Travel Guide to Koh Samui

A Pearl in the Gulf of Thailand

Koh Samui is the second largest island in Thailand and is situated off the east coast in the Gulf of Thailand. Alongside its neighbors, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, it attracts millions of visitors each year. Visitors come to explore the clear turquoise waters and white powder sand beaches and to enjoy the numerous amenities and resorts. One of Koh Samui’s biggest attractions is the breadth of resorts and beaches available, catering to all manner of visitors. You’ll find wooden shacks on the beach in some areas, while others will host 5-star resorts and even family-friendly accommodation. Koh Samui undoubtedly has something to offer everyone. Add in the famous Thai hospitality and cuisine, and you can begin to understand why this is such a popular destination.

Best time to visit Koh Samui

The best time to visit Koh Samui is primarily dictated by the island’s climate and the seasons. Undoubtedly, the best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from late December until early April. Following the dry season is the hot season, which sees high humidity and intermittent downpours. This typically runs from mid-April until early September. The hot season is followed by the wet season, from September to mid-December. Rainfall is common and temperatures are cooler.

Silver Beach Koh Samui
Silver Beach is an attractive small beach between the larger beaches of Chaweng and Lamai

As well as timing your visit to make the most of the weather, you may also want to consider visiting during a festival. A visit to the island during Chinese New Year is often a rewarding experience. Undoubtedly, the best festival to be around for is Songkran, the Thai New Year. Also known as the ‘water festival’, visiting Koh Samui during this time is an unforgettable and wet experience. Water fights occur across the island throughout the day and sometimes continue for several days. Visitors are targeted as much as locals, so be prepared to be soaked.

Angthong National Marine Park near Koh Samui
Angthong National Marine Park offers outstanding natural beauty and great snorkelling and diving

How to get to Koh Samui

Koh Samui has excellent transport links with an airport on the island and a regular ferry service. The airport has frequent daily connections to Bangkok, Phuket, and Utapao. The airport also services selected international arrivals from neighboring countries.

There are four ferry piers on Koh Samui, servicing arrivals from the mainland and onward ferries to the neighboring islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. Nathon Pier is the main arrival pier for the frequent ferries from the mainland. Most mainland ferries depart from the Donsak pier just outside of the city of Surat Thani. The city is well connected by both bus and train, and many visitors take overnight sleeper buses and trains from Bangkok.

Onward ferries to the islands of Kao Tao and Koh Phangan are less frequent but still run daily. Most depart from Bangrak Pier or Nathon Pier.

Map of Koh Samui

Koh Samui covers an area of 229 km sq. Measuring 25 km long and 21 km wide, it’s relatively easy to navigate using the ring road. There are beach resorts in the north, south, west, and east of the island, while the center is primarily covered by jungle.

Beaches and Resorts

Chaweng

Chaweng is Koh Samui’s largest resort located in the northeast of the island. The beach measures almost 7km, making it the longest beach on the island. Along the beach, you’ll find a host of hotels, bars, and restaurants. The northern part of the beach is particularly raucous and is the main party area on the island. You’ll find a wide range of accommodation in Chaweng, from backpacker-style dormitories to 5-star boutique hotels.

View of Chaweng beach in Koh Samui

Lamai

12 km south of Chaweng is the beach and resort town of Lamai. Set along a 4 km stretch of gently curving beach, Lamai is a much more relaxed destination than Chaweng, but still with plenty of amenities. The main town is situated at the southern end of the beach where the more luxurious accommodation is located. The northern end of the beach is home to wooden beach shacks, popular with backpackers.  While the beach is smaller and thinner than Chaweng, it’s much quieter, and the setting is spectacular.

View along Lamai Beach on the Thai island of Koh Samui
Lamai Beach is a beautiful 4 km stretch of soft white sand.

