ONE of the most popular holiday destinations in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui also remains one of the finest. From family-friendly resorts to luxe boutique getaways, the island has accommodation and activities to suit travelers of all ages and budgets. What’s more, despite the rapid development, the island still retains its natural beauty – long, sweeping beaches; lush tropical flora; azure waters – a real slice of paradise.
Until the late 20th century Koh Samui was home to a small community engaged primarily in fishing and harvesting coconuts. Tourists didn’t start arriving until the late 1970s, when the construction of roads opened up the island to all. Hotel development soon followed, and Koh Samui quickly established itself as the place to visit when holidaying in Thailand.
Visit today and you can opt to stay in one of nine different beach areas, each with its own charm. Here’s a round up of some of the best experiences the island has to offer.
Words CHUTINANTA BOONYAMARN
Photographs TAT and various hotels and restaurants
EXPLORE: CHAWENG BEACH
EASILY the most popular stretch of beach on the island, Chaweng features 6km of powdery white sand and the kind of crystal clear waters you thought only existed in the movies. Big international hotel chains, restaurants serving food from all corners of the globe, vibrant markets, exciting nightlife – Chaweng has it all. Don’t miss a trip to The Larder Koh Samui and KC Beach Club & Pool Villas Koh Samui (see dining). Heading to the beach for sunrise and sunset is also a must. Breathtaking.
NO visit to Koh Samui is complete without a trip to this picture-perfect marine park, whose sheer limestone cliffs, hidden lagoons, white-sandy beaches and dense vegetation never fail to impress. Located approximately 40km northwest of Koh Samui, Ang Thong Marine Natural Park is an archipelago of over 40 islands which seem to rise out of nowhere. The area, which contains abundant exotic marine life, is the perfect place for scuba diving and snorkeling. Hikers, meanwhile, can strap on their boots to explore the impressive limestone caves. Visiting Ang Thong Marine Park is fairly straightforward as several tour agencies provide tours daily. Consult your hotel for the best available options.
HOME to a giant 12 metre-high golden Buddha statue, Koh Samui’s most famous landmark is worth the trip for the views of the surrounding beaches alone. You’ll also get an insight into local culture, as Thais flock to the temple daily to make merit. Built in 1972, the temple is located on Koh Phan, a small island connected to Samui by a short causeway three kilometres north of Samui International Airport. At the entrance of the temple you’ll find many vendors selling snacks and refreshments, souvenirs, and items for making merit (fresh fruits, incense, flowers). Wander up the staircase to the statue, though, and things are much more serene. Just don’t forget to take your camera!
The temple is open daily, including evenings.Admission is free, and donations are welcome.
ROCKS shaped like human genitalia were always going to become a big tourist attraction – think of the photo opportunities! – so it’s no surprise that this is the case at Hin Ta and Hin Yai, or Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks, which don’t leave much to the imagination. Located between Lamai (the second most popular beach after Chaweng) and Hua Thanon, the site also has stalls selling coconut caramel, a local delicacy that’s well worth a try.
MANY resorts and restaurants on Samui stock the locally produced Magic Alambic Rum, but the only place you can buy a bottle for yourself is at the distillery. Tucked away in a little peaceful world of its own, down in Ban Thale in the southern coast of Samui, this small distillery brews five flavours of rum – natural (sugar cane), lemon, orange, pineapple, and coconut – all made using locally grown, high quality sugar cane. Tours are often conducted during the sugar cane season, but if you miss these don’t worry – you can still visit the distillery to enjoy rum and snacks at its small onsite bar.
Magic Alambic Rum Distillery. 44/5 Moo 3, T.numuang, Koh Samui.
OWNED by ceramic artist Khun Khanchai Wirattanakul, Cera Ceramic Studio is a veritable treasure trove of high quality ceramics, ranging from porcelains with an antique finish, to modern, symmetrical pieces inspired by nature. There’s also a wide selection of plates, ashtrays, cups, mugs, and bowls, all fired at 1,250 degrees within the onsite kilns for a rich, earthy finish. Want to take home a unique gift? Roll up your sleeves and join one of the daily workshops – great value at just B3,000.
