Koh Samui, Thailand - your 24-hour guide
Three years ago we got married on a South Carolina Beach and left for an adventure-filled honeymoon around the world. For our first stop we wanted something wildly exotic, stunningly tropical, and uber relaxing. We debated Fiji, French Polynesia, and the Caribbean, but a friend’s recommendation steered us towards checking out Thailand. We ended up heading to Phuket, and we fell head-over-heels in love with the country! Everything from the food to the warm, vibrant culture and the stunning landscapes draws you in. Long story short, we couldn’t wait get back. So this last year for our 2nd anniversary we planned a trip to a different island paradise just off Thailand’s southeast coast, Koh Samui. It was hard to imagine a trip that could compare to our first time in Thailand, but Koh Samui didn’t disappoint! We were welcomed with that same Thai hospitality and kindness, ate the freshest curries and noodles, drank our fair share of fresh local juice and Mai Tai’s, and had some incredible adventures exploring the island. The exchange rate with the US dollar is quite good- 35 Thai Baht to 1 US Dollar right now. Your money can take you a long way here! (to give you a better idea, we stayed in Samui for 6 days and our total food + drink cost was only $215 US!)
We know that a trip somewhere new and unfamiliar can be a bit overwhelming to plan, so we’ve put together our favorite things about Koh Samui to serve as your 24-hour guide. While we recommend 4-5 days at least, Koh Samui’s modest size (15 miles long at it’s widest point) can also work for someone with just one day to explore. The island has something for everyone, and whether you prefer luxury resort vibes or jungle adventures, Koh Samui is a must-visit destination for your next getaway.
First things first- getting there. While Koh Samui has a decent sized (and very nice) airport for international arrivals, we found it most cost-effective to fly into bangkok and then book a local carrier for the short domestic flight to Samui. BKK is a major international hub, so you're more likely to score an awesome flight deal arriving there. We recommend then flying a local airline like Bangkok Airways to Samui. You'll have to clear immigration and then re-check in for your domestic flight, but we found it quite simple to do!
for reference: a google flight search for NYC-Samui landed at $891 RT. Flying NYC to BKK came in at $586, and the BKK-Samui flight was $216. Depending on the dates, that saves you around $100 or more!
For travel around the Island we rented a moped for a few days, which is definitely the easiest way around. It cost a measly $9 USD per day from our resort, and most of the busy areas have local rentals available (Try Samuipedia). You can also take local taxis quite inexpensively, but make sure you negotiate the rate before leaving!
Thailand doesn't require a tourist visa for U.S. passport holders as long as your stay is less than 30 days, so you can Visit Thailand stress free! You can find the most updated visa information here.
Koh Samui is lined with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The east coast beaches (Lamai and Chaweng, for instance) have wonderful restaurants, vibrant nightlife and are quite popular, while the west coast is a bit less developed. Chaweng is the busiest beach and the definite hotspot, but our favorite was actually Lamai! It’s less crowded and perfectly tropical. There’s a wonderful beachfront restaurant we loved called the Black Pearl where you can get a delicious green curry or pad thai with your feet literally in the sand. Good food is so easy to find and so inexpensive, so we always found ourselves ordering a second (or third!) round of drinks. Lamai is lined with hotels, bungalows, restaurants and shops, but still feels beautifully un-developed at the same time. It’s a perfect place to spend a morning, an afternoon, or your entire trip.
While Lamai beach came in as our favorite beach in Samui, Chaweng is the busiest and most popular. If you’re looking for a party, you’ll likely find it in Chaweng! The shopping is incredible and you can’t escape the wonderfully carefree vibes that make Chaweng a draw for the young, cool crowd. While Lamai is quieter and more secluded, Chaweng is the beach hotspot that Koh Samui is famous for. Plus, there’s no shame in beach-hopping for a few hours, so get on your scooter and go decide your favorite beach for yourself!
Incredible resorts abound in Samui, but we have to tell you about the place we stayed- X2 Resort + Spa (pronounced “Cross-to”). This is technically a 24-hour guide, but if you decide to extend your trip we highly recommend X2. We have a large arsenal of travel sites where we find hotels, and we found this place on one of our favorites, JetSetter.com. Our room was massive, beautifully renovated, and had it’s own private courtyard and pool. The booking site called it “all-spa inclusive”, but we figured that had gotten lost in translation. To our surprise and excitement, upon check-in we learned that it actually meant all-spa inclusive! Treatments in the stunning, tranquil spa were fully included in our stay and totally unlimited (based on daily availability, but we both got at least 2 ninety-minute treatments per day!). Breakfast was included, the grounds were beautiful and romantic, and it cost us less than $150 per night on a special.
