Is Koh Samui worth visiting? You bet your bowl of spicy tom yum soup it is! Koh Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island. It sits out in the sparkling Thai Gulf some 11 miles from the coast of Nakhon Si Thammarat. Just a mention of its name is usually enough to conjure images of palm-threaded beaches, beanbag-dotted cocktail bars, and villas with infinity pools gazing over a teal-blue sea.
And that’s precisely what you get, plus loads, loads more. Yep, Koh Samui has risen and risen in the last 10 years or so to become arguably the vacation mecca of the country. Its whole eastern coast is peppered with fun-loving resorts where the bars pump and the hammocks swing. The inland is filled with ziplines and villa complexes with jungle-shrouded pools. There are coral reefs, honeymoon hotel resorts, and alluring fishing towns with buzzy night bazaars.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at nine things that help Koh Samui stand out from the crowd. From the glorious beaches that often put it on the front of travel brochures to the top-quality hotels, it showcases some of the true highlights of the isle, plus some more practical things that we think make it a doozy of a destination this year…
It’s easy to get to
Koh Samui is probably the easiest of all the Thai islands to reach bar Phuket, which has the added cheat of a direct road link to the mainland. There’s a whole airport here that’s dedicated to receiving domestic links from Bangkok and other Thai destination throughout the day, meaning you can connect through the capital and be stepping out on the beaches just a matter of hours after coming off your long-haul link from Europe or the US.
There are also stacks and stacks of boat links that connect Koh Samui with the mainland of Thailand. During the peak season (November-March), they leave multiple times each day from the ports of Surat Thani, usually taking no more than two hours to get you in.
It’s also possible to string together an island-hopping adventure through the Thai Gulf. If you already happen to be on one of the other popular isles in the region (lucky you) – places like Koh Phangan or Koh Tao – then boat links to Samui should be both cheap and frequent.
Koh Samui’s amazing beaches
It’s no secret that it’s the beaches that really keep the crowds flocking to Koh Samui. And, while other isles – Koh Lipe, Phi Phi – lay claim to the finest in Thailand, there’s no denying just how stunning they are on this favorite rock in the Thai Gulf.
The coastlines can vary quite a lot. Generally speaking, it’s the eastern shoreline that’s the most popular. It hosts sands like Chaweng and Lamai, which are now backed by resort hotels and villas. The north is quieter and much less developed, but also blessed with long runs of pine-backed sands with shallow waters. The western shore is rockier and home to the larger ports, so we’d avoid that if you’re on the hunt for the best beaches of all.
Here’s a look at just a few of the finest beaches Koh Samui can offer:
- Lamai Beach – A shimmering arc of golden sand that’s got luxury hotels aplenty, Lamai Beach is also known for the unique rock formations at its south end.
- Bang Por Beach – Head to the undeveloped north to escape to quieter Bang Por Beach, where you can find long runs of wave-lapped powder to call your own.
- Maenam Beach – A long, clean family friendly beach, also on the north coast.
- Chaweng – The main party beach but still downright lovely, with slanting palms and plenty of beach bars to get through.
Just because Koh Samui is best known for its R&R, its beaches, and its buzzy nightlife, that doesn’t mean it’s a cultural void. Not one bit. There are enthralling temples and shrines here that are sure to wow…
Let’s start off with the Big Buddha, a popular tourist site and hypnotizing Buddhist temple. Located at the north end of Koh Samui, the Wat Phra Yai is a must-see hotspot. The 15-meter-high golden Buddha overlooks the landscape, bestowing a calm ambiance around the temple grounds. The statue’s Mara pose reflects enlightenment and purity. Each morning, you can witness the monks in their chants and prayers. Locals bring offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense to lay at the feet of the Big Buddha statue, too.
And there are oodles, oodles more to get through besides:
- Hin Lad Waterfall Temple – Visit this shrine in the jungles, where serene gardens and a gushing waterfall surround an elegant Buddhist prayer hall.
- Wat Plai Laem – Close to the Big Buddha, this unusual religious complex incorporates striking examples of Chinese art and design.
- Wat Khunaram – A tall and gold-gilded temple that’s famed for hosting a mummified monk.
Keen to chase some waterfalls? Samui’s Namuang Waterfall range should satisfy the craving. Located to the south, the highest point of the island has several waterfalls all easily reached and close to each other. This is a perfect spot for day trips when visiting Koh Samui and is definitely worth seeing!
Chilled water cascades into clear rock pools that feed directly into the Gulf of Thailand. The largest and most popular waterfall on Koh Samui is 18 meters high. The wet season gives the most spectacular water flow and the large pool is suitable for swimming. Be warned, this main waterfall can get crowded in peak tourist months.
If you want to escape the crowds, head to the smaller of the two Na Muang Waterfalls. It’s harder to access, so elderly or young children may struggle. But that’s what makes this spot so special. The rock pools are smaller and only suitable for wading. Dry season months can dry up this waterfall, so it’s best to check with the locals if it’s worth the visit.
The nightlife (especially in Chaweng!)
In between all the culture and sightseeing, a cocktail on the beach never goes amiss. And there’s no better place for that on Koh Samui than in Chaweng. This lively district has plenty of bars and restaurants to explore, as well as a nice sandy beach to take on the role of dancefloor when the sun goes down.
You have to check out the cabaret shows. The drag queens steal the stage and guarantee a good night of entertainment. Both the Paris Follies Cabaret or Starz Cabaret are highly rated and loved in Chaweng. Late-night revelries often spill out onto the streets, upholding the party reputation for backpackers and young holidaymakers. Alternatively, hit the reggae bars and pumping dance venues that string up an alley coming off the main Chaweng Beach Road – they are the closest thing Thailand has to a strip a la Kavos or Ibiza!
