Koh Samui

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.

 

When to go

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.

Visa requirements

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.

Money

The baht is the principal Thai monetary unit.

Transport

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).

Health and safety tips

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.

Emergency details

The nearest embassy is in Bangkok (129 South Sathorn Road, tel: (66) 2286 2111 or (66) 81 844 3580 outside office hours, www.mfa.gov.sg.


Tourist Police National Hotline: 1155 (anywhere in Thailand), thailandtouristpolice.com.

Basic greetings
English Thai
Hello Sah-waht-dee
How are you? Bpehn yahng-ngi?
Fine, thanks Sah-bie dee korp-kuhn
Goodbye Sah-waht-dee
Excuse-me! (to get attention, to get past) Kor-toet
Thank you Korp-kuhn
Yes Krahp/kah
No Mi
OK Dtok-long
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?
Help! Choary doary!

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Ang Thong Marine National Park

Gulf of Thailand

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

Hat Bangrak

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.

Buffalo Fighting

Island-wide

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

33/2, Moo 2, Maret (on Ban Harn beach)

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

Ko Phangan

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.

Shop

Chandra

14/39 Beach Road, Chaweng

The fashion outlet Chandra caters to both women and men with original designs using mostly Asian-inspired motifs. Dresses, trousers and blouses come in light floaty fabrics that are perfect for the tropical climate. They also have swimwear and accessories, such as sandals, belts, bags, scarves and jewellery. Their second outlet is on Beach Road.

Budget $$$

Chaweng Walking Street

South Chaweng

The stalls on Chaweng Walking Street peddle same  clothing, bags, trainers you find all over Thailand. More promisingly, you’ll also find local handicrafts, interior decorations and pretty much anything else you want. Prices aren't as low as in Bangkok, but bargains can still be found. When you get tired, break off and sample some of the local cuisine at the many food stalls.

Budget $

Fisherman’s Village

Hat Bophut

The lanes of Fisherman's Village have retained the wooden houses of the original fishing village, but many have been converted into shops or restaurants. It’s a good place to shop, with a variety of hand-made jewellery, clothes and souvenirs; you can even get a painting done. It’s not a market, and it is touristy, so the prices are not at rock bottom, but bargaining is fine. Halfway along is Bophut Plaza, which has some cheaper stalls.

Budget $$

Iyara Plaza

90/13–16 Hat Chaweng

Iyara Plaza is a small lifestyle mall adjoined to a hotel. It has a modest selection of shops, including some brand names such as Lacoste, Nike and Pierre Cardin. They mainly sell fashion and accessories for men, women and children, including clothes, footwear, sports gear and bags. Some handicraft outlets will appeal to souvenir hunters. It’s about as good as Samui gets for this type of shopping, until the mega mall Central Festival opens in Chaweng in 2014.

Budget $$

Jim Thompson

38/2 Moo 3, Chaweng Beach

Silk mogul Jim Thompson, an American who recognised the value of Thai silk and promoted it internationally in the 1950s, has left an expanding legacy. Stores around the world, including three in Singapore, sell high-quality Thai silk products, ranging from lengths of fabric to clothes, accessories and soft furnishings.

Budget $$$

Lamai Night Market

Hat Lamai

Another walking street set-up, Lamai Night Market features the accepted mix of useful and not-so-useful market stall items. It’s a good spot to stock up on beachwear if you’ve forgotten t-shirts, sarongs or flip-flops, but you’ll also find plenty of souvenirs to take home. As usual, wooden carvings and other craft items are popular. Don’t forget to bargain.

Budget $

Dine

Barracuda Restaurant

216/1 Moo 2 (Soy 4), Maenam

Barracuda Restaurant, a modest German-run establishment,  concentrates on European cuisine with Asian touches. Examples of dishes are tea-infused tuna served with wasabi and chocolate mousse with chilli. It's a popular place and there are only 20 seats, so it's best to book ahead.

Budget $$$

Mitra Samui Restaurant

Amphoe Koh Sa-Mui, Surat Thani

Mitra Samui Restaurant is a large and not very pretty diner, but the cooks deliver extremely reliable Thai dishes at great value in a town that is getting relentlessly more pricey. The speciality seafood is on display to choose from, but there are lots of other standard dishes available, from spicy pork laab to mild chicken massaman. Very popular, so it can get crowded.

Budget $

Rice

167/7 Moo 2, Tambol Bophut

Smack in the heart of Chaweng’s evening entertainment scene, the fine-dining Italian restaurant Rice has a contemporary Asian look to its split-level interior, complete with a large lily pond at the front. Along with pastas and pizzas from the wood-fired oven, there are tempting mains such as tenderloin with gorgonzola. A glass lift carries guests up to the third level for cocktails at the rooftop lounge bar.

Budget $$$

The Larder

9/144 Moo 2, Hat Chaweng

The Larder brings some British-European gastropub finesse to the table with starters like foie gras miso and black truffle broth, and mains such as pan-fried scallops and prawns, miso dijon sauce, roasted fennel and soused radish. There’s a good wine list and a relaxed atmosphere.

