We hope that you find this guide helpful when planning your dream holiday in Koh Samui.
BEACHES – GLORIOUS BEACHES
Without a doubt, Koh Samui lays claim to having some of the world’s most spectacular beaches. Chaweng Beach is the most well known tourist destination, crammed with resort hotels and loads of visitors. Most people know all about Chaweng Beach however there are some other superb beaches around the island that are well worth a visit.
Lamai Beach is one of this writer’s favorites. Nice sand, lots of beach front bars/restaurants and less tourists. This is quite a long beach and some sections are better than others. To find the very best part, turn left at McDonalds which is on the Lamai Beach Road and follow this street about 150 metres to the beach. There is parking only 30 metres from the beachfront so it is very convenient. It is a wide beach so it is great for children to play on. We recommend The Bikini Bar as the best place to base yourself for the afternoon/day. Great food, music, and you are welcome to use their sun lounges on the beach free of charge. Make sure that you try their Buffalo Wings (a half kilo may not be enough). Another good option is called The Address which is about 100 metres further down the beach. It’s a little pricier but is has a great food and ambience as well.
A little known gem is Lipa Noi Beach which is located on Samui’s west coast. This beach is home to the world famous Nikki Beach Resort. However, if you drive about 150 metres past Nikki Beach, you will find the Lipa Lovely Resort. The resort is very rustic and they have a fantastic beachfront restaurant called Big Johns. The beach is superb and the water is shallow and safe for children to swim. In fact most of the year the water looks like glass ! The food at Big Johns is terrific, well priced, and the staff are very welcoming. Try the ‘lovely tower’, chicken with cashews, or the green curry. For dessert, try the banana fritters with vanilla ice cream…..not great for the waistline but yummy nonetheless. Due to its west coast location, Lipa Noi offers one of the best beachfront Sunsets that you’ll find anywhere in Samui.
Bang Por Beach is another quiet, serene location. Here you will find a typical coconut lined beachfront that you see in travel brochures. Restaurants and private villas dot the beachfront area. There are not many tourists to bother you here. It’s an ideal place to take a late afternoon stroll and perhaps stop by one of the beachfront bars for a cocktail or two.
Cheong Mon Beach is located in a small but lovely bay which is surrounded by fairly upmarket accommodation. The delightful beach has arguably the nicest sand in Samui. On one end of the beach there are rock formations and on the other end there is an island that you can paddle out to. This family friendly beach is fairly wide and good for kids. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from so you won’t go thirsty or hungry. It’s a more intimate beach than many of the others and you’ll often get a nice sunset here.
Crystal Bay Beach is another intimate beach worth visiting. Located between Chaweng and Lamai, Crystal Bay is a great place for swimming and snorkeling. Impressive rock formations surround this beach and it is perfect for families. Food and drink can be purchased at the Crystal Bay Beach Resort. Many locals like to keep this beach their little secret, and for good reason.
The 2 main nightlife areas are located in Chaweng and Lamai.
Chaweng has numerous bars on the Beach Road and in the Green Mango area. You’ll find everything from Thai styled bars through to upmarket clubs. You’ll be spoiled for choice that’s for sure. One of the most popular places is the Ark Bar & Resort which is located on Chaweng Beach. International DJs flock to this place and often draw big crowds. It’s a bit noisy for this writer’s fancy but for the young ones it is an extremely popular venue.
Compared to Chaweng, Lamai is a sleepier hollow but there are plenty of bars along the Beach Road to enjoy a cold drink or ten. You won’t find any nightclubs here. It’s more of a place for simple Thai style bars with pool tables. If you’re looking for a relatively low key evening, it is a fun place to hang out and people watch.
You’ll find that there are lots of bars dotted all over the island. It’s fair to say that there are bars everywhere in Samui and the chance of you going thirsty is non-existent !
EATING OUT – FOOD, FOOD, FOOD and MORE FOOD !
Best Lunch Venue
Although there are some fabulous options all over the island, Pla Pla, located in Bang Por at the Four Seasons Resort, is this writer’s pick. Serving fresh seafood, thai and western dishes, Pla Pla combines a stunning location with delightful service and ambience. The menu prices are quite reasonable for a 5 star hotel, with most meals ranging between 300 to 700 baht. It’s always best to book so that reception knows to expect you. Upon arrival you’ll be transported by golf buggy to the beachfront. Enjoy is all we can say !
