The 99 best hotels and restaurants, bars and beaches, shops and outdoor activities, tours, classes, and things to see and do in Koh Samui, Koh Phangan & Koh Tao.
1. Six Senses Samui • Plai Laem (Northeast tip) • $$$$
Worth a splurge for the incomparable setting along a forested, hilly isthmus. Only luxury pool villas and suites offered, all secluded with jaw-dropping views. The infinity-edge pool boasts one of the finest vistas on earth. • Map • +66 (0)77 245 678
2. Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa • Bophut • $$$
Charming, romantic, and idyllic. Elegantly decorated villas face the gardens or front the private beach, which is dotted with hammocks. Best of all, there are no jet-skis within earshot. • Map • +66 (0)77 425 177
3. Ammatara Pura Pool Villas • Lamai • $$$$
Unparalleled opulence, seclusion, and convenience facing a golden beach. Thai-style villas are very well-appointed (though perhaps a little too ostentatious for some), with kitchen, dining room, open-air bathroom with two-person spa, and triple-layered outdoor area. • Map • +66 (0)77 601 633
4. Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui • Chaweng • $$$
Massive grounds, with superb facilities and faultless beach – yet in the middle of downtown. Chaweng’s only major resort offers a colonial-style design, relaxed vibe, and far more rooms with sea views than its rivals. And plenty of activities and amenities for the family. • Map • +66 (0)77 230 500
5. Sheraton Samui Resort • Chaweng Noi (Near Chaweng) • $$$$
Luxurious and expansive, with an aquatic -themed décor throughout the rooms and suites – many of which are ideal for families. Pool substantial enough for sandy ‘beaches’, while the real thing is broad and spotless. And one of the finest kids’ clubs in Thailand. • Map • +66 (0)77 422 020
6. Poppies Samui • Chaweng • $$$
A charming and elegant oasis in downtown. Traditional design throughout, from the lobby with Thai crafts to bungalows with ornamental roofs. Set among tropical gardens, it’s secluded, relaxed, and romantic, and faces a beach with fewer noisy jet-skis. • Map • +66 (0)77 422 419
7. Santiburi Koh Samui • Maenam • $$$
Opulent and vast, yet tranquil and convenient. Beachfront villas are exquisite, while some feature a private pool. The serene beach is studded with palms, and the pool is almost too big. Facilities for families include a kids’ club and abundant activities. • Map • +66 (0)77 425 031
8. Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort • Bophut • $$$
Smallish, with a Thai-style elegance you won’t find elsewhere. Magical Infinity-edge pool, tropical gardens of lotus ponds, and flawless beach. Very family-focused, with an absorbing kids’ club, movie theater, and ample activities. • Map • +66 (0)77 428 300
9. Buri Rasa Village Samui • Chaweng • $$$
Endearing Thai design, with a unique tropical village vibe. Spacious and secluded villas are vibrantly and distinctly decorated, including sunken bathtubs and dark wooden flourishes. Its proximity to downtown means the public beach in front is busy. • Map • +66 (0)77 956 055
10. Samui Jasmine Resort • Lamai • $$
Quaint and picturesque beachside boutique hotel. Each room is individually and lovingly decorated, with a contemporary ambience; villas are secluded. Affable staff, convenience to facilities, and lovely pool are more reasons to stay. • Map • +66 (0)77 232 446
11. Sarikantang Resort & Spa • Leela Beach/Haad Seekantang (Near Haad Rin) • $$$
Handy to the party scene, but a sleep-friendly distance. With romantic suites almost on the beach; airy and elegant rooms facing a second pool; and old-fashioned huts cascading down a hill. Engaging activities, and a cleaner and better-shaded beach than elsewhere. • Map • +66 (0)77 375 055
12. Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa • Leela Beach/Haad Seekantang (Near Haad Rin) • $$$
Immense grounds, glorious beach, and superb facilities; perched atop a hill for maximum possible sea views. Pool villas are within earshot of the waves and bungalows are sculpted around immovable boulders. Walkable to village and party beaches, yet still quiet. • Map • +66 (0)77 375 368
13. Rin Beach Resort • Haad Rin • $$
Modest bungalows magnificently located along a scenic cove. Worth a splurge (or, at least, a peek) are the enormous Boathouse rooms: shaped like a tugboat, on three levels, and painted pink, purple, or mustard. Located in the village center, walkable to the party beach and ferries for Samui. • Map • +66 (0)77 375 112
14. Koh Tao Cabana • Sairee • $$
Secluded, but not isolated, with colossal grounds sprinkled with just a few bungalows. Each is stylish, and some are only meters from the beach, which is pleasant and virtually private. Many feature an unusual design with a circular layout, wrap-around veranda, and funky furnishings. • Map • +66 (0)26 217 890
15. Ananda Villa • Mae Haad • $
Friendly, serene, affordable, and family-run lodge with bright and airy rooms. It’s got a surprisingly good beach and is in a Village setting, surrounded by facilities, just a two-minute walk to the main ferry terminal. • Map • +66 (0)77 456 478
