Where to Stay in Koh Samui

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Updated: September 16, 2020

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The Best Area to Stay in Koh Samui

Lamai beach in Koh Samui.

The beach at Lamai in Koh Samui is pleasantly undeveloped, wide, and calm.

(Some key words in Thai: koh/ko (‘island’), haad/hat (‘beach’), and moo-baan (‘village’). Thai place names can be transliterated: e.g. Bophut and Bo Phut.)

About halfway down the east coast of southern Thailand, the country’s second-largest island is among an archipelago of about 80 islands, only a handful of which are inhabited. This very likable and pleasingly compact island rivals Phuket and Bali as the perfect tropical getaway in Southeast Asia, especially among families. While Phuket (Thailand’s largest) is sleazy in places, often overcrowded, and difficult to get around, Samui maintains its charm with temples and markets among the malls and resorts and some of the most alluring beaches on the planet. Adding to the attractions is an abundance of water sports, useful public transport along the coastal roads, and good value throughout.

Accommodations range from super-luxurious resorts to family-run guesthouses and plenty of attractive boutique-style hotels in between. Unlike most rival islands across Southeast Asia, many resorts face the sea and several other hotels are within walking distance of the water – but only the north and east coasts offer beaches. Each area listed below and dotted around the 30-mile-long coastal road differs, offering separate identities and a distinctive range of amenities.

At the northeastern tip are Choeng Mon, Plai Laem, and Bangrak, all home to luxury resorts and individual villas, often facing stunning but remote beaches. Further west along the north coast and still handy to the airport is Bo Phut, popular among families. Next to Bo Phut, Maenam offers a village setting and is home to the main terminal for boat trips and inter-island ferries. The north coast finishes at Bang Por, where the resorts and villas are new but isolated and less accessible.

Down the east coast from the airport, the most popular area in Samui is Chaweng. Home to all sorts of activities for families and amenities for everyone, most hotels face, or are within a few minutes’ walk of, a perfect beach that also has water sports. The second-most popular beach, Lamai, is remarkably laidback and has more of a village vibe. As tourism continues to develop, more hotels and villas are being built along the southern coastline with only a few pockets of sand, in places like Hua Thanon and Bang Kao. The main ferry terminal is at the island capital, Nathon, a relaxed, friendly town with oodles of amenities for those rushing to and from the beach regions.

As alternatives to Koh Samui or easy side-trips are another two beautiful islands, both compact and easy to reach by ferry. Koh Phangan is renowned for its Full Moon Parties but is otherwise relaxed, while one of our favorite islands on the planet, Koh Tao, is quaint, quiet, and undeveloped, and features world-class snorkeling and diving.

The Best Places to Stay in Koh Samui

Koh Tao island.

Koh Tao is famous for its world-class snorkeling and diving activities, and is the best area for first-timers.

