Guide to Koh Samui

– A guide to beaches & experiences on Koh Samui

Koh Samui is beautiful, the air is clean and there are still sandy beaches that are by no means crowded. Koh Samui has something for everyone.

On the island of Koh Samui you will find everything from low-budget backpacker bungalows, to luxury resorts and villas along the stunning beaches.

If you are into a lively beach and nightlife then head towards Chaweng or Lamai Beach. Are you more for small peaceful “hideaways”, then aim for Bophut and Maenem.

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But no matter where you live on Koh Samui, you are never farther away than you, with one of the little red “taxis” (songthaews), quickly can go wherever you want.

Taxis run endlessly around the island.

Koh Samui has it all and despite the fact that the island has been visited by a large number of people for the last 20-30 years, Koh Samui still doesn’t seem as touristy as for example. Phuket.

In this guide you will get a detailed description of the different areas and activities on Koh Samui.

Koh Samui Guide

Chaweng Beach

On the northeast coast of Koh Samui, you’ll find Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui’s largest and most lively beach town.

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The beach is beautiful, the water is warm, the sand is white and here it’s so shallow that families can swim around without worry.

Chaweng Beach extends over approx. 7 km beach and is thus Koh Samui’s longest beach.

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The hotels are located side by side directly on the beach – without the main street in between (as on Phuket, for example).

Chaweng Beach has a northern, southern and central area. Common to all of them is that it is beautiful sandy beaches with perfect water for swimming and snorkelling.

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The northern part of the beach is protected from high waves and strong currents. The reef is close to the beach and is therefore ideal for snorkelling. This part of the beach is much less visited than the central area.

The central part of Chaweng Beach is the most touristy area.

On the beach you see beach vendors who endlessly walk back and forth waiting for you to buy ice cream, drinks, Thai food, wooden figurines, jewelry, sarongs, Thai silk etc.

Chaweng Beach Road (as the main street is called) is packed with restaurants, shops, tailors, bars and nightclubs of all kinds. This area is arguably Koh Samui’s largest shopping area.

Separated by boulders from the crowded central area, you will find the southern part. This part is far quieter than the central, and also more idyllic than the northern part.

The southern part is a popular area for honeymooners, families, couples and guests who want a little more relaxation.

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Chaweng Beach’s main street and shopping area are located parallel to the beach. By walking through either hotels or the small paths between the hotels, you reach the beach.

Chaweng Beach offers a multitude of activities all year round. There are plenty of water sports and small shops offering diving and snorkelling trips.

On the beaches you will find beach vendors, restaurants, bars and Thai massage with sea views for only approx. 350 bath (for full body).

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In the late afternoon, most hotels start preparing for the evening’s entertainment, and small cozy restaurants pop up in the sand and water’s edge.

Most restaurants feature pictures and prices of the evening’s menu. Large discs are filled with ice and freshly caught seafood. If you want fish, it’s up to you whether you like it cooked, fried, grilled etc. – everything can be done.

It’s amazing to enjoy dinner at the water’s edge in a much more comfortable temperature than in the town.

→ View the selection of hotels on Chaweng Beach

Lamai Beach

South of Chaweng Beach you will find Koh Samui’s second largest and popular beach town after Chaweng.

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The area is slightly more relaxed, but still with plenty of resorts, restaurants and shopping.

The atmosphere at Lamai Beach is laid back and not with quite as many “active” tourist attractions as at Chaweng.

Still, Lamai offers pretty much the same as Chaweng.

The southernmost part of the beach is with yellowish sand and clear blue water which is perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

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The northernmost part of the beach is less well maintained and with low water and rocks.

Both Lamai beach and town, offers exciting restaurants and great shopping opportunities everywhere.

Be aware of the go-go bars on the main street and in the side streets in the southern end of Lamai. At the northern end you are almost free of them.

The trend on Lamai (and eventually also for Chaweng) is moving away from the very young, cheerful and slightly “cheap” entertainment.

The area adapts to a calmer, nicer and more luxurious atmosphere with many new spa resorts and more nice restaurants.

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In the southern part of Lamai Beach, you will find the famous rock formations – “Grandma and Grandpa”.

Every Sunday you can experience a night market with a large selection of jewelry and clothing, as well as several restaurants, including street kitchens.