Koh Samui Restaurants
16. Full Moon • Bophut
In the magnificent Anantara resort (see #8), facing the bay, lily ponds, and Infinity-edge pool. Award-winning and romantic, and therefore, popular. Tasty chargrilled meats, succulent seafood, organic ingredients, and a multi-page wine list are enhanced by ever-smiling staff. • Map • +66 (0)77 428 300
17. The Cliff Bar & Grill • Chaweng
Keeps winning prizes for its Mediterranean-influenced menu and extra-long wine list. Dreamy clifftop spot overlooking the bay, with three-course set-priced meals also available. Bookings essential, and leave room for dessert. • Map • +66 (0)77 448 508
18. Baan Ya Jai Thai Restaurant • Chaweng
Classy Thai, with an adaptable menu ideal for fussy eaters. Small and personable, with faster service than rivals and a chatty chef. Understandably, attracts the same guests night after night. • Map • +66 (0)99 479 0707
19. Beach Republic • Lamai
The biggest and best of the beach clubs, particularly popular among expats for Sunday brunch. Alongside two pools and a Jacuzzi, with a range of meals from imported lamb to local oysters, with a salad bar as well as Thai and Japanese delights. Exquisite pool villas attached. • Map • +66 (0)77 458 100
20. Poppies Restaurant • Chaweng
In the exclusive Poppies boutique resort (see #6) and great for Thai and European cuisine, soothing live music most nights, top-notch ambience, and adorable gardens. Family-friendly. Book in advance, especially for the Thai dance shows on Saturdays. • Map • +66 (0)77 422 419
21. Zazen Restaurant • Bophut
In the lovely Zazen resort (see #2), with Mediterranean influences among a range of Asian food. Organic produce, signature desserts, and Thai dance shows twice weekly. Also popular for its night-time candlelit setting, set-priced lunch menu, and jet-ski-free beach. • Map • +66 (0)77 425 177
22. The Tent Beachfront Restaurant and Bar • Chaweng
Fresh and flavorsome food, with attentive staff and a beachside setting to write home about. Especially popular for Sunday buffet brunches with live music. Pricey but exquisite menu, and for kids: lawns, beach, and a special pool. In the ultra-chic SALA Samui resort. • Map • +66 (0)77 905 888
23. Radiance Restaurant Beach Club • Lamai
Casual but classy. Extensive menu ideal for vegetarians, often with Thai and Mexican flavors – but lovers of meat and fish will be equally delighted. Healthy, tasty, and vibrant, with direct access to the beach. Located inside The Spa Resorts. • Map • +66 (0)77 230 855
24. COAST Beach Club & Bistro • Chaweng
Refined atmosphere but laidback beachside setting for grilled meats and seafood, as well as pizzas and tapas. Or just slouch in a lounge chair with a wine, beer, or cocktail. Breezy views, happy hours, and super-friendly staff, located in the amazing Centara Grand resort (see #4). • Map • +66 (0)77 230 500
25. Happy Elephant Restaurant • Bophut
A variety of fresh seafood can be selected from ice trays at the doorstep, as well as interesting Thai cuisine and vegetarian meals. Lovely terrace setting and shady beach. Among several restaurants at Fisherman’s Village (see #57). • Map • +66 (0)77 427 222
Koh Phangan Restaurants
26. Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar • Baan Tai
Not another foreign-owned westernized bistro: established 20 years ago by a local family, offering the freshest possible seafood, including fish pie and good ol’ fish and chips, as well as Thai dishes. Seating in a converted long-tail boat, popular for cocktails, wines, and desserts. • Map • +66 (0)84 454 7240
27. Same Same Restaurant • Haad Rin
An institution offering western treats like lasagna and burgers, far better than rivals. Great value, affable owners, and hearty serves; packed with hangover-suffering party-goers. • Map • +66 (0)77 375 200
28. Happy Elephant • Haad Yao (Northwest Coast)
In the Haad Yao Bayview Resort, it’s mostly about barbequed seafood here, though standard Thai choices are also available. Understated charm, in a divine poolside setting facing an idyllic cove of granite boulders. • Map • +66 (0)77 349 141
Koh Tao Restaurants
29. Breeze Koh Tao • Mae Haad
Tasty usuals (burgers and pasta), but also not-so-common items like mezze board, cheese platter, and super-sized salad. Everything lovingly prepared and nicely delivered, in a relaxed beachside setting perfect for sunsets and cocktails. • Map • +66 (0)93 553 4799
30. Blue Water • Sairee
Tired of seafood or pad thai? The unique menu in this delightful open-air and shaded café offers world-class coffee and homemade pastries. Dip toes in the sand while chilling out to relaxing live music. Open early for breakfast. • Map • +66 (0)98 448 4959
Food & Drinks
Unsurprisingly, mussels, crabs, prawns, shark, squid, and lobsters are popular fare here. These can often be selected from ice trays outside the restaurant door, and are usually grilled. Otherwise, try the sour fish curry, gaeng choo chee pla; the spicy po tak seafood broth; and yam talay, a tangy seafood salad.
