Few destinations in the world offer a better mix of culture, excitement, relaxation, and value than Thailand. Whether you’re an adventurer, a spa seeker, or anything in between, you’re likely to find your perfect oasis somewhere in this beautiful country. If you’re looking for a vacation that fits everyone’s needs, here are 10 reasons why you should consider visiting Koh Samui.
Reason 1: The beaches are plentiful, quiet, and gorgeous
If you’re going to an island, chances are you’re looking to spend time on the beach. Most of the time, you want a beach that’s tranquil and not overrun with other tourists. Koh Samui has a less touristy vibe than some of the other islands in Thailand, such as Phuket. Of course, every tropical destination has its crowded beaches. But if you wander off the beaten path a little, it’s easy to find quiet sanctuaries. Different people have different opinions on what is the best beach in Koh Samui. However, the majority are located near the west side of the island, far from the hustle and bustle of the Chaweng area in the northeast. Lipa Noi in the west and Taling Ngam in the southwest are both home to beaches that are sure to fill you with a sense of peace. Once you get there, venture into the crystal blue water or simply enjoy the view with a coconut in hand.
Reason 2: The nightlife scene is vibrant
After a day of relaxing on the beach, what’s better than a night of partying on the beach? Koh Samui has countless options, whether you’re looking for a high energy beach bar or a laidback indoor pub. Here are a few recommended bars and clubs around the island.
At Chaweng Beach, head to the popular ARKBar, grab a drink, and watch a nightly fire show on the water. Performers treat you to stunning visuals with fire tricks both on and off the water, all set to upbeat music. After the show, the party doesn’t stop. International DJs play music until 2 am. Other options include the highly rated Cha Cha Moon Beach Club and the crowd-drawing Green Mango Club across the street. And if you’re searching for a different kind of experience, Absolut Ice Bar Samui might have what you want, where everything from the walls to the shot glasses is made of ice. Don’t worry, jackets and hats are provided.
While Chaweng is considered the heart of the nightlife scene, don’t count out the amazing hangouts in other parts of the island. The famous Coco Tam’s at Bophut Beach is said to have some of the best drinks in Koh Samui (try their signature Dark Passion — a cocktail of vodka, passionfruit, and watermelon juice). And in the west, the luxurious Nikki Beach Club in Lipa Noi is where it’s at.
Reason 3: Shopping opportunities are vast
If nightlife isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Many markets are open late, so you can spend the night shopping instead. The Fisherman’s Village Walking Street in Bophut is made up of hundreds of local vendors selling everything from funny t-shirts to handcrafted bowls. You’ll also find plenty of snack vendors along the way. Other outdoor markets to check out include the Lamai Night Market and Chaweng Night Market, which are also large and full of variety. These markets are great places to practice your bargaining skills and leave with souvenirs for everyone.
If you prefer the vibe of an indoor shopping mall, you’re in luck. Central Festival Samui in Chaweng boasts 90,000 square meters of retail, restaurant, and entertainment space. You’ll find familiar favorites like Starbucks, Uniqlo, and Adidas, as well as several local and independent shops. The complex also has a spacious food court, a movie theater, and a play area for kids.
Reason 4: Active thrill-seekers will find plenty of adventure
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to soar high above the trees of the rainforest, ziplining can give you the answer. Koh Samui hosts several highly rated ziplines, but the title of the biggest and longest zipline on the island belongs to Skyhawk Adventure. With 33 platforms and a 5,000 meter-long zipline, it’s an adrenaline rush for all ages. You’ll be accompanied at all times by professional staff and securely fitted with the highest quality safety equipment on the market. So strap in and admire the views, savoring the feeling of flying with the warm breeze against your face. If you’re daring, try abseiling upside-down!
If you’re a Muay Thai fan, you’ll find that too. There are plenty of shows you can watch and enjoy, but if you’re up for it, why not sign up for a class? The Lamai Muay Thai Camp and Superpro Samui Training Camp are both wonderful places to learn and practice your skills as a beginner, an experienced fighter, or somewhere in between.
Of course, if you prefer water over land, there are plenty of water sports on the beach. Surfing, parasailing, jet-skiing, and flyboarding are all great ways to get your heart pumping while taking in the views. Unfortunately, Koh Samui is not the best place for snorkeling, but if you’re looking to snorkel you have some options…
Reason 5: It’s the perfect home base for day trips
Koh Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand and is just a short distance away from the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. Koh Tao is known for its wonderful snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities and Koh Phangan is a great place for partying (it’s famous for its monthly all-night Full Moon Parties). To get to either of these islands, simply hop on a high-speed ferry and you’ll be there in less than 2 hours.
