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The Complete Travel Guide to Koh Samui: Everywhere you need to visit & my top tips for the island

The Complete Travel Guide to Koh Samui: Everywhere you need to visit & my top tips for the island

We absolutely loved Koh Samui from the moment we arrived!

It really has everything you could need from secluded beaches, amazing food, great access to health care and stunning accommodation.

That’s why it really is no surprise that Koh Samui is one of Thailands top tourist destinations.

With so many different areas on offer there is something to suit everyone. You can go from one side of the island to the other in under an hour, it’s extremely accessible and very easy to get around.

This also means it’s easy to mix it up a bit and get a change of scenery.

We visited over Christmas in 2022 and spent 4 weeks on the island, during this time we explored everything we could and really made the most of island living.

We have returned since then and I am sure we will continue to return, this island gives us the perfect balance between home and holiday.

We are able to swim in turquoise waters and explore hidden waterfalls all while having the creature comforts of home not too far away.

In this travel guide I share with you everything you need to know about Koh Samui, and all of the best tips and tricks I’ve learnt during my time there.

Where to stay

Where you choose to stay in Samui is all about what you are looking for out of your time here and your budget.

Chaweng

Chaweng is the number one area for nightlife, here you have a bustling strip filled with bars and restaurants that go on till the early hours of the morning. It is by far the most popular area in Koh Samui and you can find every type of accommodation here. Chaweng Beach is also extremely popular making it a one stop destination for most.

Top tip: We stayed in the Chaweng Modern Villas estate located just out of Chaweng slightly up the hills, it was the perfect location for us as we had easy access to every part of Koh Samui and weren’t too far away to the main restaurant hubs of Chaweng and Fisherman’s Village.

Chaweng Noi

Chaweng Noi is the best for families, it is out of the way of the hustle and bustle of Chaweng but still close enough to have easy access to restaurants. It also shares the same coastline, meaning the seas are just as beautiful but the beach in Chaweng Noi is much quieter.

Lamai

Lamai beach is another good choice for nightlife, it is much quieter than Chaweng but there is still plenty going on here with tons of restaurants and bars. It is a great location for those who don’t want to be completely immersed in the nightlife but would still like access to it. It is also popular with couples as there are a few larger resorts lining the coast here. The beach in Lamai is very long allowing visitors to relax in their own space, it rarely feels overcrowded.

Bophut

Bophut is a great option for everyone, there is plenty going on here and it has a great long stretch of sandy beach. Located near to Chaweng it won’t take you long to reach central Samui or other popular areas. Fisherman’s Village is a highly rated area on the island, near to Bophut you can find boutique shops, restaurants and bars and a vibrant night market.

Silver Beach

Silver Beach is known as one of the best beaches on the island, it is great for snorkelling and its shallower waters make it great for families. Here you can find some exclusive accommodation directly on the beach, each location has a room to suit most travellers.

Maenam

Maenam is where you will find your quiet romantic getaway, if you’re looking for secluded beaches, adult only resorts and tranquil surroundings this is where you’ll want to head. The beach is a beautiful stretch of sand with not many beach front bars allowing you to completely immerse yourself in the natural surroundings.

Taling Ngam

Taling Ngam is the perfect place to stay if you want to get back in touch with nature, located on the southwest coast of the island this is the most under developed part of Koh Samui, with not much around – only a few resorts and restaurants, it allow you the opportunity to take things easy and live slowly while enjoying the unspoilt sunset views.

Lipa Noi

Lipa Noi located on the west coast is slightly more popular, here you can escape the busyness of the island but still have great options not too far away. The beach here boasts sunset views and white sand.

Luxury: Cielo Boutique Hotel & Spa Samui

This 5* boutique hotel is located right on Bophut beach and is only a short 5 minute drive from the popular Fisherman’s Village. The modern suites and villas host private terraces and free wifi, the property features a pool, information desk, massage services, parking, beach restaurant serving Mediterranean and Asian dishes, a brand new yoga hub, a mini bar, safety deposit box and toiletries. They also provide shuttle services or car rental for guests convenience.

Mid range: Crystal Bay Yacht Club

This beachfront property is in one of the top locations on Koh Samui, located right on Silver Beach you have direct access to one of the best beaches around. Crystal Bay Yacht Club features villa style accommodation in a tropical garden surrounding. There is an outdoor pool, children’s pool, restaurant, pool bar and free wifi in all areas. The air-conditioned villas come with private balconies, satellite TV, safety deposit box, tea/coffee maker and ensuite shower rooms. You can choose from a wide range of villas, some with private pools and beachfront locations. Buffet breakfast is served daily along with Thai and Western dishes. Reception staff are able to assist all guests with excursions, car and scooter rentals and luggage storage.

