Koh Samui: Thailand’s (Once) Hidden Gem

Once upon a time, Koh Samui was an unfrequented island in the south of Thailand hidden away behind some of country’s more popular attractions. It was an underdeveloped fishermen’s abode sporadically visited by happenstance tourists looking for their own slice of undiscovered heaven. And then the word spread…

Nowadays, Koh Samui is arguably the most prominent luxury destination in Thailand and the second most visited island behind Phuket. With approximately a million visitors a year, it is hardly a secret anymore. For the past half a century or so, it has experienced dramatic changes, with heavy infrastructure works initiated to accommodate the ever growing tourist influx. Despite the fact that luxury resorts keep popping up like mushrooms after rain, the islands has managed to maintain plenty of its original charm, reflected in the pristine white sandy beaches and tall palm trees anywhere you cast your sights.

While the island has steadily gained a reputation as a luxury destination, you don’t really need to be super rich to go there. Of course, you will miss out on the luxury of boutique designer resorts, but the beaches, the waves and the skyline are not exclusive to those with a deeper pocket.

Budget-friendlier options can be found in Fisherman’s Village, Mae Nam and a few other areas of the island. If the budget is not a concern, however, the options are numerous. with resorts competing in raising the luxury to a whole new level. If you want to raise it to a whole new level, you can completely forego the resorts and rent a villa in Samui for maximum privacy.

Even though visiting Koh Samui means that you’re not exactly looking for an active holiday, the island still offers plenty of activities for those days when you don’t feel like simply lounging on the sand or sipping cocktails in a beach bar.

The 50 km long coastal road that circles the island offers plenty of scenery to explore, and renting a car or (preferably) a motorbike for a day-trip will pay off with an abundance of gorgeous, less-frequented beaches and idyllic seaside restaurants. Water sports are a popular option, even though you will find better snorkeling sites in other parts of Thailand and Asia in general. You should not restrict yourself to just one part of the island, since Samui is rather small and doesn’t require a lot of time and planning to be fully explored and enjoyed.

For those of you looking for a good time, Samui offers a variety of options, from more laid back lounge cafes to glitzy nightclubs where you can wear out your dancing shoes. The epicenter of Samui’s nightlife is Chaweng. The most popular and the most expensive strand of Samui by day, Chaweng grows pretty loud and busy during nighttime, with nightclubs and restaurants galore.

If you’re looking for a quieter, more tranquil vacation you should avoid Chaweng in a wide circle. However, its neighboring community of Lamai might be just what you’re looking for if your goal is some well deserved R&R. Other “quieter” parts of the island include: Maenam, a slightly less frequented and far more peaceful cluster of bungalows; Bophut, a laid back collection of designer resorts with a distinctly “European” feel to the neighborhood; Choeng Mon, isolated on the southeast corner of the island, offers a relaxed respite away from the hubbub on the other side of the island.

Koh Samui is not the most diverse place in the world, nor is it an adventure travel hot spot, but it is also not one of those places where you check into your hotel resort and don’t leave before it’s time to go home. It’s scenery is pure natural eye candy, and a little bit of research and effort will ensure that you bring a handful of precious memories back home.


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