Koh Samui is a popular resort destination in the Gulf of Thailand that also serves as a gateway to the diving mecca of Koh Tao and the world renowned full moon parties of Koh Pha Ngan. Of these three Surat Thani islands, Samui is the most upscale, catering to the luxury traveler with an array of five-star resorts, private pool villas, world class spas and fine restaurants. And fittingly, it’s the setting for season three of the HBO series White Lotus. Below is my complete guide to Koh Samui including the best resorts, beaches, offshore islands, waterfalls, night markets, day trips and transportation options.
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The 19 arms of Wat Plai Laem. Outfit details: Saylor dress, linked here.
FOUR DAYS. Four full days on Koh Samui is enough time to see the sights, relax at the best beaches, enjoy the night markets and even take a day trip to offshore islands.
Day trips to offshore islands are easy to do on Koh Samui.
JANUARY THROUGH MARCH. Unlike most of Thailand, Koh Samui’s rainy season spans October to December. The island sees far less rain July through September than Phuket, making a great alternative for late summer travel. That said, the best months for sunshine and dry skies are still January through March. April and May are the hottest months of the year.
Koh Madsum is a 20-minute longtail boat ride from Koh Samui. Outfit details: Lovers + Friends one-piece, linked here.
CORAL COVE BEACH
Visit on a calm day for the ultimate paradise vibes on Coral Cove. The stretch of beach sparkles every shade of turquoise, but it’s the massive granite boulders that add all the character to this slice of paradise.
HIN TA HIN YAI
Located at the far end of Lamai Beach, Hin Ta Hin Yai are large granite rocks that resemble phallic symbols. Hence the nickname “Grandpa and Grandma Rock.” The beach is beautiful, but very touristy – not a place for peaceful sunbathing. Arrive early to avoid tourists.
KOH ANTHONG MARINE PARK
Koh Anthong Marine Park is a stunning archipelago of 42 islands located east of Koh Samui. It’s home to limestone peaks, caverns, dense jungle, remote beaches, coral gardens and marine lakes. Speed boats shuttle visitors out for the day, but it’s also possible to camp on Koh Wua Ta Lap (main island with park headquarters) if you coordinate with your tour operator.
Koh Madsum is a 30-minute longtail boat ride off the south coast of Koh Samui. The island is a little slice of paradise, home to soft white sand, ocean swings, clear turquoise shallows and a handful pigs that roam the beach. Many more pigs used to live on the island’s main beach, but idiot tourists fed them human food, and they slowly started to die off.
If you don’t have time to visit Koh Tao, it’s possible to visit Koh Nang as part of a half-day trip from Koh Samui. The island is the epitome of paradise off the coast of Koh Tao. Iconic granite boulders surround the island where a thin strip of sand connects different parts of the island. Almost looks like a sandbar. It’s a 15-minute hike up to the viewpoint, one of the prettiest island views in Thailand. It’s easier to avoid crowds, and explore Koh Nang at leisure if you visit by longtail boat while actually staying on Koh Tao. A tour group from Koh Samui is a last resort.
KOH TAO SCUBA DIVING
If you don’t have time for a separate trip to Koh Tao, it’s possible to book a dive trip from Koh Samui. A full day of diving includes two dives at two of Koh Tao’s world class dive sites, as well as lunch on the boat.
Another offshore island reachable via a 20-minute longtail boat ride. The island is not developed, and feels very off the-beaten-path. There is a palm tree swing in front of the island’s only restaurant where the longtail boats dock.
NAMTOK NA MUEANG WATERFALL
Namtok Na Mueang isn’t the most epic waterfall, but it’s a nice change of scenery if you’re looking for a break from the Koh Samui coastline. There are technically two waterfall hikes by the same name – the second one is the prettier hike, if you can make it to the pool at the top of the falls. Note that to get to the waterfall, you’ll pass an awful elephant camp – just ignore it, and keep walking. The elephants are mistreated – DO NOT give this camp any money.
