Beaches in Koh Samui
Samui is visited mostly by holidaymakers wanting to "get away from it all", and its main appeal is its funky rural beach communities with white beaches and clear & warm seas, and it has a few exceptional ones to choose from. Ko Samui is hardly "away from it all" anymore, but rather a cool and bustling international island resort.
Chaweng Beach covers a large portion of the island's northeast coast, and is easily the most crowded and tourist saturated region on the island. The beach itself, while beautiful and clean often suffers from seasonal overcrowding as ever increasing numbers of visitors discover the island.
Set back about 100 meters from the sand the one way beach road in Chaweng has developed into a bustling international tourist town packed with every kind of resort, restaurant, and bar (ranging from busy traditional family-run open air sea food and noodle Thai at Ninja, through exclusive Thai-Californian fusion food at Jeff Lord's Betelnut to Irish Pubs and American Fast Food places McDonald's and Starbucks), Fine art, tailors, and souvenir shops, markets and wild, rambunctious, or chilled out nightclubs.
It gets ultra busy on the beach road at night with a crazy and colorful mix of pedestrians, motorcycles, and 'Song Taos', or small truck-taxis carrying people up and down the village. Chaweng is a jumping place with people exploring the shops (which also stay open late) and dancing the night away. There is plenty of nightlife, and Soi Green Mango is ground zero for a raging club and bar scene that only begins to simmer down after two AM. Chaweng has some exceptional boutique hotels, like Poppies, and the Muang Kulay Pan. Just ask Khun Don!
In the summer months the waters in Chaweng can occasionally have some wind swell & surf, so be prepared for strong rip tides or side shore currents. The waters are shallow, but inexperienced swimmers should either stay close to shore or swim with other people.
Also on the East coast is Lamai, just south of Chaweng and smaller, but Lamai's beaches are clean and occasionally less crowded than Chaweng. Lamai was the original destination for travelers to Samui, and compared to Chaweng the town is a bit more tawdry and low budget, but it has its own distinct charms.
Greater Lamai is actually a large and beautiful valley, and as one travels inland away from the beach village the landscape is striking. Lamai has some pretty outrageous 'social' bars in the middle of town, and the once a week all girl Muay Thai boxing matches always seem to draw an eclectic crowd. Lamai has a lovely old Wat(temple), and is also the location of two of the most endearing original spas on the island, one on the beach, a hipster paradise called 'The Spa', and the other called 'Tamarind Spa', which has long been the class act on the island.
In the center of the North coast of the island, Maenam offers spectacular views of Ko Phangan to the North, and the Ang Thong National Marine Park to the East. The waters are calm and clean, being protected from the North Easterly currents by Ko Phangan. Because the sans are golden rather than white Meanam is usually much less crowded than Lamai or Chaweng, and Maenam's restaurants and bars still retain much of the local Thai flavor as well as being more reasonably priced, or even inexpensive. Overall Maenam is quieter, more relaxed, with local Thai community still pretty much intact. Meanam is also home to the Santiburi Resort, still considered by many to be the premier hotel on the island. The major golf course on the island is also in Maenam.
Bophut is the beach/bay just to the east of Maenam. Its lifestyle is relaxed and more traditional than the larger communities, referring to itself as Fisherman's Village. Bhophut's laid back vibe is popular with the more chic sort of travelers, and has a number of pricey but very good French-owned cafes and restaurants. Also there are also some smart English and Irish Pubs, an exceptional (and expensive) Italian restaurant run by a chap named Guido, some great Thai seafood grill restaurants, and Indian Restaurant. Bhophut has kept the girly bars out, and its very family friendly. Try to do the annual 'Fisherman's Festival'. The Lodge & The Apartments in Bhophut are a very class act, with brilliant accommodations designed and built by an Irish developer who is something of a local legend.
Bang Rak, just two kilometers east of Bhophut, and part of Bhophut 'province' is also known by the name Big Buddha Beach, after the 19-metre gold tinted statue of the ancient spiritual master which overlooks the entire bay (Big Buddha). Bang Rak is quite close to the airport, and is one of the calmest beaches, though the huge sweep of it's jade colored waters are often a bit murky. Bang Rak is the jump off point to sister island Ko Phan Ghan, and the ferry goes every day. Bang rak is a crazy mix of beachfront mansions and, nowadays, noisy girl bars.
Choeng Mon is one of the smallest of Samui's tourist beaches, but lies in a secluded bay on the northeastern tip of the island, making it perfect for those who want peace and quiet. It doesn't have much of a town but there are a number of small restaurants and a couple of shops, in addition to some very luxurious (and expensive) hotels that surround the bay...and it is only five minutes north from the bright lights of Chaweng.