A broad definition of ‘curry’ includes imported versions: massaman (thick, with peanuts, potatoes and, usually, chicken and roti bread) and Penang (creamer and spicier, with rice and, more likely, meat). More authentic Thai curries are named according to color: red (hottest, with chilies); yellow (with turmeric); and green (mildest, with coriander and basil).
33. Khao Niao Mamuang
More commonly known as Mango Sticky Rice, this addictively sweet and delicious concoction of mango and sticky rice is topped with palm sugar and coconut milk/cream. It’s an ideal accompaniment to anything too spicy or sour, or great just as a refreshing snack.
Koh Samui Shopping
34. Central Festival • Chaweng
Samui’s largest shopping center is world-class, with three levels containing just about everything possibly needed. Conveniently located, with dedicated areas for food/drink and fashion. And for children: a games arcade, playground, and Pirate Adventure Horror House. Open 11am to 11pm daily. • Map • +66 (0)77 962 777
35. Maenam Walking Street • Maenam
The laidback center of this low-key beach turns into an extended street market on Thursdays from about 4pm. Ideal for sampling authentic Thai food, stocking up on souvenirs, and checking out live music. Always great fun. • Map
36. Fisherman’s Village Walking Street • Bophut
About the only historic place on Samui is this village (see #57), now converted to a throng of trendy boutiques, traditional shops, and pleasant cafés. It comes alive on Fridays from 4pm, when the narrow laneways become jammed with stalls. Wandering musicians add to the appeal. • Map
37. Timmy’s Masschneider Tailor • Chaweng
Among a multitude of competitors, some of dubious craftsmanship and integrity, this clothesmaker is constantly rated highly by satisfied customers. Dresses, suits, and even wedding gowns at far-better-than-home prices, augmented by impressive quality and service. • Map • +66 (0)77 414 205
Koh Phangan Shopping
38. Nature Art Gallery • Haad Rin
Souvenirs classier than Full Moon Party tee-shirts include jewelry – often handcrafted from crystals – and leather-hewn bags and bracelets. Popular enough to justify another three stores across Phangan and Samui. • Map • +66 (0)77 422 594
39. Pantip Plaza & Night Market • Thongsala
The finest shopping is in the island capital. This claustrophobic cluster of stalls sells the usual handicrafts, but more appealing and distinctive items are also available. Prices are very competitive, but certainly negotiable. More vibrant after dark, when food stalls are set up nearby. • Map
Koh Tao Shopping
40. May & Co Pharmacy & General Store • Sairee
A pharmacy stocking all sorts of organic products, including coffee, repellents, candles, and sunscreen. Always something interesting on the shelves and in the windows, including kaftans and jewelry. Surprising quality on such as a low-key island. • Map • +66 (0)94 194 5548
Koh Samui Nightlife
41. Tamarind Bar & Lounge • Chaweng
Super-sophisticated cigar, wine and cocktail lounge, with an elevated beachfront setting. Snooker tables, relaxing music, board games, and happy hours keep everyone content all evening. In the Impiani Resort. • Map • +66 (0)77 448 994
42. The Frog and Gecko Pub • Bophut
One of Samui’s first English-style bars is still enormously popular for its beachside setting and jovial owners. TV sports, pub quizzes, snooker tables, and live music are more reasons to stay longer than intended. One of several in Fisherman’s Village (see #57). • Map • +66 (0)98 023 8310