Bo Phut

The town and beach of Bo Phut is located on the northern coast of Koh Samui. The beach extends to a couple of kilometers in length, and while still pretty, it’s not in the same league as Chaweng or Lamai Beach. The main reason to stay or visit is the area known as Fisherman’s Village, which is the oldest part of the island. Old Chinese shop houses line the streets and create an atmosphere and authenticity absent from many of the newer resorts. 

Bo Phut beach Koh Samui
Bo Phut Beach is smaller than other beaches but close to the fascinating Fisherman's Village

Mae Nam

Situated to the west of Bo Phut is Mae Nam Beach. Measuring around 6 km, the beautiful beach is much quieter than those at Chaweng and Lamai. The calm waters here attract families and couples, meaning it’s a much calmer and serene location. Mae Nam is a great choice if you’re looking to get away from everything for a few days but still want amenities nearby.

Mae Nam Beach Koh Samui
Mae Nam Beach is a great choice for families with its calm waters and peaceful ambience.

Lipa Noi

Lipa Noi Beach on Koh Samui’s west coast is one of the island’s best-kept secrets.  The gently curving 3 km long beach is the quietest of all the beaches we’ve covered. It’s a more remote location, and its focus on villas rather than hotels ensures it’s never too busy, even in peak season. The beach’s other benefit is its location on the west coast, ensuring spectacular daily sunsets. There’s not a massive range of local amenities close to the beach, so it’s helpful to have your own transport.

Coastal landscape and Seascape at Lipa Noi beach, Samui island, Thailand.
The 3 km long Lipa Noi Beach is perhaps Koh Samui's best kept secret.

Best Things to do on Koh Samui

Koh Samui’s beaches are undoubtedly its star attraction, but there’s plenty more to do on the island, both in and on the water. We’ve put together the following list of the best things to do on Koh Samui to make your holiday even more memorable:

  1. Secret Buddha Garden – Located on a hill in the island’s center, this private sculpture park is a serene escape. Set in dense jungle and with a stream and waterfall running through, it’s a very pleasant escape. The ascent up the hill to the park also provides fantastic views across the island. 
  2. Paradise Park Farm – Covering 20 acres, this animal park sits atop the highest mountain on the island. Home to various birds and mammals, it’s a great place to see local wildlife. There’s also a pool on site with far-reaching views across the island.
  3. Samui Elephant Sanctuary – Based just outside Bo Phut and established in 2018, this elephant sanctuary is home to rescued elephants. Focusing on ethical treatment and education, a visit is a magical experience. 
  4. Na Muang Waterfall – This is the largest waterfall on the island and consists of 2 cascades. Located in the jungle, you must hike from the car park to the main waterfall. You can also hike a further 30 minutes up to the second waterfall. Entrance is free, and it’s situated on the road from Lamai to Nathon.
  5. Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks – Located on the southern end of Lamai beach, these rude-shaped rocks have induced many a giggle over the years. Known as Grandpa and Grandma, these rocks provide an excellent photo opportunity. 
  6. Fishermans Village – Situated in Bo Phut, Fishermans Village is the oldest and most historic area on the island. Streets lined with old Chinese shop houses give a glimpse of island life before the rise in tourism. It’s well worth taking an hour or two to explore the area.
  7. Lad Koh Viewpoint – Situated just off the ring road between Chaweng and Lamai, this viewpoint affords spectacular views across the Gulf of Thailand. The coastline, rocky outcrops, and turquoise waters make this another excellent photo opportunity.
  8. Big Buddha Temple – Just north of the airport on the coast is the Big Buddha Temple. Situated on a pier over the water, a visit is a fascinating experience, especially if you’ve not visited a temple before.
  9. Angthong National Marine Park – Located northwest of Koh Samui, a boat tour to the marine park is a great experience. The scenery is spectacular, and the diving and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters are exceptional. 
  10. ATV Quad Safari – Offered by several operators, what better way to explore the lush interior of the island? You’ll cross rivers, visit a waterfall, and experience the jungle up close. 

Why not try some of our other guides?

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Koh Samui guide. Why not try some of our other guides for Asia or perhaps other beach escape ideas? 

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