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Koh Samui Travel Guide | Hotel Accommodation | Get Around | Restaurants | Car Rental | Transportation

► Overview

Every traveler in Thailand has an opinion about Ko Samui. Chaweng's party is better than Bangkok's, say some; it's paradise well and truly lost, say others. What is clear is that this island is same, same but very different to when backpackers first set foot on its palm-fringed shores in the 1970s. Today Ko Samui is more holistic spas and five-star hotels than bucket showers and beach shacks. One look at that powder-soft sand and aquamarine sea, and all seem to agree that Ko Samui still feels idyllic. Beaches: Party, flop under a coconut tree, swim, party -- that's the daily rhythm on Ko Samui and you'll soon get the hang of it. Popular Chaweng has dazzling aquamarine water and five-star resorts, but hawkers and blaring music stop it short of being paradise. Find a quiet cove between Lamai's striking granite boulders, escape the crowds on palm-fringed Bophut, or snorkel on secluded Mae Nam and Bang Po. When you tire of these beaches, you're just steps away from others. Things to Do:Take a boat across to Ang Thong Marine Park, where rainforest-cloaked limestone pinnacles rise out of impossible turquoise waters. Or dive in the kaleidoscopic coral reefs off nearby Koh Tao. The 36-foot-tall golden Big Buddha shines in Koh Samui's most important temple, Wat Phra Yai. Wat Khunaram hides a more ghoulish shrine: a 20-year-old mummified monk in meditation position. Hitch a ride on an elephant to Na Muang Falls to bathe in refreshingly cold pools. Eating and Drinking: Elegant Italian bistros, fast food joints, Thai-style dining on cushions by the sea - Chaweng has the lot. Dine on a spicy green curry or freshly grilled snapper in an Ayutthaya-style teak pavilion at Poppies. Chinese shop houses have been cleverly converted into hip Mediterranean restaurants and grillhouses in Bophut's Fisherman's Village. Bypass Lamai's farang (tourist) haunts in favor of the food stalls, where locals whip up fiery curries and noodles in their woks for a few baht. Nightlife and Entertainment: The biggest beach party is at Chaweng, where hedonistic clubs, go-go dancers and one pumping bar after the next pack the sois (alleys). Clubbers head to treehouse-style Green Mango and Bob Marley fans to the Reggae Pub. Lamai's scene is mixed, with Thai boxing halls and techno clubs giving way to chill-out beach bars. More relaxed still is Bophut's Fisherman's Village, where the mellow music and cocktails come with moonlit sea views.

► Flights from|to Bangkok

BANGKOK AIRWAYS | Non-Stop Flights from Bangkok THB 3700.00 | Business Class THB 6120.00 | Most flights with A319, Good Business Class, Excellent Meals
THAI AIRWAYS | Non-Stop Flights from Bangkok THB 4570.00

► Koh Samui Top Restaurants

H BISTRO | Bohput Beach: At the Hansar Samui Hotel.
ROCKPOOL RESTAURANT | Chaweng Beach: At the Karma Samui Hotel.
KIRIATI | Choengmon Beach: Very good Thai and Seafood Restaurant right on Choengmon Beach
PREGO | Chaweng Beach: Excellent Italian Food, Wood-Fired Pizza. Located on the street to Choengmon Beach
RICE | Chaweng Beach: Excellent Pizza and Italian Antipasti Dishes
THE CLIFF | Between Chaweng Noi and Lamai Beach | Fresh Seafood, Tapas and other Spanish Specialities
THE PAGE | Chaweng Beach | Chaweng Beachfront Location, Contemporary Fusion Menu at the Library Hotel
| Chaweng Beach | TBA
OTARU SUSHI | Chaweng Beach | Nice open air Japanese Restaurant (non smoking)
EAT SENSE | Chaweng Beach | Wonderful location on Chaweng Beach but quiet expensive

Samui Restaurant Guide
Samui Dining Guide

Bars and Nightlife

Please refer to the following Website

► Deluxe Hotel Accommodation

NORA BURI RESORT | Chaweng Beach: On the northern part of Chaweng with great seaviews, large rooms

KARMA SAMUI | Chaweng Beach: 2 Km from Choengmon Beach. Nice Villas w/o Sea View. Duplexes have seaview. Rockpool Restaurant

MELATI BEACH | Plae Laem: Tongsom Bay, about 3 Km from Choengmon Beach.

SIX SENSES | Choengmon | Laem Set Beach: Set on a gently sloping headland among 8 hectares (20 acres) of lush vegetation, this resort was proclaimed "Best in the World" by the prestigious Readers' Travel Awards doled out by Condé Nast Traveler in 2008. Those who voted for it were impressed by not only its lovely location and environmental friendliness, but also its sophisticated ambience and extensive leisure facilities. These facilities include private pools beside most villas and suites, a spa with a comprehensive range of treatments, and activities such as aquarobics, island tours, diving trips, and cooking classes. All the villas are equipped with every imaginable comfort and are attended by personal butlers, while the views are simply fabulous. The resort is in Laem Samrong, on the northeastern tip of Samui (just around the promontory that shelters Tongsai Bay).

