Nestled on the Southeast coast of Thailand in an archipelago of around sixty islands of a variety of sizes, Koh Samui pretty much epitomizes the ideal sought by so many tourists. Whether you are a backpacker or a seeker of luxury, Koh Samui has what you’re looking for.
The beaches of Koh Samui offer a huge variety of styles of life, accommodations, nightlife (or not!), and recreational activities. Each beach has it’s own look and feel, and there are plenty of them!
Chaweng Beach was the earliest site developed in the early backpacker days of the 1970s and 80s. This long beautiful beach is the liveliest spot on the island, offering many water sports in the daytime, including simply hangin’ at the beach. This area is also home to the majority of nightlife on the island, with a restaurant and bar scene which includes basic pubs and nightclubs. Accommodations here vary from simple rooms to high-end resorts. However, if you are simply looking for relaxation and a good night’s sleep, the scene here might be a little too exuberant.
Lamai Beach, which is adjacent to Chaweng, is a little quieter, though it still offers some of the same sort of social scene. Because the water tends to be a little rougher at times, you’ll not find as many sports here as at Chaweng. There is a nice village behind the resorts, where Thais still live in a semblance of their traditional lifestyle. Developed around the same time as Chaweng, it can have a more laid back feel. Accommodations again span the spectrum, allowing you a choice of lifestyle. This beach and Chaweng are usually more popular among the younger tourists because of the nightlife scene.
Bhoput is the compromise between the lively scenes at Chaweng and Lamai and the serene, peaceful spots on other parts of the island. On a beautiful, calm bay, Bhoput has its share of small shops and restaurants, and offers some alternative water sports that may not be available everywhere, such as Jet skis and kayaks. Two kilometers of white sand, the proverbial swaying palm trees, and a good meal by the beach at dusk… You get the picture.
Choeng Mon Beach is situated on a small peninsula, separating it from much of the surrounding area and making it quieter. This is probably the most exclusive and expensive area on Koh Samui. There are many expensive homes in the area, and the highest concentration of luxury resorts. There are a few restaurants and shops, but most people eat where they stay, preferring not to delve to far into local culture. If you want nightlife, you simply go a few miles to one of the other beaches, but you’re not going to be awakened by disco music in the middle of the night!
Mae Nam Beach is probably the quietest beach on the island, and furthest removed from nightlife. There is an old Buddhist temple at one end which is said to be a beautiful spot at sunset. Generally thought of as the least expensive area on Koh Samui, Mae Nam still offers some upscale resorts and a few reliable places to eat and shop. If you want to get out of the area, bikes are offered for rent. Many believe this beach, in spite of not having sand as white as some of the others, to be the prettiest spot on Koh Samui.
Forget those other tropical destinations that promise so much. The beaches of Koh Samui don’t just promise, they deliver.
Koh Samui, the third largest island in Thailand, was virtually undeveloped until the 1970s and 80s. As a result of this, much of the historical Thai culture, especially that particular to the island itself, remain unsublimated. Despite the march of what some consider progress, the Thai culture remains proud and visible, and you can see it for yourself.
Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and, in their tradition, temples have been built for both residents and travelers. Since Koh Samui is not as ancient as many places, the temples are not especially old, some are relatively new, but all exhibit Thai culture. The Big Buddha, for instance, was built in 1972, at Wat Phrai Yai. This imposing Buddha shrine is also surrounded by a bit of a souvenir market, but such is the price, and the reward, for being a tourist site. There are temples which are more hidden, some requiring a certain amount of walking. One curious and interesting temple called Kunaram was inhabited by a monk who was a famous meditation expert. He died while meditating and his mummified corpse remains seated where he died, complete with sunglasses! There are several “Chedi” (pagoda) temples, in varying states of repair, some requiring a good hike, but offering fantastic views.
The native industries offer some unique and fascinating glimpses into the culture and ingenuity of the Thais. Coconut farming was the staple of local farming before the arrival of tourists, and is very entertaining to watch. The laborers are especially entertaining, due to the fact that they are trained monkeys! The monkeys are apparently quite trainable, and very dextrous in their labor.
Elephants, the Thai national animal, also lend a hand, so to speak, carting tourists through the jungle on Ecotours. That must beat a bus by far! Food, of course, is a huge part of Thai culture, and is available in all forms.
There are small open-air spots and upscale restaurants, spanning the scope and price range of Thai cuisine. Certain places cater primarily to foreigners, so the food will not be spiced to normal Thai standards – but in the traditional restaurants and small eateries, remember that “medium” is enough to make your whole face burn! For those inclined to try Thai cooking when they get home, another possibility is the Thai cooking schools attached to some of the better-known restaurants and resorts. These spots normally include classes for all skill levels, and sell hard-to-get ingredients for students to take home.
After a hard day playing in the sun, you may want to try a classic Thai massage. With roots traceable back to India and China, there are similarities to traditional Shiatzu, based on the energy lines in the body. Some of the spas on the island will offer treatments complete with herbal bath and steam. Otherwise, you may find cabanas in front of the major hotels where the services are offered.
At many times of the year, local festivals will celebrate aspects of Thai life. Enjoy them as they occur, and Have a great time on Koh Samui.