Are you heading to Koh Samui in Thailand? Wondering what to expect, or some of the highlights to check out while you’re there?
I’ve been to Koh Samui 4 already, and I want to pass on some hints and tips so you can make the most of your time there.
At the bottom, I have a quick list of top-tips you should know before travelling to Koh Samui – it’s not comprehensive so feel free to leave a comment at the bottom if you have any items to add!
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Koh Samui is a very popular tourist resort island and for good reason. It’s got simply some of the most beautiful, that I have experienced, combination of people, beaches, food, and scenery, you can get for any price.
It caters for just about every traveller. from those that need a break in a quality spa resort, to those that will need a good break in a spa after their holiday. And depending on where on Koh Samui island you go, the price you pay will vary dramatically, as will your experience – but I don’t believe there’s any correlation whatsoever between experience and cost!
Last time I stayed in Koh Samui, I opted for 2 different places (due to availability) in the Bo Phut area, that were right beside one another “on the beach”. Both places supplied bungalows of varying quality and features, and in both cases were well stocked with friendly, accommodating staff. The cost, per night, for a double/twin room with no air-con set me back between ฿700~900 (US$22). This provided either a more modern bungalow but with cold shower only (Cactus Bungalows), or a seemingly older (wooden) room with a warm shower and mosquito-net covered beds (Free House Bungalows).
There was also the air-con option going at roughly double the price – which is most suitable for you depends on your needs and your tastes really.
You also have the option of walking 5 minutes up the beach and stopping at a 5* resort for at least 8x the price, where a small bottle of still water costs nearly ฿100. Not my idea of fun.
As I said, Koh Samui caters for all tastes, from the humble backpackers to those looking for the 5* or pseudo-5* resorts. These high-end resorts have their fan-base and meet the needs for many tourists, but for budget-conscious travellers the bungalows mentioned above are excellent.
This was in Bo-Phut on the north coast which, while not the party-Mecca of the universe, is supplied with a rich variety of watering holes and tasty restaurants (in Fisherman’s Village – worth a visit!). Alternatively, if you’d like to be a little closer to the action, then you should head towards the north east beach, Chaweng, or slightly further south to Lamai.
Both of these places are naturally running along the length of the beach with spas, bars, restaurants and hotels occupying every available square-inch of land (sand).
Chaweng and Lamai each have their different flavours – if you want the finest choices of hooker bars on the island and a selection of a few good bars, I believe Lamai is the place to be at, while the party-lifestylers (whatever that means) can be found in the heart of Chaweng.
Love you long time – Thai Sex Tourism
I’m reading a great book at the moment and to quote directly from it “There are 2 sorts of Thai women. Those you pay, and those you marry.”. I don’t wholly subscribe to that view, but it does contains a solid nugget of truth.
Thailand’s sex-tourist scene literally lights up at night (obviously) and you’ll hardly recognise the same places in the daylight hours. There is no shortage of hooker bars in Koh Samui and typically they’re glowing a bright pink decorated with scantily clad, beautiful women (and men) appealing to the reasoning centre nestled in your pocket – and I don’t mean your wallet, though that is their ultimate prize, regardless of the high opinion you might have of yourself.
The best thing about these places, depending on your perspective and how long it’s been since you got laid, is that they nearly all have pool tables. Don’t be intimidated by these places, they are worth the visit, certainly if you don’t mind being waited on by beautiful ladies for a price, and of course if you think you have the will-power to keep it in your pants. If their pool table is what you’re after, check with them before you order your drink though as some will charge per game, but many are free.
If in doubt, have a drink
If it’s partying, dancing, and frolicking with Thais and foreigners alike, then it’s Chaweng in Koh Samui for you. There are a few places to go and typically if you say to any taxi driver the names of the places you’re after, they’ll know where you mean.
- Ark Bar: Probably one of my preferred places in Chaweng because of the option of food and drink alike, and the great evenings I’ve spent in there before now. Every Wednesday, from 4pm, they host a free BBQ for all customers and while I haven’t actually made it there yet, it comes highly recommended. Drinks aren’t expensive and the food is pretty darn good.
- Green Mango: This is a massive bar/club sat squarely in a field of debauchery that caters to most needs. It has your requisite dance-floor, large bar, and even has 4~5 pool tables which, while I was there, was ฿50 a game or ฿150 for an hour. Most famously they supply, as do the other bars in the area, “buckets” that are cocktail mixes served literally by the bucket-load. Remember to take with you a card from your hotel to show the taxi driver later when you’re incapable of forming meaningful sentences in either Thai or English. The area around Green Mango has a few clubs also and it’s mostly filled with backpacking tourists, but they’re not alone and some on-the-level Thais also hang out here. You’ll of course find plenty of “pink-bars” in the area too – for when you want to play some pool.
- Reggae Club: I’ve been here twice, the first occasion I was just in-time for the live reggae band throwing out mostly Bob Marley covers but they were actually quite good. I think it’s around midnight when the band is replaced with a DJ, or at least an iPod-toting fake. But who can really tell the difference anyway?