NAMTOK TAR NIM & MAGIC GARDEN
Sculpture park on Pom Mountain, just north of Namtok Na Mueang Waterfall. Moss covered stone statues are scattered throughout the forest, and have all the feels of a fairytale.
A strange, massive boulder that sits upright on a viewpoint surrounded by lush banana trees, palms and greenery. Located near Lamai Beach.
TAMARIND SPRINGS FOREST SPA
Beautiful spa set in the forest that offers an array of services including massage, facials, natural rock plunge pools and herbal steam caves.
WAT PHRA YAI
Also known as the Big Buddha Temple, Wat Phra Yai is located on Koh Faan, a small rocky island, in Bophut. The Golden Buddha sits at the top of a staircase where locals come to make offerings including incense, flowers, food and money.
WAT PLAI LAEM
Wat Plai Laem is a modern temple, located in Bohput near Wat Phra Yai. The 18-armed statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy rises up over the complex that sits on a serene lake.
Cute coastal cafes on Koh Samui.
Colorful fruit stands on Koh Samui. Where’s the passion fruit?
CHAWENG NIGHT MARKET
Popular night market packed with food vendors selling all the favorites including seafood, crab curry, pad thai, fruit shakes, stir-fry and more.
Open-air restaurant in Bophut that serves Western dishes in a Boho beachside setting. Menu includes pizzas, pastas, salads and cocktails. Fire shows take place on the beach in front of Coco Tam’s Sunday through Thursday, at 8 PM and Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 PM and 9 PM.
Solid Italian option on Koh Samui if you need a break from Thai food. Duomo serves bruschetta, pasta and wood-fired pizza.
HAAD BANG PO
Delicious restaurant on the beach that serves up popular Thai and seafood dishes including whole fish, curries, prawns, shrimp and more.
Another solid beach option in Bophut that serves a variety of pastas and fresh seafood.
Popular seaside restaurant that serves classic Thai dishes, as well as delicious fresh seafood options (highly recommend the tamarind prawns, one of the signature dishes).
Tamarind prawns at Sabeinglae Restaurant – so delicious!
Far removed from the bustle of Bohput and Chaweng, the Four Seasons sits on the northwest tip of Koh Samui. It feels a world away from the night markets, walking streets and airport, but all are just 20-minutes by taxi. There are more than 60 pool villas and private residences scattered across the resort, all home to spacious sundecks and private infinity pools. This is one of the filming locations for season three of the HBO series White Lotus.
The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui is loaded with everything you’ll need for a complete five-star resort experience – pool villas overlooking the ocean, 11 restaurants, a spa village, infinity pools, a private reef, secluded beaches and Thailand’s only ocean swimming pool. And the resort’s coastal location in Bophut is ideal, a short drive from local temples night markets and some of island’s best beaches.
66 private villas sit perched in the hills on the northern tip of the island, many with sweeping views of the Gulf of Thailand. The luxurious rustic elements of Six Senses Samui are folded into lush vegetation, you’ll find infinity pools, fine dining, a spa and even a small farm all surrounded by tropical greenery.
For an ultra modern vibe, book one of the 74 private pool villas at the W Koh Samui. The villas offer a very comfortable stay mostly because everything is wonderfully oversized – the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the ceilings, the villa windows and the sunken tubs. If you can peel yourself away from your villa, the resort also boasts a full-service spa, the Woo Bar, beach access and on-site restaurant.
I was obsessed with The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui spa pool, and I had it to myself every afternoon.
You’ll need wheels on Koh Samui to access the tourist sights, beaches, hiking trails and night markets that are scattered across the island. The most affordable option is to rent a scooter for the duration of your time on Koh Samui. If a scooter isn’t a viable option, then taxi will be the most convenient mode of transport.
We met a man at this coconut farm who makes 70 baht for every 100 husked coconuts.
Koh Samui is one of the more expensive islands to reach in Thailand because the airport is owned by Bangkok Airways. They operate almost all flights to and from the island, limiting the schedule, route and pricing options for passengers. Direct domestic routes include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya and Krabi, and direct international flights to Singapore.
Wat Phra Yai.