Best Area in Koh Samui for…

  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Sightseeing: Chaweng
    Chaweng is conveniently midway along the most populated and developed coastline. Numerous travel agencies sell tickets for organized tours or can arrange cars with drivers to must-sees that are difficult or impossible to reach by public transport. These include: Na Mueang Waterfalls, the most impressive of several across the island; Fisherman’s Village, with converted old buildings now housing shops, bars, and cafés; Wat Khao Hua Jook, the island’s most accessible Buddhist temple majestically perched on a hill; and the Dusit Dheva cultural center and art museum.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Beaches: Lamai
    Some of the prettiest coves in the northeastern tip around Choeng Mon are difficult to reach and mostly commandeered by resorts, while the most popular beach at Chaweng is crowded with sun-lovers and noisy with jet-skis. The long and curved stretch of sand at Lamai is surprisingly undeveloped in places, so it’s easy to escape the crowds and water sports, and there are interesting clusters of granite rocks to explore as well. Lamai is also easy to reach by public transport and plenty of amenities are nearby – but beware of tides and waves at certain times of the year.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Outdoor Activities: Lamai
    As tourism develops even further, increasingly more activities are being offered – and not all are based on or under the water (see below). While there isn’t much on offer other than horse-riding and rock-climbing at or near Lamai, this is a terrific place to join an organized tour or arrange a car with a driver from one of the numerous agencies catering for the younger, more adventurous crowd. Activities in the mountainous interior that are easy to reach from this convenient stretch of coastline include elephant trekking, mountain-biking, zip-lining, and bungee-jumping.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Water Sports: Chaweng
    Most beaches offer some water sports but the choice does depend on the demand and conditions, e.g. the waves and tides at certain times of the year. The widest array of things to do on and above the water is at Chaweng, the most populated area on the island. Activities include the noisy (parasailing, water-skiing, banana boating, and jet-skiing) and the more sedate (kiteboarding, wind-surfing, and wakeboarding). More specialized activities, such as sailing and fishing, can be arranged at travel agencies around the backstreets of Chaweng.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Boat Trips: Maenam
    Koh Samui is part of an archipelago that includes the amazing Ang Thong National Marine Park, with 42 uninhabited islands of golden beaches and sapphire lagoons and dozens of karst columns jutting from the turquoise sea. Plenty of tours of the marine park are possible by boat (including a traditional-style junk boat) or canoe that include swimming and snorkeling; exploring the lakes, caves, and rainforests; and spotting wild animals and rare birds. Boat trips to Ang Thong and other places can be arranged at Maenam (or just about anywhere else) through any travel agency, most hotels, or at the pier from where many trips depart.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Spas: Lamai
    All over the island, an increasing number of classy and expensive spas (especially at top-end resorts) offer all sorts of traditional Thai massages and other treatments. These are often in lovely surroundings that may include tropical gardens, a plunge pool, soothing ‘waterfalls’, and special packages, some designed for couples and pregnant women which can last up to 5 hours. For convenience, price, and range, the easy-going beach region of Lamai has many options, including Tamarind Springs, which also offers ‘steam caves’, villas, and an organic restaurant.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Cultural Classes: Chaweng
    It’s fair to say that Samui is almost entirely about relaxing at beaches, so few cultural activities are available. The exception is Thai cooking classes, as popular among tourists as watching traditional boxing and relishing Thai massages. Usually, including an early-morning trip to a produce market, classes can be arranged through numerous travel agencies at Chaweng, but it’s better to book directly at the island’s finest: the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts in central Chaweng. With more than 20 years’ experience, it offers classes from several hours to 2 weeks that are also suitable for vegetarians and families.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Diving and Snorkeling: Koh Tao Island
    Divers from around the world flock to this area for the clear, blue, and warm water that is full of spectacular marine life. The underwater delights are particularly impressive around Koh Tao; in fact, most dive trips from Koh Samui invariably come to Tao anyway, as well as Koh Nangyuan, a nearby trio of islets regarded among the most gorgeous on the planet. Various international-standard scuba diving agencies on Tao offer trips, training courses, and equipment rental. Those more comfortable with just a snorkel and mask can often join dive trips, but it’s free and easy to simply snorkel just offshore at Sairee village and Mango Bay on Koh Tao.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Nightlife: Chaweng
    The most appealing selection of things to do after dark is in the most developed tourist area on the island. At Chaweng, the choice ranges from chic cocktail lounges with elevated beachfront settings to sociable pubs with snooker tables and very happy hours. For something different, see a cabaret show packed with flamboyant ‘lady-boys’ lip-syncing and hip-swinging for wide-eyed foreigners. It’s not trashy or sleazy, but be warned: spectators are often dragged on stage for a dance. Families may want to head to the cinema complex at the Tesco Lotus shopping center where English-language films are regularly shown.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Parties: Koh Phangan Island
    This island 45 minutes north of Koh Samui by ferry is renowned for almost nothing else but the heavy-drinking and crazy-dancing Full Moon Parties. Held once a month, the southern beaches on Phangan are transformed as international DJs use state-of-the-art sound systems from multiple stages. These are so popular that some hotels and beaches also offer Half-Moon Parties every 2 weeks. For 3 days before and after the full moon, hotel rates can double and ferries are booked out or seriously overcrowded; otherwise, the island is remarkably quiet.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Food & Restaurants: Choeng Mon
    Distant from the jet-skis at Chaweng and noisy roads along Bo Phut, this pretty area in the northeastern tip offers a range of chic eateries. Many have won awards for cuisine and service, while the setting of some with candlelit beachside tables is particularly romantic. Several bistros offer good-value set-priced lunches, direct access to a powdery-white beach, and free transfers from hotels in the local area.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Vibe & Culture: Nathon
