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A guide to visiting Koh Samui, Thailand


Palm trees and sun loungers line the edge of a sandy beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

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Koh Samui is an island paradise in the south of Thailand, known for its nightlife, scenic viewpoints and long stretches of sandy beach. Popular with holiday-makers and travellers alike, there’s also a thriving expat community residing on Koh Samui. This definitely brings a more western feel compared to some other smaller islands in Thailand, but don’t rule it out because of that, there’s lots of great attractions and scenery here, including my top 15 things to do on Koh Samui.



Contents

1. Koh Samui or Phuket?

2. How to get to Koh Samui

3. Getting Around Koh Samui

4. How many days do you need on Koh Samui?

5. Where to stay and what to do on Koh Samui?

- Lamai

- Chaweng

- Fisherman's Village / Bophut

6. Day trips from Koh Samui



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A guide to visiting Koh Samui, Thailand



Koh Samui or Phuket?

Before we get into some of the things you need to know before planning your trip to Koh Samui, let's answer this question. Koh Samui is often compared to Phuket, so which is better? Well, both are great choices for tourists and digital nomads as there’s a decent amount of infrastructure and modernisation that comes in handy when working remotely, as well as lots of sights to be explored!


Both Phuket and Koh Samui have a great nightlife scene - as well as plenty of scenic spots. Having been to both places, it is really hard for me to choose between the two! If pushed, I would say that Phuket has nicer beaches, although Koh Samui does have some great viewpoints which make up for it! If you have time on your Thailand itinerary, I would definitely try to incorporate them both, Koh Samui is definitely worth visiting!



How to get to Koh Samui

By plane - If budget is not an issue, then the easiest way to get to Koh Samui is to fly in. Koh Samui has an international airport located between Bophut and Chaweng and there are regular flights from the mainland if you are travelling from elsewhere in Thailand.


By bus / ferry / taxi - If you’re travelling to Koh Samui from elsewhere in Thailand, there are regular ferries that run from the mainland, with buses and minivans available to catch to the ferry port. Regular ferries also run between Koh Samui and the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. Being the budget conscious backpacker that I am, I chose the cheaper option of using public transport to reach Koh Samui. I travelled from Railay beach, Krabi to Koh Samui and booked a ticket with a local tour operator in Railay. What promised to be a 6.5 hour journey consisting of a bus, ferry and taxi turned out to involve a whopping 5 buses, 1 long tail boat, 1 ferry, and a taxi ride! Oh…and it took 12 hours!


If you’ve backpacked in Thailand before, I’m sure at some point you’ve had one of those journeys where you just get moved on and off buses, each time getting a new sticker and you don't really have a clue what’s going on! Sound familiar?! Well, this was one of those journeys! (If you have not been to Thailand before and are wondering what I'm talking about, make sure you read my 50 essential tips for first time backpackers travelling to Southeast Asia)


My advice for a smoother journey than mine would be would be to book your transport to Koh Samui online instead of using a local operator. I used 12go for all of my transport bookings throughout Southeast Asia and this was the only time I didn't and look what happened!




Getting Around Koh Samui

The best way to get around Koh Samui if you want to have freedom and flexibility is to hire your own scooter. However, be careful if you are not confident or experienced on a scooter, the traffic in Koh Samui is much busier than some of the smaller islands. I personally didn't ride a scooter in Koh Samui and didn't have a problem getting around.


There is a local Songthaew bus which drives laps on the main ring road around Koh Samui. You simply flag it down, tell the driver where you want to go and confirm the price and off you go. Just note that this is a bus so you will be making stops and pick ups along the way, so factor that into your journey time. There are also lots of private songthaews, taxis, and motorcycle taxis which you can flag down too.



How many days do you need on Koh Samui?

Personally, I would recommend having at least 5 days on Koh Samui. This will give you time to explore the different areas of the island, and get a day trip in too. Koh Samui is a large island and anything less than 5 days would feel rushed.


A woman sits on a bench above the trees at Lamai viewpoint looking out to Lamai beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

Lamai Viewpoint and cafe is one of the best spots on Koh Samui for great views!



Where to stay and what to do on Koh Samui?

Despite the fact that the ferry terminal is located on the east side of the island, most of the tourist areas and accommodation can be found on the west side. I spent three weeks exploring Koh Samui and stayed in three different areas of the Island: Lamai, Chaweng and Bophut / Fisherman’s Village. These three areas are considered to be the most popular places to stay on Koh Samui, with plenty to see and do around each of them.


