals) at Laem Set.
  • Canopy Adventures in Chaweng have canopy zip lines from which you can see something of the Koh Samui forests.
  • Water sports include kite boarding, fishing and snorkeling.
  • There are a number of tennis courts on Koh Samui
  • Many hotels have fitness clubs. There are also some independent places offering weights, running machines etc.
  • There is a big waterfall called Na Muang at Hin Lad
  • Just about every beach has a place where you can get a Thai massage or spa treatment
  • There are some beautiful temples to visit at Big Buddha, Plai Laem and Bang Kao. The later has Wat Khun Aram that houses a mummified monk.

Wellness in Koh Samui

In counterpoint to the people who holiday in Koh Samui and enjoy nefarious activities there are many people who come to the island to detox and study yoga, Pilates, reiki and Tai Chi. Resorts such as the Kamalaya in Laem Set and the Samui Dhama Healing Center in Lipa Noi offer full wellness consultations, personally tailored programs and specialized treatments such as far infrared saunas. Koh Samui is about rejuvenation as well as hedonism.

The final words about Koh Samui

Although for many people Koh Samui is over-developed and lacking the pristine beauty found on such islands as Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, the island of Koh Samui remains a favorite with the mainstream of tourism. It has something to offer everyone. The weather is great nearly all year round and each beach has its own personality. It is easy for people to fall in love with Koh Samui. It is also easy to fall in love in Koh Samui, but that is another hub.


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    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Very informative,and I live in Thailand! I need to spend some time down in Koh Samui, there are a lot of things I would like there, Thanks, Peter


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