- Thailand’s third largest island (located on the east coast), with a population of ~50,000.
- A paradise beach destination with sandy beaches and coral reefs, known for its robust coconut industry. Attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year.
- Literally translates to “Safe Haven”
- Nickname: Coconut Island
- Currency: Thai Baht (THB).
- Spoken languages: Thai. English is also widely spoken.
- Best time to visit: from January to March (driest time of the year).
- Arriving via airport: taxis tend to be a rip-off (300 – 600 THB); booking through SamuiTaxi or your hotel can minimize problems. Otherwise, be prepared to negotiate down. Air-conditioned minivans are 120 THB per ride, but are not the best option if you have a lot of luggage.
WHERE TO STAY
Most new arrivals stay in Chaweng, as that’s where the action is. Lamai is a quieter area, but has a red-light district vibe (it’s also known for having some of the best Muay Thai gyms in the country). For a quieter, more upmarket scene, head to Bophut. The most beautiful sunsets and natural beauty are to be found, not surprisingly, at the quietest part of the island – base yourself in remote Taling Ngam.
- Hop in one of the many songthaews (adapted from a pick-up truck) that circle the island for 60 THB. After dark, many of these function like taxis.
- Taxi drivers on Samui are extortion artists, but they can make sense sometimes for groups. Most will refuse to use the meter and may even whip out bogus “menus” with fixed prices. Bargaining can usually yield a ride for 300 – 400 THB.
- Motorbikes can be rented for 150 – 700 THB per day, depending on the size. Be careful on the road – the accident rate is high among tourists. Also, beware of scams. Take photos of the bike beforehand, and if possible, get a recommendation from someone you trust.
- Bicycle rentals are also available.
KOH SAMUI NIGHTLIFE
- Drinking age is 20 (rarely enforced), and there is no last call (at most venues).
- Hip/local scene: Surprisingly few trendy Thai establishments exist here, but they can be found sprinkled around Chaweng if you keep your eyes peeled.
- Out of town/random crowd: the parties are in Chaweng. Ark Bar is right on the beach, with the usual whiskey buckets and fire dancers. Later on, everyone heads to Green Mango Street, where several disco clubs keep it bumping for the party crowd. Reggae Pub, right on the lake, is also very popular.
- Every town has its share of pubs, live music venues, and girlie bars.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks, two “anatomically-suggestive” rock formations that are a must-see to Thai tourists (and now all tourists), offer a delightful introduction to Thai humor.
- Nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park, a dazzling collection of 42 islands, provided the setting for the cult novel, “The Beach,” though Kho Phi Phi was used for shooting much of the film. It’s a great place for hiking, snorkeling, and exploring.
- Be sure to stop by the Big Buddha, a 15-meter statue that has become more tourist attraction than holy site.
- Where better to walk than on one of the many white sand beaches? A great start to every morning…and every evening.
- Unfortunately, there are few places that make for a safe and convenient walk. If anything, weaving your way across town is a great way to experience the sheer madness that is Thailand. Just pick a direction and go!
- Don’t listen to the naysayers who insist Samui is overdeveloped and overdone. While environmental concerns are very real, the island is large, and much of the “old Samui” still lingers if you just make it a point to get away from the main drag.
- If you’re comfortable on a motorbike, exploring the dirt roads that crisscross the interior mountain range offers a chance for adventure. Check out the freshwater lagoons, endless groves of palm trees, and stunning views over nearby Ang Thong and Koh Phangan.
- Dangerous areas: avoid empty beaches at night, especially in popular areas, as crimes do occur (some violent). If you are riding a motorbike, stay vigilant on the road – and don’t drink and ride!
RECOMMENDED KOH SAMUI GUIDE BOOKS
- The Koh Samui Guide: Your Invaluable Island Guide
- Thailand Islands: a guide to Thailands best islands
- Fodor’s Thailand
Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days