So, where is the best place to stay on Koh Samui? Well, it really depends on what kind of atmosphere you want. There are many different areas of Koh Samui where you can choose to base yourself, but I can only compare the three areas I’ve stayed in. I will say, however, that unless you want to be very secluded and have utter peace and quiet, then you will want to base yourself in one of the three main areas: Lamai, Chaweng or Bophut / Fisherman's Village.


For a quick round up of the best sights and attractions on Koh Samui, check out my post on 15 Great things to do on Koh Samui!



Lamai

Lamai is a good place to base yourself if you want to have a more relaxed break, but still have access to a great selection of bars and restaurants. It is popular with couples, families and older holiday-makers but that doesn't mean that it’s boring! Whilst there are not large nightclubs here, there are plenty of bars with live music open until late, and there’s a lively atmosphere in the evening along the main street.


The accommodation in Lamai is varied, with a range of apartment rentals and smaller hotels. The prices of accommodation tend to be lower in Lamai compared to Chaweng and Fisherman’s village. I stayed at Amarina Green - a fabulous small boutique hotel tucked down a quiet road at the end of Lamai main street. I would recommend staying away from the main street of Lamai as it can get quite noisy in the evening.



Where to eat in Lamai?

In terms of places to eat in Lamai, you’ll find pretty much everything here - upscale western restaurants, sports bars, cocktail bars and small, local cafes tucked down the side streets. Here’s a couple of recommendations from my stay in Lamai:


Lamai Viewpoint cafe

This cafe is at the top of Lamai viewpoint. Entrance is 50 THB (£1.20) to walk the 15-20 minutes uphill, or you can pay 100 THB (£2.30) to take the short hill train. Go to the top deck of the cafe for the best views over Lamai beach. When you get there, order a delicious smoothie to go with the view - the blueberry and yoghurt smoothie is to die for! They also serve fresh coconut juice and beers, as well as a selection of snacks and lunch items. Prices are relatively reasonable for the location.


The Secret Brunch

Come here for delicious sugar free juices, organic coffee and vegan sweet treats! They also have a great healthy breakfast and lunch menu, again with lots of vegan and gluten free options. The cafe is cosy and has a great atmosphere. It is located on the main road south of Lamai with on street parking.


Pure Vegan Heaven

Another great vegan option, this small cafe sits at the end of the main street in Lamai. Serving a wide range of coffees, smoothies and juices alongside acai bowls, poke bowls, wraps and Thai food, this place is popular. The prices are a little higher than others nearby but the portions are good and the food is fresh and tasty.

Harrys

If you are just looking for tasty, non fussy Thai food to keep your budget in check, pop into Harry’s. The cafe decor is basic but the food is good and prices are very reasonable for the huge portion size!


El Dorado

They have a great western and Thai menu and a good selection of cocktails too. The service was good when we were dining and it is a nice restaurant if you are after something more formal yet affordable.


Two slices of cake sit on a wooden tray, accompanied by a raspberry ice drink and an ice coffee

How can you resist when it looks this good?! @ The Secret Brunch



What is there to do near Lamai?

Lamai is a great place to stay if you want to visit some of the beautiful scenery on Koh Samui. The Na Mueang waterfall (a must for all hikers and waterfall lovers visiting Koh Samui!) is easily accessible from Lamai and the Lamai Viewpoint cafe and Grandmother and Grandfather rocks lookout are also both close by. In fact, you can visit most of Koh Samui’s popular viewpoints from Lamai, including the now instagram-famous Overlap Stone. There’s lots to see and do near Lamai (including lots of free places to visit!), so this is a great place to stay if you like to go out exploring and are on a budget.


A woman stands barefoot on rocks at the top of Na Mueang waterfall in Koh Samui, Thailand, looking out to the landscape

Admiring the view from the top of Na Mueang waterfall



Chaweng

If you want a party atmosphere on Koh Samui, then Chaweng is the place for you! Chaweng is popular with younger backpackers, couples and groups and has the liveliest nightlife on the island, with lots of nightclubs, pubs and beach bars.


As well as having a great nightlife scene, Chaweng is also a great place to stay if you want a central location to base yourself on the island. From Chaweng, you can easily access the sights near Lamai in the south and up to Fisherman's Village in Bophut. It is also conveniently located for the airport.



Where to eat in Chaweng?

There’s a huge selection of restaurants in Chaweng, from popular western chain restaurants to low cost local cafes and beach bars. Here’s a couple of my recommendations:


The islander

If you are craving some home comforts, this is the place to go in Chaweng! They have an extensive list of both Thai and western food, including pies, mash and yorkshire puddings! They also show a lot of sports matches on the big TVs, so it can get quite busy, but there’s a great atmosphere and the food is good.


