Hippie digs or luxurious villas, Koh Samui maintains a 1970s boho appeal. Sail out to Ko Phangan for the famous Full Moon Parties.
The island of Samui maintains a boho appeal that harks back to the 1970s backpacker days of its earliest arrivals. It has a laid-back vibe that’s most apparent on the beautiful but busy sands of Chaweng Beach. The bars here provide an alternative to sailing out for one of the famous Full Moon Parties on the nearby island of Ko Phangan.
However, Samui is developing fast. Although you can still find hippie digs, there are villas here as luxurious as they come. Most hotels and independent accommodation have spa treatments to make you purr, while those who want to flex some muscle go kite-boarding or diving at some of the finest sites in the region. Romantics paddle kayaks around an island paradise that inspired the film The Beach.
Samui has come a long way since its early days of coconut farmers and fishermen – in these modern times, monkeys pick coconuts for tourist cameras and fishing is a leisure pursuit for hedonists.
The best time is March to September, for sunny skies, low humidity and little rain, but the Gulf of Thailand also has a second 'high season' from June-August.
Nationals from most countries are granted a visa on arrival valid for 15-90 days. Singapore nationals are entitled to 30 days. Sixty-day tourist visas are available from a Thai embassy before you leave. All can be extended by 30 days at the immigration office. All foreign nationals need a passport valid for at least six months.
The baht is the principal Thai monetary unit.
Taxis from the airport should cost around THB 500 to Chaweng. Private minivans also go to the beaches, but usually wait until they're full before leaving. Typical fares are THB 70 to Bophut, THB 100 to Chaweng and Maenam, and THB 120 to Nathon and Lamai.
Songthaew trucks are the island's main public transport. A journey the length of Chaweng beach is THB 20, and THB 60 from Na Thon to Chaweng. If travelling late at night, agree a fare beforehand. Taxi drivers don't like to turn on the meter, so you may have to bargain. Motorcycle taxis are THB 20-30 for a short journey, and THB 150-200 for a ride such as Chaweng to Na Thon. You can hire motorcycles at the main beaches (THB 200-500) as well as jeeps (THB 800-2,000).
No vaccinations are required to enter Thailand. Hospitals are good, but there are no reciprocal healthcare agreements with other countries, so arrange health insurance. Tap water is not safe to drink, but ice is generally fine in reputable restaurants.
|How are you?||Bpehn yahng-ngi?|
|Fine, thanks||Sah-bie dee korp-kuhn|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention, to get past)||Kor-toet|
|What's your name?||Kuhn chuee ah-ri?|
|My name is…||Pom/chahn chuee…|
|Nice to meet you||Yihn dee tee die roo-jahk|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Kuhn l`ehn fes-buhk/tah-wiht-ter mi?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Ihn-dter-neht kar-fe yoo tee-ni?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Pom/chahn jah reark tak-see die tee-ni?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Sah-tar-nee kon-song/rot-fi yoo tee-ni?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Dtoar teaw deaw/bpi glahp bpi…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Kuhn mee hohng sahm-rahp kon deaw/sorng kon mi?|
|When's check out?||Dtorng chehk-ou gee moeng?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Kuhn choary na-nahm rarn ar-harn/bar dee dee hi nohy di mi?|
|A table for two, please||Kor dto sahm-rahp sorng kon|
|A menu, please||Kor me-noo nohy|
|The bill, please||Chehk bihn doary|
|Where's the toilet?||Hohng-narm bpi tarng ni?|
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Ang Thong Marine National Park
It was the scenery at Ang Thong Marine National Park that inspired Alex Garland to write the best-selling book The Beach, and the 42-island archipelago is a favourite trip from Samui. It’s just 39km (24 miles) away, so can easily be reached for a day's excursion. Aside from sea canoeing, diving and snorkelling, there are several viewpoints to climb to, with vistas of the surrounding sea and islands. Another attraction is a beautiful, emerald-green inland lagoon encircled by sheer limestone walls.
Big Buddha Beach
Big Buddha Beach takes its name from Wat Phra Yai, or Big Buddha Temple. There’s a 12-metre (39ft) -high seated golden Buddha statue here, situated across the bay on a small islet linked to the end of the beach by a causeway. There’s another interesting little temple nearby, called Wat Plai Laem. It sits in the middle of a large fish-filled pond, its base shaped like a giant lotus flower. Above the pond is a large pink statue of Kwan Im, the multi-armed Chinese Goddess of Mercy.
A popular pastime for Samui locals is to watch and gamble on buffalo fighting. Unlike the Spanish version, there are no matadors involved. Instead, two beasts lock horns and battle until one runs away with its tail between its legs. Around the ring, the crowd gets hugely animated and much money can change hands on the outcome. There are several makeshift stadiums on the island. Check with your hotel for details of forthcoming events.
Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo
If you like zoos and animal shows, there are several reasons to head to Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo, located in the southeast of Ko Samui. In addition to aquarium exhibits, it is home to large mammals like tigers, leopards and panthers. There are sea lion and Bengal tiger shows, while visitors can feed turtles and have the opportunity to become a sea-lion trainer for a day with the guidance of professional trainers. It’s open daily from 9am–5pm, but the shows start at 1pm.
Full Moon Parties
Samui makes a good base for visiting the raucous Full Moon Parties that happen monthly on the nearby island of Ko Phangan. You can rent a boat from Samui and come back to nurse your hangover in a luxury hotel. DJs spin tunes at bars all along Sunrise Beach, each with a slightly different vibe. They draw hundreds of thousands of global visitors each year. The main parties are on full moon nights, but there are lots of alternatives, including Half Moon Parties. For upcoming dates and other details check out www.phanganist.com.
Spend the morning zip-lining through the jungle with Canopy Adventures (Secret Falls, Maenam, tel: 077 300 340 /087 046 7307). It’s easy: you just attach your harness to a steel wire stretched between two trees high above the forest, and then let go. The two- to three-hour trip includes six treetop rides, a swim in a waterfall and a drink at their jungle bar. There’s a bit of a trek uphill to the first station, but after that it’s downhill all the way.
Have a light lunch, then try some flying of a different kind with Koh Samui Kiteboarding (Maenam, tel: 66 8 6267 1169). The certified instructors recommend that nine hours over three days is needed to get properly airborne. They also have courses lasting four days, but an introductory three-hour session is available to give you a taste. Insurance is included.
The waters in the Gulf of Thailand have some of the best diving in the region. Take advantage of them by heading to world class sites like Green Rock, Shark Island or the Chumphon Pinnacle. CSI Samui (101/20 Moo 1, Bophut, tel: 66 8 4843 8934) is a PADI dive centre that takes divers to sites all over the Gulf. They have a range of courses for beginners through to PADI Divemaster certification, plus snorkelling and kayaking for non-divers. Or go with Samui Boat Charters (24 Moo 1 Fisherman's Village, Bophut, tel: 66 8 7276 7598), who offer the option of deep-sea fishing.
Canopy Adventures, Koh Samui Kiteboarding, CSI Samui, Samui Boat Charters.
Begin your getaway by exploring the jungle on board an elephant bound for Na Muang Waterfall. To reach it, head past the village of Ban Thurian, where you’ll find the lower Na Muang Waterfall. In the wet season this cascade plunges some 20 metres (66ft) into a large pool. Beside the entrance they have elephants, which will carry you the rest of the way up the mountain to reach the upper Na Muang Waterfall, where you can swim in the pool. You can walk if you prefer, it should take you around 30 minutes.
In the afternoon, indulge in some well earned pampering. Breeze Spa (Amari Palm Reef, Bophut, tel: 66 7742 2015) is set in a beautiful private garden. They have just four split-level suites with double room facilities, so you can share with your partner. There’s an array of massages, scrubs, treatments and facials, but the signature treatment would be apt. It’s called ‘Head Over Heels’ and lasts a leisurely four hours.
Alternatively, visit the rustic timber pavilions of Tamarind Springs Forest Spa (205/7 Thong Takian, tel: 66 7742 4221), that also offers classes in yoga, t’ai chi and qigong.
On the next day, double up for some kayaking in the glorious Ang Thong Marine National Park. Blue Stars (Chaweng, tel: 66 7730 0615) run full day trips, but for twice the romance, the two-day option includes a barbecue dinner and overnight camping on a secluded beach. The Ko Samui departure point is Na Thon pier.
Na Muang Waterfall, Breeze Spa, Tamarind Springs Forest Spa, Ang Thong Marine National Park.
In the morning crank up the adrenalin at the nearby Samui Go-Kart (101/2 Moo 1, Bophut, tel: 66 7742 5097). The track is jungle-fringed and has three types of kart. The fastest reaches 125kph, but the slower ones are suitable for kids.
After lunch travel round the island for an afternoon at the Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo (33/2, moo2, Maret, tel: 66 7742 4017). It’s open from 9am–5pm. You can get your photo taken as you give milk to a tiger cub, and feeding turtles is another activity that kids love.
On a separate day, put yourself in the hands of Mr Ung’s Magical Safari (Moo 3, Chaweng, tel: 66 7723 0114). Mr Ung runs several safaris, full- and half-day, with options to customise what you do. The day might include zip-lining, deep-sea fishing, elephant rides, a waterfall swim and off-road jeep driving in the jungle.
Place to visit: Samui Monkey Theatre, Samui Go-Kart, Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo, Mr Ung’s Magical Safari.