Surat Thani, Thailand · 2830 hotels available
Koh Samui is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand, right in the ranks of Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Bangkok. It’s also one of the bigger islands, and thus is much less densely populated, except for certain areas. Koh Samui is a popular destinations for honeymooners, couples, families, and travelers not particularly looking for a thumping, vibrant party scene compared to some of the other beach destinations in Thailand. Not to say that Koh Samui is boring - there are fantastic bars, restaurants, and entertainment options abound. The beaches in Koh Samui are much less crowded than in other locations such as Phuket.
Koh Samui is in Surat Thani province and about 11 hours of travel away from Bangkok. It’s known for its densely grown coconut trees. The free, blue sky is easily seen due to the government ban of any buildings higher than coconut trees, which is about 4 stories. The majority of hotels and guesthouses in Koh Samui are in the bungalow form - a singular hut style building with a sloping roof and often elevated a bit by stilts and accessible by a small flight of stairs. Therefore, much of the housing in Koh Samui is far from the Western standard of apartment buildings or condos.
Millions of tourists visit Koh Samui every year. The residents of this resort island are quite fluent in English, as it’s well known that those in the tourism industry that can speak English can often obtain a better quality of life. There’s a wide variety of international cuisine on Koh Samui, since it’s a hot destination for expat communities from Europe, Scandinavian countries and Russia.
Until the end of 20th century, Ko Samui was mostly an isolated island, with minimum contact to the Thailand mainland. The island even possessed no paved roads until the beginning of the 1970s.
Koh Samui was mostly inhabited by Malay fishermen who migrated from the South China Sea. Eventually, the tranquility and beauty of Koh Samui was discovered by travelers, and word spread like wildfire. By the 1990s, Koh Samui was a well known destination for luxury travelers, families, backpackers and lovers looking for a romantic getaway.
There are two possible origins of where the name “Koh Samui” came from. “Koh” means “island” and Samui could come from one of two places. The word “saboey” means “safe haven” because Koh Samui is so beautiful and far from the mainland of Thailand, and thus people could feel safe here. Another possibility is from the word “mui” which is the name of a tree native to Koh Samui.
Koh Samui is the largest of its two sister islands, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The nearest mainland is Surat Thani.
Koh Phangan is well known for its full moon party, as well as its half moon parties, quarter moon parties, and so on. In recent years, it has been trying to shed its reputation as a party island and is instead trying to be more family friend, as well as digital nomad friendly. Koh Phangan has great scenery, diving, hiking, and beautiful, white sand beaches. There is no shortage of expats on Koh Phangan, as the island is made up of European, North American and Burmese migrants as well as native Thais.
Koh Tao is known for scuba diving, and that’s its main industry. Every year, thousands of divers come to get certified in PADI, SSI and IDC. Koh Tao is the smallest island of the three sister islands, but has by far the most gorgeous dive sites of the three. However, Koh Tao also has climbing, a few hikes, and a bustling expat community.
Surat Thani is the mainland to Koh Samui, and is often a destination for travelers who don’t wish to fly to Koh Samui. Surat Thani is a major transport hub to all of the islands in this region. There are both ferries and speedboats that pick up and drop off at Surat Thani. The train station that connects the south of Thailand to Bangkok is also here.
Koh Samui has accommodations for all types of travelers as it’s the most Westernized island in this region. Here are some of our favorites.
Located right on Chaweng beach, the location is unbeatable. There are plenty of Thai Boxing stadiums nearby for boxing enthusiasts. There’s also a pool, a poolside bar, and is only 2km from Koh Samui airport.
The pinnacle of backpacker life is here at Nid’s Bungalows. Cheap rooms, fantastic amenities, and friendly staff make this an ideal place to call home base. There are private rooms available for families or couples. There’s a game room to be social in as well.
Located in Bo Phut, which is a bit quieter and more serene, this hotel is located less than 2km from Koh Samui airport. There is a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, multilingual staff, 24 reception, and airport transfer shuttles are available with an additional fee. Maryoo Samui Hotel is a fine example of luxury on Koh Samui.