Not far from Lamai you will find waterfalls and a variety of activities.

ATTENTION stay away from elephant riding! The elephants suffer and it must not be supported in any way (this also applies to other attractions involving wild animals).

→ View the selection of hotels on Lamai Beach

Bophut

Bophut is a beach village located on the northern coast of Koh Samui and only approx. 15 min. drive from the airport.

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The beach at Bophut is an approx. 2 km long white sandy beach, surrounded by palm trees and calm water.

Here you can easily find places for yourself. The beach is more ideal for beach activities, rather than water activities, as the water in this area is not clear – especially not around December.

Bophut is one of Koh Samui’s oldest areas and most famous for “Fisherman’s Village”. Fisherman’s Village is a small charming and well-kept fishing village, where efforts have been made to avoid the partying life as on Chaweng and Lamai.

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Basically, “Fisherman’s Village” consists of a very narrow street with small old and original wooden houses that cater to couples and young families. The shops in the street offer everything from high quality clothing and jewelery, to diving trips and cafes.

Many of the restaurants and bars along the narrow street have great views over the water and to the island of Koh Phangan.

The nightlife of Bophut is centered at the pier (where boats from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan depart). You will find a number of bars, but all with a very relaxed and cozy atmosphere – and without go-go girls.

Bophut is a nice place for enjoyers, where there are still places to go in the evening, but quietly.

→ View the selection of hotels in Bophut

Maenam

In northern Koh Samui you will find Maenam, which is considered to be Koh Samui’s last backpacker beach.

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Here you can still feel the “old and original” Thailand, with a sense of untouchability, peace and inaccessible places.

At Maenam Beach, there are still backpackers who settle down for a few weeks (or months) in small beach bungalows – only with fan and mosquito nets and for a cheap price.

Maenam has a 7 km long sandy beach surrounded by palm trees and located on Samui’s north coast and west of Bophut.

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The water at Maenam quickly gets deep, but most of the year is perfect for swimming and snorkelling. The sand is a bit more coarse than anywhere else, but again – ideal for relaxing.

The town of Maenam is not big, but relaxed with a few bars where mostly backpackers hang out. However, there are also a few travel agencies, scooter rentals and a smaller selection of good and cheap Thai restaurants.

The site is primarily a hub for the various boat services to Koh Phangan. Maenam also holds Koh Samui’s only full-size golf course.

There is not much of a nightlife in Maenam. Here it’s appreciated to sit quietly with a cold drink and enjoy the beautiful sunset – and maybe afterwards hang around for a bit.

→ View the selection of hotels at Maenam Beach

Nathon

The “capital” of Koh Samui is called Nathon.

It’s from here everything administrative takes place and is not (anymore) a particularly exciting place for tourists.

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Years ago, it was only in Nathon that you could withdraw money, send postcards, make collect calls etc. Today, when you find ATM everywhere and the postcards have become digital, the need to visit the city is dramatically decreasing.

Besides shopping, most people come to Nathon via the port, which is the largest on Koh Samui.

Most visits use the port to “hop on and off” boats to and from the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, as well as the city of Surat Thani on the mainland.

Boat prices are cheap, but the crossing also takes place with the large and un-charming car ferries. If you prefer to go with the far more charming local boats, then you have to depart from Bophut or Maenem – but then the tickets are a bit more expensive.

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All the way along the waterfront you’ll find small shops that primarily cater to backpackers with everything from bakeries, second hand shops, travel agencies, diving shops etc.

It’s also from here, in one of the many small ticket shops, you buy your boat ticket.

It should also be mentioned that it’s from Nathon that you can openly (as long as the police are not present) buy all kinds of equipment for euphoric substances such as opium tubes, bongs and so on.

Thailand has a tough drug policy so it would be VERY wise to stay far away from this.

It’s not uncommon to find a snitch among sellers and new “friends”. If you are in doubt about how hard you can be punished just by a little dope, you can read about Thailand’s drug rules – HERE.

Although Nathon may not be among the most charming towns, shopping here is significantly cheaper than anywhere else on the island.

Furthermore, you’ll find many exciting markets with food and the smell of spices is fantastic.

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It’s also recommended to visit a seafood restaurant on the waterfront, which really gives the taste of the authentic, very spicy and local cuisine.

Unfortunately, the authentic cuisine in Thailand is gradually becoming difficult to find, as Europeans prefer dishes they know from home.