43. Starz Cabaret • Chaweng
Oodles of fun as flamboyant lady-boys are lip-syncing and hip-swinging for wide-eyed foreigners. Not trashy or sleazy, but be warned: spectators are often dragged on stage for a dance. Three 45-minute shows nightly, with free entry (with one compulsory drink). • Map • +66 (0)84 744 9074
44. Shamrock Irish Pub • Lamai
Much more than Guinness and roast beef, with Thai and Filipino bands offering impressive covers of western tunes nightly. DJs and extensive happy hours keep the party going until very late. • Map • +66 (0)89 749 8690
Koh Phangan Nightlife
45. L’Alcove • Ao Hin Kong (Mid-West Coast)
A slice of the French Riviera, renowned among expats as the place for sunsets, as well as live jazz most nights and fire shows on weekends. The colorful décor, fascinating photos, and loooong list of cocktails, juices, and wines ensures regular returnees. • Map • +66 (0)94 579 3769
46. Tommy Bar • Haad Rin
Part of the Tommy Resort, one of the island’s first, the bar/restaurant looks dated but is nice enough, with a nautical theme and elevated eating area. It transforms around Full Moon, with thumping music from international DJs using state-of-the-art sound systems from multiple stages. • Map • +66 (0)77 375 215
47. Ku Club • Baan Tai
Unique open-air club right on the sand, with more reasonably-priced drinks, bonfires, and atmosphere than others nearby. Features a pool for guests and international DJs. In the Beach Village resort. • Map • +66 (0)77 238 855
Koh Tao Nightlife
48. FIZZ Beachlounge • Sairee
A landmark and institution, with chilled-out setting on an outcrop facing the water. Some eat and drink nowhere else. Slouch on a beanbag for the sunset, then get into party mode as the evening progresses. • Map • +66 (0)87 887 9495
Tours & Classes
Koh Samui Tours & Classes
Public transport often doesn’t extend to areas of interest, so it makes sense to join an organized tour for a half or full day. Includes the usual attractions, as well as remote temples, viewpoints, and waterfalls. Long-established and Asia-wide company ensuring reliability and sound value.
50. Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts • Chaweng
Fabulous classes in the art of creating tasty Thai from half-day to two weeks. With special kitchens anf more than 20 years’ experience, the variety of courses suit everyone from seafood aficionados to vegetarians. Families welcome. • Map • +66 (0)77 413 172
51. Blue Stars • North of Chaweng
The magnificent Ang Thong National Marine Park (see #55) is best evplored by canoe. This allows an in-depth exploration of hidden caves, pristine beaches, and remarkable lakes, and lets visitors get closer to dolphins, squirrels, and monkeys. Snorkeling tours of the area also available. • Map • +66 (0)77 300 615
Koh Phangan Tours & Classes
52. My Wok and Me • Mid-west
Highly informative and engaging cooking classes where guests choose three courses and bargain for the choicest ingredients at a traditional market. Then, cook up a storm in the open-air kitchen and devour the results. Usually more than enough to take and eat later. • Map • +66 (0)87 893 3804
53. Phangan Bookings • Mid-west
The island’s leading travel agency offers an extensive range of trips, including boat, snorkeling, and fishing tours. And can help with just about anything else from villa rentals to Full Moon Party tickets and quad-biking; even courses in yoga and DJing.