But don’t worry. It’s not all party, party, party. The southern beaches of Chaweng are quieter, touting beachside spa resorts and dive schools. This is a good place to stay if you want to be near the action but still be able to escape for a good sleep at the end of the day.
Bophut Fishing Village
Bophut is located on the northern edge of Koh Samui, not too far from the airport and about 20 minutes in a taxi from Chaweng. It comes to life on Friday nights thanks to its uber-famous evening bazaar. Don’t worry if you’re not there on a Friday, though – the village is full of authentic restaurants and boutique shops for you to fill your boots during the whole week.
The old Chinese shophouses that line Bophut’s narrow streets have been converted into trendy guesthouses, bars, restaurants, and shops. It’s a fine place to go looking for souvenirs and Thai-themed trinkets to take home with you, not to mention all manner of authentic local foods, from spicy masaman curries to peanut-topped pad Thais.
Hotel wise, check out the Karma Resort set right on the beach in the best area of Bo Phut for an ultimate luxurious stay. Make sure you check your dates, though. Peak season can get busy here with tourists and travelers enjoying the beach bars. If you prefer a quieter stay, head to a different area of Koh Samui or visit this fishing village in the low season period.
Ang Thong Marine National Park
Thailand’s incredible beaches were brought to everyone’s attention thanks to Alex Garland’s cult classic novel, The Beach – headlined by Leonardo Di Caprio in the movie adaptation. While the famous beach used in the movie is actually over in the Andaman Sea, in the Phi Phi islands, some of the filming locations are here in the Thai Gulf. Specifically, they’re within the stunning Ang Thong Marine Park, a chain of 42 rocks that sits in the Chumphon Archipelago just west of Samui’s coast.
Jungle meets the sand. Emerald waters lap the land. This place is simply breathtaking. It’s no wonder why it sparked inspiration for Garland’s exotic novel.
The best time to visit this iconic collection of islands is between February and April. Meet up with a local guide to be shown the best snorkeling spots – this can be organized through most hotels. You can even have a complete The Beach experience and stay overnight on Ko Wua Talap Island. Choose a bungalow or a tent. There is no hot water, facilities are basic, and the electric generator is switched off at 11 pm every night – but it’s true Robinson Crusoe stuff!
Thailand has one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. The aromatic flavors and combination of spices create incredible food that tantalizes tastebuds. Whether you’re in Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Koh Samui, one thing is for certain – the food will be incredible.
Pad Thai is the nation’s staple meal. This is a noodle stir fry traditionally served with sweet-savory-sour sauce and crushed peanuts. It can come with chicken, pork, seafood, or be kept vegetarian. Any trip to Thailand is not complete until you’ve tried one or 10!
However, as a Thai island, Koh Samui also offers some of the best selections of seafood going. Many restaurants will serve fresh catch-of-the-day, pretty much straight from the boat to grill. Make sure you also check out the Na Thon Night Food Market on the west coast for another incredible Koh Samui experience. That’s a top spot for bagging stir fries, mango rice, zingy red curries – the list goes on.
Koh Samui might just have the biggest array of hotel options in Thailand. There are hotels of all shapes and sizes. The bulk of them are in and around the popular beach towns of the east coast. You can also look north and south to find quieter areas. The west coast has some options but they don’t tend to have as good beaches out front.
- Us Samui Hostel ($) – A great place for backpackers and solo travelers who want to meet new people. The shared dorm rooms are comfortable and spacious. Rooms start at around 750 baht ($24USD).
- Hansar Samui Resort & Spa ($$) – This deluxe hotel has suites that boast sea views that are to die for. It’s also got an infinity pool that’s literally steps from a quiet, white-sand beachfront.
- Sareeraya Villas & Suites – SHA Extra Plus ($$$) – Get yourself your own villa facing the glistening Thai gulf, perhaps even with a balcony from where you can jump straight into the wrap-around swimming pool.
So, is Koh Samui worth visiting? Our conclusion
We don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear us say yes – Koh Samui is worth visiting! Millions of people flock to this isle in the Thai Gulf each year precisely because it’s up there with the most alluring tropical hotspots in the world, not just Southeast Asia. You get gorgeous beaches to suit all sorts, from families to partiers, there’s a wild nightlife scene in Chaweng and in the fishing bazaars of Bophut, not to mention some of the best hotel offerings in the Land of Smiles. Oh, and it’s possible to fly straight in from Bangkok!
How many days do you need in Koh Samui?
Four days is the perfect amount of days you need to spend in Koh Samui. This gives you time to explore the culture, do some sightseeing, and soak up some sun on the beaches. You will be able to plan a four-day itinerary and tick off most things in Koh Samui before moving onto the next Thai island.
Is Koh Samui a good holiday destination?
Koh Samui is a fantastic holiday destination. So good in fact that you will probably never want to leave! The mixture of activities and culture means there is enough to keep everyone happy. The beaches are perfect for kicking back, unwinding, and escaping reality.
Is Koh Samui good for couples?
Couples and honeymooners will love Koh Samui. The natural beauty and breathtaking beaches are as romantic as they can get. Couples should stay in the north/west region of Koh Samui to escape the crowds and have the best sunsets.
Which is the best month to visit Koh Samui?
The dry season is the best time to visit Koh Samui, between December and February. These are the best months for the weather and you won’t see any rain. This is also the peak season and is popular with other tourists and backpackers.
If you would prefer to have a quieter trip, try to visit Koh Samui around March or November. These ‘shoulder’ months on either side of the high season can also be dry with good weather.
The wet season can be a difficult time to visit Koh Samui. There is a high chance of monsoons and flooding around June to August. So make sure you choose your dates well to make your trip to Koh Samui worth it.