Central Samui food court

In the centre of the Central supermarket is a food court where you can buy fresh sushi, roast dinners, pasta and salads. There’s also a bakery. You can sit in the food court to eat your lunch or take it away with you. I was a regular in the food court making up my own fresh salad to take to the beach with me each day! I don’t know about you, but I struggle with balancing trying to stay on budget and trying to eat healthy when I'm travelling, so this was a great option for me.

Tip: Have a wander around the supermarket before you leave to shop for some home comforts - I jumped on the chocolate hobnobs when I saw them!


Elephant Beach Club

There are several beachfront clubs and bars to choose from in Chaweng. In fact, heading to the beach is one of the best ways to spend the evening in Chaweng. Elephant beach club has a really nice atmosphere if you want a more relaxed vibe. There’s also a fire dancer show at night (it wouldn't be Thailand if there wasn't fire dancing on the beach!).


Lub d Chaweng Beach

Next to Elephant beach club is Lub d beach bar. Lub d is a hostel and there’s definitely more of a party vibe here, with it getting quite lively at night. During the day you can relax in their infinity pool sipping cocktails.


A couple sit on large cushions on the sand enjoying an evening drink, illuminated by lanterns at a beach club in Koh Samui, Thailand

Enjoying evening drinks at Elephant beach club



What is there to do near Chaweng?

Living up to its party reputation, most activities in Chaweng revolve around two things: the beach and going out! One of the best things to do in Chaweng is to enjoy happy hour cocktails at one of the many beach bars. When you need a break from that, Chaweng is a great place to go shopping on Koh Samui. The Central shopping centre holds many western high street brands as well as a cinema. Across from the shopping centre is a small market, which extends to the opposite side of the road, by Chaweng lake, every weekend for Chaweng’s night market.


You’ll also find plenty of local market stalls off Chaweng beach road, which are open well into the evening.


A walking path follows the edge of Chaweng Lake in Koh Samui, Thailand, lined with trees

Chaweng lake is a popular walking and running spot for locals and tourists




Fisherman's village / Bophut

Fisherman’s Village in Bophut is in the north of the island and is where you will find more upscale luxury resorts and large hotel complexes. This area is popular with couples and those who are on vacation, with a bit more money to spend on accommodation, rather than long term travellers or budget backpackers. However, there are some affordable places here too. We stayed at The White Cottage - a small independent hotel which sits behind the popular beachfront Karma resort. It was a little walk along the beach to the Fisherman’s village area, or a short taxi ride. Some of the other larger hotel resorts include the Anantara resort and Hansar hotel, both with infinity pools overlooking Bophut beach.



Where to eat in Fisherman’s Village?

Fisherman’s village has less choice for diners on a budget, as most of the restaurants here are slightly more expensive than average for Thailand.


Bar Baguette

This is one of the best places in Fisherman’s Village for breakfast. They also serve great coffee and tasty smoothies. The cafe is open all day and the casual vibe is a great alternative for evening dinner.


Coco Tams

One of the most famous beach bars on Koh Samui, Coco Tams is always busy! If you want to watch the sunset here, you need to arrive early to grab a bean bag on the beach, or a table by the window. There is often entertainment on the beach, such as fire dancers or fireworks. The prices here are quite expensive compared to other places nearby but there’s a great atmosphere and both the food and service is good quality.


Frog and Gecko

In contrast to some of the more upscale places to eat in Fisherman’s Village, the Frog and Gecko is a simple, casual pub with great food and generous portions. They often have live music and quizzes so it can get noisy but it’s a great atmosphere and perfect if you fancy fish and chips or a burger.


Beach Coconuts Bowls

Famous for making some of the most photogenic smoothie and acai bowls, the food here not only looks pretty, but it is also delicious, fresh and healthy. The atmosphere is lovely and relaxed too.



What is there to do near Fisherman’s Village and Bophut?

Bophut has some of the best beaches on Koh Samui, boasting long stretches of soft, clean, sand. With gorgeous beaches and great places to eat, it’s not surprising that Fisherman’s Village and the wider Bophut area have some great beach bars. Coco Tams is the most popular, on Bophut beach, however you will also find Tembo beach club and Chi Samui, further along the coast. These are both popular spots for watching the sunset.