Koh Tao Tours & Classes
54. Goodtime Adventures • Sairee
Also with an outlet on Koh Phangan, this reliable company has been organizing small group tours for over 10 years. Focuses on scuba-diving, but also offers abseiling, mountain-climbing, and the popular Snorkel Party Cruise. Based at the Goodtime backpacker hostel. • Map • +66 (0)87 275 3604
Koh Samui Sightseeing
55. Ang Thong National Marine Park • One hour by boat
42 uninhabited islands of golden beaches and sapphire lagoons, and dozens of karst columns jutting from the turquoise sea. Plenty of tours are possible by boat (including a Chinese-style junk boat) and canoe (see #51) for swimming; snorkeling; exploring lakes, caves, and rainforests; and spotting wild animals and rare birds. Easiest to access from Samui, but tours also available from Phangan and Tao. • Map
56. Na Mueang Waterfalls • Mid-South
The most impressive of several across the island: Na Mueang 1 is 20m high and flows into a swimmable pool; Na Mueang 2 is smaller but considerably higher. Both are accessible along a walking trail, although Number 2 involves a 30-minute uphill slog. Best from September to December. • Map
57. Fisherman’s Village • Bophut
This converted old village admirably retains some character and history, though it is now quite touristy. Hugely popular for the abundant shops and beachside cafés/bars along the narrow laneways fronting the beach, it morphs into a street market on Friday evenings (see #36). • Map
58. Wat Khao Hua Jook • North of Chaweng
Samui’s most accessible Buddhist temple is majestically perched on a 90m hill, providing terrific views of the island, sunset, and airport. Revered for housing a replica of Buddha’s footprint, it’s popular among locals, expats, and tourists as somewhere to pray, unwind, and meditate. • Map
59. Wat Plai Laem • Bangrak (Northeast Tip)
Another Buddhist temple, but quite different. More modern, active, and Chinese-influenced, it’s dominated by a gigantic statue of the multi-armed Goddess of Compassion, Guanyin. Worth coming just for the lovely setting within a fish-filled lake. • Map
60. Dusit Dhewa – Samui Cultural Center and Fine Art of South East Asia • Lipa Noi (Mid-West Coast)
A pleasant relief from malls and beaches, Samui Cultural Center provides a snapshot of the history and culture of the island and country. It is undersized and overdue for renovation, but still nicely laid out, and home to turtles and peacocks. • Map • +66 (0)22 505 500
Koh Phangan Sightseeing
61. Than Sadet Waterfall National Park • Mid-East
A delightful stroll (20-30 minutes) alongside a river leads to the 30m falls which plunge over granite boulders to an inviting pool, popular with swimmers and fish. Further up is a viewpoint. Also famous for the rock inscriptions heralding one of many visits by Thai royalty over 120 years ago. Best from September to November. • Map
62. Phaeng Waterfall • Center
Also inside a national park, three falls plunge over boulders in stages. Reaching them involves walks of between 1 and 2½ hours (for the lookout with sublime views) – and are steepish in parts. Plenty of monkeys and refreshing pools for a dip. Best during the wet season (September to November). • Map
Many come for nothing else, so hotel rates can triple and the island is jam-packed. First started in the late 1990s, parties involve endless drinking and dancing on the beaches, particularly Haad Rin. So popular among visitors, and lucrative among locals, these are also held during the ‘half-moon’ and other times (eg Christmas). And note: injuries, thefts, spiked drinks, overdoses, drownings, and arrests are not uncommon.
Koh Tao Sightseeing
64. Koh Nangyuan • 10 Minutes Northwest by Boat
These three islets are regarded as some of the most gorgeous on the planet. Each is connected by a walkable sandbar and the beaches make even the most jaded visitors take notice. Also hill climbs and snorkeling just offshore. Join an organized tour, or charter a boat or catch the ferry from Koh Tao. Islands are dominated by the Nangyuan Island Dive Resort. • Map
65. Mango Bay (Ao Muong) • North Coast
Reaching this adorable cove is half the attraction: by chartered boat, rented motorbike, or mountain-bike for the fit. More popular for the offshore snorkeling and exquisite setting between pines and turquoise waters than the undersized beach. Eat, drink, or stay at the Mango Bay Resort. • Map
Spas, Yoga & Retreats
Koh Samui Spas, Yoga, & Retreats
66. Tamarind Springs • Lamai
Within an inspirational forest setting, Tamarind Springs is so serene – and so professional, with more than 20 years’ experience. Packages are available, which include a stay at their villas or yoga classes. A super-healthy restaurant also onsite. • Map • +66 (0)85 926 4626
67. Health Oasis Resort • Maenam
This resort provides all sorts of treatments and activities for healing the body, including detox and fasting programs. Also renowned for massages, vegetarian food, and training courses in yoga, Thai cooking, and meditation. • Map • + 66 (0)77 602 096
Koh Phangan Spas, Yoga, & Retreats
68. Vipassana Meditation Retreat • Baan Tai
Inside Wat Khao Tham temple, this is truly authentic. Most retreats last for 10 days, but can also be as long as 3 months. All-inclusive and very popular, so book ahead, with payment by donation. • Map • +66 (0)87 974 9465
Koh Tao Spas, Yoga, & Retreats
69. Ocean Sound Yoga • Chalok Baan Kao Bay (South Coast)
Plenty of drop-in yoga classes for first-timers and the more experienced, in small groups or customized for special needs. Equally renowned is the dive center with which it shares the premises. • Map • +66 (0)62 069 8210
Koh Samui Beaches
70. Choeng Mon • Northeast Tip
Not too far from Chaweng is this crescent of talcum-like white sand lined with casuarina trees. Comparatively laidback, and popular among expats for the cluster of waterside cafés and beach bars. Only accessible by rented or chartered vehicle, the lone resort here is the extraordinary Ritz-Carlton.