Cera Ceramic Studio. 68/25 Moo 5,
Tambon Mae Nam Koh Samui. Tel: 077 247 805 www.cera-thailand.com
HAVE A BREAK: LAD KOH VIEWPOINT
ONE of the most popular and accessible viewpoints on the island is located on the main coastal road between Chaweng and Lamai. Take a short walk from the car park and you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the Gulf of Thailand – and a great excuse to buy some of the coconut ice cream peddled by the nearby vendors.
KOH Samui is a foodie’s paradise, offering everything from delicious seafood served on the street, to gourmet creations served in five-star resorts. Listed here are just a few of our favourites.
LOOKING for a down to earth eatery serving simple but exceptional food? Head to The Larder. Opened in 2012 by Executive Chef Martin Selby, together with Food & Beverage aficionado Damian Ahern, this no nonsense eatery serves European comfort food with international influences. Highlights include Ducky Fuzz (a duck breast and liver pate with red onion and balsamic jam, served with crisp bread), Miso Fine (a foie gras miso and black truffle broth) and The Lion’s Den (a seared lamb tenderloin that comes with black pudding, potato croquette smoked celeriac, and grilled courgette).
Open daily 12pm-11pm. 9/144 Moo 2, Chaweng Beach.
Tel: 077 601 259 www.thelardersamui.com
The Shack Bar & Grill
OPENED in 2003, this little steakhouse set in an open-sided wooden cabin in Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village serves up a selection of grilled and barbecued meats, Tex-Mex delicacies, and international wines. Highlights include Australian prime rib eye steak (served with a choice of sauces and a side), Lamb chops (with salad and sautéed potato), and The Shack Ribs. Live blues music adds to the restaurant’s charm.
Open daily 5.30pm-11pm. 88/3 Moo 1, Tambon Bo Phut.
Tel: 087 264 6994 www.theshackgrillsamui.com
9 Gems Lounge Restaurant
FABULOUS views and gourmet cuisine set the scene for a great night of dining at this classy villa-turned-restaurant in Bo Phut. Sit out on the terrace, overlooking Chaweng Beach and Chaweng Lake, or at a marble-topped table within the restaurant’s minimalist interior, and indulge in a food menu that offers a decent selection of local and Italian favourites, tapas, and homemade ice creams and pastries. Special tasting menus start at B2,600 for three courses.
141/190 Moo 6, Bo Phut Rd. Tel: 077 256 125 www.9gemssamui.com
SUMPTUOUS brunches, regular pool parties, creative cocktails concocted by resident mixologists – for a superior drinking experience on Samui head straight for one of the following beach clubs.
LOCATED at the northern end of Lamai Beach, this chic and modern holiday resort boasts 39 spacious suites, stunning private pool penthouses and private pool villas. Another big draw is its beachfront Ocean Club, where patrons who look like they’ve walked straight out of a Summer Season fashion shoot sip cocktails from the comfort of sun loungers and private cabanas while DJs spin atmospheric beats. The Sunday Sessions, a lavish Sunday brunch featuring all kinds of international gourmet cuisines, at B1,590++ per adult and B799++ for kids under 12, is a must visit, as is the T.G.I.M (Thank God It’s Monday) promotion, which offers three hours of free-flow bubbly, beer, wine and spirits for just B999++ per person.
Access to the Ocean Club for non-residents is B1,000 per person (this fee is waived if you spend more than B1,000 on food or drink). 176/34 Moo 4, Tambon Maret. Tel: 077 458 100 www.beachrepublic.com
OVERLOOKING the waters of Lipa Noi Beach, Koh Samui’s version of the world-renowned Nikki Beach brand lives up to its reputation by serving exquisite food and superior cocktails, as well as hosting regular parties featuring top international DJs. Best of all, there’s a resort too, so when you’ve had your fill of celeb-style treatment on the sands you can venture back to your own private villa and to enjoy a bottle of champagne on the balcony. Other highlights at the club include regular movie screenings, seafood barbecues, and a sumptuous Sunday brunch. Full details can be found on the resort’s website.
