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A holiday paradise in the Gulf of Thailand
Palm trees and clear waters hem the white sand beaches of the popular island of Koh Samui, with its tempting local restaurants and chilled-out beach bars making it ideal for a relaxing getaway.
- Rapidly surpassing Phuket as Thailand’s preeminent island destination, Koh Samui has become increasingly popular
- There is a delightful variety to Koh Samui's beaches, making this an ideal destination catering for most travellers’ tastes and budgets
- Choose a resort on the northern shores – in Bo Phut for example – and you’re still just a 20-minute ride south to Chaweng or Lamai
Best time to visit Koh Samui
Thailand’s peak season is between November and February when the climate is drier and slightly cooler, while the hottest period is April to May. May to October tends to have higher rainfall but there should still be plenty of sunshine and this is the time to benefit from the greatest value and less crowded beaches. There are seasonal variations between beach resorts – for example, the east coast beach resorts of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan generally have more sun and less rain from May through until June.
Koh Samui holiday highlights
Rapidly surpassing Phuket as Thailand’s leading beach destination, Koh Samui has become increasingly popular in recent years. But the island has managed to retain much of the laid-back charm and natural beauty that made it such a hit in the first place.
You’ll find a variety of beaches here, each with their own restaurants and resorts, catering for almost any taste and any budget. The relatively compact nature of the island and the concentration of resorts on the east coast means that you’re rarely more than 20 minutes away from any points of interest. Choose a resort on the northern shores – in Bo Phut for instance – and you’re still just a 20-minute ride south to pretty Chaweng or Lamai.
Chaweng is Koh Samui’s busiest resort centre and it’s here you’ll find the island’s liveliest nightlife, as well as its best value dining, shopping and entertainment. Found midway up the east coast of Koh Samui, Chaweng stretches over three miles of white sandy beach – the longest on Koh Samui – lined with hotels, guest houses, beach bungalows and restaurants opening directly onto the sands.
Towards the centre, the beach becomes increasingly crowded with sunbeds, bars and friendly watersport and beach vendors selling their wares. By night, the pace really picks up and many of the trendy beachfront bars become more lively.
Head to the quieter northern tip of Chaweng and you’ll find a metre-deep lagoon – the perfect place to bring the kids to explore for some time away from your hotel. The southern end is the more scenic part of the resort, where numerous hidden sandy coves are waiting to be discovered. Behind the beach itself, the town sprawls parallel along the beach road, offering a number of restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques to enjoy.
If you like the sound of a yoga retreat or a detox holiday then Absolute Sanctuary, a serene Moroccan-inspired wellness resort, is just a 10-minute drive from Chaweng Beach. Choose from a range of detox and rejuvenation programmes which offer a combination of treatments and therapies.
Venture further from the bustling centre to discover the award-winning holistic resort, Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary. With its tranquil setting and jungle surrounds this former Buddhist retreat feels miles away from anywhere and is the perfect place to detox, de-stress and revitalise with a healing programme of treatments and activities.
Lying just 10 minutes to the south of Chaweng, Lamai is Koh Samui’s second largest beach and is slightly smaller and quieter than its famed northern neighbour. By comparison, Lamai is considered somewhat more sleepy, especially in quieter seasons. This makes it the perfect place to sit out at one of the many picturesque beachfront restaurants that offer a romantic moonlit dinner on the sea shore. The resort centre itself clusters at the southern end of the beach, presenting an idyllic spot for a pleasant evening stroll.
As the water can be shallow on the northern part of Lamai beach, this makes it ideal for small children that want to splash around without getting out of their depth. Much of the resort’s shopping and livelier nightlife can be found on the main street that runs behind the beach, catering to its western visitors.
For a complete change of scenery, visit Lamai village at the northern end of the beach. Hidden away from the crowds, it’s filled with thatched teak houses that surround Wat Lamai Cultural Hall, home to a small museum dedicated to the traditional handicrafts of Koh Samui and their origins.
Another popular beach resort can be found in the village of Bo Phut on Koh Samui’s northern shore. The traditional centre of the resort is known as the ‘fisherman’s village’ and is home to an array of restaurants, bars and boutiques. Compared to Lamai or Chaweng, Bo Phut is quieter, with the mile-long beach a firm favourite with families due to the shallow waters and abundance of shade. Every Friday night, the fisherman’s village is transformed into a pedestrianised street known as ‘walking street’. Lined with market stalls, this is a great way to experience the local culture.
As a popular holiday island, Koh Samui also offers an array of sights and attractions to tempt you away from the beautiful beaches and sparkling pools. It’s easy to visit the idyllic, undisturbed islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park which inspired the setting of ‘The Beach’, while Koh Samui’s most iconic attraction, the ‘Big Buddha Temple’ can be found to the northeast of the peninsula. There are also tumbling waterfalls to discover and colourful waters to explore with diving trips to other islands.