The self-governed island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand has been a holiday paradise for the people in that part of the world for long. It has, however, begun to attract travellers from all across the globe to its luxury retreats and pristine beaches as well. A burgeoning nightlife scene has helped amp up the appeal for the younger crowds, who have started looking beyond the likes of Ibiza for beach parties now. And despite all of that, many parts of the island are yet to be discovered both by the hospitality giants and the travellers leaving a lot of room for exploring and a true getaway vacation.
Hour-long flights from Bangkok have made access to the island destination easy and hassle free and that has just added to the footfalls. Once on Koh Samui, you can get a rental or a taxi or even a local songthaew to find your way around. That said, basing yourself at one of the beaches (as opposed to moving from one hotel to the other) is the better option. And we are here to help you make the right choice. Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Koh Samui and what they might have in store for you, traveller!
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The vast sandy strip of Chaweng in the eastern side of Koh Samui is an increasingly popular spot for international travellers in the region. With its many cafes, food shacks, and multitude of nightlife options, the once up-and-coming neighborhood has now firmly established itself as one of the main attractions of the island. The northern end of the beach has been the centre of all the development, and today, hosts many casual diners and restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and drinks. The area is packed with tourists and vendors, who sell everything ranging from souvenirs to fresh-cooked meals on barbecues and grills. Live music events and parties are common in the northern and central part of the neighborhood, but expect big crowds almost throughout the year.
The southern part of the beach is quieter and less crowded and better suited for those looking for a more quaint experience without having to be too far from the business districts of Koh Samui, so to say. The broadwalks, lined with majestic palm trees and the long stretches of white sand make for a great venue to hang out during the wee hours in the morning or at the time of the sunset. You might have to travel back to the northern part of the beach to get in on the partying and a chance to hit water with a jet ski (among other water sports), but it is a rather short distance that you can easily cover.
Chaweng is just south of the airport and can be easily accessed by a private or shared taxi. Bike rentals and two wheeler taxi rides are also easily available in and around the neighborhood. Hotels and resorts are in plenty, so take your time getting the right pick.
The family friendly quarters of Bophut are an increasingly popular choice for large groups travelling to the island. The major attraction is the Fisherman Village, which is the centre of all activities in the neighborhood. Situated on the eastern side of the beach, the area has retained some of it's rustic charm in the face of rapid tourist-oriented transformation. You will find many pool-houses, local spas, and retreats in this part of the Bophut, making it the top chic for travellers looking for a relaxing vacation. Also the old market streets retain a lot of the original establishments serving as souvenir shops and handicraft stores. Weekly markets are a great way to spend an evening rummaging through local handmade crafts and Thai food stalls.
The other side of Bophut also offers more modern and beach-oriented entertainment options including a select few watersports. If you're not spending your day in the water jet skiing, take a step back and have a lazy day on the beach which is less crowded than the mainstream stretches of Chaweng. The neighborhood has also become known as the best spot on the island to watch the sunset so do not go anywhere at the end of your day's activities. Musicians and artists often perform on and around the beaches and the market streets, lending a bohemian vibe that blends well with the laid back evening sunset viewings in Bophut.
Bophut is about a 20 minute ride away from the airport; you can avail both the taxi and bus service to get to the beach. The neighborhood is also serviceable through a ferry from Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao dock at the beache's eastern pier. When in Bophut, try and find a nice retreat or spa resort for your stay.
The quieter beaches of Lamai offer for a nice change in scenery from the bustling crowds of Chaweng and Bophut. The southern part of the beach, with its wide stretches of white sand is especially great for swimming and sunbathing. Rent the gear and spend a lazy day in the neighborhood; you can always head over to one of the many nearby food shacks for a quick snack or a drink as even though less in number, the eateries in Lamai are as good as they get anywhere on the island. You will find a good range of Mediterranean and European food, a few good sports bars screening live football and events, and even a popular McDonald's in this part of the town.
