You’ll be swinging, shaking and moving in this diverse paradise island, which boasts of an extensive coastline for beach bums, party-goers, spa-holics and adventure seekers. It’s a mélange of many things – with even the origin of its name in dispute. Whatever the word ‘Samui’ means (either named after the native trees or a localised version of the Chinese word ‘saboey’ which means ‘safe haven’), the island is an oasis of white sandy beaches, picturesque waterfalls, lush greens and smaller neighbouring islands. Here’s our guide to what the island can offer, whether you want to rest, relax or live it up.
#1 Bophut: The Charming Beach Village
About Bophut: Although it’s experienced a boom with new five-star hotels and luxury villas sprouting up at a frantic pace, Bophut is still considered one of the few places in Samui that retains some of the island’s original Thai-Chinese culture. Located on the east side of the beach, the charming Fisherman’s Village keeps traditions alive with old Chinese shops/houses. Bophut’s sandy shoreline is dotted with coconut palms and calm waters. This makes it a popular spot for beach bumming, rather than swimming where the water can be murky around December.
What to do: Dive at Sail Rock, which is somewhere between Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan – Samui’s neighbouring islands. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can dive with whale sharks. The best time for shark sightings is sometime between March and August.
Restaurant to try: Pepenero. This authentic Italian restaurant serves classic favourites with a hearty flair. It’s considered the best place for Italian on the island.
Stay here: Baan Leelawadee. 4-bedroom beachfront villa with pool, and views over the bay, the Big Buddha and Koh Phangan. It’s just ten minutes to Fisherman’s Village and fully staffed with a private chef. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 450++/night.
#2 Choeng Mon: The Ultimate Hideaway
About Choeng Mon: Made up of a series of bays featuring white sandy beaches and rock formations, Choeng Mon is a pretty beach hideaway with lots of private residential developments and upmarket resorts. It’s only 15 minutes north of busy Chaweng, and five minutes from Big Buddha. Aside from being a family-friendly area, this area attracts more of the foreign clientèle, which is reflected in the food and entertainment offered in the area’s restaurants. You can expect that the Thai cuisine served won’t be too spicy.
What to do: Kayak to the islet of Ko Fan Noi, which sits just off Cheong Mon Beach. During low tide, you could even walk to Ko Fan Noi since it’s close the main beach.
Restaurant to try: Akbar. Northern Indian cuisine with an extensive menu, good service and great samosas.
Stay here: Villa Natha. 5-bedroom multi-storey hillside villa with L-shaped swimming pool, beautiful ocean views, cinema room, daily breakfast and private chef. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 1,100++/night.
Read also: Island-hopping around Koh Samui
#3 Chaweng: The Cool Kid in Town
About Chaweng: Divided into North Chaweng, Central Chaweng and Chaweng Noi (Little Chaweng), the area boasts 7km of pure white sand bordered by emerald-blue waters with a coral reef where waves break. Chaweng Beach is considered the most beautiful on the island. It’s postcard-perfect, and when the clock strikes nine in the morning, the deck chairs, vendors and jet-ski operators start flooding in. Welcome to Chaweng’s hustle and bustle, when people begin to fill the rows of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops parallel to the beach.
What to do: Immerse yourself in Chaweng’s many bars; Chaweng’s nightlife is said to be the best on the island.
Restaurant to try: 9 Gems. Miami Vice meets Buddha Bar; this sassy place for cocktails is part luxury villa, part upscale lounge. Expect Thai-Asian fusion food and tapas.
Stay at: Baan Jakawan. 7-bedroom ocean-view villa with an infinity pool, swim-up bar, fully equipped kitchen with a private chef and daily breakfast. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 745++/night.
#4 Mae Nam: The River Retreat
About Mae Nam: Mae Nam comprises a large area on the island, including the Bang Por neighbourhood and much of the north-facing forests. Many of the villas and resorts here enjoy lots of privacy, and the waters here are typically calm and swimmable. Mae Nam means river, ‘mae’ meaning mother and ‘nam’ water. More couple and family-oriented, Mae Nam is a peaceful spot in Samui with a good mix of beaches and mountain views.
What to do: Explore one of Thailand’s most beautiful rainforests as you zipline with Canopy Adventures. The tour will also bring you to a hidden waterfall!
Restaurant to try: Namu at W Koh Samui. Japanese cuisine, fresh seafood and sashimi, served indoors or outdoors to your fancy.
Stay at: Villa Blue View. 6-bedroom hillside villa with infinity pool, chef services, TV room and daily breakfast. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 500++/night.
Read also: Kid-Friendly Activities in Samui
#5 Laem Set: The Quiet Spot
About Laem Set: At the southwest corner of Samui, low tides make the sea too shallow to swim. However, the enormous smooth boulders on the beach and the coconut palms that lean far towards the sea make Laem Set a beautiful, peaceful place. It’s definitely where you want to be if you don’t like the chaos of nightlife and perpetual crowds. It’s also where you’ll want to make full use of in-villa spa treatments.
What to do: The Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo is nearby. You’ll see many fish and corals, turtles, sharks, catfishes and other creatures from the depths of the ocean floor. Visitors can feed giant turtles in their tanks and even have their photo taken with a tiger – don’t make him angry!
Restaurant to try: The Fisherman’s Outlet. Fresh seafood in an alfresco setting, with lots of Thai favourites.
Stay at: L2 Residence. 3-bedroom hillside villa with private pool, sun decks, outdoor dining terrace, chef services, and daily breakfast. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 450++/night.
#6 Lamai: Low-key Nights
About Lamai: Things are a little quieter in these parts, but it’s charming and well worth a visit for a glimpse into island life before mass tourism. Lamai’s neighbour Hua Thanon is a Muslim fishing village; we hear it is also one of the best places to buy superb fresh seafood at reasonable prices. All in all, a great destination if you’re content to just lay on the beach and have low-key nights.
What to do: Visit the Hua Thanon Wet Market for fresh seafood and the Lamai Sunday Nightmarket for all your foodie, cocktail and handicraft needs. Also, look out for fishermen’s colourful kor lae boats, and the very naughty Hin Ta and Hin Yai (Grandpa and Grandma) Rocks – don’t forget your cameras.
Restaurant to try: Sabienglae. Enjoy top-grade Thai seafood cuisine in an easy-going setting on Lamai Beach. There are multiple branches of Sabienglae around Samui, including in Fisherman’s Village, but this one is best.
Stay at: Baan Hinta. 5-bedroom beachfront villa with spacious living area, a private pool, outdoor cinema, and standalone bathtubs. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 1,200++/night.
#7 Taling Ngam: The Best Sunsets
About Taling Ngam: There’s rarely been an island getaway in which sunsets weren’t mentioned. Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi make up the west side of the island, and so if you’re in Samui for the evening view, here’s where you’ll want to set up camp. Many villas and resorts in this area lay claim to their own stretches of pristine white sand, so if you pick well, you’ll get unrestricted views of the beautiful (sometimes purple!) sky.
What to do: Venture further inland with a guide and hike to Na Mueang Waterfall or see the Secret Buddha Garden, which isn’t far from Ta Nim Waterfall.
Restaurant to try: Jahn at Conrad Koh Samui. An exclusive dining destination that marries traditional Thai cooking with contemporary elements. The restaurant faces west and has floor-to-ceiling windows for you to enjoy the sunset fully.
Stay here: The View. 5-bedroom clifftop villa with direct beach access, kids bunk room, private chef, saltwater swimming pool and games room. 2019/2020 rates start at USD 1,150++/night.
This article has been updated. The original version was first published in November 2015.