Koh Samui Travel Guide Contents
Places To Go | Things To Do | Hotels & Resorts | Tours | Weather & When To Go | Getting There & Around | See & Do | Where To Stay | Day Trips & Excursions | Typical Costs | Money Saving Tips | Safety Tips | Recommended Resources | Transport | Travel Blog
Hello and welcome to Thailand Travel Hub's ultimate guide to Koh Samui, Thailand's third-largest tropical island and an idyllic, sun-drenched getaway with spectacular beaches, lush vegetation and enough day trips and activities to keep everyone happy. Located in the Gulf of Thailand (as opposed to the Andaman Sea for Phuket), it has a slightly different feel and attracts a different type of traveler, being close to the world-class scuba destination of Koh Tao, and the infamous party island of Koh Phangan. Samui is located in the Ang Thong National Marine Park and as such boasts some of the best snorkeling sites on the globe, but also has an excellent array of accommodation, restaurants, bars and nightlife.
Here you can find information about the best hotels and resorts, the best beaches, the best activities and the best places to shop and eat on the island, along with our essential travel tips and advice, travel resources and booking information, all at your fingertips. Koh Samui is a fantastic destination, whether you are a couple, a family, a backpacker or a single traveler; you won't fail to have a great time on the island. Plus, wherever you choose to stay, Samui is always a great choice and you can look forward to an amazing holiday experience surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and magnificent world-class beaches.
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Koh Samui Travel Guide Map
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Weather & When to Go to Koh Samui
Samui has three seasons; "cool", "hot", and "monsoon", but the seasons are not as distinct as in many western countries, in fact sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. The best time to visit is between November and April when you will find that the conditions are optimal for enjoying the beaches and engaging in water-sports or boating activities, with a good amount of sun and minimal rain.
If you don’t like it too hot, try and visit during the cool season which is from November to February, when the average temperatures during the day will be around 25°C. Or, if you love the heat, come between March and May to experience temperatures of 30°C and above, but take care during the middle of the day as the heat can be oppressive. Between June and October comes the monsoon season, which features torrential downpours on an almost daily basis, but it will still be warm with temperatures around 26°C to 28°C. So, in reality, you can visit Samui any time of the year and have a great time, just make sure your schedule is flexible if you come during the rainy season, and take extra care on the roads.
How To Get To Koh Samui
Koh Samui does have it’s own (very tiny) airport, with regular flights to and from Bangkok, plus a handful of other destinations. Unfortunately, Bangkok Airways has a monopoly on the airport so the ticket prices are very steep for such a short journey, with one-way tickets starting at 3000 baht ($100), about four times the price of flights to Phuket.
Plane (direct) – To get from Bangkok to Koh Samui by plane, you will need to get to Suvarnabhumi airport as there are no flights from Don Mueang. You can buy tickets at the airport but expect to pay around 50% more, and the flights are already pricey. Budget for at least 3000 baht ($100) if you can book several days in advance, and 5000 baht ($165) once at the airport. The flight time is a little over an hour. Once you've landed you can take a minibus or taxi to your destination, with taxis charging around 300 baht ($10) to go to Chaweng.
Plane (via Surat Thani) – As mentioned, flights to the island’s airport are expensive, but you can fly to nearby Surat Thani for as little as 850 baht ($28) and then hop over on the ferry for 200-300 baht ($6.60-$10). This will be the most convenient option for many.
Bus and ferry – By far the cheapest option is public bus and then ferry. The public buses depart from Bangkok’s southern bus terminal and take up to 12 hours to get to Surat Thani for around 500 baht ($16.65) or even less. At Surat Thani, you can then buy a combined bus/boat ticket which takes you first to Donsak Pier (takes about an hour) and then a ferry to Koh Samui, which takes around 90 minutes. So your total cost is around 700 baht ($23.35) and takes 12-16 hours depending on layovers. This is great for backpackers, the fact that you can sleep on the overnight bus means you save money on a night in a hotel.