Budget: PTK Residence

Located just 5 minutes from Chaweng Centre, PTK Residence features air conditioned rooms with balconies, an outdoor pool, free parking and a 24 hour reception desk. All rooms are equipped with satellite TV, fridge and private bathrooms include a shower. At reception guests can arrange tours and excursions around the island, the fitness centre is also available for use at an extra charge.

Where to eat

There are so many great options on Koh Samui when it comes to food, every time we visit we seem to discover more and more but these are some of our absolute favourites.

Thai cuisine

Malee Kitchen Downtown

Malee is I think my favourite restaurant in Thailand, big label I know, but their food is consistently good and high quality. Located just off the beach in Chaweng they have a beautiful restaurant hosting ground floor and upstairs seating. I have also not tried any other Thai curries that are thick like the ones they serve here and hold so much flavour.

Our orders were — the pork golden parcels, chicken satay, chicken and cashew nut, massaman curry, red Thai curry and Penang curry.

Koh Kaew

Koh Kaew is a small family run authentic Thai restaurant, here they serve freshly made dishes that are packed with flavour and are very well priced. Koh Kaew’s restaurant is open air, there are a few fans dotted around but it can get quite hot especially if you are sat near the kitchen. Located just outside of Lamai it is the perfect place to stop after a day of exploring the waterfalls.

Our orders were — spring rolls, chicken satay, chicken and cashew nut, tom yum soup, mixed vegetables, morning glory, pad Thai.

Kawin’s Kitchen

There are two Karwin’s Kitchens in Koh Samui, we visited the one located near to Silver Beach. The setting here is lovely with an open air restaurant tucked away down a side road, the dark wooden building surrounded by greenery gives a calming feel. The food is very fresh and only the best ingredients are used.

Our orders were — chicken satay, spring rolls, chicken and cashew nut, Penang curry & pad Thai.

Imchai

Imchai is a small Thai restaurant located near Lamai serving great Thai food at great prices, they have all the usual dishes and their portion sizes are huge. The owners are very welcoming and want to ensure you have the best meal you can.

Our orders were — pad Thai, morning glory, chicken fried rice and papaya salad.

Western cuisine

K.O.B cafe

Our favourite brunch spot on the island. There are 3 in Samui located in Lamai, Bophut and Bangrak. On the menu is all the traditional western brunch options from avocado on toast, full English breakfasts and yoghurt with granola as well as Thai dishes and freshly baked pastries and cakes everyday.

Our orders were — hummus and tomato toast, eggs Benedict with salmon, yoghurt with banana and honey, avocado on toast with poached eggs and salmon, bacon and eggs on toast and pancakes.

La Fabrique – French Bakery

Another great option for breakfast, the La Fabrique chain has 3 bakeries around the island all serving breakfast and lunch using their freshly baked baguettes, bagels and sandwiches. They also have a large selection of pastries and cakes to choose from for something a little sweeter, these are made with imported French butter and are incredible. Pair a warm pastry with a freshly made Twinings tea for a rather naughty but incredible breakfast.

Our orders were — pain au chocolat, croissant, chocolate chip and custard danish, waffles with fresh fruit, cajun chicken baguette, and a club bagel.

Duomo

The owner of Duomo is Italian and you are often surrounded by other Italians while eating here, this is always a sign of good Italian food and after eating here I can confirm that the food was ‘eccellente’. Located just off the main road in Chaweng, using imported meats and cheeses you do get a true taste of Italy in the heart of Samui. Duomo is often fully booked so I recommend booking in advance to not be disappointed.

Our orders were — antipasti started, calzone and caprina pizza.

Boulangerie Patisserie De Samui

As soon as you step off the street here you are hit by the smell of sweet pastries and freshly baked bread. If you would like to eat-in there are tables and cute little booths surrounded by fresh flowers and planting, alternatively they offer takeaway. Make sure to get down here early to grab the best bits before they go!

Our orders were — pain au chocolat, croissant, bruschetta, pizza and the goats cheese and tomato baguette.

I know it might sound like it but I promise we don’t always eat croissants for breakfast!

