Just off the east coast of Thailand, Koh Samui is a jungle-capped island rising from the warm turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Around the island’s perimeter, you’ll find seemingly endless beaches shaded by a fringe of tall coconut palms. The shoreline combines hidden coves and long sandy stretches dotted with fishing villages and a plethora of hotels, while the interior is unspoiled mountainous jungle.
This was one of the first places in Thailand that became popular with backpackers in the 1970s. Since those early days, it has developed a robust infrastructure for visitors, catering to a wide range of tastes and styles. The island is also very accessible, thanks to direct flights from Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. All of this makes Koh Samui a good beach destination for relaxation, with options for activities both on and off the island, even in the off season. It’s a good place to rest at the end of a busy tour of Thailand.
You can take advantage of the island’s varied selection of restaurants, ranging from purveyors of elegant international fare to small, anonymous shacks serving excellent renditions of classic Thai and Western dishes.
The island’s beaches are often lively, but there are still quiet stretches. Lipa Noi, on the western shore of Koh Samui, is particularly quiet, especially during the week. A good spot for families, the water here is shallow for a long way offshore, and the seafloor is coated in smooth sand, without sharp coral or toe-bruising rocks. Lipa Noi also offers some of the finest sunset views on the island.
There’s also a wide range of hotel options, from simple to sumptuous. Many properties have attached spas, which offer standard beauty treatments as well as services like yoga and t’ai chi classes.
Most of the hotels are happy to help you indulge in watersports and offer equipment to guests, including kayaks and jet skis. Koh Samui isn’t known for its diving and snorkeling, however. If you’re interested in seeing underwater life, we suggest taking a trip to one of the nearby islands.
Some of the area’s best diving is north of Koh Samui at Koh Tao (or Turtle Island, as it translates) — we can arrange a trip for you. The shallow waters and bright corals here teem with schools of fish, as well as large sea animals like sharks, barracuda and turtles, as well as whale sharks at certain times of the year. Some of the best snorkeling locally can be found at the nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park. The park first came to international attention when it appeared in Alex Garland’s 1996 cult hit The Beach and, later, the movie adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s easy to understand why he chose to set his story here. Thanks to the marine park status, archipelago remains a playground of limestone cliffs, weirdly shaped grottoes and unspoiled peachy-sand beaches. Translated as ‘golden basin’, the park encompasses 42 rocky islands topped with evergreen forests and surrounded by crystalline blue-green waters. You’ll find good snorkeling, especially in the waters off the northern islands, where there are coral gardens populated with a variety of wildlife, including green turtles and yellow-spotted trevallies. The visibility can be somewhat limited, due to sediment in the water.
We can arrange for you to visit Ang Thong to see Koh Wao (Dragon Island). Here, you can hike through the rugged interior, explore the twisted rock formations and swim in one of the warm emerald-green marine lakes that dot the archipelago.
Its location in the Gulf of Thailand means that Koh Samui avoids the full brunt of the annual monsoon. You’ll only encounter heavy rainfall from October to mid-December. It’s a good destination any time outside of these months, particularly good during June, July and August, when the rest of the country is dealing with monsoon rains. However, crowds are thickest then.