96/3 Moo, Lipa Noi. Tel: 077 914 500 www.nikkibeachthailand.com
KC Beach Club & Pool Villas Koh Samui
THIS popular resort and club is located in the heart of all the action on Chaweng Beach, and the carefully crafted setup has everything you need for a great day or night out – live music, signature cocktails, Thai and international food, and regular theme parties. Lie back on a lounger, get cosy on a beach cabana, or float in the free-form swimming pool while listening to the cool club tunes from the resident DJ. Partied too much? Book into one of the resort’s stylish rooms and villas, recharge your batteries, and you’ll soon be raring to go again. 11/9 Moo 2, Chaweng Beach Rd. Tel: 077 915 155 www.kcbeachclub.com
Conrad Koh Samui
SITUATED on the southwestern tip of the island, Conrad Koh Samui overlooks the azure reefs of Aow Thai Beach from a secluded hillside location housing 81 free-standing villas. Decked out with the latest technology (think Apple TV, iPod dock and high-speed internet access), each villa is decorated to a traditional Thai theme and boasts its own private balcony. Ensuring you don’t need to leave the resort at all during your stay are three restaurants, two lounges, a private wine cellar, on-site resort spa, a function room, fitness centre, and activities such as aqua aerobics, yoga, Tai Chi and Thai boxing classes.
49/8-9 Moo 4, Hillcrest Rd., Taling-Ngam. Tel: 077 915 888 www.bit.ly/MpzwVS
Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui
NESTLED in coconut groves overlooking the waters of tranquil Ang Thong (a short trip by boat from Koh Samui), this luxury resort comprises 73 villas and private residences, several restaurants, a cooking studio, fitness and business facilties, a tennis court, Muay Thai Boxing ring (with professional training), and other luxury amenities. Treat your loved one to a romantic getaway in a private Beach Villa, or round up a group of friends and family and book the Five-Bedroom Residence Villa, which features two kitchens, a walk-in wine cooler, two private infinity-edge pools, a large terrace with panoramic views of the Gulf of Thailand, and more neat touches that will make your guests say wow.
219 Moo 5, Angthong. Tel: 077 243 000 www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui
Mercure Samui Chaweng Tana
SET in a vibrant location a short walk from Chaweng Beach, Mercure Samui Chaweng Tana has 85 rooms decorated in a contemporary Thai style, each equipped with the usual mod-cons (LED TV, coffee/tea maker, and complimentary Wi-Fi). Other facilities include a Thai restaurant, wine bar, day spa, and an outdoor swimming pool with poolside bar.
37/97 Moo 3, Bophut. Tel: 077 915 657-96 www.bit.ly/1BuAoz4
Sala Samui Resort & Spa
THIS popular resort is located in Choeng Mon, a tranquil beach on the north-western tip of the island. Its 69 spacious villas and suites flank 80-metres of white, sandy beachfront, and accommodation options range from the Deluxe Balcony rooms (each balcony has a full-size daybed overlooking the garden courtyard) to the luxurious Two Bedroom Presidential Pool Villa Suite (featuring a common living room with daybed, a 30sqm private swimming pool, and two large bedrooms, each with its own private open-air bathroom). Other resort facilities include a spa, two restaurants, a beach bar, and the beachfront wine cellar.