HANSAR SAMUI | Bohput Beach: Contemporary hotel directly on the beach at the end of Fisherman's Wharf. Great Restaurant, Bar.

TONGSAI BAY | Laem Set Beach: Built like an amphitheater, and tripping down a hillside to its own beach, this former backpacker hideaway is now an all-suite complex with some very unique touches -- such as its "Bath-with-a-View" -- that set it apart. You'll get plenty of outdoor terrace space to enjoy the sea views; suites have outdoor bathtubs, and the Grand Tongsai Villas have gazebos for guests who like open-air sleeping. Tongsai Pool Villas have private plunge pools. There is a beautiful half-moon-shaped pool set in the gardens halfway down, and a large pool at the beach with a separate children's pool. The end result is casual outdoors ambience. The only drawback is the many steps between the hilltop reception area, bungalows, and beach.

THE LIBRARY | Chaweng Beach: This ravishingly minimalist resort offers a startlingly different contemporary slant. Designed by a Bangkok architect, its rooms are divided into studios and suites, and in keeping with the hotel's name, the resort's main feature is a library featuring an array of books and DVDs. State-of-the-art rooms (with Jacuzzis and rain showers) provide an extraordinary range of luxuries, from huge plasma TVs and iPods, to light boxes and self-controlled colored lighting. It's cool, it's original, and it appeals to those with a leaning toward techno-Zen. The red-tiled pool, while innovative, somehow brings to mind Agatha Christie.

JAMAHKIRI | Koh Tao: Perhaps the island's most upmarket resort, the awesomely designed Jamahkiri is accessible by precipitous mountain track that might make you reconsider the return trip. The good news is that you might not mind being stranded at this unique boutique gem. Overlooking the bay are a clutch of grey-tile and glass pavilions and suites; some are duplex, but all have oceanview balconies. There is a top-notch spa area and fine dining outlet; public areas are grand, with pleasant nooks but lots of steep steps. Though it's far from the action, this is undoubtedly the most extravagant option on the island.

THIPWIMARN RESORT | Koh Tao: Tiny, but utterly charming, this vertiginous cliffside boutique resort may not have that many bells and whistles, but is one of the most charming places in the south. Thatched cottages with lots of steps and wood walkways teeter above the azure ocean. Superbly designed rooms are furnished with canopy beds, stunning Thai silks, and teak wood. The four suite types all offer glorious views of the Nang Yuan islets, while the sunset can be seen from either the huge balconies or the picture-perfect infinity pool. A spa with oceanview Jacuzzi tops off this elegantly rustic, but nonetheless refined, gem. Book well in advance to secure a room; note that it closes annually in November.

Check rates directly on the hotel websites and compare with the following reservation systems: Agoda & Latestays

► Sightseeing Trip to Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan | Although best known for the monthly full moon parties, which attract thousands of travellers from all over the globe, there is a lot more to stunning Ko Pha Ngan than getting trashed and passing out in the powder-soft white sand. The mid-sized and quite mountainous island (it stretches over 168 sq km and 70% of its topography is mountainous jungle with the remainder beaches and coconut groves) is situated roughly a third of the way from Ko Samui to Ko Tao. The island's original inhabitants are believed to have been either sea gypsies, or have come from Pattani or Nakhon Si Thammarat and once they settled the island, the main established industries became fishing and coconut cultivation. Today, the coconut and fishing industries are still going, but they've been surpassed in monetary value by tourism and while the original inhabitants may have been predominantly Muslim, the present day population is mostly Buddhist. This is in part due to the massive influx of labour from elsewhere in Thailand seeking work in the thriving tourist industry — the guy taking your dinner order is as likely to be from Roi Et as the island's capital, Thong Sala. Over 10,000 people permanently live on the island, with the majority concentrated around Thong Sala. From the mid eighties onwards, Ko Pha Ngan's popularity has skyrocketed among backpackers and independent travellers who eschewed the more developed Ko Samui. This has been supported by the increasing awareness and popularity of the Full Moon Party. Nowadays, Ko Pha Ngan is in many areas moving away from its backpacker roots and attracting families and package tourists in droves as well.