71. Chaweng Noi • South of Chaweng
‘Small Chaweng’ is separated from its big brother by a rocky headland. It’s too far to walk between the two, but this cute cove is accessible by public transport from Chaweng and Lamai. Home to several resorts, including the mammoth Sheraton (see #5), the beach is still open to the public.
72. Bang Po • Northwest Coast
Difficult to reach by public transport and often ignored – therefore, quieter and cleaner than neighboring beaches. The secluded coves with fashionable villas and upmarket resorts, such as the Four Seasons, are open to the public. Safe swimming and stunning sunsets add to the appeal.
Koh Phangan Beaches
73. Ao Thong Nai Pan • Northeast Coast
Two bays separated by a headland and differentiated by the suffixes of Noi (Small), which is wider and more fashionable; and Yai (Big), which is more scenic. These beaches are squeezed between calm waters and dramatic mountains, with resorts, such as the Anantara, popular for romantic getaways. Accessible by chartered truck along rough roads, but more comfortable and scenic by long-tail boat.
74. Haad Khuat/Bottle Beach • North Coast
With shimmering golden sands and dramatic mountainous backdrop, Bottle Beach is accessible by chartered long-tail boat or on foot (1½ hours) from Haad Khom bay. Home to a handful of midrange resorts, such as the Haad Khuad.
Koh Tao Beaches
75. Sai Nuan • Southwest Coast
So quiet and isolated, yet accessible on foot from Mae Haad (30-40 minutes), or by long-tail boat. With only a few hotels – such as Charm Churee – and a laidback vibe that makes it hard to leave.
Koh Samui Family Fun
76. Samui Football Golf • North of Chaweng
Fab idea, combining two sports into one: kicking footballs (soccer balls) into oversized holes across a golf course. Terrific exercise and heaps of fun. • Map • +66 (0)77 426 600
77. EasyKart • Chaweng
Two cool activities in one place: Go-Karts (crashing and bashing into others around a well-designed course); and Indoor Skydiving within a wind tunnel. Coming soon, a third: Indoor Surfing. • Map • +66 (0)77 427 194
Koh Phangan Family Fun
78. One Pen Adventure Park • Mae Haad (Northwest Coast)
Parents will love the waterfall setting (and bar alongside), while kids will relish the zip-line (rope) courses and rock-climbing. Friendly supportive staff adjust activities according to age, height, and weight. Best finished with a dip in the pool below the falls. Stay for the evening bonfires and live music. • Map • +66 (0)81 891 1528
79. The Valley Koh Phangan • Mid-West
Award-winning fun for everyone in the jungle. Wide range of activities includes rope courses, archery, and snorkeling – all in a safe and engaging environment. With a café onsite, it’s a great day out. • Map • +66 (0)83 138 7047
Koh Tao Family Fun
80. Charter a Long-Tail Boat
Create your own fun by hiring a traditional boat from Mae Haad. The boatman will take passengers to remote beaches barely accessible on land, like Sai Nuan (see #75), and incredible snorkeling spots such as the Japanese Gardens off the coast of Nangyuan island (see #64). • Map
All beach regions across the three islands offer every possible activity on the water, including parasailing, water-skiing, banana-boating, and jet-skiing. Conditions are also ideal in places for kiteboarding, kitesurfing, and wakeboarding. Paddle-boards and kayaks are sometimes provided free to guests at resorts and lodges.
82. Diving & Snorkeling
It’s easy enough to arrange scuba-diving at the beach regions on all three islands, but the finest underwater delights are around Koh Tao; in fact, most trips from the other two islands invariably come to Tao and the nearby island of Nangyuan (see #64). Those more comfortable with just a snorkel and mask can often tag along on scuba-diving trips, but cheaper and easier snorkeling just offshore is possible on Koh Tao, at Sairee and Mango Bay; on Koh Phangan, at Mae Haad (where there’s a shipwreck); and on Koh Samui, at Coral Cove and Choeng Mon.