10/9 Moo 5, Baan Plai Lam. Tel: 077 245 888 www.salaresorts.com/samui
OZO Chaweng Samui
LOCATED overlooking the Gulf of Thailand a short stroll from all the action of Chaweng Beach, and just 15 minutes by car from the airport, OZO Chaweng Samui is a wonderfully simple yet lovingly operated hotel offering everything you need for a relaxing (or adventure-packed) vacation. The resort has 208 rooms (including beach view and beach access rooms) two swimming pools, a fitness center, a pool and beach bar, and a great onsite restaurant serving a wide range of popular local and international dishes (the grilled seafood, steaks and burgers are great). Until July 31 you can take advantage of the ‘OZO Hot Deal Package,’ a 4-night stay in a Sleep Room for B13,510++ (includes a round-trip airport transfer, daily breakfast, one set dinner menu, and more benefits).
Chaweng Beach Koh Samui District. Tel: 077 915 200 www.ozohotels.com/chaweng-samui
Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa Koh Samui
EXQUISITE tropical gardens and an East-meets-West theme designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley are just two of the highlights at this delightful resort in Bophut Bay. Located near the entrance of the Fisherman’s Village (see above), the resort features a choice of eight room types, ranging from Premier Garden View Room and Deluxe Sea View Room to Anantara Beachfront Pool Suite (which has its own spacious outdoor deck for sunbathing and dining). Other highlights include the Anantara Spa, yoga and cooking classes, and the popular Full Moon restaurant. Until December 31, the hotel’s ‘Anantara Bophut Short Breaks Special’ offers rates starting at B5,670 per night inclusive of daily breakfast for two, free room upgrade (subject to availability), 4pm check out, and more. Must stay a minimum of two nights to qualify.
99/9 Bophut Bay. Tel: 077 428 300-9 www.samui.anantara.com
ibis Samui Bophut
BRIGHT, bold and modern, the 209-room ibis Samui Bophut is a good option for families and groups. The resort recently introduced the option of booking two adjoined Standard Rooms, so parents can enjoy maximum space while still ensuring their kids are safe. And with in-room Wii consoles and toys available, the young ones have plenty to keep them entertained.
Bophut Beach. Tel: 02 659 2888 www.bit.ly/1EzcUeD
Flights to Koh Samui vary in price throughout the year and the cheapest rates are usually offered on the airlines’ websites. Keep your eyes peeled for regular promotions, and plan your trip at least three months in advance to secure the best deals.
• Bangkok Airways : Thailand’s largest privately owned carrier offers 19 daily direct flights from Bangkok to Samui (and 11 indirect flights). The first direct flight departs Suvarnabhumi Airport at 6am and arrives at Samui International Airport at 7.05am. The first indirect flight leaves at 8am and arrives at 12.20am, including one transit at Phuket. The last flight of the day leaves Suvarnabhumi at 9pm and arrives at 10pm. Return flights to Bangkok start at 6am daily.
• Thai Airways : Two flights to Koh Samui are offered daily. The first departs from Suvarnabhumi Airport at 7.25am and arrives at 8.30am. The second leaves at 3.30pm and arrives at 4.35pm. Return flights to Bangkok start at 9.10am and arrive at 10.15am. The last flight back to Bangkok is at 5.15pm and arrives at 6.20pm www.thaiairways.com
• Nok Air : A Fly’n’Ferry service is available four times daily, with flights leaving Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport for either Nakorn Si Thammarat or Surat Thani, followed by a coach trip to Laem Thuat Pier, and then a journey by high-speed catamaran to Koh Samui. The earliest flight is 6am and the latest flight is 12.45pm. These arrive at Koh Samui at 10.55am and 4.45pm, respectively. The earliest return service is 8am; the latest, 3.30pm. These arrive in Bangkok at 3.30pm and 10.35pm, respectively.
• Air Asia : Also leaving from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport, this low-cost carrier offers ten flights daily which include a ferry transfer to Koh Samui from Nakorn Si Thammarat. The earliest flight departs at 6.50am and the arrival time in Samui is 12.30pm. The latest flight leaves at 2.45pm. Arrival time: 7.30pm. The earliest trip to Bangkok from Samui is at 7am (arrives at 1pm) and the last trip is at 3pm (arrives at 9pm). www.airasia.com