When you feel like a bit of a Spa
Before this trip, I had travelled to Koh Samui twice before and undertaken a 7-day detox fast, outlined here and here. There’s no doubt in my mind about the efficacy of this particular program and it’s something I’d recommend every adult try.
That’s a discussion for another time however, and the point here is that Koh Samui is covered in Spas of varying focus designed to provide you with that wonderful pampering experience. How successfully they meet this challenge is anyone’s guess since I haven’t ever gone to any of those resorts. The one I’ve been to, and linked to above, isn’t of the same nature as the 5* resorts. I don’t believe the accommodation there is up to par with other spas, and the prices reflect that. But then, it’s not designed to compete with them as it appears committed to supplying a true detoxing experience at a very affordable price point. Just search online “koh samui spa” and you’ll be greeted by heaps of websites for the spas and retreats on Koh Samui island.
If a spa/retreat is what you’re looking for that is far away from all the chaos outlined earlier, then take your time while researching as not all are created equal. Have a look around for discussions, ratings, and reviews for the ones that catch your eye, but most importantly, define quite clearly what it is you’re looking for before you start. Detoxing and fasting is a different spa experience to say, “relaxation and pampering”.
Important Koh Samui Tips
The following are bits of information to keep in-mind while you’re in Koh Samui (and other part of Thailand also). This list could go on forever, but I’ll try to keep it succinct.
- When hiring a moped/car etc., they will typically hold your passport for the duration. You just have to go with the flow here and assume/hope/fervently-pray that you identity remains safe. Depending on how long your hire a bike, the price will vary. Haggle. A lot. You shouldn’t be paying much more than ฿150/day for an automatic (less for manual) when leased for more than a week.
- You can top up your scooter’s petrol/gas at a petrol station, or from one of the many vendors with whiskey bottles filled with gasoline you’ll pass at the side of the road. When at a gas station, ฿100 will likely fill most of your tank (at the time of writing) and you state how much you want to fill it by and the attendant will do it all for you. There is no need to tip.
- By far the best mojito that I’ve tasted on the island is at the bar/restaurant in Bophut that is part of Cactus Bungalows. Seriously good mojitos here and it’s worth the trip to go find them (and they also have a decent free pool table, as if that makes any difference whatsover).
- You can get from Bangkok to Koh Samui on a luxury 12hr overnight bus for approximately ฿850 (doesn’t include ฿110 ferry). It’s beats a ~฿5000 Bankok Airways ticket.
- If you decide to take a bus off the island, don’t go to any of the travel agents, instead go direct to ban Nathon on the west coast of the island to the bus terminal there and buy your coach tickets directly. It’s cheaper, and you get the buses/services that the Thais themselves use, not the scummy ฿500 foreigner cattle-class bus and all the chaos that that involves, including horribly slimely/rude men that run it. Perhaps you can quote this site and go to a travel agent and tell them you don’t want the foreigner bus, but one of the proper coaches.
- Scuba-diving – I’d recommend that you don’t book your diving from Koh Samui, instead take a few days out to neighbouring Koh Tao and book from there – all diving is done from off that island anyway and if you go from Koh Samui, they’ll just transport you very early in the morning up there to pick up the sensible people who booked it from Koh Tao and enjoyed a couple of extra hours in bed.
- Taxis. I feel I need a whole section for this alone, but I’ll list it here for now.
- From the airport they are relatively expensive. Worth getting a pick up somehow (from hotel?) if you’re far from the airport.
- They don’t have meters and wont turn them on if you ask/insist. Negotiate your price before you step your foot inside the cab.
- Alternative to taxi is a large tuk-tuks. Again, negotiate price first. Should be cheaper than taxis and very good value especially during the day. They employ natural air-conditioners.
- Elephants, monkey shows, trekking, and “safari”… I haven’t gone to any of these because I find the whole thing distasteful. But that’s me, and you’re you, so if you want to support this “industry”, go right ahead. There is a rumour that there’s one particular outfit that actually treats the animals quite well, but I never took the time to find it. If you know it, please let me know in the comments section and I’ll add it here. Also, if you’re sitting on the beach and a guy walks up to you with a monkey hanging off his shoulder and asks you for some cash for the privilege of taking a photo with the drugged-up little creature, have a bit of cop on. Your friends back home will actually be more interested in the tale of drugged-up monkeys than of a tacky photo with a monkey on your back. At least I’d hope so…
- Grab a map of the island early on so you’re familiar with the lay of the land and distances, and how much taxi should cost. A taxi when I was there last (2010/03) should be no more than ฿200~300 from Bophut to Chaweng depending on the time of day.
- Drunk driving is endemic. Stay clear of the roads as a pedestrian at night.
- Perhaps related to the previous point, who knows, but apparently Koh Samui has the highest rate of scooter road-traffic accidents in the world. Rumour? I dunno, but best be careful out there.
- I’ll add to this list as I think of more things, but please feel free to add using the comments section below.
Hope that helps to give a decent overview and helpful information of Koh Samui. It’s got practically everything you need. It’s not as inexpensive as it once was, but it’s still a great treat =)