Always tons of fun, with plenty to see along the way, but traffic is bad on the east coast of Koh Samui and roads on Phangan and Tao are often potholed, while sections on all three islands are steep. The best areas for cycling are between Sairee and Mae Haad (Koh Tao); from Thongsala to Baan Kai (Koh Phangan); and along Bophut and Maenam (Koh Samui).
With unreliable or non-existent public transport, walking is often the only way to get around anyway. On Koh Tao, a delightful beachside path links the ferry terminal at Mae Haad with the main beach at Sairee. Various trails lead to waterfalls on Phangan and Samui – check out Things to See earlier. Also, these two roads are reasonably flat, with public transport available along the way: Baan Kai to Thongsala (Koh Phangan); and Bophut to Bang Po, via Maenam (Koh Samui).
As well as organized tours to Ang Thong National Marine Park (see #55) and snorkeling around Koh Nangyuan island (see #64), boats are available for anything else, from fishing for one or more days to chartered island-hopping trips beyond the normal tourist trails.
Festivals & Events
86. Songkran • Usually April 13-15
The Thai New Year is celebrated all over the country, with a public holiday (or two). At this time, water is poured, dumped, and gushed over everyone for several days. Visit a temple (dressed appropriately) to admire novice monks being inducted. And avoid traveling, as buses and trains will be bursting with soaking passengers.
87. Backstage Festival • Early August • Maenam, Koh Samui
The latest bands and trendiest DJs strut their stuff to adoring crowds across two nights at the W Resort.
88. Samui Asia Music Festival • Mid-August • Chaweng, Koh Samui
In contrast to the hip-hop-heavy Backstage Festival mentioned above and the Jazz Festival in September, this new event features rock and blues bands from Thailand and elsewhere in Asia.
89. Tao Music & Underwater Festival • Usually mid-July • Koh Tao
A combination of music and environmental awareness festival spread over three days. Locals and tourists undertake clean-ups above and below the water during the day, then party all night.
90. Mahga Puja • Full moon in February/March
A public holiday and the second-most important Buddhist festival, attracting devotees from across Thailand. Particularly impressive at the major temples of Wat Khao Hua Jook (#58) and Wat Plai Laem (#59).
Best Areas of Koh Samui
The most popular beach area with the best facilities, including malls, nightlife, and public transport – but also traffic and struggling infrastructure. The beach is lovely, although noisy with sun-lovers, day-trippers, and jet-skiers. To the south, Chaweng Noi (‘Small Chaweng’) is considerably quieter and smaller, but too far to walk, so take public transport.
Best Stuff: Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui • Sheraton Samui Resort • Poppies Samui hotel • Buri Rasa Village Samui hotel • The Cliff Bar & Grill • Baan Ya Jai Thai Restaurant • Poppies Restaurant • The TENT Beachfront Restaurant and Bar • COAST Beach Club & Bistro • Central Festival shopping center • Timmy’s Masschneider Tailor • Tamarind Bar & Lounge • Starz Cabaret • Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts cooking school • Anodas Spa (open-air setting and heavenly pampering) • Chaweng Noi beach • EasyKart • Samui Asia Music Festival
The second-most developed and popular region is more laidback with plenty of homestays offering priceless beach frontage at non-resort rates. There’s a village hidden from the main road, and access by public transport is good. Swimming can be difficult at times, and fewer water-sports are available.
Best Stuff: Ammatara Pura Pool Villas • Samui Jasmine Resort • Rummana Boutique Resort (tropical, tasteful and tranquil) • Beach Republic restaurant • Radiance Restaurant • Saffron (exquisite views, food, and service) • Lamai Night Plaza (convenient, affordable, and fascinating) • Lamai Fresh Market (where cooking classes buy ingredients) • Shamrock Irish Pub • The Lava Lounge (nothing loud or sleazy) • Tamarind Springs spa
The most developed and scenic region along the north coast is good for swimming. With beachside eateries and a village vibe, it’s a likeable diversion from the overdeveloped beaches on the east coast, but still easily accessible by public transport from Chaweng and Lamai.