If you’re looking for an even easier day trip, it only takes about an hour to get to the magnificent Ang Thong National Marine Park. This oasis is the perfect place to kayak, hike, sightsee, take photographs, or simply relax. There’s lots to see in Ang Thong, such as limestone mountains, waterfalls, monkeys, and the stunning Emerald Lake (to name just a few). If one day isn’t enough for you, you can camp overnight in a tent or bungalow.
Reason 6: It’s home to some great ethical elephant sanctuaries
We’ve all seen those pictures of tourists riding on the backs of elephants. It may look fun, but did you know that in order for this to happen, elephants are tortured and forced into labor? Places like Samui Elephant Sanctuary and Samui Elephant Haven have taken steps to prevent the exploitation and abuse of elephants by rescuing them from ill-meaning captors and giving them new lives. While riding is not allowed, you can take pictures with these happy giants, feed them, and even bathe them. Ethical organizations around Thailand make it possible for you to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime Thai elephant experience while having fun and supporting the groups that deserve it. If you don’t go with one of the sanctuaries mentioned here, remember to do your research before booking!
Reason 7: The temples are super impressive
Okay, this one is cheating a little. There are stunning temples all over Thailand. But Koh Samui is the only place you’ll find the Big Buddha temple (or Wat Phra Yai), a golden Buddha that sits 12 meters (39 feet) tall. It’s truly a sight to see.
Not far from Big Buddha, Koh Samui also houses the elaborate Wat Plai Laem. This temple pays homage not only to Buddha but also to the 18-armed goddess of mercy and compassion, Guanyin. Throughout the temple, you’ll find bright colors and intricate details featuring an intriguing mix of Thai and Chinese elements. As it’s surrounded by a lake, you’ll feel peace all around. You can even feed the catfish and carp in the lake for a small fee of ฿10 (US$0.30). Wat Plai Laem is usually not too crowded, giving it even more of a serene feel.
Another temple worth mentioning is Wat Ratchathammaram in Lamai. With its red terracotta walls and sculptures, this temple is quite unique. It’s another attraction that is usually not full of tourists.
As with all Buddhist temples, remember to be respectful and dress modestly. Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered up. It’s also required that you remove your shoes before entering.
Reason 8: The food is incredible
Again, this is cheating a little because the food is amazing in all of Thailand. But as the country’s top producer of coconuts, Koh Samui is known to have the best in the country. With so many ways to enjoy them, there’s no excuse not to give them a try. You can stay hydrated in the heat by drinking the water out of a fresh coconut or have a coconut shake or cocktail if that’s more your thing. Find an ice cream stall at a market and ask for coconut ice cream with customized toppings, all served inside a coconut shell.
If savory or spicy is more your thing, Koh Samui has got you covered. There are your tried-and-true basics like pad thai, chicken satay, and pineapple fried rice. There’s also no shortage of slightly more exotic dishes like spicy papaya salad, tom yum soup, and insects (if you dare).
To make sure you’re getting the full culinary experience, try a cooking class or spend an afternoon on a food tour. InFusion in Bophut offers both and is highly rated, but it’s far from your only option. There are plenty of amazing classes to choose from, such as Lamai Thai Cooking School, Island Organics, and Smiley Cook. The list is almost endless, so you’re sure to find something that suits your needs.
With so many delicious things around, you may run out of notches on your belt (but don’t worry about it, you’re on vacation). The good news is you can find a new one at any of the markets mentioned above. And seeing as a typical dinner costs under US$3, you just might have to.
Reason 9: It’s one of the less expensive islands you can visit
Southeast Asia has long been known for being the best bang for your buck. Sure, you could spend thousands of dollars on an incredible vacation in the Maldives (where the average daily mid-range cost is US$625). Or you could spend a fraction of that amount for an experience on an island with just as much to offer. I mean, come on. A one hour massage for US$6? Sign me up (then sign me up again, because why not?). According to Lonely Planet, the average daily mid-range cost of a vacation in Koh Samui is a mere US$60. If you find cheaper accommodation and eat mostly at food stalls, that number could shrink even more. Once your flight is out of the way, it’s possible to live very comfortably with little money. Nowhere else in the world will you find such value, especially when it comes to tropical island getaways.
Reason 10: It’s the easiest Thai island to reach
You might be wondering what makes Koh Samui a better choice than other Thai islands. Of course, anywhere you go in Thailand you’ll be hit with low prices, amazing food, and gorgeous sights. When it comes to the islands, the difference is that Koh Samui is the most accessible (tied with the more touristy Phuket). Other islands like Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, and Koh Lipe require multiple transfers between different modes of transportation and it can take up to 7 hours to get there from the mainland. Koh Samui is a simple one hour flight away from Bangkok. With the broad range of experiences you can find in Koh Samui, this undoubtedly makes it the best value. Less time traveling means more time enjoying the island. And now that you’ve read all 10 reasons to visit Koh Samui, you know you won’t want to waste a second.