Next to Phuket, Koh Samui is not only Thailand’s second largest island; it is also as popular, attracting more than 1.5 million tourists per year, on a conservative estimate. The island was without roads until the early 70s when the first backpackers discovered it, but today thanks to its phenomenal growth, it even has its own international airport, with flights daily to Bangkok and other major airports in Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Despite its tourism success, the island still presents an unspoiled image, albeit more prosperous and with full service facilities. To date it attracts some of the world’s high rollers who are eternally in search of new fashionable places to travel. There are also many foreign retirees living on the island, probably because of its climate, natural surroundings, and the ease of living on the island.
Why go to Koh Samui?
Samui is rich in natural resources but visitors come mainly for the beautiful, white sandy beaches if not for the numerous adventure opportunities that can be enjoyed both the in mainland and the neighboring islands and islets. The island is great for relaxation, health and wellness pursuits, diving, enjoying some exclusive resort escapades, and recently high-end parties. Accommodation comes in all price ranges but high-end hotels and resorts – by design chic, hip, and sophisticated — are slowly edging the traditional places out, making the island a destination for those who enjoys traveling in luxury and style. Activities can range from typical island sightseeing to more exciting and extreme adventures – just ask tour operator nearby, or in, your hotel.
Must-do in Koh Samui
Get a tan on the beaches, eat at Fisherman’s Village, hang out in the bars on Chaweng or Lamai, or go island hopping, in island’s like Phangan, famous for its full-moon parties; and Koh Tao, which is a worldwide name for great diving.
Must-see in Koh Samui
Hinta-Hinyai (Grandfather and Grandmother Rock), a whimsical aberration of nature that never fails to elicit a smile from visitors; the Big Buddha of course, and the Fisherman’s Village in Bophut. There are the usual museums, temples, Thai night markets, animal zoos and farms of course, and for those staying longer – the nearby islands and islets.
Accommodation in Koh Samui
With Thailand’s second largest resort business, behind Bangkok and surpassing Phuket, there’s no dearth of places to stay and sleep in Koh Samui. Affirming its solid reputation as a world-class holiday destination are the international hotel chains now operating on the island not to mention new intimate boutique and design hotels that are now mushrooming around the island.
Top choices for a luxurious stay include Anantara Bo Phut Resort and Spa, a boutique-design hotel on a quiet stretch of Bophut Bay; Le Meridien Samui in Lamai, described as a resort with classic luxury style; Conrad Koh Samui on Phang Ka Peninsula – with its selection of truly unique luxury villas; The Santiburi, one of the longest running favorites of high-heeled Samui visitors; the resplendent W Samui – described as “sunshine, spice, and everything nice, Four Seasons Samui, an “away-from-it-all hillside resort” with the legendary Four Seasons standards; Six Senses Hideaway on a headland on the northern tip of the island; the stylish The Library; Napasai on the north coast; The InterContinental Samui on the former site of Baan Taling Ngam Resort, also in Taling Ngam; Centara Grand Beach Resort in Chaweng with 206 luxurious sea-facing rooms and suites, and more. Other Samui resorts worth checking include Q Signature and Sala Samui on Choengmon Beach, The Briza and Kandaburi in Chaweng, Upni Duniya, and Zazen in Bophut. Oh, and have I mentioned the Beach Republic and Nikki Beach? These two are on a league all their own. Another recent additions to the list of Samui’s growing number of wonderful hotels and resorts is the Movenpick Samui.
Heavenly Vana Belle
For an unforgettable luxurious escape, try Vana Belle Koh Samui (9/99 Moo 3, Chaweng Noi Beach, 077 915 555), part of Starwood’s exclusive Luxury Collection. The name, Vana Belle means ‘beautiful forest’ and originates from a unique linguistic combination of ancient Sanskrit and French. This unique property consists of 80 stunning suites and villas, nestled amidst a hillside forest overlooking beautiful Chaweng Noi Beach. Vana Belle is renowned for its highly personalized and anticipatory service, as well as its signature Concierge offering. As part of their training, the Concierge team must explore every corner of the island in order to become a destination expert. Only then, are they allowed to advise guests on where to find Koh Samui’s many hidden cultural treasures. With private pools in every suite and possibly the most indulgent breakfast on the island, there are also plenty of reasons to relax on those days when you feel like hanging your Explorer’s cap up. www.vanabellekohsamui.com
Where to eat in Koh Samui
Visitors are spoiled for choice as far as dining out goes in Samui. In Chaweng, They range from the dependable and affordable one to the truly uppity and pricey. But definitely the “in” place to dine in style these days is Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village where you gaze out on nostalgic wooden houses and quaint local shops reminding one of days gone by in Samui while enjoying the best of Thai, French, Italian, Indian, Mexican and seafood. There are also several pubs and a couple of bakeries offering standard European-Style snacks and typical British and Australian pub food here. A Samui restaurant that gets people forever talking is Dining On the Rocks at Six Senses Hideaway (077 245 678), an impressive and a pretty unforgettable sensual and truly luxurious experience. Some say it’s overrated, but it depends on you.
Four Seasons Samui also boasts restaurants that set the bar higher such as the flagship Lan Tania (Thai and Italian) and Pla Pla. Try also H-Bistro of Hansar Samui (077 245 511), and yes, the award-winning Zazen Restaurant (Zazen Boutique Resort and Spa/077 425 0850). Other seriously fashionable dining and wining haunts: Beach Republic in Lamai (077 458 100/modern international cuisine) and The Library. From jet setters parting for the weekend to the local sexy sunbather, Nikki Beach Koh Samui calls itself “the ultimate beachclub and the sexiest place on earth” with good reason. You can spend the day sipping champagne on a signature day bed while ordering a la carte from a cuisine that can be rightfully termed “global.” Of course, this list is hardly complete – there will probably be other great restaurants for stylish dining near your resort, and if you fancy experiencing those on the other end of the price spectrum, there would be many too.
Bars in Koh Samui
Samui is a great place to party – and those with a penchant for drinking binges cannot be blamed for patronizing the party bars with lots of risqué action – certainly great eye openers. But that doesn’t mean it’s all go-go atmosphere here. Again, if you’d rather stay in your resort for a drink or two, that’s a great idea too because most new resorts are jumping on the bandwagon of stylish, chic in-house bars and clubs with great vibe and offerings. Nikki Beach, The Library, Six Senses Samui, Four Season’s Samui, W Samui, and their kins have all their own unique characters that appeal to those searching for a stylish night out on the town.
In all fairness, there are still so many outstanding places to eat and drink and chill-out that we failed to mention here, and indeed with almost all districts of Samui becoming well developed for tourist needs, there is a place to eat and drink for every taste and budget.
When to go
Samui’s weather is relatively dry the whole year round. Thus anytime of the year is a good time to visit.
How to get there
By plane — Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways fly from Bangkok to Samui for a total of 23 direct flights a day.
By train — Trains leave Bangkok in the evening and arrive in Suratthani early the next morning daily. At the Suratthani Train Station are buses, which go to the ferry pier to Samui (20 minutes).
By Bus —Many bus companies provide service from Bangkok to Samui. They generally leave Bangkok in the evening and arrive in Suratthani early next morning. From Surat, a ferryboat takes you to the island.