Koh Samui Travel Guide - with Wired Destinations
Discount Hotels in Koh Samui : Chaweng Beach, Lamai Beach, Bophut-Maenam Beach, Taling Ngam Beach, Koh Pha-Ngan, Koh Tao, Laem Nan Beach, Prayai Beach, Bang Rak Beach, Choeng Mon Beach, Nathon
Koh Samui Beaches - with Wired Destinations
Savvy travelers need little introduction to the appeal of Koh Samui, once a backpacker's retreat but now an international resort. After a quick Koh Samui shopping spree hunting for beach wear, you are on the way to the other islands and Koh Samui beaches nearby. Some time during your stay in a Thailand hotel you will probably meet a few entrenched expatriates or ageing tourists who will be unable to resist waxing nostalgically about the Koh Samui they discovered a generation ago. They camped under the stars on powdery Chaweng Beach. They explored coral reefs from fishermen's boats. And they shared the simple meals of coconut farmers by the light of flickering kerosene lamps. That island is long gone.
Nowadays, about 4 million tourists descend on Koh Samui beaches every year. There are kuxurious Koh Samui Hotels, fancy restaurants, a modern airport, easy transport, and the full panoply of water sports and other diversions. Despite that, the 250 km2 (100 miles2) of archipelago retain much natural beauty. The interior is still the preserve of coconut farmers and forested hills. Unlike high-rise Phuket, buildings are prohibited from surpassing the height of palm trees on Koh Samui. Hire a motorbike or hop on a circulating song thaew – pick-up trucks with benches in the back – and follow the paved, well-fringed rolling road that rings the island.
Aside from attendance at the Catholic church or immigration office, there's no reason to linger among the drab cement blocks of Koh Samui's biggest town, the western port of Nathon. Ferries to Ko Pha-Ngan and Ang Thong National Marine Park depart from Nathon, however.
The choice of Koh Samui beaches or diving spots, nonetheless, should take into consideration the monsoonal wind factor. From May to October, the southeast monsoon blows on the western and northern coasts. From October to January, unleashing the heaviest rains in November, the northeast monsoon can disrupt the eastern coast. Usually you can still swim during these periods, if not read on the beach.
The original beachcombers and today's tasteful hotels were drawn to Koh Samui by a 6-km (4-mile) long swath of soft, silky sand at Chaweng. The sand at its half-sized southern neighbor, Lamai, is slightly lower-grade. Behind all Koh Samui beaches run treacherous roads – pitted, potted and often swamped – barely supportign a sprawl of all the traveler’s necessities: post office, Internet access, banks, money exchanges, travel agencies, clothing shops, tailors, gyms and body piercers. Not to mention all manner of restaurants, bars and music clubs, with old rock and reggae prevailing over techno. Koh Samui never approaches the sleazy excesses of Pattaya and Phuket, but Lamai has a conspicuous share of open-air hostess bars, go-go girls and transvestite shows.
South of Lamai, the small beaches of Ban Hua Thanon and Ban Bangkao are nothing to write home about, but the coral reef is healthy near the former, and the latter is a charming, wooden Muslim village. From either, make a day trip inland and swim at the two-tiered waterfall at Na Muang.
Coming up the western side of the island, Ban Taling Ngam offers a couple of rather deluxe resort retreats. Further north, just before the road juts east along the northern coast, is Nathon.
For panorama, head along the north shore to Maenam. The sand is coarser than that of the east, but the 4-km (2-mile) stretch is little developed. East of Maenam, Bophut is much narrower, but relatively protected, whichever way the wind blows. Popular with French and Italian families, it's a short walk from the cute little fishing village of Ban Bophut. As for Bangrak (better known as Big Buddha Beach), it's a mystery why anyone stays here unless they enjoy the din from the adjacent road or the airplanes roaring overhead. Or perhaps it's the view of the indisputably large Buddha statue and its complement of especially garish souvenir shops. Quieter Choeng Mon, on the island's northeastern spur, has decent sand and is within quick access of Chaweng's facilities.
