Samui Island — an island of natural beauty in southern Thailand
If you enjoy life surrounded by a beautiful ocean, living in a luxury hotel on the beach, and spending a restful few days touring an enchanting island then head to southern Thailand and the island of Samui (“Ko Samui”).
Once there you will experience the best high class living Thailand has to offer—all in a quiet, peaceful, and relaxing setting.
Samui is located 500 kilometres south of Bangkok on the eastern side of the long Malay Peninsular, in the Gulf of Thailand. It first became popular with tourists in the 1990s. The reasons for the attraction are easy to see. Samui is a no less than a beautiful island, with crystal clear blue water, lush jungle, swaying tropic trees, coral reefs, waterfalls, and long, white sandy beaches.
An oasis of calm compared to other southern Thai islands.
The Island can be reached by domestic flights from Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, with international flights arriving from Malaysia and Singapore. The airport has an immigration office, so visas can be processed on arrival.
If you are already in the Kingdom of Thailand and wish to arrive by land, you must first travel to the Surat Thani Province and then take a three or so hour ferry ride from the mainland. Keep in mind that the ferry will sail out into the open sea, and during the wet season this can sometimes be a stormy sea. If you are prone to sea sickness take precautions.
There are ferry departures from the provincial capital, but most sail from the Don Sak Ferry Port, about 50 kilometres east of the city. There are bus and bus-ferry services from the city.
Once there you will find an island that is encircled with fine accommodation, all at low prices, making a luxury stay an affordable choice. There are villas, hotels, resorts, bungalows, and even a small quantity of backpacker style accommodation. Take your pick.
The type of people you will meet on Samui tend to be the more mature, and more prosperous visitor. Samui has no “Full Moon Party”, and no wild nightlife. On Samui, it is possible to sit quietly, watch the waves crash in, or chat with a fellow hotel guest.
This is the main reason most come to Samui—to relax. This usually means sitting under shade on the beach with a cold drink in hand. Also with hot and cold snacks, an occasional massage, while overhead birds wheel by and waves crash on the shore. In the evening there are spectacular sunsets to marvel at while waiting for your dinner to arrive.
This lifestyle can be followed every day—after your buffet breakfast—however, while the Island is a place to relax it also has a goodly assortment of recreational activities—if you so desire.
First and foremost are the temples. There are several spectacular temples ready for your inspection. They are a sight and fun to visit. You can bang the big Gong, ring the bells, check your fortune, chat to a Buddhist monk, or simply walk through and enjoy the sights and atmosphere.
The best temples are Laem Sor Pagoda Ko Samui, Wat Phra Yai, and Wat Khunaram Ko Samui. The last is famous for preserving on display the mummified remains of a former, spiritually advanced abbot.
Moving on from the temples there is a Fisherman’s Village, golf courses, and the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. For thrill seekers, there are also off-road bike and ATV trips, abseiling, zip-lines, even a little cliff climbing. If any of these are new to you, then there are schools who will gladly provide instruction!
Water sports are popular on the Island. There are boat rides around the Island and to the nearby tiny islands, also fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, and a great deal of swimming in warm tropical waters.
One excellent day’s outing is to rent the one large sailing yacht on the Island, owned and operated (via his wife) by an Australian. This handmade craft can take you anywhere you want to go nearby or far. It is pricey, but it is a unique experience to feel the wind and waves push your ship over the open waters. Great for deep sea fishing!
If you still want more water there is a water park, the Pink Elephant Water Park. Everything aquatic—plus elephants! Spend the day.
To take part in these mini-adventures you can book at your hotel, which usually includes pickup and return, or at any of dozens of tourist offices. The offices have a wider selection and more options and are usually cheaper than a hotel booking. Find an agent you are satisfied with and stick with them for the duration.
Another tour option is to simply employ a taxi for the entire day. Most drivers are Island experts and have brochures, plans, and maps of everywhere you can go, see or do. These same people will also know the festival times and locales, of which there is a sizeable number.
If you are fortunate to time your stay correctly, there are several annual festivals and events. These include a yacht regatta, an international Arts gathering, a marathon (participation optional), and several sporting events. These are always fun, lots of people, food, conversation, and parades.
One cautionary note, gambling is illegal in Thailand. You may see people offering wagers on these competitions. This is illegal. Avoid.
If you are looking for bargains (and who is not?), and if you arrive without a booking (ok in the low season), there are several tourist agencies on the ferry pier and at the airport. These offices do sell substantial discount vouchers for hotels, travel, and activities. Take a moment to browse.
Samui is a haven for seafood and for southern Thai cuisine, which is known for its spiciness. If you are feeling adventurous order “Thai spicy”—and see if you like it. A popular dish is “geang” or “kaeng”. This is a spicy, rich soup or curry, with ingredients to your choice. Another is satay, which is popular all over Thailand, but originated in the south. Meat and other ingredients on a stick, with peanut sauce—great for takeaway, but if you sit and eat you will be given dishes of sauces. Enjoy!
