Famed for its wild nightlife and even wilder natural beauty, Koh Samui is Thailand’s third-largest island set 80km from the mainland town of Surat Thani. It’s a major tourist destination in the high season but calms down during the rest of the year leaving resident expats to enjoy the weather, the beaches, and all the island has to offer. Please take your time to read our comprehensive Koh Samui guide so you can find out everything about the island’s history, culture, and atmosphere.
Koh Samui Overview
Koh Samui is a magic mix of past, present and hoped-for future, from top-class restaurants in luxury spa resorts through packed, rowdy bars and beaches to isolated villages and tiny bays offering seclusion and serenity along with a genuine welcome from local people. Its beauty may be compromised in places, but in others, it’s still intact and hopefully always will be. Chaweng and Lamai beaches are party central, with endless, noisy nightlife spurred on by alcohol and loud music, but they’re only two sandy strands on an island with a very long coastline. This Koh Samui guide will point you towards the best places of interest on the island.
On the northwest tip is secluded Laem Yai, with equally un-crowded Mae Nam and quiet Choeng Mon on the northern coast. The interior of the island is lovely, boasting lakes, rivers, waterfalls, lush jungles and lots of wildlife. For those looking to stay, a variety of homes from condos to villas are found in the quieter areas as well as close to the two main beaches. The coastal ring-road makes getting around relatively straightforward, and property prices at present represent good value for money. Regular ferries connect the island with the mainland.
Koh Samui Population
Over 62,000 people live on the island, with the vast majority involved in its tourist industry serving 1.5 million visitors a year. The development of the island along with a massive increase in its population over the last 50 years runs parallel to its development as a tourist hub.
Koh Samui History
No comprehensive Koh Samui guide would be complete without talking about the history of Koh Samui. From the 5th century until 1970, Koh Samui was a remote, agricultural outpost in the Gulf of Thailand supporting an isolated, independent community of farmers, fishermen and their families. Little communication with the outside world took place and there were no roads, with cross-island journeys involving treks through the central region’s mountainous jungles. Coconuts and rubber were the only sources of income until the islanders’ world changed with the arrival of the first backpackers.
The word spread fast, with the island quickly becoming the hippy destination of a lifetime, and the seal was set on the island’s future as a holiday paradise for strangers from unfamiliar cultures. Economic success followed fast, but so did changes to the traditional environment and the ancient culture of the island peoples. With the change came conflict between the islanders, incomers from the mainland cashing in on tourism and foreigners from far-off lands. Nowadays, anything goes, but part of the island’s unique heritage is gone forever, replaced by economic success and hordes of temporary visitors. Even so, Koh Samui in the off-season is still a tropical paradise.
Koh Samui Food & Dining
If you want to know more about the island’s dining scene, our Koh Samui guide has all bases covered. Southern Thai food is unique to the region and gives exciting alternatives to the cuisine of the rest of the country. It’s gastronomy of contrasts, with influences and flavours from many sources including India, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East. Islamic dishes are common, with marinated chicken, saffron rice and the well-known massaman curries all popular staples.
Fresh seafood is everyone’s favourite, with fish curries such as keang luang strongly flavoured with the garlicky sato bean. As befits an ever-popular holiday island, the tourist hubs on Koh Samui have a good choice of fast foods, international eateries and street foods as well as recently-opened upscale diners in newly-built luxury hotels.
Samui Transport (airport, trains etc)
Koh Samui’s airport is the most convenient port of arrival on the island and was built as a private facility by low-cost carrier Bangkok Airways. The airline offers flights from Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai on a regular basis, and Thai Airways flies to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Ground transportation to Chaweng and other beach destinations is by minibus, licensed taxi or hotel shuttle. Travel to and around the island’s coastal resorts by ferry or boat is an attractive option, with ferries from Surat Thani on the mainland taking under two hours.
Getting around the island by taxi involves negotiating a fare, as drivers have a strange reluctance to use their meters even although they are licensed to provide a public taxi service. Half the quoted amount is as good as it gets. The converted pick-up truck songthaews run around the beaches and resort areas and across the island’s interior, and for longer journeys, the price should also be subject to negotiation. Motorcycles and bicycles can be purchased or rented, and self-drive gives the best access to anywhere on the island.
Weather and climate
Tropical islands display tropical weather patterns, and Koh Samui is no exception with its tropical monsoon climate classification. Warm to hot and humid for much of the year, Koh Samui is actually drier than Phuket and Southern Thailand in general. The rainiest month by far is November, with October close behind and the rest of the year seeing regular, brief rain showers of an hour’s duration at most. The dry season falls from February through April, and daytime temperatures peak at around 35°C between April and August. When you need to find the best time fo the year to visit the island, please take heed of the details in this Koh Samui guide.
Koh Samui Family Attractions
Koh Samui’s quieter beach resorts are perfect for a day out with the family, with soft, white sand, safe bathing and snorkeling all on offer. The CocoSplash waterpark on Lamai Beach gives family fun and entertainment sure to keep kids happy, and Bophut’s go-cart track is well worth a visit. The Samui Snake Farm is fascinating, as are the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom and the Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo. A boat trip to a nearby island such as Koh Phangan opens up a natural world of wonders as well as deserted beaches and bays.
Koh Samui Sports and Leisure Facilities
As with all Thailand’s beach resorts, watersports are high on the agenda of energetic things to do in your leisure time. Koh Samui has it all, from sailing, kite-surfing, diving, windsurfing, kayaking, jet-skiing, waterskiing and more.
For land-based fun, elephant trekking, horse riding, mountain biking, trekking, and walking are all here. Golf is taken very seriously on Koh Samui, with its beautiful courses that have sea views from the greens. Several gyms, Muay Thai camps and sports clubs are great for making new friends as well as staying fit, and tennis, badminton, bowling, martial arts and fishing expeditions make sure your leisure time is well-spent.
As you can see from this comprehensive Koh Samui guide, there is so much history and culture attached to this jaw-dropping paradise island. Whether you are here on holiday or live in Samui, this guide will give you some invaluable info to swear by.