- Island & Beach Hopping
- Authentic Street Market Nights
- We Definitely Go Chasing Waterfalls
The debate about Thailand and particularly the Thai islands being too touristy is never going to end. We all want to continue our pursuit to find the perfect deserted tropical island, but in the mean time we may just have to settle for something a little more well known. Thailand’s Koh Samui is just that. Famed for its crystal clear waters and majestic palm tree edged beaches this affordable tropical island away from the tourist masses of Koh Phi Phi invites you to get your relaxation on. But what are the best things to do on Koh Samui?
Kick your FOMO in the ass, we have the answers, read on…
While I haven’t visited many of the islands around Southeast Asia, Koh Samui has drawn me in twice. Granted, it’s a high traffic, well developed island catering to tourists, but the times of finding undeveloped paradise in this part of the world are over. Regardless, I still like it.
Top Things to do on Koh Samui
For the informed traveler a plethora of activity’s and things to do on Koh Samui await. Some are quite obvious (who would have thought of going to the beach?!) and others less so. The following are some ideas of things to do on Koh Samui based on my two visits.
Go Beach & Island Hopping on Koh Samui
If you didn’t plan on visiting the Thai islands for the beaches, why were you even coming? There are beaches all around Koh Samui. From touristy and hectic to peaceful and private there’s a beach to suit everyone.
You’ve got the popular beaches like Chaweng and Lamai which being so close the the resorts and accommodations of Koh Samui are always busy. Merchants, hustlers, and long tail boats will be plying their products & services. And just when you think you’ve got a moment of peace and quiet you’ll be unceremoniously offered “name brand” sunglasses for only 1000baht a pair.
Away from the major hot-spots you’ve got slightly less busy stretches of beach such as Silver Beach. I found Silver Beach to be a stunning spot. Gorgeous, and it seemed to have the right balance of space and people! I’d class Bophut beach in this category as well.
If you’ve got a little more time or determination, getting to one of the off-the-beaten-track, nearly deserted beaches like Natien Beach is well worth the effort. I still don’t know why no one else was here when I visited it, I had the whole coastline to myself… This was my favorite of the nine beaches on Koh Samui that I’ve been too! Be sure to check it out!
Try Muay Thai on Koh Samui
The national sport of Thailand isn’t out of reach for everyone. My Muay Thai experience before Samui was one 90 minute training class two years earlier. I was a noob no doubt. But I felt included when joining in on one of the classes at SuperPro Samui. The people in the class were of all skill levels, so if you’ve never tried Muay Thai before, read some quotes for motivation and go all in.
There are dozens of Muay Thai training facilities around Koh Samui and from my research they all follow the same training structure. I paid around 400 baht for each of the two hour group sessions which I thought was a fair and reasonable price. The facilities were decent (and clean) with the only inconvenience about SuperPro Samui being that its a little out of the way and may be annoying to get to from your accommodation.
Watch The Muay Thai Instead
Muay Thai was born in Thailand and continues to be a popular cornerstone of the culture. If you don’t fancy the idea of training and fighting yourself, you can always watch other people fight throughout the week. The main stadium for tourists to watch fights is Phetch Bancha Samui Boxing Stadium near Chaweng Beach and there are several fight nights every week.
You’ll know the schedule by heart soon enough. The fliers will be posted everywhere and pickup trucks blasting details of the event from their massive speakers will be driving around all day. Tickets started from 1500 baht which is on the expensive side compared to other places in Thailand but still worth going to see.
Go On a Scooter Mission – All Over The Island
This isn’t going to be for everyone, but one of the best things to do on Koh Samui is rent a scooter and go on random two-wheeled adventures. The main road on the island is a large loop that more or less follows the coastline. On the inside of the loop you can explore the rolling hills and mountains of Samui where all sorts of fruit is grown. On the outside of the loop you can continue your search for the next dream beach.
My favorite hidden gem from my random scooter adventures was the viewpoint in the photo above which you can find by driving up the steep road past this place on Google Maps.
My theory for awesome scooter trips on Koh Samui is too pick a viewpoint on Maps.me and drive there with zero expectations. Most of the time you’ll find awesome views, though you’ll always get an occasional dud.
If you’re confident on a scooter, make the ride to Samui View Point for awesome 360 degree views of the island. It’s not an easy ride on some unpaved roads, but if you’re confident go for it! There’s a small cafe near the viewpoint for you to take a break before you make the journey back to sea level.
Visit Some Temples & Big Buddha
There are three distinct cultural sites that will feature on almost every Koh Samui itinerary.
The Big Buddha, likely the most obvious, can be seen from a few miles away. It’s exactly what you think it is. A big ‘ol Buddha. It’s a free attraction to see up close, and you can get some nice views and great photos if you get there before all the other tourists. Go and enjoy this spot in the morning, It’s going to get hot, so lucky for you there are several fruit shake stalls waiting for you at the bottom of the stairs. Grab one and continue to your next stop!
