You want an island paradise? There are many in Thailand, and Ko Samui is one of the best options.
|Dates visited||September 21-26, 2014|
|Base of operations||Hacienda Resort, Maenam Beach|
|Currency||Thai Baht (1 USD = about 30 THB)|
Choosing a beach
On Ko Samui, the hotel you choose will most likely be based on the beach you like the best. Each area has its own personality.
Chaweng has an absolutely amazing beach: white, powder-soft sand, so fine it almost feels like flour. Calm, protected waters, perfect for swimming. But this comes with a price: Chaweng is also the most crowded beach on the island, and the beach is cluttered with lounge chairs and water activities (jet skis, etc). There are many, many options for hotels here, from backpacker hostels to high-end resorts. The nightlife and shopping is also quite robust here, so if that’s your scene, then Chaweng is for you.
Lamai is right next to Chaweng and is slightly more laid-back, but otherwise pretty similar.
Bophut is more of a family-type beach. Not as much partying going on. The beach is not as great as Chaweng or Lamai, but still pretty good. Fisherman’s Village is a very popular attraction for shopping and dining. This is a good location to stay if you want to avoid the crowds at Chaweng, but want to be close enough to go there if you need to socialize.
Choeng Mon was actually our first choice; it’s in a protected bay and looked absolutely gorgeous. However, it is a bit harder to reach than most other beaches, and accommodations are very limited here.
Maenam is where we eventually chose to stay. This is backpackers territory, but there are still a good range of options if you want a higher-end hotel. The beach on this north part of the island is not as good as the east side, but still beautiful. And best of all, not quite as cluttered and crowded: it is possible to swim and lay on the beach all day without getting bothered by noise or people intruding in your personal space. We wanted to relax during our stay, so the relative quiet of Maenam was perfect for us.
Nathon, Lipa Noi, Maret and Taling Ngam are less popular choices, for several reasons… beaches are not quite so lovely south of the island (in the case of Maret and Taling Ngam), there are less options for accommodations (goes for all of them) and their locations are simply not as conducive to other activities. Nathon is where the main pier is, but for all that, it doesn’t really have much of a beach.
Don’t feel tied down by your choice of beach though. You can just as easily choose a resort or hotel, and then hop around the island for other activities.
There are several ways to get around Ko Samui, depending on how far you are going. Obviously, walk wherever you want to, but here are some other options:
This is my preferred option since I don’t want to drive and cabs are way too pricey. Songthaews are pickup trucks, with a roof and seats over the bed to turn it into a passenger vehicle. Very similar to the jeepneys in the Philippines, if you’re familiar with those. They basically work like a bus… you stand on the side of the road, find one that’s heading in the general direction you want to go, get on, pay 20-100 THB depending on where you’re stopping, and then ring the bell to get off. If you’re a farang (foreigner) you may just get charged the 100 THB… up to you whether to pay or argue. They do follow specific routes during the day, so it’s good to pay attention to the signs. In the evening they can work like a taxi; we had a guy heading the opposite direction, turn around and pick us up. Still only cost us 300 THB from Chaweng to Maenam, so we were ok with that.
If you’re traveling by yourself or with one other person, this may be a good choice for you. Having the freedom to go where and when you want is always nice. I am generally cautious about driving in another country though, since I prefer not having to worry about breaking the law, getting into an accident, or various other issues that could come up. Thailand is said to be particularly dangerous to ride in. Some of the uphill areas around the island can also be pretty difficult and dangerous to reach with the lower-powered bikes or scooters. If you are committed, just note also that you need to be experienced (duh) and have an international driver’s license. Rentals vary in price, but they are everywhere… count on 200 THB/day, potentially lower if you are renting for longer.
Everything I said above pretty much applies here as well, except that of course you can fit more people in a car and prices will be higher. Costs will vary but average 1000 THB/day. If you are in a more remote location and know that you will be heading out often, this may be a wise choice, since taxis are quite pricey.
Unlike in Bangkok, where taxis normally use their meter, in Ko Samui most taxi rides are for a fixed price, which you should negotiate before you get in. A cab from Nathon pier to Maenam cost us 500 THB. From Maenam to Chaweng the cab driver wanted 500 as well; we negotiated him down to 400. This is definitely not something you want to do a lot, but otherwise it’s an easy option and they are everywhere on the island.
What to do
I’m not gonna have a lot to say here, because we pretty much vegetated in our resort. Most of our days consisted of waking up late, getting some brunch from one of the many restaurants and eateries in the area, and heading out to the beach to score a lounge chair. I read so many books on this trip, and got such a lovely tan (all from swimming, most of the time I hid under the umbrella when I was out of the water!).
Our evenings consisted of checking out the walking streets… more on that later, but they’re basically a street market, there’s one in a different area every night. It’s a delightful way to eat and drink, and occasionally enjoy some local entertainment.
There are tours that go around the island as well, and there are many sights around: several waterfalls, the Big Buddha temple in Bophut, the Chinese temple in Maenam, a cultural center in Lipa Noi. There’s also a boxing stadium, for those interested in muay Thai.
By far the most popular thing to do though is to take a trip to one of the other islands (Ko Tao, Ko Phangan or both) or to Ang Thong Marine National Park. These can be pricey depending on how you do them… if you choose to just hop on a ferry to Ko Tao or Ko Phangan and explore on your own, that would be cheaper than doing an actual tour. You do however tend to miss out on some things when exploring on your own, so just keep that in mind. We went with the Ang Thong Marine Park tour, which made for a wonderful day. Ko Tao is a world famous dive center, and certifications are comparatively cheaper there than many places in the world; we actually considered this except we didn’t have the time. Ko Phangan also has the famous full moon parties, if you’re visiting during that time.
Whether you want to just chill, party it up, or explore nature, you have many options on Ko Samui.