Living in Nathon is cheap and there are plenty of places. However, it’s not a favorite place for tourists to stay, which is why the hotels are most suited to the locals.

→ See the selection of hotels at Nathon

Attractions on Koh Samui

There are plenty of attractions to see on Koh Samui.

You can easily arrange trips to the various attractions by taking the “city taxi” or by renting a scooter or car.

Alternatively, find a local e.g. from the beach who would like to make some extra money.

It’s always good to support the locals. Locals are often really good as guides (even though they don’t speak much English). Often they can arrange discounts when it comes to shopping locations.

If you would like to pre-book and arrange your trips from home, take a look at Get Your Guide or at Thailand Tours – a small Danish agency located in Thailand.

Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai)

Big Buddha, located on a small rocky island off the northeast corner of Koh Samui, is a 12-meter seated “gold” buddha statue. It was built in 1972 and is the island’s most popular attraction.

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The Buddha can be seen from several kilometers away and is probably the first thing you see even before you land on the island.

Remember to bring a scarf or blouse with sleeves as it is an insult (and you will be stopped) if you walk around the area with bare arms.

Duration: You don’t have to spend a whole day, just an hour or two.

Grandma & Grandpa (Hin Ta & Hin Yai)

Grandma & Grandpa are some pretty fascinating rock formations located in southern Lamai.

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The rocks have caused a lot of amusement and not least speculation as they were discovered many years ago by the locals.

To get there you can get on one of red “city pick-ups” to Lamai.

Na Muang Waterfalls

There are several waterfalls on Koh Samui, but the Na Muang waterfalls located approx. 10 km south of Nathon, is one of the nicest.

From the parking lot of the park, walk only approx. 100 m before you reach the first approx. 18 meters high waterfall.

Samui-vandfald

From here there is another 100 m to the next (and largest) waterfall, but the hike to it, can be a little more challenging and it takes close to 30 min. to walk (uphill). The walk up to the 80 meter high waterfall is clearly worth the 30 min.

You will need at least half a day for this trip and remember swimwear. You can easily take the tour without guides. There are lots of signs showing the way.

The mummified munk

Experiencing the mummified monk on Samui is simply a must.

The monk Loung Pordaeng died in 1973 in a sitting meditative position. Ever since, he has been exhibited in a glass display in the temple, Wat Khunaram.

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What’s remarkable is that ever since the monk’s death, his body has shown no signs of major decay. This has given rise to many speculations about the Buddhist and Thai culture.

It’s a bit ironic, the monks at the temple have chosen to give the deceased monk a pair of RayBan sunglasses on, which makes it all look even more mysterious and comical.

The temple is located 6 km west of Lamai. It’s free to enter the temple but donations are very welcome. Remember scarf or blouse with sleeves.

“Ladyboys cabaret”

At Chaweng Beach Road you can experience a fantastic show where nothing is spared. The performance is very professional and of high quality. The cabaret will definitely be a bit different from what you might imagine about a cabaret.

Thailand is very open and accommodating to other cultures and not least sexualities.

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On these shows you can see and experience “Katoeyer”, which means the third sex. Close to what some would call “drag queens” and which for generations have played a major role in Thailand’s entertainment industry.

In Thailand you will find a lot of “Kotoeyer” (ladyboys) who are often far more feminine in their appearance than girls/women usually are.

It can be very difficult to spot whether a girl IS a girl. There have been stories where it has come as a bit of a surprise that there is still little “man” left.

Get an unforgettable evening on Koh Samui, with good interpretations of well-known songs performed in beautiful costumes. The cabaret is with professionally choreographies and filled with glitter and sparkle.

When to visit Koh Samui

On Koh Samui’s weather is almost always fantastic.

Most days of the year you will experience blue skies – sometimes with a refreshing breeze from the sea.

Most people visit the island from the end of December to the end of March (high season), as it’s the time of most sun and least rain, but also the time when prices are highest and tourists the most.

If you like it really hot then April to June (low season) is a good time and at the same time without many tourists.

Between October and December is the rainy season (low season), but Samui is relatively isolated, which is why it rarely rains more than a few hours a day and most days it doesn’t rain at all.

Check the weather forecast for Koh Samui HERE

Travel Tips for Koh Samui

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