KOH TAO (Turtle Island)
Samui is surrounded by amazing islands, many of which make a perfect half-day adventure. The area is famous for having some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to Scuba Dive for the first time! We found the 100 Degrees East dive shop online, and we could not more highly recommend it. If you’re inexperienced with diving like we were, they offer a 1-day PADI Discover Scuba experience. It’s worth every penny. After the brief course, we completed 2 dives and it was one of the most magical experiences of our lives. You have the choice to dive in either Angthong Marine Park (an incredible destination on it’s own) or Koh Tao. We chose Koh Tao and it was perfect. Ask if Kurt is available as an instructor- he really made the experience for us. Imagine stunning coral, all sorts of sea life, a remote tropical island, warm azure waters and being surrounded by thousands of bright, tropical fish. Now go book your dive!
NA MUANG WATERFALL
The beaches aren’t the only place to spend your time in Samui. The island’s interior is a dense tropical jungle! The ride from our hotel to the falls was about 20 minutes, but we stopped off at every cool thing we saw. It took us 45 minutes or so! There’s lot at the entrance to the park where you can leave your scooter for less than 1 USD, and then you hike through the jungle up to the falls. There are two waterfalls, one downstream from the other. It was the end of a dry season when we went, which meant less water, but also more climbing up the rocks! There are a few little shops along the way and some locals selling food- we convinced them to make us a pineapple fried rice with chicken and it was phenomenal (and cost only 250 THB- about $5 US)! You can hike and swim the waterfalls in just a few hours, leaving lots of time to explore the rest of the island! It gets very hot in the midday sun, so we recommend doing this in the morning or late afternoon if possible!
Samui is home to a plethora of stunning temples and structures, perfect for exploring. The Big Buddha is one of the most famous, located on the northeast side of the Island. It’s quite close to the 100 Degrees East dive shop, so you could visit quickly before or after your dive! Another temple we found particularly intriguing was the Wat Kahunaram temple near Lamai. We pulled off to check this place out on our way back from Na Muang, immediately drawn to the colorful, striking architecture. To our surprise, the mummified remains of a Buddhist monk (sitting up!) were on full display right at the entrance! Buddhist Thais have great respect for death as part of the cycle of life, and the monk’s remains serves as an inspiration to follow the Buddhist ways. The surrounding grounds and temple are a sight to see, and take less than an hour to explore. You’ll have to take your shoes off to enter the temples themselves. As always, visit this religious sight with reverence and respect, as it is highly revered among Buddhist Thais.
If you haven’t already picked up on this, we LOVE Thai food. After a busy day of sight-seeing and adventuring, we’d recommend dinner in Chaweng, Lamai, or Bophut. (Try the fresh green curry, pineapple fried rice, pad see ew or pad thai- you can't go wrong!) All three of these areas have extensive dining selections and are easily accessible from your afternoon adventures- whatever those may be! The Black Pearl is a perfect spot on Lamai Beach for a leisurely lunch! If you find yourself on the south end of the Island, X2 Resort has a wonderful restaurant called 4K (“fork”), or the Conrad Koh Samui in Taling Ngam is said to have one of the best sunset views on the Island. Let’s be honest though- there’s no bad spot for a sunset cocktail or dinner when you’re in paradise!
We can’t talk about Koh Samui without mentioning the nightlife! If you want to party till the sun comes up, make your way from dinner to Chaweng Beach and have the time of your life! This is the party beach, and you won’t regret having a few tropical drinks or Thai beers in this vibrant bar scene. Full Moon Parties happen monthly on nearby Koh Phangan- but as our friend Rachel from Hippie-in-heels blog talks about on her blog, we don’t recommend you stay on Koh Samui to attend the party. If you’re up for a crazy adventure, go for it. Otherwise, make it the next stop on your trip instead of an evening excursion. You can check out KoSamui.com as an excellent reference for more nightlife info (or any other info, for that matter)!
Ok. Enough talking- it’s time to book your trip! Whether you’re stopping by for 24 hours or spending a relaxing month, Koh Samui is truly a tropical island paradise. We’ve only broken the surface of stuff to do, but this is a good starting point for your trip! We can’t wait to return, and can’t wait to hear the recommendations you bring back with you. Adventures or R+R, beach or jungle, luxury or budget- Koh Samui is a must-visit when you’re in Southeast Asia. Heck, it’s even worth its own trip.
-Zach + Tara