A worthy mention should also go to The Cliff Bar & Grill, located on the Ring Road between Chaweng and Lamai (a little closer to Lamai). It is a beautiful restaurant with wonderful views. The food is excellent and it is very easy to while away an entire afternoon here. Try the Piri Piri chicken, although I should caution that the side sauce is rather spicy (perhaps a challenge for some). Make a booking to ensure that you get a prime sea view table on the terrace.
There are plenty of outstanding choices on the island when it comes to fine dining. However this writer’s no.1 pick is the Barracuda Restaurant. It is located at the beach end of the Wharf Shopping Centre in Fisherman’s Village. The restaurant is superbly decorated and it has a lovely bar near the main entrance which is a great meeting point for friends. Modern Mediterranean might best describe the menu and where possible, local produce is used. The Barracuda Restaurant has taken food lovers by storm on the island. For that special dinner, it is very hard to go past this place. Make sure that you book.
A special mention to The Larder which is located in Cheong Mon. This fabulous restaurant offers an intimate dining experience and truly flavorsome food. This is one of the better meals that you’ll experience anywhere in the world. Try the Rump Steak for main course and the Chocolate Soufflé for dessert. They have an excellent wine list as well. Bookings are essential given that this restaurant is rather small and tables go quickly.
Sunday is Funday !
Sunday is buffet brunch day on the island and there are some fabulous choices. But here are the 2 best options.
Beach Republic (Lamai). This fantastic beachfront resort is a favorite among locals. Tremendous food, reasonable prices, 2 swimming pools and a family friendly atmosphere that’s suitable for all ages. Bring yourself, your swimming attire, and your appetite ! You won’t be disappointed.
Nikki Beach Resort (Lipa Noi). This world famous resort is a place where the ‘beautiful people’ hangout. Arguably more suited to the sub 40 crowd, expect to see world class DJs and a large amount of champagne being consumed ! Relax poolside on a double sala bed and enjoy the upbeat atmosphere. The food is tremendous and the service and ambience is world class. A unique experience. So just go !
Other Restaurants Worth A Try
Eden Beach Bungalows is a French operated resort with a rustic beachfront restaurant. The food here is top quality and very reasonably priced. Try the Beef Skewers or the Fisherman’s Basket. Guests can use the resort pool and they even provide towels. They serve excellent cocktails as well. Pleasant staff and nice surroundings. It is located in Moo 1, Bophut. The entrance from the Ring Road is rather small and it’s easy to miss. However there is signage.
Relax Restaurant and Bar is located at the far end of Bang Por Beach on the Ring Road. They specialise in Thai Food including fresh seafood. The views are incredible and prices for food and drinks are really affordable. An excellent place for a late afternoon drink. Try the softshell crab. It’s delicious.
Secret Garden is located on the beach road in Bangrak. A favorite among locals, this venue serves a mixture of Thai and western food at great prices. You’ll get a great breakfast here too. Sundays feature live music and they often have a beachfront bbq. A top little spot.
The Shack is an institution among local residents in Samui. Located in Fisherman’s Village, expect to be served brilliant steaks, ribs and fresh seafood. Not the cheapest meal on the island, but the quality is superb.
If you’re staying in the Lamai area and you’re looking for a fabulous steak, then head straight to The Butcher. This French operated restaurant serves fresh cuts of meat from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Japan. It is located on the Lamai Beach Road, opposite the Shamrock Pub. The value is superb when compared to other premium steak restaurants on the island. If you do go to this restaurant, you simply must try the truffle and cognac sauce. It is to die for. I may be harmed by some fellow expats who would prefer to keep this place a secret. But it’s too late, the secret is out there now !
Johm Thong seafood restaurant on the beach in Ban Makkam on the Ring Road between Nathon and Bang Por. A huge barbequed red snapper cost around 500-600 baht. Enough barbequed king prawns to feed 2 hungry people will cost around 1200 baht. For those that don’t eat seafood, there is a wide range of Thai dishes offered as well. Overall, this venue represents brilliant value. Try and get there for an early meal and enjoy the incredible sunset.