Best Stuff: Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa • Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort • Full Moon restaurant • Zazen Restaurant • Happy Elephant Restaurant • Fisherman’s Village & Walking Street • The Wharf Samui (modern collection of boutiques) • The Frog and Gecko Pub • CoCo Tam’s (extra-fun beach bar) •Emerald Green Mens Club (award-winning, but males only) • Cycling • Walking
Bophut (see above) merges into Maenam seamlessly to the west. The beach is quieter, and there is actually a village around the terminal for boats to Phangan and Tao islands. There are enough facilities for most visitors, albeit spread out. Public transport is still good from Chaweng and Lamai, but increasingly infrequent further west.
Best Stuff: Santiburi Koh Samui Resort • Khwan Beach Resort (beachside ‘glamping’ in tents) • Farmer Restaurant & Bar (Italian focus, with rice-field views) • Angela’s Diner (long-time fave, with imaginative décor) • Maenam Walking Street • Benjavadee (best selection of souvenirs) • Mango 11 (the place for cocktails) • Health Oasis Resort • Cycling • Walking • Backstage Festival
Best Areas of Koh Phangan
95. Haad Rin
On a peninsula in the southeast and connected by public transport to the ferry terminal, there are actually two beaches here, accessible to each other on foot through the village. Haad Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) is the epicenter for Full Moon parties, while Haad Rin Nai (Sunset Beach) is more relaxed, but the sand is inferior and almost disappears at high tide. From Haad Rin Nai, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to Leela Beach, also called Haad Seekantang.
Best Stuff: Sarikantang Resort & Spa • Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa • Rin Beach Resort • Same Same Restaurant • Sandcastle Phangan Beach Club (not just popular during full moons) • Nature Art Gallery • Fusion (locally-made ladies clothes) • Tommy Bar • Full Moon Parties
96. Haad Yao
This broad curved bay on the northwest coast is bordered by rocky headlands and packed with powdery white sand. A delightful low-key feel, despite some resorts and an alarming number of minimarts. Also, a gateway to even more remote and idyllic coves.
Best Stuff: Sun Moon Star Resort Koh Phangan (spacious, jungle-like setting) • Haad Yao Bayview Resort & Spa (fantastic beachside location) • Happy Elephant restaurant • Long Bay restaurant (style, sunsets, and healthy menu) • Chok Dee Bar (on the beach and heaps of fun) • Snorkeling
This extended coastline does not boast many attractive beaches, but the area is quieter than Haad Rin and connected by public transport to the party action and to Thongsala (for the ferry terminal). More like a very long village, with plenty of family-run cafés and bars, and boats for chartering.
Best Stuff: Le Divine Comedie boutique resort (character-plus and unique layout) • Sea Love Bungalows (beachfront and affable staff) • Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar • Ku Club • Outlaws Saloon bar & restaurant (Wild-West theme, with great live bands) • Vipassana Meditation Retreat
Best Areas of Koh Tao
The main area on Tao offers the best selection of places to stay, eat, and drink, and even a semblance of nightlife. With a reef just offshore for snorkeling, and linked to the ferry terminal by a gorgeous beachside path, Sairee boasts one of the finest settings in Thailand. With calm and shallow water, the island’s longest beach is popular with families, while the older ones will relish a cocktail or three at sunset.
Best Stuff: Koh Tao Cabana resort • Palm Leaf Koh Tao resort (idyllic, tranquil, and inexpensive) • Blue Water restaurant • Portobello (popular for pasta and pizza) • May & Co Pharmacy & General Store • FIZZ Beachlounge • Maya Beach Club (relax during the day, dance at night) • Goodtime Adventures • The Gallery Spa (even renowned among locals) • Cycling • Walking
99. Mae Haad
Known more as a village around the ferry terminal, it is linked to Sairee (see above) by a delightful beachside path (20-30 minutes). Decent stretches of beach in places, and very convenient for transport to the other islands.
Best Stuff: Ananda Villa • Koh Tao Montra Resort & Spa (classy, colorful, and convenient) • Breeze Koh Tao restaurant & bar • The Living Room Koh Tao (burgers, beer, and banter) • Reef Live Sports Bar & Restaurant (TV sports and hearty meals) • Royal Thai Massage Koh Tao (highly-rated and skillful) • Boats to Sai Nuan beach • Cycling • Walking
- Koh Samui – The Best Hotels
- Koh Samui – The Best Hotels for Families
- Koh Samui – The Best Beach Hotels
- Koh Samui – The Best Time to Visit
- Getting from Bangkok to Koh Samui
- Phuket vs. Koh Samui
- Bangkok – The Best Hotels
- Bangkok – The Best Hotels for Families
- Bangkok – The Best Budget Hotels
- Bangkok – Airport Hotels