Welcome to the island of Ko Samui, Thailand!
One of the best-known Thai islands, Ko Samui, has long been a favorite amongst visitors seeking azure waters, fine sand beaches, and all the adventurous activities both on land and at sea. Traditionally, tranquil home to simple fishing communities, Ko Samui has grown into a household name and is now Thailand’s second most popular island destination.
While the bamboo bungalows have largely been replaced by 5-star resorts, a worldwide local will still find plenty of beautiful and fascinating destinations on the island. Here’s our guide to making the most of your time on Ko Samui.
A Primer on the Ko Samui Neighborhoods
Unless you’re looking for luxury Ko Samui resorts, rowdy bars or crowded beaches, it is probably best to avoid the larger resort areas, such as Chaweng and Lamai. Far better, get your sunshine fix in one of the smaller beach-front villages such as Mae Nam in the northern part of the island, where much of the infrastructure is still locally owned. Alternatively, the old fishing village of Bophut has managed to largely resist the influx of mass tourism and remains a relatively authentic outpost of Thai culture.
Worldwide Local Tip: Ko Samui is home to some of the world’s finest scuba diving locations, with the best conditions being found between June and August. The nearby Ang Thong Marine National Park makes an excellent day trip from the island, and while package tours are available, you can also simply ask around at the pier in Bophut.
Getting Around Ko Samui
Pickup trucks, known as Songthaews, and minivans run the length and breadth of the island from dawn until dusk. There’s generally no set timetable, so often your best bet is to ask at your Ko Samui hotel or restaurant. Alternatively, motorbikes can be rented, practically, everywhere on the island and are an excellent way for worldwide locals to explore off the beaten path. Be warned, though, accidents are not uncommon; so make sure you have adequate health insurance, and never leave your passport as a deposit on a bike!
Worldwide Local Tip: Ko Samui now has its own ride-sharing app, which makes getting around the island easier than ever. Drivers generally speak good English, and you are given an estimation of the fare before confirming – no more monotonous haggling for a fair price, just click and go!
Inland, Ko Samui is home to a wonderful mix of rocky hills and a luscious jungle. The waterfalls of Hin Lat and Na Mueang are popular destinations for an easy hike. You might also want to go for a refreshing swim in the falls, after a long trek in the warm Ko Samui weather. If this island is your only stop in Thailand, a visit to Wat Khunaram temple is worthwhile, although the heavy commercialization detracts from the experience somewhat.
Worldwide Local Tip: A lot of visitors to Ko Samui, are keen to visit an Elephant sanctuary, of which there are several on the island. What exactly constitutes a “high-welfare” sanctuary is the topic of hot debate, so it’s best to ask around and use your own judgment. It’s safe to say that any “sanctuaries” that allow elephant riding do not have the animal’s best interests at heart.
Eat Like a Local in Ko Samui
As you would expect from a major tourist destination, cruising under the sun can be found somewhere on Ko Samui, often to a good standard. If you’re after the authentic Thai experience, forget any restaurant within the immediate vicinity of a tourist hotel, and instead seek out a local roadside eatery. Not only will the prices be a fraction of what you would pay in one of the resorts or the Ko Samui best hotels, but you may actually have the chance to engage with some local residents. The fiery Massaman Curry, often prepared with chicken or beef, is a local specialty. In terms of nightlife, Ko Samui has it all, and we mean all! Where there are tourists, you will be sure to find a bar although the wildest parties tend to take place on and around Chaweng or Lamai beaches.
Worldwide Local Tip: While everything you can imagine is available to purchase in Ko Samui’s night time economy, that doesn’t mean it’s safe or legal. Use common sense and don’t take any unnecessary risks with your health and safety. The police have a dim view of drugs, and a Thai jail is not where you want to be spending your vacation.
Enjoy Your Stay!
Yes, Ko Samui is a big-name tourist destination, and yes, that has taken a toll on some parts of the island. A worldwide local, however, knows how to go beyond the superficial attractions to find the hidden gems, deep-rooted culture, and spectacular views that this incredible island has to offer.