In addition to all the outlets for Koh Samui sports and leisure, in the Koh Samui's interior are several waterfalls descending from the heights of Khao Phlu, the island's highest point at 635 metres (2,080 ft). Sprinkled elsewhere around the island are a go-kart track, snake farm, butterfly farm and lots of snooker parlours. With 10 stadiums and counting, water-buffalo fights are Koh Samui's newest entertainment. The bulls don't draw blood, but the high-stakes betting is fast and raucous. The numerous signs for "monkey shows" are actually opportunities to see pig-tailed macaques engaged in their usual jobs on coconut farms. They twist coconuts from the tree tops, then retrieve and deposit them in burlap bags. Copra, the dried coconut flesh, will eventually be pressed to produce coconut oil.
Last but not least are the attractions of 41 brilliant isles comprising Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park (open daily Sam-6pm; tel: 0 7728 0222; admission fee). Day-long package trips go to Ko Wua Talab, park headquarters, and Ko Mae Ko. But these tours allow little time to investigate any more than a viewpoint and a cave on Wua Talab and the clear, pea-green saltwater lake on Mae Ko. On both, the designated swimming spots have negligible coral and fish. It's better to take the standard tour out, but stay a few days on Wua Talab. Visitors can rent park bungalows or tents, or set up their own. The island is teeming with macaques, langurs, otters, birds and other wildlife. Hire one of the resident fishermen to take you to a smaller isle with virgin coral.
If Koh Samui
is the land of package tours and brief holidays, its neighbor 15 km (9 miles) to the north, Ko Pha Ngan
, is a refuge for backpackers oil leisurely world tours and Europeans whiling away winter-long holidays. Smaller, rustic and rugged, and with horrible roads, Pha Ngan lacks the spectacular Koh Samui beaches
but has plenty of secluded, craggy bays sheltering small sandy jewels adorned with coral. At the last count, over a dozen of these host a bungalow resort or two (or 40, in the case of Hat Rin), where US$5 will get you a sturdy roof, a cold-water bath and electricity at least until midnight. It is also home to the infamous Koh Pha-Ngan Full Moon Party
From the cacophonous southern port town o
f Thong Sala, a ferry port for Koh Samui
and Ko Tao
(except for e-mail and mountain b
ike rentals, there's little call to hang around Thong Sala), there is a paved 10-km (6-mile) stretch that runs due north to the village of Cha Loak Lam, a favourite stopover on the north coast for trawlers. This route is plied by songthaew "taxis," which can drop you off for the short walk to Pang waterfall, followed by a challenging 400-metre (1,300 ft) climb to the isla
nd's stellar viewing point. The dirt trails branching off to the western coast lead to about a half-dozen beaches and are navigable by motorbike if it hasn't rained recently. These are not premier Koh Pha-Ngan beaches
, although there's fine snorkelling coral at Hat Yao (West) and Mae Hat to the north. The rutted trails meandering around the eastern quadrant, however, are always hazardous and should not be attempted by novice cyclists, whether on motorbike or mountain bike.
East of Cha Loak Lam, the justly prized beach of the moment is Hat Khuat (Bottle Beach), which can only be reached by sea. The quickest jump there is from Ban Cha Loak. Continuing eastward and down the coast, one could enjoyably argue the merits of Hat Sadet (with a waterfall and jumbo rocks bearing the graffiti of Thai royalty) or Thong Nai Pan, with wonderful cliff viewpoints, a double-barrelled bay and a coral reef. Eventually you will reach the pretty southern cove of Hat Tien, which offers an additional choice of beaches on either side. One of the two bungalow resorts here is The Sanctuary, with an arresting central building constructed amidst enormous boulders and outcroppings. From September to late May, it sponsors alternative health and New Age courses. Hat Tien forswears videos, noise and mind-altering drugs.