Budget $$

Zazen

177 Moo 1, Bophut Beach

Stylish and romantic, Zazen restaurant looks out to sea with Ko Phangan as a backdrop. Sit in an open-sided area with a Balinese-style roof or on the candlelit terrace. The European chef serves up a blend of Asian and European cuisine using healthy organic ingredients. You can order dishes à la carte or choose from one of the four set menus available.

Budget $$$

Zenzibar

18/33 Moo 1, Maenam

Zenzibar is a simple beach shack right beside the waves, but tables are laid with linen cloths, flowers and candles right on the sand, giving it a secluded romantic air at dinnertime. There’s also wooden deck seating. Fresh seafood displayed on ice is the best choice, and the Thai food – all the usual salads and curries – is better than the international food. They will arrange transport to and from hotels. Best to book ahead.

Budget $

Stay

Ark Bar Beach Resort

159/75 Moo 2 Boput Suratthani Chaweng

Party animals often stay at Ark Bar Beach Resort to enjoy the lively beach restaurant and bar. The 60 glass-fronted rooms are clean and well maintained, and have air-conditioning and a balcony. There are some rooms with beach views at the top end, but the closer to the front you are, the less peace and quiet you get.

Budget $

Buri Rasa Village

11/2 Moo 2, Chaweng Beach, Bo Phut

Buri Rasa Village, a lovely boutique resort just south of Chaweng’s busiest stretch, is tastefully designed in a Thai-village style. The 32 rooms and suites have DVD players and wifi access but retain an old-world charm, with four-poster beds. The stylish pool is perfect for lazing around, and there's a restaurant, beach bar and spa.

Budget $$

Four Seasons Resort

Hat Laem Yai

On the secluded beach of Hat Laem Yai, the Four Seasons Resort offers various (very expensive) options. The accommodation ranges from a one-bedroom villa nestled in the hillside to a five-bedroom beach residence. All lend an appropriate sense of luxury with outdoor rain-showers and private infinity pools. Teak and rosewood furnishings add to the southern Thai charm.

Budget $$$

The Spa Resort

Hat Lamai

The Spa Resort is one of the island’s most affordable health-spa resorts, offering yoga, meditation and detox cleansing. The 32 rooms, surrounding a pool, vary in standard and rate. A sister resort is in the jungle. Radiance restaurant serves vegetarian, vegan and raw food, but the restaurant in the jungle location has only raw food. They also conduct classes in nutrition. Both locations provide shuttle bus transport.

Budget $

W Retreat

Bontji Moo 4 Bo Put

The W Retreat is a spectacular modern resort with funky design touches throughout. The room facilities include 46in TVs, Wi-fi and private decks with pools and sea views. Within the grounds are lounge seating in the middle of the stunning circular infinity pool, a spa and several restaurants, including modern Japanese at Namu. Woobar has cushion seating, tapas and live DJs every night.

Budget $$$

Zazen Boutique Resort and Spa

Hat Bo Phut

There’s a modern-Thai feel to Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa, with local accents in architecture and decor, and a tropical air pervading the accommodation, set amid lush gardens. The 28 villas are spacious, well appointed and have flat-screen TVs and wifi access throughout. Many have iPods. The in-house East meets West fusion restaurant is widely acclaimed.

Budget $$

Loy Krathong

Date varies in November

Loy Krathong is always beautiful, but especially so at beach locations. People launch banana leaf floats with flickering candles into the sea to seek goodwill from the water spirits.


Samui Triathlon

Date varies in April

Held at Nathon and Bophut, this competition features the usual three disciplines: cycling, swimming and running. There's also a duathlon with just cycling and running. And a party at the end.


Samui Latin and Jazz Week

Date varies in September, October

Launched in 2013, the SLJW drew artists from both Thailand and overseas to various venues around the island. The performances fall into the easy listening end of jazz, either cool and loungey or dancy Latin.


Songkran (Thai New Year)

13-15 April

Songkran is a nationwide festival with a party atmosphere and big water fights. It’s based on traditional water sprinkling rituals for merit-making in temples, but in many areas is now a deluge. It’s great fun, but wrap up your camera.


Samui Regatta

Date varies in May, June

There are abundant good winds off Chaweng Beach for this annual regatta that draws a decent crowd of international sailors and involves much beach revelry.


Adventure

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.

 

 

Places to visit:
Canopy Adventures, Koh Samui Kiteboarding, CSI Samui, Samui Boat Charters.

Romantic Getaway

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.

 

 

Places to visit:
Na Muang Waterfall, Breeze Spa, Tamarind Springs Forest Spa, Ang Thong Marine National Park.

Kids-friendly

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.

 

 

Places to visit:
Place to visit: Samui Monkey Theatre, Samui Go-Kart, Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo, Mr Ung’s Magical Safari.