Train – Thai trains are slow and uncomfortable. A second class sleeper bunk to Surat Thani costs around 1100 baht ($36.30) and should take 12 hours, but Thai trains almost always run late. Allow for a 1-3 hour delay. Upon arrival you will have to buy the bus/boat ticket at 200 baht, bringing the cost to around 1300 baht ($43) and taking 17-20 hours in total.
Airport shuttles – These can be booked in advance quite easily online to take you to your hotel with the minimum of fuss. However, many hotels and resorts will have their own service, so check before you arrive.
TTH Recommendation: There are plenty of ways to get to Koh Samui, the most convenient way is to fly direct to Koh Samui Airport, the only downside to this is that it is a little expensive. You can also fly to Surat Thani and get the ferry across, which is much cheaper or you can take the bus, train or taxi and ferry. All methods of transport can be conveniently booked in advanced online. We highly recommend 12Go Asia, they have an easy-to-use booking system and helpful staff on hand to help you with your bookings.
Getting Around Koh Samui
Rent a motorbike – Like the other Thai islands, if you are a confident motorcycle rider and have a valid license, renting a bike can save you a small fortune, plus you can dodge the constant stress of being overcharged. Rentals start at 250 baht ($8.25) a day and petrol is very cheap, but make sure you ask for a helmet and do not leave your passport as a deposit.
Taxi – Taxis will invariably try to not use the meter and overcharge, but savvy travelers can download the NaviGo App which will save you both time and money. Taxi drivers will try and get you to agree a price upfront, which can be as much as 5-10 times what they would charge a local using the meter.
Songtaews – Songtaews offer great value for money if you know where you are going. Just wave one down and jump on, and ring the bell to get off. Trips start at 50 baht – don’t negotiate a price or the driver will give you the private taxi service costing several times more. Remember that as a foreigner, almost everyone will try and charge you more for transport – if the quote sounds like a lot to you then it almost certainly is, don’t be afraid to walk away and ask somewhere else.
Hire a car or jeep – You can also hire a small car for around 1000 baht ($33) per day, but take care when it’s raining as there are many dirt tracks on the island which become treacherous during a downpour.
Where To Stay In Koh Samui
Chaweng is home to the island's largest and most popular beach, which is approximately 7 km long. It is the most developed part of the island, with a dizzying array of accommodations, restaurants and bars on offer, as well as by far the best nightlife options on the island. As such, the area attracts a wide range of different travelers, however, it does not seem popular with Thai holidaymakers and everything is very much aimed at western tourists. Chaweng offers every kind of amenity that you could need, with banks, money exchanges, ATMs, pharmacies, massage and spa studios, tailors, the ubiquitous fast-food restaurants and many more besides. If you are wanting a relaxing, quiet getaway, this is not the place for you.
Lamai is Samui's second-largest destination, and as such is home to a great range of accommodation and attractions, but slightly less bustling and noisy than Chaweng. It is more laid-back and slightly cheaper but still has a great range of restaurants, bars and nightlife, and travelers looking for the superclub-type experience only need to travel to Chaweng, which is about half an hour away. Lamai also has a great beach and plenty of entertainment to choose from, but the nightlife revolves more around girly bars and the beer bar complex than Chaweng. In short, Lamai is a good compromise for many people, but it doesn't have the buzzing nightlife of Chaweng, neither could it be described as quiet and relaxing.
Mae Nam is a much quieter destination. It is noticeably more laid back and relaxing with a village feel, and the beach is more secluded, making this an ideal choice for families or couples looking to get away from the hustle and bustle. Mae Nam does have a handful of restaurants, shops and some bars, but there is no real nightlife to speak of, possibly some live music but don't expect anything past 11 pm. It is also home to some of the cheapest accommodation options on the island, so may be a good choice for backpackers on a budget. It's a great place to relax and unwind, and is only half an hour's drive to the shopping and entertainment mecca of Chaweng, with many places renting cars from as little as 750 baht ($25) per day.