    Visitors may be surprised that just a little further away from the main roads in popular areas like Lamai and Maenam are villages admirably unaffected too much by mass tourism. Nathon, the island capital, also offers a genuine slice of Thai life. Although crowded with tourist amenities for those transiting via the ferry terminal for the mainland, the town is compact and many old buildings showcase the island’s Chinese heritage. Nathon also has friendly people, stalls selling authentic street food, and the sort of produce market rarely found elsewhere.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for History: Bo Phut
    Sparsely populated before the tourist boom of the 1970s, Samui has very few historical sights. Some old Chinese shops and houses still remain at the island’s capital, Nathon, but the most compact and accessible area where tourists can best appreciate the island’s limited history is Fisherman’s Village, along the beach at Bo Phut. The vehicle-free streets and lanes are filled with charming old wooden shops and former homes now converted to boutiques, bistros, and bars. On Friday evenings, a Walking Street is set up where more food and souvenir stalls are available and performances of Thai dancing and boxing can be admired.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Walking & Cycling: Koh Tao Island
    The congested and hilly roads around Koh Samui are unsuitable for anything but chartered/rented vehicles and public transport. In stark contrast, one of the major attractions of the delightful island of Koh Tao is the beachside walking path between the boat terminal at Mae Haad and the main tourist area, Sairee, where bikes can be rented. This path, which stretches about a mile and slopes gently in places, is lined with quaint shops, laidback home-stays, and inviting cafés – and with no public transport and poor roads, walking is often the only way to get around the island.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Shopping: Chaweng and Maenam
    Naturally, the most developed area provides the greatest selection of shopping. Within walking distance of downtown, Central Festival, the island’s largest mall, has 3 levels with 200+ places to eat, drink, and shop, as well as a games arcade and playground. Tesco Lotus Samui along the bypass road has a cinema complex. In contrast is Maenam Walking Street, one of several around the island. This comparatively low-key beach area turns into an extended street market from 4 pm on Thursdays, and it’s an ideal place to sample authentic Thai food, stock up on souvenirs, and check out live music.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Families: Chaweng
    Since the onset of tourism in the 1970s, Samui has always been a popular destination for families. The fabulous beach at Chaweng is lined with water sports and the Aquapark Samui; there are activities in downtown, like Crazy Golf, and amenities include familiar fast-food outlets and 2 shopping centers (see above) featuring a games arcade and cinema complex. Other fun-filled activities around the island that are easy to arrange through travel agencies or taxi-drivers in Chaweng include sea-walking and go-karting as well as boat trips around the stunning islands nearby.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Transport: Chaweng
    Unlike Phuket, songthaew (taxi trucks) are a cheap and reliable form of public transport between most popular beach regions. They ply regular routes for set fares between downtown Chaweng and the island capital on the other coast, Nathon, via Bo Phut to the north and Bang Kao in the south. They also head less often to Choeng Mon village on the northeastern tip. Simply stand by the side of the road and wave an arm or two. Around the streets of Chaweng, taxis with the misleading word ‘meter’ on top take tourists anywhere for a negotiable but inflated fee, while motorbike taxis (with a passenger on the back) are also useful for short trips. The airport is only 15-20 minutes from Chaweng and also accessible by tourist shuttle buses.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for First-Timers: Koh Tao Island
    Although nowhere near as hectic as Phuket or Bali, the crowds, noise, and traffic around Samui can be overwhelming for those visiting for the first time, especially in major areas like Chaweng and Lamai. Far quieter and more relaxed is the tiny island of Koh Tao, 1.5 hours north of Samui by ferry. The path from the boat terminal to the main village of Sairee on Tao is packed with amenities and ideal for walking and cycling. This convenient and compact beach region allows first-time visitors a chance to relax, appreciate the beauty of the area, and enjoy an abundance of amenities without any hassles.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Festivals: Koh Tao Island
    Whether in traditional villages or tourist enclaves, Thais will celebrate major festivals with immense passion and joy. These include Songkran, the Thai New Year (several days in mid-April), when water is poured, dumped, and gushed over everyone, and the major Buddhist festival of Mahga Puja (during the full moon in February/March). Generally, it would more enjoyable – and, perhaps, safer for families and first-timers – to watch and even partake in festivals and ceremonies on the quiet, compact island of Koh Tao rather than the overcrowded Koh Samui and, especially, Koh Phangan, which morphs into Party Central at full moon.
  • Best Area in Koh Samui for Romantic Holidays: Koh Tao Island
    It’s hard to narrow down which of the divine beaches across the 3 islands is the most romantic. Parts of Koh Samui can be crowded, however, and more secluded areas are difficult to reach, while Koh Phangan is the center for loud parties during the full moon and other events. Far more serene and compact, the divine island of Koh Tao offers the perfect combination: morning strolls and bike-rides along the relaxed tourist strip; afternoon snorkeling and swimming at undeveloped beaches; dinner at intimate tables on the sand at sunset; and nights at cozy boutique hotels meters from the sea.
  • Safest Area in Koh Samui: Koh Tao Island
    Many possible dangers are self-inflicted, e.g. drug-taking, excessive drinking, and reckless driving (especially on motorbikes). The other major potential hazards are far less frequent; e.g. accidents between vehicles and pedestrians (so always take care when walking), physical and sexual assaults around the nightclubs at Chaweng and Lamai in Koh Samui, and, more likely, during Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan, and the sort of opportunistic petty crimes not uncommon at major tourist areas throughout Asia. With negligible traffic and a major beach region mostly only accessible on foot, Koh Tao also doesn’t attract hard-drinking tourists.
  • Least Safe Area in Koh Samui: Koh Phangan Island
    Not surprisingly, safety is at its lowest where consumption alcohol and drugs is heaviest. Koh Phangan bursts at the seams during Full Moon Parties and other similar events that are concentrated along the southern beaches. Physical and sexual assaults are not uncommon, and some locals and foreigners also take the chance to steal, especially from those affected by alcohol and drugs. Obviously, take a great deal of caution. However, at other times, Koh Phangan is remarkably carefree and under-visited, and as safe as anywhere else in the area.

