Ko Samui

The island of Ko Samui is one of Thailand’s most popular, and best known, destinations. With several white sand beaches, and clear turquoise seas, Samui fulfils almost everyone’s expectation of a paradisal tropical island. This widespread idyllic appeal has, however, also resulted in the general development of the island, and the busy, entertaining buzz of modern-day Samui is far from its postcard desert-island image. Despite all of this, Ko Samui remains the perfect place to escape from the stresses of everyday life, the beaches are still beautiful and peaceful, despite the crowds, and there are still some genuinely remote areas of the island, largely unexplored by most tourists.


As you would expect, beach life and beach activities are Ko Samui’s biggest attraction. These activities are surprisingly varied, as are Samui’s main beaches, Lamai, Chaweng, Bophut, and Maenam. Both of Ko Samui’s major, and most developed beaches, Lamai and Chaweng, offer a range of water sports for the more active and adventurous of beachgoers, including sailing lessons and sailing trips, windsurfing, and kayaking. Sea Kayaking, in particular, is very popular and well worth doing, with trips available around the south coast of the island, offering a unique way to experience the tropical waters and the glorious scenery of the region.

Despite Ko Samui’s reputation for being a good place for nightlife, drinking, and late-night parties, it is also surprisingly a haven for people seeking to detox and gain spiritual enlightenment. Spa Samui is a refuge for those who want a classic yoga and detox style retreat.

Towards the less-explored south of the island, the Ko Samui Butterfly Garden is a more unusual attraction, and offers a pleasant diversion from the beach. Here you will find hundreds of different species of brightly coloured, tropical butterflies, fluttering around the hillside location at Laem Natien. There is a hillside observatory and various observation platforms that give you unparalleled views of the surrounding area, the park, and the panoramic coastal border of the tropical park housing the butterfly garden.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring of Ko Samui’s local diversions is the nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park. A closely gathered collection of islands, still covered with their original rainforest, the Marine Park has been protected from the development prevalent on Thailand’s other islands, and is an untouched reminder of the country’s natural heritage. The archipelago emerges dramatically from the seas, with sheer limestone rock faces, unusual and eerie rock formations, and hidden sun lit coves. Particularly interesting is the striking and secluded Thale Nai, a large cliff-rimmed salt water lake, filled by underwater channels from the sea. The park is also worth visiting for the array of indigenous wildlife, unlikely to be glimpsed on any of Thailand’s less remote outcrops. Here you may see pacific reef egrets, white-bellied sea eagles, sea turtles, tortoises, pythons, monitor lizards, leopard cats, the easy to spot Asian long-tailed monkey, or langur; not to mention a plethora of brightly coloured shoals of tropical fish.


Ko Samui is expensive; even more so by the standards set by the rest of Thailand, and prices on the island are often set near Western levels. However, if you are discerning and look around carefully, you may still find some good deals and bargains, particularly on the more traditional Thai items. Goods that are particularly worth looking for are sarongs and textiles, particularly the good quality ones, made from fine fabrics, or the more beautifully printed ones. Thai silk is especially worth trying to find, though compare prices before buying as it can be overpriced – and remember, it is perfectly acceptable to haggle over almost anything. Even in ostensibly very upmarket shops and boutiques, it is worth politely enquiring: ‘discount?’ Other local items that you may want to have a look for includes jewellery, some of which is very beautiful and handmade in Thailand, with silver being the most common material and, arguably, the nicest. Traditional Thai massage oils are cheap, very effective, and extremely aromatic concoctions used in many of the treatments administered on the island, and are very good to take home for soothing tired or aching muscles.

The main shopping areas are in Lamai, and along the main street in Chaweng, found behind the hotels running along the length of the beach. Chaweng in particular is very over-developed, with a Starbucks, a Boots, and a small Tesco ‘Lotus’ shop. The island’s capital town, Na Thon, also has a number of shops, both Western and Thai.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Again, Chaweng and Lamai have the most options for both food and nightlife, offering a huge range of restaurants and bars, from the grander restaurants serving ‘royal Thai’ food, to the smaller night markets and street restaurants and bars, providing simple Thai fare, and bottles of imported beer, or the local ‘Singha’ beer.

On Ko Samui it is possible to find just about any kind of food that you like, and you are as likely to sit down for pasta as you are for rice. However, Thai food is always the nicest and usually the best-prepared option. An internationally renowned cuisine, Thai food on Ko Samui is varied and inviting, with an array of dishes from different regions of Thailand, freshly prepared in the restaurants. Some of the most widely available and popular dishes include the famous red and green Thai curries, served with rice, as well as the ubiquitous ‘phat thai’; a noodle dish found all over Thailand, and made with fried noodles, tofu, egg, spring onion, lime, chopped or ground peanuts, bean sprouts, and often a selection of other ingredients. Stir fries and Thai soups are also found almost everywhere, and have an enormous diversity of ingredients, including coconut, ginger, garlic, fresh vegetables, meat, locally caught seafood, nuts, and spices, which range from distinctive lemongrass and galangal, to the subtler tamarind.

Drinks range from freshly squeezed fruit juices and smoothies, to the potent Thai whisky ‘Mekong’, or equally strong Thai rum, ‘Sang Thip’, both of which are also used in cocktails. Beer is found everywhere and is exceptionally popular, though relatively expensive.

Nightlife in Ko Samui is unfortunately almost universally seedy, with numerous theme pubs, beer-bars, and drinking games – not to mention strip clubs, female mud-wrestling and Mui Thai (Thai boxing), and a cluster of nightclubs that do veer from the laid-back to the utterly debauched, with predictably blaring music and provocative Thai dancing girls in various states of undress. Despite this, drinking, walking, or just sitting, on the beach at night is still atmospheric and sometimes peaceful, with candlelit bars and cushions on the sand.

Tourist Information

  • Ko Samui Tourist Office, 370/3 Tambon AngThong, Amphoe Ko samui, Surat Thani 95110
  • E-mail: tatsamui@tat.or.th
  • Telephone: +66 (0) 774207202


Ko Samui has its own airport, and you can fly straight here from London without having to stopover or change flights in Bangkok. It can be cheaper to fly into Bangkok and then to Ko Samui. Bangkok Airways has daily flights to Ko Samui from Bangkok and from other major places in Thailand and South-East Asia.