Bophut is the choice for people who want a more authentic experience as it's one of the only places on the island to retain some of the original Thai/Chinese feel, although the area is expanding and developing rapidly to cater for the tourism industry. The area is centred around what is known as the Fisherman's Village, which comprises of narrow streets lined with traditional Chinese-style shophouses, in direct contrast to the neon commercialism of Chaweng. Shopping options are generally limited to small souvenir shops and boutique stores, however, there is a good selection of restaurants and bars in the area, with Bophut having a reputation as one of the best places to eat in Samui.
TTH Recommendation: Koh Samui is packed with excellent accommodation for all types of budget, from budget hostels, guest houses, beach front bungalows, budget hotels to five star hotels and high end resorts. It's best to book online before you go especially in peak season. We recommend Agoda.com and Booking.com for online bookings, both companies offer good cancellation policies in case your travel arrangement change and have excellent customer service. Another bonus is that you can checkout other peoples reviews and experiences about the accommodation to help you find the perfect place to stay for your trip.
Best Things to See & What to Do in Koh Samui
Visit Koh Samui’s Amazing Temples
Koh Samui has many temples, with some very grand and important temples being especially interesting for visitors. Of particular note are two very large and impressive local landmarks; the Samui Big Buddha which is a huge golden Buddha on the north-east of the island visible for miles around, and the huge statue of the 18-armed goddess Guanyin. There are also numerous Thai and Chinese-style temples dotted around the island, all of which welcome tourists.
You won’t be able to see all the temples on the island as there are simply too many. A great idea is to plan to see a few temples in the morning before doing something different after lunch, this will prevent you from becoming “templed-out”. All the temples on the island are fully functioning places of worship, and as such you will see the locals attending and praying, so you must show the proper respect by being quiet, removing your shoes, and wearing the correct dress (women especially need to ensure that shoulders and knees are covered).
Explore Koh Samui's Beaches & Watersports
Samui has some world-class beaches with spectacular white sands and warm, crystal clear waters ideal for swimming and water sports. There are many beaches, from the tourist-packed Chaweng beach to much more secluded spots where you may well be the only person within sight. You can easily cover the entire island in a single day, checking out the different beaches and enjoying the scenery and the weather before deciding on the perfect beach for topping up your tan.
Or, for the adrenaline junkies, the more popular beaches have several water sports options including jet-skiing, kayaking, kiteboarding, parasailing, windsurfing and wakeboarding. Whether you are a complete beginner or a veteran, there are packages to suit you at very reasonable prices, with jet-skiing starting at as little as $45 for a half-hour session. It is also possible to take a high-octane ride aboard an extreme speed boat at Bophut, with a 20-minute ride costing $60, definitely an experience that you won't forget.
Experience a Real Thai Massage & Spa
Every visitor to Thailand should make sure that they have an authentic Thai massage at least once during their trip. Relaxing, rejuvenating and stimulating, the experience will make you feel fantastic, and the icing on the cake is that they start from as little as 200 baht ($6.60) for an hour. Massage and spa studios are found all over the island and are a fantastic place to unwind after a hard day’s shopping or swimming in the sea. There are a huge number of choices, with massages including full-body, head and shoulder, leg and foot, ayurvedic massage, hot oil massage, hot stone massage, Swedish massage and many, many more besides.
Or, if you want to take it a step further, there are even certificated massage courses available on the island, with training workshops from one day to many weeks in length. They are also incredible value, with 150-hour courses from 15,000 baht ($495), a fraction of what it would cost you elsewhere.
