Ko Samui

The Gulf of Thailand getaway island

With Phuket so overcrowded and over-developed, most savvy travelers these days make a beeline Koh Samui, the largest island on the Gulf of Thailand side of the Malay Peninsula.

Though the arrival is suitably rustic—the airport consists of a single runway and an open-sided thatched roof for a terminal—the place is so big it doesn’t really feel like an island.

There are loads of fab beaches, of course, but with more and more hotels staking out space on the shoreline every year, none of the solitude you can get on a smaller island. In other words, you might not want to spend a full week here, but it’s worth a day to get over jet lag and get your bearings before heading onward to Koh Phangan.

One big reason to hang around is to take a $80 all-day tour around the greatest hits of the Ang Thong Marine Park, a collection of 41, largely uninhabited islands between Samui and the mainland—popular but definitely worth it. The boat motors between tiny islands where you paddle a kayak into shore to get panoramas, or hike to a waterfall, or snorkel in sheltered coves.

Each tour company picks different stops, but they all include a short clamber up to the top of Koh Mae Ko to see the pristine, fully enclosed lagoon hidden at its center, which helped inspire the plot of The Beach. Some even throw in a touristy 20-minute elephant ride at the end of the day back on Samui.

Hotels on Koh Samui

As long as you're staying in Samui, head for Chaweng Beach, which has both the best strip of sand on the island—a wide swathe of soft, pale yellow that extends for nearly four miles—and the most choices for staying and dining.

Somewhere between the pricey resorts springing up on the north end of Chaweng and the $3 backpacker hovels rapidly disappearing from the beach's center, lies The Island resort (+66-(0)77-230-751, www.theislandsamui.com; from 2,200 THB, online from 1200 TBH/$40 Full Story)

The Island's layout is pretty typical for Samui: tidy cottages on either side of a shady cement walkway meandering from the boomtown small businesses of Chaweng's dusty main road down through the resort property to the beachfront. Call ahead to snag thatched cabin 801, where you can step off your front porch and right onto the sand.

Restaurants on Koh Samui

The food at The Island is pretty excellent, too—and at dinner, tables are moved out onto the sand to dine by candlelight. But take at least one evening to try Budsaba, a romantic, fifteen-minute stroll up the beach on the grassy grounds of the Muang Kulay Pan Hotel (+66-(0)77-422 305; rooms from 2,600 THB / $87 online Full Story ).

You dine in one of a dozen salas, open-sided thatched wooden huts set waist-high on stilts, each barely large enough to fit a low table and four people reclining on cushions around it. The gourmet-level food is sublime—though only about $16 per person—there's live traditional Thai music (accompanied on Wednesdays by a dance performance), and cool sea breezes to tickle your toes—as per Thai custom, your shoes come off before you come to the table.


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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.