The most renowned island in the Gulf of Thailand is Koh Samui. It is Thailand’s second-largest island, after Phuket, located approximately 60km from the mainland and accessible by both air and sea. This slice of paradise is renowned for its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves and mountainous rainforest. It’s also home to luxury resorts, posh spas, superb diving and a robust nightlife scene, amongst other things. To make the most of this oasis, we’ve put together the ultimate four-day guide, which will have you making the absolute best of your time here on land and sea, day and night. So grab a pen and pencil and read on. . .
Start your first full day with a visit to Wat Phra Yai, home to the famous Big Buddha, which sits majestically on the small rocky island of Koh Faan (connected to the main island via causeway). This golden, 12-metre-high seated Buddha statue was built in 1972 and remains one of the island’s most popular attractions. From here, make your way to Na Muang, two cascading waterfalls that prove Samui has more captivating water spots than beaches. Found inland about 12 kilometres south-east of Nathon Bay, they are reached by taking an easy walking path. The first waterfall, Na Muang 1, flows down into a pretty natural pool that provides a cool escape from the heat. About 30 minutes by foot further uphill is the smaller yet equally inviting Na Muang 2. Now that you’re cooled off, it’s time to eat! Head to Chaweng Night Market (from 5pm daily), where you can fill your belly with an array of local specialties: grilled chicken, fresh squid, sweet boiled chicken, sticky rice, smoothies and more. And for those of you that like shopping, this is also the spot; offering everything from T-shirts and sunglasses to wooden souvenirs and tattoos. Just make sure you haggle!
Wake up early and hit the high seas! Truly the best way to experience the natural splendour of Samui is by boat. Many of its most stunning vistas can only be appreciated from aboard ship. There are countless reputable local companies offering full- and half-day trips for island hopping, snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing. A typical tour will pick you up from your hotel at 8am and whisk you away to Bophut Pier. Approx. 90 min later you’ll arrive via speedboat at Koh Nang Yuan. The sandbar beaches here, formed by the ocean’s currents interacting with the three peaks of the island, are quite unique to the world. Their beauty will take your breath away. Enjoy snorkelling in clear water and a chance to encounter the most beautiful ocean life. Continue to Koh Tao (translates as Turtle Island, so named because of its shape) for a stop of lunch. Spend the afternoon snorkelling, sunbathing or just relaxing under a coconut tree. Return your hotel at around 5pm. After such a busy day, you’ll probably want to lie low, so it’s the perfect opportunity for dinner at Outrigger Resort’s outstanding Waterline, an innovative fine-dining restaurant. But remember… do not to drink so you’re prepared for tomorrow’s diving adventure!
The lounge chair you’ve been eyeing beside the pool will have to wait, as you’re up and out early again today to make the most of everything Samui has to offer below sea level. With clear blue waters, warm currents, exotic tropical fish, colourful corals and some of the most impressive dive sites in Asia, it’s no surprise that the Gulf of Thailand is an extremely popular destination for both experienced divers and those wanting to take up the sport. Short, accredited dive courses are readily available and prices are very reasonable compared to most countries. There’s a wide range of dive shops offering all levels of instruction, conducted in the language of your choice. One of the obvious reasons dive courses are so popular here is the great locations from which they are conducted – right by the beach in the shallow, calm waters off Coral Cove. Most diving for novices is only a short boat ride away, while world-class sites for more advanced divers can be found less than two hours away at places like Ang Thong National Marine Park. Whether you’re considering trying the sport for the first time or are a serious enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed by either the quality or quantity of diving around Samui, a diver’s paradise!
Today you are free to do as you wish, be it a spa session, elephant trek, cooking class, lounge by the pool or spot of souvenir shopping. But come sundown, you will need to put on your glad rags and hit the town! Koh Samui nightlife is famous for being amongst the best in Thailand, if not the world. Koh Phangan’s full moon parties are legendary and continue to attract an endless stream of visitors keen to party on the soft white sand until the break of day. The variety and array of cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs and discos is also a major pull, bringing a lively young crowd of revellers. There is a degree of subtle difference to the nightlife in Koh Samui. Alongside the shanty bars selling buckets of cheap local whiskey are sophisticated gourmet restaurants, classic Thai dancing shows, live muay thai boxing bouts and the country’s (in)famous transgender cabaret extravaganzas. There really is something for everyone! Conveniently, most of it happens around Chaweng, so you don’t have to roam far. All along the Beach Road you will see bustling sois (streets) leading off into warrens of bars and pubs. Ground zero for all this unadulterated enjoyment are sois Green Mango and Reggae.