BEST COCKTAIL SUNSET LOCATION
This writer has done plenty of extremely enjoyable ‘research’ to find the very best spot to sit back with a cocktail and enjoy a perfect Koh Samui sunset. And the winner is…….The Air Bar at the Intercontinental Hotel, located in Taling Ngam. Arrive at about 5pm and enjoy the beverage of your choice at the magnificent Air Bar. The view of the 5 islands is stunning and when the sun finally sets, make sure that you have your camera ready ! Afterwards, enjoy a dinner at Amber, an affordable dining experience which is only a few metres away from the Air Bar. Most main meals are between 400 to 800 baht. Considering it’s a world class 5 star hotel, those prices are very reasonable.
A worthy mention should also go to the Woobar at the W Hotel, located in Maenam. As soon as you walk through reception you are captivated by a stunning ocean vista. On the right hand side you will find the Woobar. Their cocktails are sublime and the location is magnificent. For true cocktail lovers, try their Mo-Hee-Toe madness promotion from 7-11pm every Thursday. Enjoy unlimited Mojitos (they have about 6 different kinds) for only 1,300 baht per person.
BEST SPORTS BAR
This writer’s personal favorite is the Islander Bar, located on the Beach Road in Chaweng (opposite to the Ark Bar & Resort entrance). The food and drink prices are very reasonable, they serve hearty pub food, and they feature more live sport than any other bar on the island. It also has a fun, vibrant atmosphere that is often lacking in some of the other sports bars in Samui. Most importantly, they have more tv screens than you can care to imagine. A great venue to watch live sport, enjoy cheap drinks and have a decent meal.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of massage shops and spas dotted all around the island. From budget beachfront shacks to modern 5 star resort spas, it really depends on what type of environment that you’re looking for. However based on guest experiences, we can highly recommend Apple’s Spa Experience, located in Cheong Mon. One of the primary reasons for this is that the staff take the time to find out about any specific problems that you might have and then customise a massage to suit. Their signature treatment is a Watpo Thai Massage which combines fragrant oils with a hot compress. The cost of this 90 minute treatment is 1,300 baht. As expected, there is a range of other treatments available including hand, foot, back, and shoulder massages and facials. This is not the fanciest spa on the island, but if you want a genuinely sublime massage, this is the place for you. It’s best to make a booking.
MUST DO ACTIVITY
There is one thing that you simply must do when you visit Koh Samui. Spend a day on the water. Without a doubt the best boating experience available is a day tour with Boutique Yachting. They have 2 boats, the Naga and the Baidee (both are 30 metres long). They are fantastic vessels offering high levels of comfort and service. Day tours around the island or to the Angthong Marine park are available. Afternoon sunset cruises or customised tours can also be arranged. All tours depart from the Petcharat Marina in Bangrak. Tours usually include stops for swimming and snorkling or even a visit to a deserted island.
Private charter by half day, full day, or overnight is also available at very reasonable rates. All tour prices include food and non alcoholic beverages. Towels are provided and there is plenty of shade onboard both vessels. The staff are courteous, helpful and very good with children. The food is excellent and it seems to keep coming all day ! Transport to and from your accommodation can be arranged. These are child friendly boats so do not hesitate to take your little ones along.
Guests rave about these tours, saying that it was the highlight of their holiday. So trust us on this recommendation and have a fabulous time exploring Samui by water.
Taxis are a convenient option because there are so many of them on the island. A new Thai law has mandated that taxis must use meters in Samui but unfortunately almost none of them do. So you need to bargain hard. An alternative to taxis is a private driver service. These companies will charge about the same as taxis, their vehicles are usually nicer and their drivers are usually safer ! Contact us if you would like a referral to one of our drivers. They will guarantee you a price on the phone and you’ll find them more pleasant to deal with than most of the taxi drivers on the island.