Street food is always available and invariably tasty, but watch the food being cooked, and avoid anything that has been sitting unrefrigerated too long.
Vegetarians, if you avoid meat in your diet you will be content on Samui. There are a dozen or more vegetarian restaurants, plus most other have vegetarian options. The tastiest may well be “Healthy Corner” on Chaweng Rd, but it is open only in the high season. An all year round choice is “Health Oasis Resort Restaurant” on the north-west coast.
After a hard day of tourism (or not), there is the famous Thai massage. The tourist beaches will have masseuses ready to massage your neck and shoulders, scrape the dead skin off your feet (an experience!), and then massage you into a state of bliss. Priced around 300 baht ($10). Massages are also available in shops scattered all over Samui, and at your hotel.
Navigating your way around Samui is easy. The main beach is Chaweng Beach, on the east coast of the Island—ten kilometres of private, soft white sand that can be reached only through your hotel. Expect to pay $100-$200 for the mid-level hotels.
Hotels here have it all, pools, sauna, gym, breakfast, and with style.
Here the water is always warm, the air fresh, and the beaches uncrowded. Sellers will pass by offering food, icecream, sunglasses, and drinks. There are also a few business offering kayak and snorkeling gear for rent. Back from the beach are fine restaurants, cabarets, bars, nightclubs, stores, and souvenirs on sale.
If you do want to truly relax, avoid the crowds, and to make your time entirely your own arrange a hotel pickup on arrival at Samui International and then be whisked away to your Chaweng hotel.
Similar to Chaweng, but somewhat smaller is Lamai Beach on the south-west coast, however, one important difference is that the water is much rougher. Swimming and boating are correspondingly more challenging, but here surfing is popular. A beach popular with the surf crowd.
The quiet alternative to the big beaches is Mae Nam Beach. Here there are coconut trees, but not hotels on the beach. Also few other tourists—you are largely on your own.
Mae Nam is where you go to get away from Chaweng! The hotels are smaller, less grand, and half the price, and you might even need to carry your own deck chair down to the beach!
All the major beaches have local night markets. These are fun places, for a bargain, for souvenirs, for a snack, or for the amazing atmosphere. Even if only once, visit a night market in Thailand.
Where you stay is up to you. Chose your beach depending on just what you are looking for (you are free to change your mind!). Then find a hotel in your comfort zone and make a booking. For a first time traveller a pre-booking saves time and a little stress.
There is a retirement community on Samui, but it is not large. Samui tends to attract visitors, not residents. If you desire to meet these fine folk check on Facebook and social media for meeting details and make yourself known. Expat retirees are happy to talk to visitors, but be prepared for a talk!
The high season of Samui is a few months either side of year’s end. This is when forward bookings are needed, the beaches are crowded, and the bars are hopping. At this time not only do more tourists arrive, but expats and Thais from all over Thailand come for to visit and to work. Outside the high season, the Island is quiet. At this time there are substantial accommodation and other discounts to be had for long term visitors—who know how to bargain! You can get 4-star hotel rooms for a few hundred dollars a month.
Samui is tropical, so the day is always hot, low 30s for most of the year. The rainy season is October to January. No need to bring warm weather clothes, cool and casual. Even at night, the temperature is in the mid-20s.
A few things to watch out for. Taxis and transport, it can be expensive. There are metered taxis, but Samui does attract ‘sharks’. During peak times, at busy points, and whenever possible many drivers will refuse to use the meter and demand high prices for their services. They might even show you an “official” price list. The trick here is to book at your hotel or take the public bus, which is an open small truck, called a songthaew.
The best idea, if you plan to spend time on Samui, is to find a driver you like and book his services each day. Negotiate, but 2000 baht ($70) is a good guide.
Another option is to rent a motorbike or car, but ensure your licenses and insurance are up to date. Most hotels have a shuttle service to the nearby town centres.
If arrive at the ferry port (west coast) there is a standard charge of 150 baht ($5) to convey you to your hotel, but you will be sharing with others.
One other offer that may be made to you is a timeshare. Timeshares do exist and are popular with some, however, before handing over your hard earned money ensure that your time share actually exists!
Once you have finished in Samui you have the option of returning home or moving on. From Samui, there are flights and departures to all over southern Thailand. There is a short ferry ride to Ko Pha Ngan, an island 20 kilometres north of Samui, which has a reputation for wilder and noisier night life. Make the best of these opportunities.
In southern Thailand, there are many island destinations. For an island with beauty, rest, and relaxation, with comfortable luxury head to Samui Island. You will not regret