Not coincidentally, the next sign of habitation, a mere 10 minutes away by long-tail boat, is Hat Rin, better known internationally than Pha-Ngan itself. The fame, or notoriety, stems from the monthly all-night "full-moon" party. The biggest bashes of the year take place in December and January, when leading British DJs fly in with cutting-edge sounds and hordes of young clubbers. Together with the island's semi-permanent foreign residents and the charters from Koh Samui
, the numbers can swell to 15,000. Even in the slowest months, when the ambience is more akin to a US frat party, 3,000 people may dance into the wee small hours. Poopers gripe that the party has become detached from its pagan roots; others say that undercover policemen have put a damper on the chemical enhancements. Of the two beaches that comprise Hat Rin, the eastern side of the headland, known as Sunrise Beach, is far superior with a wide bay of sand, good swimming and a bit of coral. West of the headland, Sunset is scraggy and usually strewn with flotsam, but it's so quiet that you can fall asleep to the waves. Besides, it's only a 10-minute walk to Sunrise. In between, there's a grid of dirt lanes lined with clothing, jewelry and Koh Samui dive shops, as well as two banks, a clinic, a post office, pharmacies, tattooists and overseas telephones. Besides the usual video cafes and unusual MSG-free zones, there are genuine Italian restaurants.
There's even a thrice-daily boat connection between Hat Rin
and Koh Samui
. Nonetheless, the roller-coaster road joining Hat Rin
and Thong Sala
is now paved and has further opened up the intervening villages and so-so beaches of Ban Tai and Ban Khai.
An easy stroll up a hill from Ban Tai brings you to Wat Khao Tham (open daily; admission fee). During most months of the year, Australian and American teachers run recommended 10- to 20-day Buddhist meditation
Alone in the middle of the ocean, flung a good 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Ko Pha Ngan, tiny Ko Tao is the third principal island of the 80-strong Samui archipelago. The home of fewer than 800 fisher folks, it was colonized in the past decade or so by backpackers on a tireless search for "somewhere quiet." Ko Tao is quiet. The brief strip of paved road supports only one or two trucks. There's no place to race motorcycles. There are no bars, nightclubs, banks or jet skis. No go-karts. You can fall asleep listening to the waves.
Arriving by boat from either Chumphon or Ko Pha-Ngan at Ban Mae Hat, the only proper village, you will be greeted by long-tail touts proclaiming the virtues of their often isolated bungalow resorts. Be wary. Those located on the northern and eastern coasts probably do provide fine snorkeling sights surrounding garage-sized boulders, but there is no beach or sand.
To the left (north) of Ban Mae Hat, the long beach of Sai Ree is deceptive, since the water is too shallow for anything more vigorous than the breast stroke. Likewise with Coral Beach on the right. Better to heed the touts from the southern coast. Or walk the few kilometers to Ao Chalok and Hai Sai Daeng.
Once settled, nature lovers can happily explore the island's 21 sq km (8 sq miles) on foot. Rough trails criss-cross the uninhabited, thickly forested interior. Although you may never glimpse the gibbons, you will probably hear their distinctive whoop-whoop signaling their presence in nearby tree tops.
For a cooling drink and a swim, follow the obvious signs for those boulder-strewn bungalows dotted around the coast. Ko Tao's strongest attraction, though, is its proximity to about 25 excellent scuba-diving sites. In fact, these are where many diving trips originating in Koh Samui or Ko Pha-Ngan head each day. At Ban Mae Hat, at least a dozen foreign-managed dive shops fiercely compete. Certified instruction is available.
Other Koh Samui Beaches
Koh Samui beaches boast white sand and are seamed with coconut palms. A multitude of Koh Samui hotels
and resorts are just a couple of steps from the beaches.
A 7-km long strip in the northeast of Koh Samui. It is the most popular and developed beach, but also one of the most exiting. You can rent pretty much anything from a simple bungalow to a five-star Chaweng hotel
room. There are many high hotel resorts on Chaweng. The sand is pristinely white, but it tends to be a bit packed, especially during Koh Samui’s high season.
Not by far as stretched as Chaweng but more quiet and some would say quaint. The southern tip of Lamai is somewhat more inviting than the northern because there are fewer rocks and corals there. Lamai Beach is in the southeast of Koh Samui and about 10 kilometers south of Chaweng. North of Lamai you will find Ao Tong beach.
Maenam, Big Buddha and Bophut
Koh Samui Beaches Links