Songtaews (covered utility vehicles) are a cheap alternative to normal taxis. They go all the way around the Ring Road. Just flag one down on the side of the road and jump in the back. When you want to hop out, there is a buzzer that you can press to alert the driver to stop (or just yell out). Most fares are 20-100 baht per person depending on where you are headed on the island however it is wise to negotiate the price with the driver beforehand. Note that prices are about 50% higher at night. Songtaews are a fun way to explore the island and it is also a nice way to mix with locals and tourists.
There is also the option of hiring motorbikes from around 150 baht per day. However we strongly recommend against doing this. Most visitors to the island have little or no experience riding motorbikes and Samui is definitely not the right place to learn ! Unconfirmed reports indicate that several hundred people die per year on the island’s roads. Not to mention the thousands of minor accidents that occur. But if you really want to hire a bike, make sure that you wear a helmet for safety and also to avoid a 500 baht fine if the authorities catch you not wearing one. It is also wise to check that your travel insurance covers you for motorbike accidents. Some insurance companies do not cover you for this and the high cost of private medical care could leave your dream holiday in ruins. Try to avoid riding at dusk and at night as this is when a lot of motorbike accidents occur.
There are also motorbike taxis who charge as little as 20 baht upwards. This is often a relatively fast form of transportation as they tend to weave in and out of traffic. However for safety reasons we cannot recommend them. Although they are probably safer than riding a bike yourself !
If you really want to the freedom to explore everything that Samui has to offer, we would suggest that you hire a car. This gives you the convenience of going where you want, when you want. Driving is not difficult on the island and it is hard to get lost because the Ring Road pretty much takes you to most places that you will want to go.
Most of us need it and thankfully it’s everywhere on the island and it’s free. Virtually all restaurants and bars have free wifi so you’ll have no problems staying connected to the world.
There’s never a bad time to visit Samui but you are more likely to encounter rain throughout the month of November and December. Visit any time between January until the end of October and your likely to see plenty of sunshine. The average monthly day time temperature is a comfortable 30.5 degrees, with the warmest months being March through to August where the average day time temperature is 31-33 degrees. January is the coolest month of the year with an average daytime temperature of 28 degrees (still pretty warm though).
HOSPITALS and INSURANCE
Koh Samui is fortunate to have some great hospitals. But without a doubt the very best option is the Bangkok Hospital Samui, located on the Ring Road in Chaweng . This is a world class facility and it is rated one of the best in Thailand. However, the cost of treatment is very expensive so make sure that you have adequate travel insurance to cover any unfortunate accidents or emergencies.
USE COMMON SENSE
Thai people are very polite, patient and gentle so be respectful and treat them with common courtesy and good manners. As the saying goes, ‘you catch more bees with honey’ !
Be safe and don’t leave your brain at home. Of course you want to have a good time but don’t engage in activities that can potentially harm yourself or others. Among other things; riding bikes without helmets, drink driving, swimming while drunk and partaking in illegal drugs, are all recipes for disaster in Thailand.
Be wary of the sun. Your holiday could be ruined by getting sunburnt. Apply sunscreen, wear a hat and if you are fair skinned, limit your exposure.
Although tourist crime on the island is relatively low, do take care of your belongings. Should you find yourself in any trouble, seek assistance from your local police station or the tourist police. Some contact details are listed below.
Chaweng Police Station
Address: Laem Din Market, Moo2, Bo Phut, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 414 567
Nathon Police Station
Address: Thaweeratphakdee Road, 17/16 Moo 3, Nathon, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 421 095, +66 (0)77 421 097
Bo Phut Police Box
Address: Moo2, Bo Phut, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 425 071
Chaweng Police Box
Address: Moo 6, Bo Phut, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 422 067
Lamai Police Box
Address: Moo 4, Island Ring Road, Maret, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0) 77 424 068
Mae Nam Police Box
Address: Island Ring Road, Moo 1, Mae Nam, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 425 070
Address: 359 Moo 3, Angthong, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 421 245
Taling Ngam Police Box
Address: Island Ring Road, Moo 1, Taling Ngam, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0)77 423 009
Address: Thaweeratphakdee Road, Moo 1, 304/8-9 Nathon, Tambon Angthong, Koh Samui
Tel: +66 (0) 77 421 281, Call Centre – 1155