Koh Samui was once known as the ultimate backpacker’s haven but is now a world-class leisure destination for global travelers of every kind. About 473 km and ten hours south from Bangkok, Samui is the third largest island in Thailand. Surrounded by crystal blue waters, the island of Samui is one of the top island destinations in the world, and why wouldn’t it be? It is a tropical treasure—filled with villages built entirely of bamboo, lush jungle interiors, turquoise-fringed beaches, and glorious sunshine all year round.
Until the late-20th century, Koh Samui was an isolated, self-sufficient community, having little connection with the mainland of Thailand. The island was without roads until the early 1970s, and the 15 km journey from one side of the island to the other could involve a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.
Koh Samui today is a cosmopolitan melting pot. The island attracts everyone from budget travellers staying in simple beachside bungalows to the wealthiest holidaymakers arriving by private jet for a weekend at one of the many ultra-lux resorts.
Samui’s amazing landscapes are just a fraction of the appeal; the local culture gives you a taste of the region’s Asian traditions and a unique heritage preserved in hidden Buddhist temples. Despite the 21st century influence which has seen a rise in Western cuisine and modern hotels, traditional properties can still be found, as can family-owned Thai restaurants, which offer an authentic taste of Southeast Asian cuisine.
When visiting the island, you may be tempted to spend your trip draped over a chaise longue at one of the island’s top resorts; however, there is much to be explored outside the comfortable hotels.
From the hustle and bustle of Chaweng Beach to the lively yet relaxed atmosphere of Lamai Beach to the timeless feel of Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village to the tropical beach paradise of Maenam, Koh Samui is unique among Thailand’s islands in maintaining a broad appeal for everyone.
For those nervous about straying too far from the beaten track, wherever your exploration takes you, you’re never far from one of Samui’s soft sandy beaches. But if you’d like to go further, the island is a neighbor to more than 60 other islands such as Koh Phangan, notorious for its Full Moon parties; Koh Tao, a diver’s heaven; and Koh Nang Yuan, with its picture postcard sandbar.
The most fascinating beaches in the area, however, can be visited during an excursion to the archipelago of 42 islands at the Angthong National Marine Park. This national reserve is roughly 45-90 minutes away from Koh Samui depending on your method of transport. Here, you’ll take in the wonders of these unspoiled islands which are home to a wide range of primates. Take advantage of the surroundings to hike, swim, kayak, snorkel, and dive.
Samui also has a vibrant nightlife scene. Partially due to the cheap places to stay that draw the backpacking crowd, the beach gets no less lively at night. Additionally, the wealth and variety of discos, clubs and beer bars is also a significant draw, bringing a lively crowd of revellers. The nightlife in each district is different—Chaweng is wild, Lamai is relaxing, Bophut is family-friendly and Maenam is romantic.
Be sure to check out Samui’s Walking Street, where one can find a fantastic array of souvenirs, local food, clothing, and accessories. Thai hospitality is not exaggerated—the hospitality here is impeccable. Locals are friendly and you can find yourself enjoying a night out with a group of like-minded strangers at one of the many bars along the ocean side. There are clubs, bars, and beach parties attended by a mix of farangs, locals, backpackers, and jetsetters alike, most of which congregate at Soi Green Mango (akin to Soi Cowboy in Bangkok). Alongside the buckets of cheap whiskey and cheaper beer are sophisticated gourmet restaurants. You’ll find Classic Thai dancing a short distance from ladies mud wrestling, mind-blowing fire shows, and the country’s famous transgender cabaret shows. In essence, the night never seems to end in Samui.
If you prefer a quieter night but don’t want to stay in, you can wander off the main road, where you’re likely to find several bars occupied by some pleasant folks gathered around a pool table with a drink. While restaurants and bars can be found at all of the island’s main beach resort areas, it is Chaweng, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lamai, where the parties go on all through the night. The nightlife in other areas is largely limited to restaurants and a handful of quiet local bars where you can relax without all the hustle and bustle.
When you’ve exhausted yourself of the nightlife in Samui, take a ferry to the other islands, one of which is Koh Nang Yuan. Koh Nang Yuan is a standout with one of the loveliest shorelines where you can sit and appreciate being calm on the idyllic sandy beach. No autos, hustle or clamor. The place is the epitome of peace and an ideal place to loosen up, or for the more daring, an opportunity to plunge into an energizing new ordeal.
Koh Nang Yuan is one of the smallest of the neighboring islands of Koh Tao and consists of three islands that are connected by a sandbank. Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Nang Yuan Lek and Koh Hang Tao. Most visitors take a day trip to these islands before setting off for Koh Phangan.
Koh Nang Yuan is only accessible by boat, but the beautiful views and powdery white beach is worth it. You can take a boat from the northern end of Sairee Beach on Koh Tao or you can also arrange trips from Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. The island is open from 10am to 5pm with exceptions for public holidays. The island is privately-owned and asks a 100 Baht entry fee per person to visit. Guests must leave no later than 5pm unless you are staying at the Nangyuan Island Dive Resort, the only accommodation on the island.
The island is known for its crystal clear water and colorful fish. You will want to visit Twin Peaks and Green Shake. Twin Peaks consists of two large underwater rocks submerged from seven meters to twenty meters in depth, which makes it suitable for all levels of ability and is known as one of the best dive sites in the area. Great for underwater photography, you’ll have a good chance of seeing clown fish, moray eels, sting rays and green sea turtles. In season you might even catch a glimpse of whale sharks. If you don’t want to dive, then there are plenty of opportunities to snorkel instead. Many hold the opinion that Koh Nang Yuan offers the best snorkeling in Thailand. The shallow reefs surrounding the island have soft and hard corals just a few meters away from the beach and the waters are clear enough to see schools of all sorts of tropical fish like the colorful parrotfish and shy angelfish.
The best adventure to be had on Koh Nang Yuan is hiking to the famous viewpoint that overlooks the entire island. It’s an easy 15-minute hike to the Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint via a concrete path that leads the way through a small forest, up some stairs and then a quick scramble along a couple of large boulders, finally emerging at the viewpoint where Incredible panoramic views await. Here you will get an aerial perspective overlooking Nang Yuan Island and a glimpse of the beautiful western coastline of Koh Tao. And if that’s not thrilling enough, the island’s newest activity, zip-lining, might just be the ticket, offering a 250 meter adrenaline-fuelled ride from island to island. All in all, Koh Nang Yuan is proof that the best things come in small packages
Koh Samui, like the rest of Thailand, has a wet season marked by heavy rains and tropical storms, typically from September/October to mid-December. Because of this, prices are normally extremely attractive through these months, where storms descend and then clear, giving visitors at least a few hours of sunshine each day. February and March are the sunniest months and traveling here in June is great, as it’s perfectly dry, with daytime temperatures around 86°F. It’s also right before tourists begin arriving in droves from July to August. Whether you party through the night in Samui or relax peacefully in Nang Yuan, every moment of your journey will remain phenomenal.