The island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand has perhaps a more interesting history than any other beach resort in the country.
Up until the Seventies, it remained relatively detached from mainland Thailand, so much so that its residents referred to themselves as Samui rather than Thai.
But it was at that time the first intrepid travelers started turning up, laying the foundations for what has now become one of Thailand’s best-loved tropical paradises. Having escaped any reputation it may have held as a budget alternative to Phuket, recent years have seen the arrival of upscale luxury resorts that rival and even better its Andaman counterparts.
For the best of these resorts try the beaches in the northeast like Mae Nam, Bophut, and Bang Rak where some of the most pristine coastline and vegetation on the whole island can be found. These beaches are home to many world-class luxury resorts such as Napasi, Four Seasons, and the Evason Hideaway Sila.
A resort that we highly recommend for families is Karma, as it has several large villas for rent or a more affordable option that does not compromise style try the Zazen Resort at Bophut Beach. One of our personal favorites has to be the Sala Samui Resort and Spa where almost all suites have their own pool.
If you are looking for something more lively, the most developed beaches on the island are undoubtedly
Chaweng and Lamai. Chaweng has become Samui’s tourist hub and is ever-expanding in size, accommodating all the trappings of a large scale beach resort: cut-price shops, all-night discos and western fast-food chains can be found lining the streets in abundance.
That said, both of these beaches have deep, clear green waters that are fantastic for swimming. For people attracted to the bustle and excitement of town, we recommend Rocky Resort just south of Lamai.
For a greater sense of seclusion, head to the beaches on the west coast of the island. Although places like Taling Ngam, Lipa Noi, and Bang Pow are perhaps not as beautiful as their eastern neighbors, the lack of crowds gives them a certain charm and the shallow waters make them an excellent choice for people with children.
With this upsurge in luxury resorts on the island, Samui is quickly adapting to the tastes of a more discerning crowd. Known for its difficult fairways, the Santiburi golf course is one of the best in the country and a wealth of new upmarket restaurants and nightclubs have also been established in recent years to cater to this clientèle.
One recommendation for a good, stylish night out is Q-Bar in Chaweng. Samui has also become one of Southeast Asia’s leading destinations for wellness and therapeutic retreats.
Day spas, yoga, and meditation centers can be found in most top-end resorts and have become a Mecca for stressed-out visitors around the globe. Our pick of the spa resorts is Kamalaya at Na Muang, which offers a real sense of serenity and relaxation.
But for those looking for something less sedate, it goes without saying that water-sports are abundant on the island. Equipment for sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, and kite-surfing can be rented around Chaweng and many resorts also offer these amenities.
The island also has a wealth of diving schools to take you to the fantastic natural sea life including the elusive and highly coveted whale shark.
There is no shortage of fantastic sites to see on land either. The waterfall at Na Muang is one of the most stunning in the region and although rarely visited by tourists, is well worth the trip. You can swim in the waters of the bottom pool and the one-and-a-half kilometer hike to the top offers splendid views and scenery.
If Samui has one thing not to be missed above all else it is Ang Thong National Marine Park. This archipelago of 40 small islands are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the region and several crystal blue lagoons where sheer limestone cliffs rise from the water.
One of the best ways to see these islands is by kayak and trips with an experienced guide can be arranged from many places on the mainland.
With such a multitude of activities, beaches, stunning locations, and beautiful resorts it is no wonder that Samui has solidified its reputation as one of Thailand’s premier holiday destinations.