The 10 Best Areas in Koh Samui for Tourists

Koh Phangan island.

Half Moon and Full Moon Parties at Koh Phangan are world-famous.

1. Choeng Mon, Plai Laem, and Bangrak

More recently developed for tourism is the northeastern tip of the island. Convenient to the airport and not too far from all the facilities at the main beach, Chaweng, the coastline alternates between rocky cliffs ideal for views and sunsets and coves with beaches of talcum-white sand and casuarina trees. These comparatively upmarket and relaxed areas are also popular among expats with private transport for the cluster of beachside cafés and bars. Public transport reaches as far as Choeng Mon village, but many resorts also provide transfers to the more developed areas in the south. Most accommodations are expensive and in isolated resorts and individual villas (not part of a complex), so there’s very little in the moderate and budget range.

2. Bo Phut

The prettiest and most developed beach along the north coast is also easily accessible by public transport and handy to the airport. With inviting waterside eateries and a real village vibe, Bo Phut is a likable alternative to the overdeveloped beaches along the east coast. It offers several top-end resorts and many appealing boutique hotels – often with traditional-style bungalows. More relaxed and spacious than Chaweng, the long, scenic beach is popular for strolling and wind-surfing (and jet-skis are pleasingly absent), while families also enjoy Fisherman’s Village, where numerous tourist amenities are within a pleasant historic setting.

3. Maenam

Midway along the north coast, Maenam is mostly known for its terminal for boat trips and ferries to Phangan and Tao islands. It offers fewer facilities than Bo Phut just to the east, though most hotels and resorts are nicely distant from – but within walking distance of – the main road along which there is useful public transport. Compared to those along the east coast, the beach is quieter but not as wide and clean, and there’s a higher chance your hotel will directly face or be very close to the sea. The shady lanes dotted with homes, shops, and travel agencies convert to a very appealing street market. (See under Shopping earlier.)

4. Bang Por/Po

Where the road along the north coast veers south is Bang Por, a more remote beach area often ignored, so it’s quieter and cleaner than Bo Phut and Maenam. The secluded coves lined with angled coconut palms are mostly dotted with fashionable villas and upmarket resorts, while more affordable options are inland with limited amenities along the main road. Safe swimming, decent snorkeling, fiery sunsets, and proximity to the island capital of Nathon add to the appeal, but the downside is that public transport is far less frequent.

