Koh Samui is only behind Phuket in terms of popularity and visitor numbers for Thai resorts. And there is good reason for that, despite years of chronic over-development the island retains much of its natural beauty and picture postcard beaches. Travel to and from the island is easy with regular international and domestic flights direct to the island as well as regular ferry crossings from Surat
There is a huge choice of accommodation around the island to suit varying budgets, although the trend is to develop more and more upscale resorts. The main beach is Chaweng, which is a long stretch of beautiful white sand. Chaweng town is very built up with resorts stretching most of the length of the beach and shops, bars and restaurants line the streets behind.
Quieter beaches can be found along the north of the island. Bophut has a more rustic, family atmosphere, although the beaches aren’t so good.
There is a lot to do to occupy yourself in Samui, whether you choose to hire a car, bike or use local transportation. (WARNING – If you chose to hire any equipment be it a car, motorbike, jet ski etc do your research beforehand and only use reputable hirers. There are known to be many scams operating in Thailand where the hirer will try to charge you an extortionate amount to repair minor scratches that you probably didn’t put there. Such situations have been known to turn nasty. Do a Google search to read more about this).
So here’s a rundown of the main activities:
Visiting temples – One of the highlights of most people’s visits to Thailand is visiting a few temples, and Samui is no exception. The most famous is Big Buddha at Big Buddha beach. A short climb to the top of the temple offers some good views out to sea. There are also some rather gimmicky fortune telling machines and you can buy a brick to contribute towards the construction of new temple buildings.
Another well known temple is Wat Khunaram which contains the mummified body of a local monk. Located along the southern stretch of the ring road, this is worth a quick stop off.
Hin Ta – Hin Yai – This is a rather quirky stop off, a few miles south of Chaweng beach. The ring road runs along the edge of a rocky cliff and you come to a small turn-off which is signposted. This takes you down into a small village and car park, with a few tourist souvenir shops. Then you follow a short path out to some rocks and a tiny bit of beach. Standing out like a sore thumb are two rocks (Hin Ta and Hin Yai, literally Grandfather Rock and Grandmother Rock) which are shaped like male and female “private parts”!
Animal attractions – In the far south-east corner of the island are located the Tiger Zoo and Aquarium, which are a good way to spend a few hours, especially if you have kids. Both are quite interesting and have some shows throughout the day. These are part of the Samui Orchid Resort.
Na Tian Butterfly garden offers good photo opportunities for lovers of butterflies and orchids, not everyone’s cup of tea however! There is also a Crocodile Farm near the airport.
There are regular monkey shows in the monkey theatre, across the ring road from Bophut beach. The monkeys give demonstrations of how they are used to gather coconuts and there is also an elephant show. Monkeys are also a regular sight on the constant stream of motorbikes travelling along Samui’s roads (fortunately only as passengers!).
Elephant rides are available at various spots around the island, usually in the interior as this offers ideal trekking ground.
Natural attractions and tours – The most popular waterfalls on the island are Na Muang 1 and 2. These are very easily accessed, if not the most spectacular. Na Muang 1 is the lower of the two and is located next to a small car park, no walking required. Na Muang 2 is a bit higher up and requires a walk.
There are many natural viewpoints around the island which offer good photo opportunities out to sea, especially at sunset. One of the best known is a stop off just north of Hin Ta – Hin Yai, around the Lamai beach area.
The interior of Samui offers some good trekking routes if that is your thing.
Beaches are, of course, the main attraction of Samui. As I said earlier, Chaweng is the main beach, it is the longest and the sand and sea are superior to the rest of the island. It is also the most developed with plenty of shops, pharmacies, food and rowdy night spots. Lamai neighbours Chaweng and is somewhat quieter. A popular and more relaxed spot on the north of the island is Bophut beach. It is a more family orientated beach with a more rustic village with a few shops and restaurants.
Off the island – There are the usual choice of watersport activities including jetskis, banana boats etc, mainly off Chaweng.
Ferries operate from Bophut pier to nearby Koh Pha Ngan. This is the island famous for the Full Moon Parties and you can arrange a night’s stay on Koh Pha Ngan through the agencies on Samui. You can also get to Koh Tao which is renowned as a diver’s paradise.
The beautiful Ang Thong National Marine park is accessed from here and is well worth a day trip. You can also camp overnight, but there is no accommodation in the park. I have some photos of this spectacular location on my website, http://www.matthewt.co.uk
Miscellaneous – There is a Muay Thai stadium in Chaweng town if that’s your thing. There are also a few sporty activities such as go-karting and shooting ranges. If you’re brave enough to hire a car, a drive around the island’s ring road is an interesting way to spend a day.
All in all, Samui has plenty to offer all tastes and budgets. Although remember this is now an international destination and prices are generally higher than the rest of Thailand and it is overly developed in parts. Despite this it retains much of its natural beauty that keeps people going back time after time.
South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk
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