Queen Burger

When last in Koh Samui Jack sprained his foot so we could not get out and explore far and wide, Queens burger was opposite our accommodation and after reading some of the reviews claiming it was the best burger people had ever eaten we had to try it. I can agree that they were not wrong, the burgers are incredible and are made to order and the chips are also cooked to perfection and seasoned well. So if you are in search of the perfect burger while on the island look no further! You can find Queen’s burger just outside of Lamai.

Our orders were — classic double cheeseburger, the Paris burger and chips.

What to do

Hit the beach for the day

Koh Samui is well known as a tropical paradise and I can confirm this is the case, these are some of the best beaches in Koh Samui for you to check out. Each one is unique so check them out and once you decide which is best suited for you today grab your towel and goggles and head on down there.

Secret Buddha Garden

Located high up in the hills is the Secret Buddha Garden or Magic Garden, surrounded by durian farms, coconut plantations, valleys and waterfalls. Local fruit farmer Nim Thongsuk started building the garden in 1976 when he was 77 years old, he continued to create, building and adding  to the garden throughout the rest of his life until his death at age 91.

The Secret Buddha Garden features native trees and flowers to/of Koh Samui, many Buddha statues, animals, deities and a statue of Khan Nim himself.

Wat Phra Yai Temple – Big Buddha Temple

Just off Koh Samui’s north eastern coast is the small island Ko Phan, here you can visit the Big Buddha Temple. Stand and stare in awe at the giant gold Buddha statue and the beautiful steps leading to it, the statue is 12 meters tall and was built in 1972. After climbing the steps to reach the top of the temple you can get an amazing view across the island and its coastline.

Wat Plai Laem Temple

Located just around the corner form the Big Buddha Temple is Way Plai Laem, where you will find the striking white 18 armed statue of Guanine the Goddess of mercy and compassion.

Wat Plai Laem uses art techniques that are centuries old, the temple offers tourists a chance to see some Buddhist art and architecture as well as view Chinese-Thai beliefs. Adding to the overall tranquil feel the temples are surrounded by a lake which, is filled with fish and terrapins, for a small donation you can purchase some food.

Fisherman’s Village

Fisherman’s village was once a thriving fishing village believed to have been settled by Chinese fishermen centuries ago. Although they have long since moved on and the original pier has collapsed it still has a charming atmosphere.

Fisherman’s village is made up mainly of one road that is filled with shops, cafes and restaurants. The road also runs parallel to Bophut beach, which is a very popular spot on Samui, it isn’t the biggest but it has soft white sand, crystal blue waters and is very clean. If you are here between Monday – Friday you have to visit the night market for the food and shopping experience. Held between 5pm and 11pm the night market is located next to the Holiday Inn and you can enter either from the main road or via Fisherman’s Village.

Khao Hua Jook Pagoda

Perched high on the hill overlooking Chaweng Lake is Khao Hua Hook Pagoda, you can see its golden Chedi from quite a distance.

Khao Hua Jook Pagoda is famous for having an imprint of the Buddhas footprint inside which has been painted gold. You can go inside the temple here to visit the footprint, many have left offerings inside it so bring some change or something meaningful with you if you wish to do the same. Outside at the top by the Chedi you have an incredible view over the mainland of Koh Samui as well as the airport.

Wat Khunaram Temple – Mummified Monk

Yes you read that right, you can visit the mummified monk at Wat Khunaram Temple. Displayed in an upright glass casket, monk Loung Pordaeng is surrounded by flowers, candles, incense and fruit offerings.

Once his children had grown up Loung Pordaeng decided to return to the temple and devote the rest of his life to Buddhism. He excelled at meditation and was a brilliant teacher and had many followers. At age 79 in 1973 Loung Pordaeng is said to of predicted his own death and died while meditating. He instructed his followers that if his body was to decay he wanted to be cremated but if it didn’t he wanted to be kept in a glass casket in the temple to serve as an inspiration to future generations.

Ang Thong National Marine Park

Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park is an archipelago of 42 islands covering 102km², this marine park was established in 1980. The islands are covered with tropical forests and surrounded by beautiful blue waters.

Taking a day trip to the marine park is a must when in Koh Samui. There are plenty of options to explore, you can choose from speedboat tours, these generally have less people and as the transit time is quicker you spend longer in the park. Or alternatively if you would prefer a smoother journey you can opt for one of the larger boats, these have more people on board but are often cheaper.

All tours take similar routes I recommend this Ang Thong National Marine Park Day Trip by Speedboat

Visiting Pig Island (Koh Madsam) & Snorkeling at Koh Tan

Visit one of the tour operators in most towns in Koh Samui and they will offer trips to pig island or you can book online.