5. Chaweng

Midway along the east coast, Chaweng is the most developed and popular area on Samui, especially among families. It offers the island’s only malls as well as the best nightlife, transport options, and, arguably, beach – although it’s always busy (and noisy) with sun-bathers, day-trippers, and jet-skiers. The traffic is also frustrating and the infrastructure (roads and drains) is insufficient. Some of the resorts facing the sea are terrific for families, while moderately priced but charmless hotels for budget-minded travelers are crammed along the backstreets. Just down the coast, Chaweng Noi (‘Small Chaweng’) is a cute cove that’s smaller and much quieter. On the map, the 2 beaches look close enough to walk but are in fact separated by a rocky headland, so use public transport.

6. Lamai

Just south of Chaweng and equally well-connected by public transport, Lamai is the second-most popular area on the island, but is less developed and more relaxed than Chaweng. Many budget-priced homestays offering 5-star views are alongside a few luxury resorts and boutique hotels, but there’s very little suitable for families. Amenities among the backstreets can be a little downtrodden, but it’s easy to escape the crowds along the extended beach with white sand and shady palms. Beware of the waves and tides at certain times of the year, however, which is why few motorized water sports are available here. Lamai is also a terrific place to find a spa and arrange outdoor activities across the island, and there’s also a village with a temple hidden from the main road.

7. Hua Thanon and Bang Kao/Laem Sor

With almost all beach areas now (over)developed, hotel builders/owners are being forced further south. Along the lower east coast from Lamai, Hua Thanon has a village with old-fashioned wooden houses and a Muslim minority. The pockets of sand are gritty but the sea views are still excellent. Along the narrow southern coast, Bang Kao is about as far from the airport and Chaweng as possible, so it’s quiet and devoid of mass tourism. Hotels in both areas are generally more spacious and less expensive than at Lamai and Chaweng, but public transport is not nearly as reliable.

8. Nathon and Lipa Noi

On the other side of the island from Chaweng, Nathon is the capital of Koh Samui and the site of the terminal for ferries to the mainland. The old shops and former homes, many built by Chinese settlers more than a hundred years ago, offer a rare glimpse of the island before the tourist boom, and the town still offers a slice of genuine Thai life. There are plenty of tourist amenities – mostly for those rushing to or from the beach regions – but very few recommended hotels, those too, mostly for Thai tourists rather than foreigners, and rarely the sort of resorts and boutique hotels found elsewhere. The main attraction of the nearby beach, Lipa Noi, is its lack of tourists, but facilities are limited. The coastline is infrequently connected by public transport to Chaweng and Lamai via the north and south roads.

9. Koh Phangan Island

This surprisingly less-developed island is only 45 minutes by ferry from Koh Samui and is also connected to Koh Tao Island (see below). Phangan expands to bursting point during (and for a few days before and after) the monthly Full Moon Parties, when hotel rates across the island can double and ferries are often overbooked and overcrowded. These events – and more frequent Half-Moon Parties – are held predominantly at the southern beaches: Haad Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) and Haad Rin Nai (Sunset Beach). At other times, however, the island is remarkably quiet. Magnificent resorts and moderately-priced bungalows can be found at tranquil beaches such as Haad Yao, a broad cove on the northwest coast; Thong Nai Pan, twin bays of perfect sand to the northeast; and Thongsala, the capital with the ferry terminal.

10. Koh Tao Island

About 45 minutes north by ferry from Koh Phangan (and approximately 1.5 hours from Koh Samui), ‘Turtle Island’ is named after its shape, not the cute little sea creatures. With development hindered by rough roads and inferior public transport, most tourist facilities are clustered along the western beach. Boasting one of the prettiest settings on any Thai island, Sairee has the island’s most complete range of places to eat, drink, and stay, as well as some nightlife, a reef just offshore for snorkeling, and several international-standard dive agencies offering trips in the crystal-clear water. Koh Tao is also a safer and more appealing choice for first-time visitors and those on a romantic getaway. From Sairee, a gorgeous beachside path leads to Mae Haad/Hat, a likable village with a few guesthouses near the ferry terminal. Other places to stay on the more remote southern coast are Thian Og (aka Shark Bay) and Chalok Baan Kao.

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