A three minute drive (or scooter) from the Big Buddha is Wat Plai Laem. A interesting and fun temple complex made up of three main structures with small piers leading to each of their lake locations. This very photogenic spot is a great spot to take some memorable trip photos.
read more: how to take better photos while traveling
Last on the list of cultural places to visit in Koh Samui, Wat Khao Hua Jook, is about an 8 minute drive from Chaweng Beach and features a beautiful hilltop temple. It’s a quiet spot, with views over… the airport… I wouldn’t make this a priority, but if you have a little time to kill it’s a cool spot regardless. We got in for free, but there was a ticket booth at the entrance so I’m not sure why they didn’t charge us. Win for the tourists!
Thailand’s rainy season was only just beginning on my most recent visit, so the two waterfalls we went to see were mediocre at best. Without glaciers and alpine lakes to feed them the waterfalls on this small island rely on the rain. Even in the dry season though, if there’s been rain, take your scooter on a mission to check them out! Head to the Namuang Waterfalls, I’ve been told they’re the best on the island.
As with many of the places to visit in Koh Samui, locals have found a way to monetize the traffic. Be aware when you go that some locals may charge you for visiting them. If they don’t ask you for payment up front, they might demand payment when you go to leave. Just do as the others do, if the locals don’t appear to be paying to visit its likely just someone trying to enforce a scammy tourist tax you’re pretty free to ignore these demands.
Fisherman’s Village Night Market
Fisherman’s Village is an area of the island that during the week quietly caters to high end tourists. On Friday nights however, the village transforms itself into one of the places to visit in Koh Samui. A large night market with loud music, good food, great deals and crowds from all over the island coming to look at all the different bits and pieces.
If you don’t like crowds, stay away… You’ve been warned! I really enjoyed this market. There was a huge variety of things being sold and enough amazing food options to keep you snacking without trying the same thing twice for the 90 minutes or so you’d need to spend there.
I visited one other night market on Koh Samui near the Muay Thai stadium mentioned above. It’s busy most evenings, but my friend and I both found it overpriced with mediocre food. It didn’t hold a candle the fisherman’s village night market and I would definitely advise you to skip it if you have a chance to visit the Friday night market.
Eating In Koh Samui
Compared to Northern or even mainstream mainland Thailand, the prices at restaurants here took me a little bit to get used too. While still relatively cheap compared to western countries you’ll be paying more per bite when eating out or buying groceries here on Koh Samui. My top tips for eating out in Koh Samui are:
- Eat like a Local – If you see locals spending their hard earned money at a restaurant you know you’re in for some authentic and likely delicious local food. Don’t look for a menu, Just ask whats good and give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- Try the Street Food – While there are always concerns about cleanliness and hygiene when talking street food, if you missed out on Koh Samaui’s street foods you wouldn’t walk away with the full experience. Stick to busy stalls and try Moo ping (pork skewers), Pad Thai (of course), fresh coconut ice cream (Sooo Good) and the many varieties of noodle soups available.
If you’re looking for restaurant recommendations I’d suggest:
- Samui Beach Residence Hotel – Eat at the restaurant on the ground floor, I ate here four times on my visits and left content and happy each and every time.
- The Scandic Grill & Bar – The Scandic offers half price happy hour meals from 1 p.m (till 6). The Pad Thai drops to only 60 baht(!!!) which a brilliant deal for such a delicious dish!
- Poppies Samui – Sitting right on Chaweng Beach, this boutique resort sports one of the finest restaurants on the island. With a focus on the small details Poppies easily surpasses its competition. The Green Curry was a highlight of my food experiences on the island. When I return to Samui I’ll bypass the other options and just book in here.
I’m no foodie, but these couple meals stood out to me. I thought both places were worth visiting!
Hey Guys, Patrick jumping in here for a couple points…
Take a Day Trip to Koh Tao (Turtle Island)
If your ready for a little change but don’t have enough time (or budget) to add another island stay to your holiday fear not. A bevy of day tour operators run trips to the stunning (and less crowded) Koh Tao Island. The island is world renowned for its diving, snorkeling and abundance of turtles!
Stop into one of the dive shops and sign up for the 1 day PADI scuba experience course that will have you cruising around underwater in no time!
Check Out The Nightlife!
You didn’t think we were going to write about Koh Samui without mentioning about its incredible nightlife did you? If partying until the sun comes up is your idea of a good time make your way towards Chaweng Beach after dinner and prepare to have a good time.
Chaweng beach is the local party beach and even if staying out all night isn’t your thing you’d be missing out if you didn’t enjoy a fruity cocktail or cold beer along the beach as the sun sets. Nightlife in Koh Samui is beautiful, weird, wild, and diverse. Sitting astride the cheap Thai Beer bars you’ll find gourmet restaurants, karaoke joints, dance clubs and even the signature Thai Ladyboy shows.
It’s an experience that’s for sure!
Are There Enough Things To Do On Koh Samui To Make It Worth Visiting?
It’s a big YES from me. Absolutely Yes!
BUT if you’re looking for a deserted island with a few shoddy shacks littered across the beach, this place isn’t for you. Manage your expectations. Be prepared for Koh Samui to be just like any other big city. In the touristy areas things will be busy, however, you can easily escape and be away from everyone and everything in less than 20 minutes if you know where you’re headed.