Outside of Fisherman’s Village, Bophut is also where you will find the Koh Samui Big Buddha. After paying your respects at the Big Buddha, and taking in the view along the coast, take some time to wander around the small market here and treat yourself to a smoothie or ice cream before you leave. Finally, no trip to Koh Samui is complete without visiting Wat Plai Laem, known locally as the ‘Temple on the lake’. Built on a lake filled with Coy Carp and turtles, this colourful temple is beautifully unique and is one of the best things to do on Koh Samui.


Wat Plai Laem temple in Koh Samui, Thailand floats on a small lake

Wat Plai Laem is one of the best things to see on Koh Samui




Day Trips from Koh Samui

If you have more time to spare on Koh Samui, a day trip is a great addition to your itinerary. Here are three of the best day trips from Koh Samui.



Ang Thong Marine Park

This is an absolute must for anyone visiting Koh Samui! Ang Thong Marine Park consists of 42 limestone islands surrounded by bright blue sea and is just breathtaking. The day trip to Ang Thong Marine Park was not only one of the best things I did whilst I was staying on Koh Samui, but it’s up there as one of my favourite day trips during the whole 3 months I spent in Thailand!


There are many tour companies that operate day trips to Ang Thong from Koh Samui, ranging from budget to luxury. I booked a mid-range tour with Mr Tu tours and was impressed by the organisation and service throughout the day.


The full day tour includes four stops at four different locations within the archipelago. After you’ve received breakfast whilst checking in, you’ll board the small speed boat and head to your first stop of the day where you can snorkel in a small protected cove. Next, you’ll continue to Mae Koh Island, famous for the Emerald Lake. There’s a short walk to reach the viewpoint where you can see the bright green lake, or, you can just relax on the beach instead! The third stop on the tour is to another island where you will be served a delicious buffet lunch on the beach before having some free time to enjoy some self guided kayaking. The final stop on the tour is to Koh Wua Talap, where you can hike to the most beautiful viewpoint in the whole marine park! The hike is a 500m steep climb, but it's worth it for this view! After your hike to the viewpoint, enjoy some free time at the beach and in the cafe.


A bright Emerald lake is enclosed by limestone walls covered in thick forest in Ang Thong Marine Park, Thailand

The striking Emerald Lake in Ang Thong Marine Park is a must-see!



Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is most known for its famous Full Moon Party but it also has some stunning beaches. Watch the sunset at Zen Beach, relax at Chakolum beach and hike to the secluded Bottle beach. There’s also some great food courts and night markets on Koh Phangan, with lots of vegan options too!


Visiting Koh Phangan from Koh Samui is so easy. It’s only a 30 minute ferry ride between the two islands, so you can easily do this yourself if you don't want to book a tour. If you are catching the ferry by yourself, I would recommend booking this in advance during the peak season (December - February). You can catch the ferry from Maenam or Bangrak pier in Koh Samui to Thong Sala on Koh Phangan. During the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, there are also ferries which you can take directly to Haad Rin.


Although Koh Phangan is smaller than Koh Samui, there is still lots to do here. If you have time, I would recommend spending at least 3 days on Koh Phangan visiting all the popular spots. However, you can see some of the highlights in one day, especially if you rent your own scooter from the ferry port, or hire a taxi driver for the day.


The sandy, secluded Bottle Beach in Koh Phangan, Thailand, backed by palm trees and small huts

Bottle beach is a hidden gem on the island of Koh Phangan



Koh Tao Snorkel or Dive tour

Koh Tao is one of the best places in Thailand to go snorkelling and diving. In fact, many people will travel to Koh Tao to complete their diving certification, as it is one of the cheapest places to do it.


The ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Tao is 90 minutes (plus waiting / check-in time etc.) so I wouldn’t recommend visiting Koh Tao on your own for the day as you wont get much time actually on the island to explore. Personally, I would highly recommend having at least 3 days on Koh Tao. The island might be small but it’s beautiful and has a great atmosphere. Spending 3 days here will give you time to go snorkelling, enjoy the cafes and bars and visit the famous John Suwan Viewpoint.


However, if you don’t have enough time to spend several days on Koh Tao, then a snorkel or dive tour from Koh Samui is a great way to experience the beautiful marine life around the island.


The small island of Nangyuan off the coast of Koh Tao in Thailand is covered in large boulders and green trees, surrounded by turquoise blue sea

Koh Tao is the best place to go in Thailand for snorkelling and diving spots




I hope that you’ve found this guide to Koh Samui useful for planning your trip. Make sure you also check out 15 Great things to do on Koh Samui for more details on some of the best sights and attractions on the island!




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