We booked with a tour operator in Chaweng but if you are looking for one to book online I recommend this one – Coral and Pig Island Long Tail Boat Tour

You are picked up from your accommodation and driven down the south coast where you board a long tail boat, these boats can get a little wet so don’t forget your dry bag.

The boat heads straight to pig island where you have a few hours to enjoy the white sand beaches and admire the pigs lazing in the shade. Originally four pigs were saved from slaughter by a local man and the island was opened as a tourist attraction to help fund their upkeep. Now there are way over 20 and the whole family is thriving by the sea! After your visit to pig island its time to head over to Koh Tan for snorkelling, referred to as Samui’s coral island the snorkelling here is supposed to be amazing, however, for us it was quite windy so there wasn’t great visibility.

Na Muang Waterfalls 1 & 2

Na Muang waterfalls are very easy to get to and are located just next to each other.

Na Muang waterfall 1 is truly magnificent in size, when we visited there had been a lot of rain so it was very fast and powerful. Na Muang waterfall 2 is a little further upstream it is quite a climb but well worth it, there are many pools to stop off at on the way up. Once at the top you can admire the view over the jungle from the natural infinity pool.

Check out my guide to the Na Muang Waterfalls here to plan your perfect day out.

Khun Si Waterfall/Viewpoint

Khun Si waterfall is not the most popular on the island but that means you are likely to have it all to yourself. It can be a little tricky to find but keep going as the falls are just beautiful once you get there. The mountain road up to the waterfall is a breathtaking road through untouched jungle and durian farms.

From the carpark follow the signs down towards the falls, there are a few different levels here where you can take a moment to enjoy the peacefulness of Samui’s nature without the other tourists. Once you’ve enjoyed the falls make sure to head back and check out the viewpoint located next to the car park.

Elephant Rock

This rock is on the main road between Chaweng and Lamar making it easy to spot. Although it doesn’t actually resemble an elephant locals called it this due to its sheer size, just like the Thai elephant. You can take the moderately challenging hike to the top of the boulder if you’d like and enjoy panoramic views of Koh Samui’s east coast.

Vikasa Yoga

This ancient practise is being embraced by more and more people in todays world, practising in Thailand offers practitioners a unique experience to connect not only to themselves but also to the energy of the country, its people and their traditions.

Imagine starting or ending your day in a tranquil setting surrounded by nature overlooking the ocean. Sound amazing right? This can easily be reality at Vikasa yoga, with multiple classes every day, there is also accommodation on site and a restaurant.

Vikasa is open daily for yogis of every level and experience. I did 3 classes during my stay in Samui two evenings and one morning, I highly recommend the morning classes, there is no better way to start your day than flowing towards the ocean.

Grandmother & Grandfather Rock

These two rocks near to Lamai beach in Samui are huge tourist attractions. They are simple granite rock formations, however, they are so famous because they resemble male and female genitalia. They are easy to access off the main road, just follow your maps.

Locally known as Hin Ta and Hin Yai. Thai legend suggests that the rocks are believed to be the place where an elderly couple washed ashore after drowning during their pursuit to find a suitable wife for their son. The rocks stand as a testament to the couples proof of their pure intentions.

The Jungle Club

The Jungle Club is a resort and restaurant with the best viewing platform on Koh Samui and you can relax here for a meal while watching over the island.

Note that the Jungle Club is often booked months in advance so if you would like to have dinner here make sure to call ahead of book online prior to visiting. The food and drinks are a little on the pricey side but that is to be expected due to the location and its popularity.

Get a boat to Koh Phanghan for the day

If you don’t have enough time to visit Koh Phanghan for a few days I recommend getting a boat over for the day to explore it’s beaches and try to plan this around the world famous full moon party!

You can easily grab a ferry from Koh Samui for the day, these will drop you at either Thong Sala or straight to Haad Rin beach.

How to get there

Koh Samui is is an island not far from the mainland located in the Gulf of Thailand in the South.

It is relatively easy to get to and there are many different options for travelling here which have many different price points.

By Air

The quickest but most expensive way to reach Koh Samui is by air, you can fly into Bangkok or Phuket international airports from most destinations around the world, from here you can then get a connecting direct flight to Koh Samui. The small airport here is located near Chaweng on the Northeast side of the island.