Only 3.5km from the airport, Mercure Samui Chaweng Tana is luxury at its best. Beautiful rooms, a pool, friendly staff, 24 hour reception and a fitness center make this a fantastic place to relax after a day of exploring Koh Samui.
In quiet, peaceful Lamai, Rich Resort Beachside Hotel, is in a wonderful location. Right next to the Lamai Night Market and Coco Splash Waterpark, this resort is right where it needs to be. Wifi, a beach bar, and an area shuttle make it convenient as well.
Koh Samui has its own airport, Koh Samui International Airport (USM). About 18 km, or a 40 minute trip downtown, it is sometimes said to be one of the most beautiful airports in the world. It has a garden, a view of sunset, restaurants, shops and cafes. Flights are mostly operated by Bangkok Airways, although Silk Air and Firefly Air also have occasional flights to Koh Samui.
Transportation to and from the airport
Taxi or minivan
There are set rates at the arrival counter. The minivans can carry up to 6 passengers. Prices will range from 600-1500 THB depending on the location.
You can also chose to share a minivan with other passengers. Sometimes these minivans will take you to a tour agency and try to sell you tours. They are usually pretty nice if you refuse kindly and just wait until they’re done and take you to your hotel.
A modified truck bed, songtaews are an ideal way to get around Koh Samui. You ask for the fare before boarding the songtaew and pay when you get off. Prices are per person, and range from 30-200 THB. A songtaew can fit up to 10 people.
An efficient and quick way to get around Koh Samui. Prices are negotiated beforehand.
Taxis on Koh Samui don’t use meters and fares are always negotiated beforehand.
A monk named Luong Pordaeng died while in a seated, meditative pose. Rumor has it that he said, shortly before he died, to be cremated if he decomposed, but that if he didn’t, he’d like to be on display as a symbol of his Buddhist faith. For some, this might be a frightful sight, since a dead body (wearing sunglasses) is on display, but others find the sight to be rather peaceful and inspiring of introspection. Please be respectful and wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
Opening hours: sunrise to sunset, daily
Entrance fee: free
While not the biggest or most spectacular waterfall you’ve ever seen, it’s the overall experience that draws people to Hin Had Waterfall. About a 30-45 min hike is required before you reach the falls. Going during rainy season (July-November) is when the falls will be the most impressive. Proper shoes are recommended, as is bringing enough water and snacks to keep up your energy levels. Bring a swimsuit if you’d like to swim in the waterfall.
Opening hours: sunrise to sunset, daily
Entrance fee: free
The ultimate place to relax. Filled with hot pools, cool pools, and with services such as massages and other spa treatments. This is a high end spa activity great for friends, couples, and solo travelers wanting to recharge.
Opening hours: 9am to 8pm
Entrance fee: services start at 300THB and up.
A great way to spend a day or even just a half day if you’re short on time. Most of the cooking classes will offer some variation of the following schedule: learn about the ingredients you’ll use, cook 3-7 dishes, eating as you go, usually includes dessert.
Opening hours: most schools open around 7-8am for the morning class.
Entrance fee: classes start at 600THB for a half day and 1000 THB for a full day.
Part of the beauty of Koh Samui is the lack of high rise buildings, large chains and shopping malls. The main attraction here is the beach and all that one can do there. Sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming, even scuba diving for those so inclined.
Renting a scooter - one of the best ways to explore Koh Samui is by scooter. You can usually rent one from your hotel or off of one of the beach roads. Rates should be about 250 THB/day. It’s relatively safe if you wear a helmet and drive slowly.
Animals - there are a lot of animal activities on Koh Samui. Make sure that you do some research on how the animals are being treated and where the profits go to. There are some great organizations out there who truly care about their animals and want the best for them, but it may take just a little digging to find the right ones.
Negotiating fares - fares on Koh Samui for transport and shopping are often higher than other places in Thailand. If you’re coming from Bangkok or Chiang Mai, you’ll see a difference right away, especially on the busier beach roads.