Crystal clear waters and idyllic beaches, lush tropical greenery and modern ‘island style’ shopping molls, fancy jewellery shops and colourful local markets – you name it – Samui has it all. No wonder that the third-largest island in Thailand, Samui has become popular amongst both luxurious holiday makers and backpackers on a budget who can each find the experience, accommodation, activities and entertainment that they come for. Whether its candle-lit dinners on post-card beaches, wild and adventurous partying through the night, treks through forests and jungles or days spent oiled up on the beach, Koh Samui is the right choice to get it.
Samui makes a great contrast to Koh Tao with its quiet village life and almost no night scene. Though there are diving and snorkelling tours offered on Samui, you’d better make all the underwater explorations on Koh Tao, and dedicate your time on Samui to partying, shopping or sunbathing.
Getting to Koh Samui from Koh Tao
There are three ferry companies which link Koh Tao to Koh Samui via Koh Phangan. They are Lomprayah High Speed Sai 2, Seatran Discovery and Songserm.
Lomprayah takes about 1¾ hr to bring passengers from Koh Tao to Samui, leaving from Mae Haad on Koh Tao and arriving to Maenam on Samui. Tickets cost from THB600 to THB750, depending on the departure time. There are boats at 9.30am and 3pm.
Seatran Discovery offers similar service but is a bit slower and cheaper: transit time is 2½ hrs, the ticket cost is THB 580. On Samui boats moor to Bangrak Seatran Pier. There are three departures a day at 6.30am, 9am and 3pm.
Songserm has only one express boat a day at 10am which arrives to Samui via Koh Phangan at 1.30pm. It costs THB 450 and the hotel pick-ups are included in the price.
Tip: As your sea travel between Koh Tao and Koh Samui will last from two to three hours, have all the necessary medications at hand if you are prone to seasickness. When the sea is choppy, opt for Seatran instead of Lomprayah, as the catamaran actually rides the swell, while Seatran cuts through it, which help avoid endless ups and downs.
Koh Samui is large and you will need a way to get around easily, since doing it on foot is very limiting and uncomfortably hot, but there are many far better options available depending on how you like to get around.
Taxis (songthaews) are a great way to travel long distances on the island, or if you want to go out partying and know you shouldn't drive yourself around. While they are convenient and can get you everywhere from anywhere, this is probably the most expensive option, as you can expect to pay between 50 and 100 THB a person which adds up quickly.
Motorcycles are a fantastic way to get around. Motorcycles (and bicycles, too) can be rented from almost every resort on the island. Rentals are cheap, petrol is cheap, and they give you the freedom to go just about anywhere you want to go as you explore the island’s natural wonders. A word of caution though, you will undoubtedly see many tourists about with bandages and scrapes on their arms and legs, almost all of the time these are caused by accidents on scooters. You should be able to find a scooter for less than 200 THB a day. Most of the rental shops insist that you leave your passport behind. While this is a bit unnerving, it is also standard practice throughout Thailand, so be very careful with your scooter if you want to avoid any trouble.
Where to stay
Hat Chaweng is packed with all kinds of accommodation to suit any budget. It is the epicentre of the action, and the northern part of the beach can be quite noisy. Hat Lamai is another popular choice attracting holiday-makers both with its long stretch of white sand and a good choice of restaurants, bars and shops along the main road. In between the two beaches hides a little gem of Crystal Bay with – as the name suggests – crystal clear waters embraced with imposing boulders of a small bay. Hat Bang Rak (or Big Buddha Beach) leis relatively close to the airport (you may hear some noise), but the white sand of its western part compensate for it. Bo Phut is of particular interest not because of the beach but thanks to its trendy boutique hotels peppering Fishermen’s Village where strong Chinese influence can be felt even today. Families often opt for Mae Nam with its gentle sea. The West Coast is not a good choice if you come for the sea, but the sunsets are exceptional there.
Tip: Do not spend all your time on Samui on one and the same beach; try at least a couple of them and you will be rewarded with the diversity which this island has to offer.
Besides usual diving, snorkelling, kayaking, jungle-trekking and waterfalls find a couple of hours to visit the only rum distillery in Thailand, Magic Alambic. They produce Caribbean rum with a variety of natural flavours (obviously, they have coconut rum, too). They offer tasting sessions and sell rum, too (600-700 THB per 700ml bottle). Located in Baan Bang Kao. Travellers with the little ones in tow will love Paradise Park, which is a considerably large petting zoo, which is also one of the best viewpoints on the island.