Go Diving and Explore the Underwater World
Samui is a great place for a spot of scuba diving, whether you are an advanced diver or a complete beginner, there are plenty of deals at great prices to suit you. You can purchase individual dives from under 2000 baht ($66), or buy packages of 3 dives from around 4000 baht ($132), plus you can undertake PADI certificates or more advanced qualifications, also at low prices. There are a huge number of amazing coral formations and tropical aquatic wildlife to see around Samui, and snorkeling is also available if scuba diving isn't your thing.
There are loads of dive shops on the island, so feel free to shop around for the best deal, and don't be afraid to haggle, especially if several people are booking at once. The price for a dive usually includes a meal on board the boat and refreshments, although be aware that some operators have hidden charges such as equipment hire, insurance, and a boat fuel fee, so make sure you check before making a booking.
Experience the Buzzing Nightlife in Koh Samui
The island has a comprehensive range of nightlife options, varying from quiet ex-pat bars to the full-on Ibiza-style experience which can be found in Chaweng. Samui has some of the best nightlife in the country, with huge nightclubs, beer bar complexes and two red-light districts. Even the quieter beaches will have a few small bars where you can enjoy a couple of drinks and a game of pool in the evening, with Lamai also having a well-established beer bar complex where you can party until the wee hours. The hedonistic nightlife spots such as Solo Bar, Reggae Bar and The Green Mango in Chaweng are popular with younger travelers and can get seriously busy as the night progresses.
Be warned that in Lamai and Chaweng, much of the nightlife will not be family-friendly with local girls plying their trade throughout the evening. However, if this is something that offends you it can be easily avoided by staying in one of the more sedate parts of the island.
Indulge in the Amazing Cuisine of Koh Samui & Learn to Cook Thai food
On the island you will be able to find almost any type of cuisine that you fancy; the restaurant scene is very developed and caters to visitors from all corners of the globe. You can find pizza and pasta restaurants, fish and chips, Russian food, Indian curries, Mexican tacos, as well as high-end steak and seafood restaurants, the island really does have something for all tastes and all budgets. There are also the usual fast-food chains if you want something familiar.
But you didn't fly halfway around the world to eat pizza and burgers, so make sure you taste the authentic local dishes which are absolutely delicious and amazingly cheap. Try the duck noodles available from roadside vendors for as little as 40 baht ($1.33) or a massaman curry and rice for 60 baht ($2). And if you like the food, cooking lessons start from under 1000 baht ($33) for a half-day and are a great way to impress your friends and family when you get home.
Explore Koh Samui’s Jungles and Waterfalls
Samui is a huge island with many untouched areas covered with dense vegetation and teeming with local wildlife. If you want to investigate further, you can book a tour with a guide, and you can choose whether you would like to ride in the back of a 4x4 or drive yourself on a quad bike. You will get to see many of the beautiful sights on the island and have a chance to ask your guide questions, as well as numerous amazing photo opportunities for you social media addicts. It is amazing to see that there is so much stunning, untouched jungle just a few kilometres from the development of Chaweng and Lamai.
There are many striking waterfalls to discover which have lagoons of clear blue-green water where you can cool off with your friends if you arrange it with your guide. Jungle tours start from around 1500 baht ($49) per person, which will include all the safety gear and a tutorial on how to ride the bike, plus longer tours will include a stop for lunch.
Explore the Ang Thong National Park
Ang Thong (which means “bowl of gold”) is a huge marine national park which includes 42 islands as well as 50 km2 of sea. The park encompasses huge, steep limestone formations, dense jungle and pristine beaches as well as numerous waterfalls, natural lakes and coves for visitors to explore. The Ang Thong National Park is home to a bewildering array of wildlife including tropical fish and coral which make it an excellent site for scuba diving and snorkeling. It is a modern-day tropical paradise and became famous for featuring in "The Beach" which was a book and a film featuring Leonardo DiCaprio (in case you weren't aware!).
The best way to experience the park is through a guided tour, there are many operators to be found on Samui who offer several different packages. Whether you are interested in a bit of hiking, kayaking or topping up your tan on one of the many beaches, there will be a tour package to suit you, with half-day trips starting from as little as 900 baht ($29.70).
