Header image courtesy of Taylor Simpson (via Unsplash)
For years, Phuket and Bangkok have topped the charts for the most-visited destinations in Thailand. In more recent times, tourists have started to venture a little further from these hotspots, to discover the outlying hidden gems. One of the most famous and beautiful, Koh Samui, is praised for its crystal-clear waters and pristine white sands, scattered throughout the island. But there’s more—an abundance of wildlife, cultural heritage sites, and shopping places. What distinguishes Koh Samui from Phuket, however, is that it remains a slightly less busy option in terms of tourists and it doesn’t charge extortionate prices for food and drinking. As regular visitors, we delve into why Koh Samui is, quite possibly, the best destination in Thailand.
As with most destinations in Thailand, the beaches are gorgeous. Koh Samui spoils you with its selection of pristine sands, amid tall palm trees and overlooking azure waters. Stretching across over 50 kilometres of over 40 beaches, bays, and coves, tropical Koh Samui welcomes guests with plenty to explore. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful day out on an outlying island, or a wild full-moon party, there’s something for everyone.
Chaweng, the mainland, might be a bit more crowded, but with good reason, as it boasts the most popular white sands. Head to Chaweng Beach, for a mix of everything—food, nightlife, and things to do—and you may even meet a few new pals. Lamai is also a must-visit for watersports and swimming, a slightly quieter beach, but still offering bars and restaurants.
Lipa Noi is accessible from the mainland, a remote yet stunning location, which is perfect for snorkellers. You won’t be short of options, as there are other winning favourites worth visiting too, including Silver Beach, Bang Por, and Samrong Beach, to name a few. These are all-day beaches for suntanning, swimming, and watersports, but for those looking to party, the famous full-moon parties take place elsewhere (we’ll get onto that later).
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Koh Samui’s natural wonders venture even further than its exotic beaches—and the Ang Thong Marine Park is a telling feat. In the Surat Thani Province in the Gulf of Thailand, the marine park features 42 islands, where adventurers are invited to swim, snorkel, kayak, and climb their way through this untouched paradise.
Covering over 100 square kilometres of limestone mountains, waterfalls, coves, lush jungle, and lakes, the region offers a plethora of wildlife for the keen naturist. Only government-approved tour boats are allowed to enter the national park, so day trips can be booked from Koh Samui. The tours usually combine the best of the activities on the islands, taking you through different locations to hike and swim.
Deemed as the most famous landmark on the island, the Big Buddha temple was built in 1972 and is a 12-metre gold statue of the Buddha. The temple is called Wat Phra Yai and is surrounded by local shops selling religious artefacts, clothing, and souvenirs. Many locals come here to devote their blessings, offering flowers and fruit at every visit.
A unique feature to Koh Samui’s religious sites is the mummified body found in Wat Khunaram, a popular attraction due to its cultural significance. The mummy was the body of Luong Pordaeng, a monk who was born in the late 1800s, who passed away peacefully while meditating. Many flock here to see the body in person—it’s not every day that you come across such a thing, after all.
Visit the Secret Buddha Garden, a hidden oasis featuring a series of significant statues. Located high up in the hills, amid lush jungle surrounds, the gardens were founded by a local farmer back in 1976, who would collect statues and temples found on his family’s land. It resulted in a majestic garden display of sculptures, from animals to humans, all overlooking the vast, ethereal views—which include a gushing waterfall. There’s a reason it’s a “secret garden,” by the way—as it’s best accessed via a 4WD vehicle.
What’s a Thai city without its bargain-worthy markets? Koh Samui’s Chaweng Night Market is an obvious must, whether you’re looking for clothes, souvenirs, or good ol’ Thai street food. Head here after a day out at the beach—the aromatic eats will definitely entice you. Other night markets include Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village, Elephant Walk, and Lamai Night Plaza.
Chaweng is the party capital of Koh Samui, as it hosts nightly parties, and its clubs and bars are open to all. If you’re up for it, don’t forget to catch a cabaret show for a taste of Thailand’s talented transgender performers, which includes live singing and dancing.
Koh Samui’s Full Moon Party has garnered worldwide attention, and in some cases, is the main attraction for visitors coming to Koh Samui. The infamous event takes place in Koh Phangan about once a month throughout the year, so check its online schedule to find out more and plan your trip accordingly. Expect a lot of booze, partying, and getting lost in the dancing frenzy as the night goes on.