The northern part of Lamai is great for exploration as such. Rent a car/bike or get a tour guide to take you around the lesser known sights on the island. And there are many; people often tend to get caught up in the partying and beach activities, leaving most other parts of the town looking pristine as ever. The Wat Lamai Temple and local fishing villages (which are much quieter than the one in Bophut) are great spots to discover the native culture. The former venue hosts various temple festivals and fairs that feature local artists and cinema have begun to attract an increasing number of visitors. And the fishing villages are simply great to experience the local scenery and the island's cuisine.
Getting a taxi from the Samui airport is not the most expensive, but other options including bus travel are easily available as well. Use the local songthaew vehicles to get around short distances or simply take a stroll on a good weather day. After Chaweng, Lamai has the highest concentration of hotels and resorts and you should have any issues in finding a good accomodation.
Onto the quietest of all the beaches in Koh Samui then! A beautiful setting in the northernmost part of the island, Choeng Mon is a bayside beach with sparkling clear water and wide stretches of equally stunning white sand. But what truly separates this part of the island from the rest of the island is the minimalist scenery. With barely any urban construction or demarcated market streets and no fancy bars or restaurants or food stalls in sight, this is the place to be for travellers looking for a very private vacation right in the heart of a natural bayside neighborhood.
The beaches are pristine and offer truly endless prospects; you can go swimming, or snorkelling, or scuba diving, or just laze around on the sand in the mornings. Later you can indulge a quick game of volleyball or have a quick stop at the odd food shack for a very western lunch meal, before heading back to the beach to bathe in the evening sun. The beach has a rocky patch and a small island not far off the shore, for those looking for a change in scenery. You can paddle your way to the island quite easily or even walk across through the water during the lower tide. There aren't any special shopping streets or entertainment districts in the vicinity, but Choeng Mon is rather close to the Chaweng beach so you can always visit.
Because of its close proximity to the mainstream beaches, accessibility is not an issue. That said, hiring a rental car or a bike is your best bet because that way you can save a lot of time waiting for local taxis and songthaews. You will find too many cheap accommodation options here as high-end and luxury getaway resorts dominate.
Another one of the quieter beaches of Koh Samui is the eastern white sandy stretch of Maenam. Known for its offbeat appeal and cheap accommodation options, the beach has been a haven for backpackers and solo travelers for long now. The minimal crowds and lack of major shopping or entertainment districts make for a more laid back vacation for those looking to escape the cityscape and urban lifestyle. Only the very essential commodities and facilities are available in the vicinity of the beach, but the beauty of the natural lush surroundings is unparalleled. And having recognised that, a few top names in the hospitality business have begun to expand into the area catering to the crowds looking for a non-mainstream holiday destination on the island.
Beaches are great for swimming as the water is clear and shallow around the shore. You can also have a relaxing beach without having to worry about noisy crowds or the loud party venues getting in the way of your peace of mind. And even though there is a good chance that your homestay or hotel package includes food and snacks, you can find home grown eateries in the area that, though not as fancy as some of the cafes and fine dining restaurants on the other parts of the island, are well equipped to serve up delicious home-cooked meals. For drinks, you can always go for a beer at a nearby shack, most of which offer generous portions of snacks and a healthy dose of offbeat music to go along with it. Or simply grab a recliner chair and head over to the beachfront for the evening to enjoy drinking with your friends.
A taxi or bus service from the airport will in all likelihood drop you off at Chaweng beach, from where you can get a shared or an independent songthaew to chauffeur you to your hotel or homestay in Maenam. The local shared mode of transportation is also the best option to get to one spot from the other in the vicinity as well, that is, if you want to avoid walking on foot. Despite the many new resorts and hotel chains acquiring cabins and villas in the area, cheaper options are readily available in this part of the island.
That's the end of our list. Here's to hoping that you find your ideal neighborhood on one of the best vacation islands that Asia has to offer, traveller!