Tours, Day Trips & Excursions In Koh Samui
The numerous travel agents on the island offer a seemingly endless array of tours, trips and excursions, with something for everyone.
Sightseeing & Exercise Tours - There are guided mountain bike tours through the jungle ($9 and up) for those wanting to get some exercise, and quad bike tours ($45 and up) through various parts of the island, which can be either half-day (which means 3-4 hours in practice) or a full day with a stop for lunch. You can take in remote jungle locations, waterfalls, beaches and scenic vantage points offering some great photo opportunities. Or a simple half-day tour of the island in a minivan starts at around 900 baht ($30) and takes in temples, markets, beaches and other points of interest.
Dirt Bike Tours - There are also dirt-bike enduro tours of the island for the more adventurous, which can be booked for anything from 2-8 hours from around 4000 baht ($133) per person. This includes all safety gear, insurance, water and petrol.
Boat Trip & Tours - There are dozens of different boat tours, which start with a simple sightseeing trip for around 600 baht ($20). Or, you could do a beach-hopping trip, a snorkeling adventure, or dabble in some deep-sea fishing. A 6-hour fishing trip includes everything you will need including refreshments for around 1400 baht ($46), and like most trips, will need to be booked the day before.
Ang Thong National Park - For around 3000 baht ($100), you can do a full-day excursion through the Ang Thong National Park, taking in the dramatic limestone cliffs, the beaches and the famous blue lagoon, before coming back to have dinner as the sun sets over the park. This tour includes kayaking, snorkelling and swimming stops, with visits to some of the most spectacular coral formations in the park.
A great family day out - A great day out for the family is the Samui Big Boop Boop Tour – this takes in seven incredible canopy zip lines, swimming at the beautiful Namuang Waterfalls, and a chance to have a go on the jungle water slides before having lunch at a tropical garden restaurant, which includes an exotic fruit tasting session.
Magic Alambic Rum Distillery - You might be surprised to hear that Samui has it's very own rum distillery, called the Magic Alambic Rum Distillery which is included in many packages. You can experience a guided tour of the facility and a tasting session, followed by a walk around the tropical gardens. A bottle of the excellent rum makes a great gift to take home with you.
In short, remember that almost all the tours and excursions that you book on the island can be tailored to your specific needs, so if there's a specific place you want to stop at for lunch, for example, make sure you mention that when booking. And if you are booking a tour for several people at the same time, don't be afraid to ask for a discount, the tour operator will be well aware that there is stiff competition for your business on the island.
TTH Recommendation: There are plenty of travel agents and tour companies in Koh Samui. However, if you prefer to book conveniently online then we recommend Get Your Guide and Viator. Both companies are very well established and provide excellent customer service. Another advantage to booking online is that you can read customer reviews and experiences before you make your booking! Get Your Guide and Viator also have a good cancellation policy on most bookings, just in case your travel arrangements change.
Prices, Expenses & Typical Costs In Koh Samui
Accommodation - Accommodation ranges from a bed in a dorm room at 100 baht ($3.33) per night, all the way up to huge villas in 5-star luxury resorts at 50,000 baht ($1665) per night. The best value is probably to be found in the boutique-style guest-houses, from around 900 baht ($30) per night. Most resorts will offer large family rooms or bungalows from around 2000 baht ($66) per night.
Transportation - Short hops of 1-2 km on a motorcycle can be as little as 50 baht ($1.65), with taxis and tuk-tuks charging something in the range of 150-300 baht ($4.95-$9.90) for a similar journey. These charges can add up throughout a 2-week holiday, but a motorbike rental can be as little as 200 baht ($6.60) per day if you shop around.
