Koh Samui is part of an archipelago of more than 80 islands off the east coast of Thailand. Though it has been inhabited for hundreds of years, the first roads – and tourists – only came to the rainforest-covered, beach-fringed island in the early 1970s. It came to broader attention in 2000 as the setting for the movie The Beach. Now there are a clutch of 5-star resorts here, it seems the backpacker-only days of the island are gone. But high-end resorts don't appear without reason; the beaches, lagoons, coves and forests still entice. Koh Samui is also known for its nightlife. Note: the weather is kindest between January and April.
Koh Samui's top attractions are generally on or near the beach. Its two main beaches are Chaweng and Lamai and both get crowded in the high season (mid-December to mid-January). If you're looking for a quiet beach, Choengmon is 10 minutes from Chaweng. Most diving is done in the nearby Angthong Marine National Park and you can book day trips to visit through your consultant. Visitors to the island often stop to see the Big Buddha Temple – a 12-metre tall statue built in 1972. There's a butterfly garden/insect museum in the island's south east and swimming at the waterfalls at Na Muang is also popular.
Eat and Drink
If you'd like to try Koh Samui restaurants a few notches above the rest, your palate may appreciate the fare at these resort eateries: Dining on the Rocks (at Six Senses Samui); H Bistro (at Hansar Samui); Flames (at the InterContinental) and Saffron (at Banyan Tree). But cheap really can be cheerful too. Most local cuisine has its roots in Malay, Indonesian and Indian food and is known for its spiciness. The beach village on the northern coast of Koh Samui, Bophut, has preserved some of the original Thai-Chinese atmosphere the island has been known for. This is one of the best places on the island for dining.
Where to Stay
If you're seeking nightlife, the best Koh Samui accommodation for you will be around Chaweng and Lamai. Mae Nam or the South Coast provide quieter beach experiences and Nathon is in the central part of the island. Budget properties still abound on Koh Samui though the 4 and 5-star hotels offer an incredible stay or even better value. If you want to go upmarket, try InterContinental Baan Taling Ngam Resort, Conrad Koh Samui, Banyan Tree or Four Seasons.
Koh Samui shopping, not to put too fine a point on it, isn't really its main drawcard. Sure, you can get any number of cheap items at the tourist strips along Chaweng and Lamai; but sundresses, ceramics, DVDs and skincare products mainly span the gamut of available items. If you want to add spa treatments to the shopping list, that's another story. Most high end resorts here have a spa and the better ones are to be found within Six Senses, Banyan Tree and Tamarind Springs. If shopping is really your thing, save the suitcase space for Bangkok.
Koh Samui like a Local
Locals in the know love the seafood feast available at the beachfront restaurant, Krua Chao Baan. It's south of Lamai and less than a mile before you reach Hua Thanon fishing village. A Koh Samui bar/restaurant newcomer, 9Gems, has been described as 'Miami Vice meets Buddha Bar' – eat tapas and sip cocktails with views over Chaweng Lake. Thinking you'll need a break from the beach? Try a zipline/flying fox run above the jungle treetops near Mae Nam. A little too fast and furious? Explore the Magic Buddha Garden created by and elderly fruit farmer.