Ao Tong Takian is a small cove north of Lamai beach. It's long been popular among stoners and hip tourists for its inviting white sand, and is also known as Silver Beach. Here you will find five resorts: La Mer Samui Resort, the Samui Yacht Club (with no yachts or sailors at all), Tong Ta Kian Villa, Silver beach, and Crystal Bay. This used to be a relatively unknown spot. There is great swimming here if the local fishing boats are not around. Be a careful if you are walking in the water, as Tong Takian has a lot of sharp rocks.
Nathon on the Southwestern coast is the island's main port and the beaches here lack the beauty or deep water found on the east coast of the island. The city of Nathon offers great shopping with some of the best prices to be found anywhere on the island, as well as some truly good local restaurants, including a fantastic place on a side street where you can get a low priced Chinese Duck lunch. The open-air food market is piled high with inexpensive and fresh local produce. Some of the shops in Nathon are really offbeat, selling umbrellas, computer parts, stationary, and cheese in a single shop. Banks and Travel agencies here make it happen for travelers, and the ferry to the mainland and point beyond departs from this port.
Lipa Noi is really the only useful swimming beach on the west coast, and its wide sweep of sand is the last quiet place on the island. Lipa Noi faces due west and looks directly into the stunning Thai sunsets. It won't last long, but this is the part of the island where you can still feel like you are free from the tourist circus. It's really romantic, and there is not much to do.
Tong Krut on the South West corner of the island is currently one of the quieter areas of Ko Samui and is being proposed as the site for the islands future mega-yacht harbor.
Tourist Attractions in Koh Samui
Big Buddha is a twelve-metre high statue of the Buddha, which lies at the top of ceremonial dragon-steps at the Wat Phra Yai. Samui also has a number of other impressive temples, including Wat Khunaram, where the mummified body of Loung Pordaeng, a monk who died in a meditating position is on display.
The Grandmother and Grandfather rocks on the south end of Lamai beach are an occasional source of amusement for tourists due to their striking similarity to a vagina and penis.
The mountain jungle in the interior of the island is an excellent day out, and is home to a number of impressive gardens built by legendary Samuian farmer Nim Thongsuk, the impressive waterfalls at Na Muang, real working rubber plantations and the most amazing views over the Ang Thong archipelago. The roads in the jungle are an adventure in themselves, and tourists normally take a tour with an experienced local Samui driver/guide.
Muay Thai boxing takes place regularly at the island's stadiums in Chaweng and Lamai.
Numerous animal attractions are dotted around the island, including a crocodile farm, monkey theatre, elephant trekking, a snake farm, an aquarium and a butterfly garden.
Most visitors to the island take a day trip out to the beautiful Ang Thong National Marine Park at least once on their stay in Samui. Boats leave Na Thon several times a day.
Ko Pha Ngan has a full-moon party at the appropriate time each lunar month, and tourists in Samui often hop a slow ferry or speedboat to the nearby island to join in the dusk to dawn high energy dancing and drinking marathon.
Koh Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand, about 35km northeast of Surat Thani town (9°N, 100°E). It is surrounded by about sixty other islands, most of which comprise the Ang Thong National Marine Park, but also include other tourist destinations Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan.
The island is roughly circular in shape, and is about 15km across. The central part of the island is an (almost) uninhabitable mountain jungle (peak Khao Pom, 635m) and the various lowland areas are connected together by a single road, that covers the circumference of the island.
The old capital is Nathon, on the southwest coast of the island, and remains the major port for fishing and inter-island transportation. Nathon is the seat of the regional government, and the true commercial hub of the Samui locals. It has a charming pace, and is almost small enough to walk everywhere. The old Chinese shop houses along the middle street wisper of an exotic history.
Each of Samui's primary beaches is now also nominally considered a town, due to the number of hotels, restaurants and bars that have sprung up in recent years.
The island was probably first inhabited about 15 centuries ago, settled by fishermen from Malay Peninsula and Southern China. It appears on Ming Dynasty maps dating back to 1687, under the name Pulo Cornam. The name Samui is mysterious in itself. Perhaps it is an extension of the name of one of the native trees, mui, or it is a corruption of the Chinese word Saboey, meaning "safe haven".
Until the late 20th century, Samui was an isolated self-sufficient community, having little connection with the mainland of Thailand. The island was even without roads until the early 1970s, and the 15km journey from one side of the island to the other involved a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.
Today, Samui has a population of about forty-five thousand, and lives on a successful tourist industry, as well as exports of coconut and rubber. It even has its own international airport, Samui Airport, with flights daily to Bangkok and other major airports in Southeast Asia. While the island presents an unspoiled image to the public perception, economic growth has brought not only prosperity, but changes to the island's environment and culture, a source of conflict between local residents and migrants from other parts of Thailand and other countries. Reflecting Samui's growth as a tourist destination, the Cunard ship MS Queen Victoria (a 2000-plus passenger ship) will dock at Samui during its 2008 world cruise.