Food and Drink - The cheapest street food meal will cost from 30 baht ($1), with a green curry and rice costing around 100 baht ($3.33) in a local restaurant. Fast food meals will be 120-240 baht ($4-$8), and at western-style steak/seafood joints, the sky is the limit. Beers start at around 40-80 baht ($1.33-$2.66) in most places, with cocktails costing noticeably more, and foreign wines being very pricey due to steep import tax.
Backpacker - Backpacker traveling solo with no alcohol or partying: $25-$30 per day per person.
Average traveler - The average traveler, staying at decent guesthouse/hotel, exploring some attractions and a few drinks in the evenings: $70-$80 per day per person.
Nightlife enthusiast - Nightlife enthusiast staying at 3-star guesthouse or hotel, lots of drinking, entertainment and eating at restaurants: $120-$140 per day per person.
Family of four -Family staying in a family room in a nice hotel or resort, with attractions, taxi/tuk-tuk transport and restaurant meals, plus shopping budget: $240-$300 per day per family.
Luxury traveler - Luxury traveler, 5-star hotel, taxis, cocktails and evening entertainment: $320 and up per day per person.
Koh Samui Money Saving Tips
Koh Samui is one of the more expensive holiday destinations in Thailand but a few tips can help you save a bundle of money. Avoiding taxis and tuk-tuks altogether is the number one best tip as they almost always over-inflate their prices for foreigners. If you’ve booked a hotel, ask for a pick-up from the pier or airport to save cash, in some cases, it will be free.
Don't be afraid of the street food, the Thais know that some of the freshest and tastiest food is served on the street and it's the best value as well, with meals starting from as little as 30 baht ($1). These places might look a little unorthodox to you, with the plastic chairs and rickety tables, but they are clean, tasty and cheap, indeed you can have five street food meals for the price of a McDonald's meal.
Never, ever buy Thai baht in your home country. You don't need to, and you can lose 15% or even more of your spending money instantly. In Thailand the rates are amazingly good; dollars, pounds and euros (as well as many other currencies) are accepted at all the exchange kiosks, which are dotted around the island (there are seemingly hundreds of them, and are very easy to find). Beware, however, that any damaged or defaced bills will be refused.
In touristy areas, many bars and restaurants will offer promotions, usually at specific times of the day. With savings of up to 50% on offer, it pays to keep an eye out for these deals, and besides, you may well encounter people handing out money-off vouchers at various locations such as shopping malls or markets. Laundry charges at resorts and hotels can be excessive, as much as 100 baht ($3.33) per item. If you go out into the street, you will very likely be able to get your whole load done for that price. You can often buy a new pair of shorts for less than what the hotel charge for laundering your old ones!
Is It Safe to Travel Around Koh Samui?
Koh Samui, like most Thai destinations, is very safe. By far the biggest dangers are the roads and traffic, followed by attempts at scams and petty theft, which can be avoided with a little common sense. You will be at a greater risk of crime late at night, particularly if you have been drinking, so be aware of your surroundings and keep your wits about you if you’re enjoying the nightlife.
Thailand now has the most dangerous roads in the world as measured by road deaths, and the island roads are worse than the mainland. With this in mind, take utmost care if you decide to drive, especially if riding a motorcycle, and only do so if you are confident in your abilities. Also, take extreme care when crossing the road as law enforcement is very inconsistent and drink driving is rife.
Petty theft can and does occur, so take some basic precautions to stop it from ruining your holiday. Don't bring lots of expensive gadgets and jewellery to Thailand, in most cases it's not needed, and when you go out make sure that you put any valuable items in the safe. When out and about, especially in bars, avoid flashing the contents of your wallet or other overt displays of wealth, Thai people are honest and decent but unfortunately, there are still some bad eggs.
Like practically any tourist destination on the planet, there are several common scams taking place. Thais are generally shy and reserved and not great with English, so when an English-speaking Thai propositions you in the street to go somewhere or do something, politely decline. Even with the worst scams, you are very unlikely to be in any physical danger, if you are being pestered then a firm “no” and walking away will suffice.