By Bus — Ferry

This is probably the most popular way of transport when it comes to reaching Koh Samui, there are many Ferry companies that operate throughout the south of Thailand. These companies offer complete transport from destination to destination, for example we booked through Seatran our transport from Phi Phi island to Koh Samui, this included a ferry, a bus then another ferry, this journey took 9 hours overall. All connections are guaranteed and they are often very efficient. The best places to book this type of transport is on 12goAsia or Bookaway.

By Train — Bus — Ferry

I have not personally used this means of transport but I know it is popular for those coming from Bangkok that want to save on the budget and want more freedom to walk around rather than getting a bus. You can get a train that takes around 11 hours from Bangkok station into Surat Thani, here you will get a minibus arranged by your chosen ferry to the pier and get a ferry across to Koh Samui. This means of transport is more expensive than getting a bus but on the sleeper trains you can book your own sleeper cabins.

How to get around

The best way to get around in Koh Samui is by scooter, you can find scooters to rent all around the island, they are often parked up along the road with signs hanging on them saying ‘for rent’. If this method isn’t successful for you then just ask your accommodation, most hotels, airbnbs and hostels will have companies they use and can assist you.

Scooter rental here is usually around 200 (£5)/250 baht (£6) per day but this varies with each model and the age of the scooter.

If you are not confident on a scooter then you can call down a taxi or tuktuk to take you around the island, they are often driving up and down the busy roads looking for people who need a ride. Tuktuks can be a great way to share with other tourists and keep the cost of moving around quite low.

For example we were quoted 600 baht (£14) from a taxi to move from Lamai to Chaweng however we managed to flag down a tuktuk and got the same trip for just 300 baht (£7)!

Alternatively Grab is also used on Koh Samui, just like Uber, download the Grab app and select your destination, the price is set and you can pay on your card via the app or cash.

Best time to visit

Koh Samui is a year round destination, however, there are definitely best and worst times to visit depending on what you’re looking for.

Koh Samui is hit by the worst of its rain in the months of October, November and early December, due to this accommodation is much cheaper and the island usually a lot quieter.

If you are looking to dodge the rain then late December – April are the best months to visit, with the temperature rising and rain decreasing as the year goes on.

Tips for Koh Samui

Learn some basic Thai — simple hellos, please and thank you can go a long way and the locals are happy to help you with pronunciation just ask.

Tipping — it is not expected here but if you have had a good meal or great service then it shows an extra level of appreciation.

Keep your beachwear on the beach — while Koh Samui is a tourist hotspot and the locals are used to tourism Thailand is a very modest country and it is respectful to cover up when you are moving around the island or away from the beach.

ATMs — an ATM is never far away in Samui but be mindful that they charge 220 baht (£5) per withdrawal so I recommend getting out large sums at a time and storing the cash in your safe at your accommodation. Also never use the ATM conversion rate, they are often much higher than your bank would charge and declining it can often save you £30/40!

Get a local sim — these can be found at the airport or 7-Eleven, they will work throughout Thailand and are great for keeping yourself connected while on the move and mean you can have easy access to maps.

What to bring — Koh Samui is a beach destination meaning packing is a simple job but don’t forget some long trousers and t-shirts for the days you want to temple hop.

Book in advance — while we are awful at this as we like to change it up last minute, accommodation in Koh Samui during the high season gets booked up in advance and can be very expensive when left to the last minute.

Sun cream — the sun is strong in Koh Samui and sun cream is very expensive here as with the rest of Asia, be sure to stock up at home for your trip.

Be mindful of animal tourism — do not partake in unethical animal practises, although they are not as common on Koh Samui they are still there so say no to elephant riding and selfies with wild animals.

Medical care — Thailand offers a high standard of health care and Koh Samui is no different, there are many great hospitals, clinics and dentists around the island with English speaking staff that are happy to assist you. Bear in mind though that medical care can be expensive so be sure you have a good travel insurance before visiting.

Final thoughts

Koh Samui really does have something for everyone, many people use the island as a quick stopover between getting from their previous destination and moving onto Koh Phangan or Koh Tao but I believe you should spend at least a few days on Koh Samui to really appreciate it’s magic.

Due to it being a bit more built up and popular the islands charm can often be overlooked. I hope with this guide you are able to plan your perfect trip and can experience the island in all its beauty just as we did.

Thank you so much for reading, if you have any questions about The Complete Travel Guide to Koh Samui please comment below. I would also love to know your experience on the island and what you thought?

With love, Izzy ✨💛


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