Of course the most major attraction is still the legendary Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach. This monthly happening is a drug- and booze-fuelled cavorting — and very commercial — hullabaloo, and while it had its origins in a very low key, personalised gathering, today, with package tours coming out from London solely to attend the party, it's a far cry from the days back then. The party often attracts in excess of twenty thousand people who dance and party away from the evening well into the next day. But it's not exactly the group love-in you might be imagining — drugs for sale are almost as common as undercover police, rampant theft (both from unattended bungalows and passed out partiers on the beach) and violent and sexual assault are major concerns. Fatalities are more common than the English-language press in Thailand lets on. That said, it's not all bad, and thousands upon thousands of people attend every month suffering no more than a headache the next day. To try to minimise the dangers, try to stay in control, if you are going to use drugs, don't leave them in your room or on your person and don't walk up to complete strangers asking to buy acid — you will get busted. Drugs are illegal in Thailand, the penalties are severe and don't bank on the assumption you'll be able to buy your way out of the police station. Use your guesthouse's safe to store your valuables and basically don't head out with anything you can't afford to lose. In fact there seems to be many ways to skin a moon and don't be disappointed if your timetable doesn't coincide with the actual Full Moon party — there is after all the Half Moon Party, Dark Moon Party and various other excuses for a romp taking place throughout the month. If you're on Ko Pha Ngan for anything more than a couple of days, chances are there'll be a party somewhere. The Full Moon Party takes place at Haad Rin Beach, but it isn't necessary to find accommodation there to attend the party, as every beach will run transport to the party on the evening — indeed many commute over from Ko Samui for the night.

But there's much more to this island than parties. It is ringed by over a dozen beaches — some with fine white sand that squeaks between your toes and others with a more grainy, yellow sand. Most of the beaches are reasonably easy to reach — the road network improves every year and few beaches are only reachable to boat. This ease of access means that it is far easier than it used to be to base yourself on one beach, but do day trips to others. The south coast of Ko Pha Ngan, running from the island's capital at Ao Thong Sala, though Ban Tai and Ban Kai to Haad Rin and Haad Saikantang are the islands most exposed beaches. Facing south towards Ko Samui, the beaches are protected by an offshore reef and the waters are very shallow, making this an ideal option for travelling families with small kids. It's possible to walk almost the full stretch without leaving the beach (though you'll have to wade a small river at one stage) and there's a wide variety of bungalows and small hotels for the entire length. The east coast, running from Haad Rin north to the twin bays of Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai offer some of the most isolated beaches on the island. The drop-off from the beach tends to be sharper on these beaches and the swimming is consequently better. Bungalows range from rustic shacks on Than Sadet through to luxury villas on Thong Nai Pan Noi. The north coast encompasses Bottle Beach — long a backpacker haven, and Chaloklam Bay — the island's main fishing port — and the epicentre of Ko Pha Ngan's small diving industry. The north coast is also home to the islet of Ko Ma off Mae Haad Beach. As with the south coast, the beaches are a bit more exposed. The west coast, like the east, is riddled with small bays and secretish beaches. The southwest corner of the island, just before you reach Thong Sala has some terrific budget deals. Though the beaches on this coast feel isolated, they're actually relatively well connected to Thong Sala by road and the development reflects this.

As the road network has improved, so has the range of accommodation on Ko Pha Ngan. In part due to their being an international airport on nearby Ko Samui, this is no longer a destination of nothing more than thatch bungalows. Indeed if you've money to burn there's a growing supply of truly luxurious villas and resorts on offer but also a glut of characterless over-priced mid-range accommodation. Land developers are also having a bit of a feeding frenzy — with plots for sale all over the place. For the most part though, the accommodation is focused on backpacker and flashpacker bungalows and mid-range hotels and resorts. Aside from the beach, Ko Pha Ngan has great potential for boat and fishing trips, elephant trekking, diving, ATV rides, zip lines and even kite-boarding as well as other watersports. There's a smattering of waterfalls, many detox and yoga centres and the island is fast becoming renowned for meditation retreats. On the east coast, you'll also find Sanctuary and the related Wellness Centre — famous around the world for its seven day fasting courses. But if all that is way too hectic, equally compelling for many is just spending a few weeks in a hammock, watching the sun rise and fall.

Weather wise, the best time to visit Ko Pha Ngan is during the hot, dry season from January to April. From May to September the island gets a little afternoon rain courtesy of the Southwest monsoon, but the weather is still enjoyable and the seas calm and clear. From October to December it gets both windy and wet thanks to the northeast monsoon. The crowds thin out then, however, making the island appealing to some travellers — on the downside the few unpaved roads left do deteriorate. It's connected to Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Surat Thani by ferries — see the transport section for details on frequency and cost. If you're coming from Bangkok you can fly to the airport at Ko Samui and then get the boat, or there's a variety of train, bus and ferry combo tickets available. See our story How to get from Bangkok to Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao for more information.

► Car Rental

THAI RENTAL CAR CENTER Note: Rental Car Deposit for 4x4 and Full Size Cars 40.000 THB

► Avoid

Monday, May 17, 2021