How to experience the best of Koh Samui, Thailand

boats on clear water around Koh Samui, Thailand

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted April 04, 2023

If gorgeous tropical islands, pampering experiences, friendly locals, and delectable cuisine sound like your dream holiday, you’ll love a visit to Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-largest island. Koh Samui’s palm-fringed beaches create a ring around its mountainous jungle interior, ensuring that every kind of traveller and every kind of trip is catered for.

Flop and drop on long white-sand beaches while dipping into the Gulf of Thailand’s warm tropical waters. Get your adventure kicks on or under the water or during hikes to waterfalls and temples. Plus, dive into Thailand’s rich culture with a visit to the island’s temples, including Wat Phra Yai Temple and its iconic 12-metre-high gold Buddha statue.

Koh Samui’s best beaches

With over 40 tropical beaches, visitors to Koh Samui are spoilt for choice. To be in the thick of the action, head to Chaweng Beach. This vast 7-kilometre stretch of sand on Samui’s east coast is home to bustling restaurants, street markets, bars and nightclubs.

For a more pamper-focused beach break, Lamai has a relaxed atmosphere and a plethora of ways to help you relax. Whether it’s an invigorating traditional Thai massage for less than $10, a girls’ trip to a day spa, or checking in at one of the area’s luxury spa resorts, destressing is guaranteed.

Bophut is a top Koh Samui beach recommendation; it’s one of the island’s oldest areas. This quaint beach village used to be a French outpost for 17th-century migrant Chinese, the influence of which you can still see today. Bophut’s upscale restaurants, quality spas, and bustling Fisherman’s Village markets  make for a fascinating stay.


fish in ocean

Thailand's tropical waters are home to many forms of aquatic life. Image: Shutterstock

Koh Samui’s best adventure activities

For travellers keen on adventure and thrills, Koh Samui delivers. Spending time above and underwater in the Ang Thong National Marine Park is a must-do. With 42 uninhabited islands and a vibrant underwater world filled with colourful tropical fish, this is one of the reasons why Koh Samui is a popular place to learn to scuba dive. Not a diver? Snorkelling is equally fun and rewarding.

Other popular water sports include stand up paddleboarding, jet skiing, fishing, kayaking, sailing, and even surfing off Chaweng beach in the monsoon season (typically October to December).

With such appealing beaches and water-based activities, many travellers never visit Koh Samui’s jungle-clad interior. What they are missing, however, are fun-filled activities like ziplining, hiking the stunning Hin Lat Waterfall, and climbing the impressive Nathon Mountain Ridge Trail.


Best food options in Koh Samui

As a destination famed for its sun-drenched beaches and tropical waters, it is no surprise that Koh Samui is also well-known for its seafood feasts. Be sure to try a tamarind seafood dish at one of the countless beachfront eateries around the island, especially at sunset.

For a gourmet splurge, head to Sala Samui Beach Restaurant. The divine setting, signature dishes, and fabulous hospitality make for a special meal.

If you are looking after your wellness, enjoy a bite to eat and spectacular views at Vikasa Life Café. You can even do a yoga class before your organic meal!

Street food in Thailand is as important a part of the Thai culture as temples and smiles. The night markets are the best places to sample tasty skewers, noodle dishes, and sweetened pancakes. Lamai and Fisherman’s Village markets our top picks.


market in Koh Samui, Thailand

Don't miss out on yummy street eats from market vendors. Image: Shutterstock

Best ways to relax and rejuvenate around Koh Samui

Whether you want to get the tension out of your shoulders, turn back the clock a couple of years, or go all-in on a cleanse, Koh Samui has a spa to suit.

One of the island’s prettiest, Tamarind Springs Forest Spa is a lush hideaway nestled amid granite boulders and a dense forest. Everything at Tamarind soothes the soul and melts away any stress, including its rock pools and herbal steam caves.

Eranda Herbal Spa is also in an idyllic location, offering coastal views of the Gulf of Thailand amid its cascading waterfalls, towering pagodas, and stone walkways.

Wellness retreats are immensely popular on Koh Samui, with everything from juice fasts to yoga stays to gung-ho boot camps available. The island’s most famous retreat centre is the 5-star Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary Resort. This east-meets-west haven has packages to remove stress, detox the body and uplift the spirit.

Cultural Koh Samui

Thailand’s rich heritage and culture are evident across Koh Samui. The impressive hilltop Wat Phra Yai Buddhist temple is a standout due to its bedecked Big Buddha gold statue, bronzed bells, and chanting monks.

Wat Khunaram is a more culturally challenging temple due to its mummified monk remains. Luong Pordaeng’s body has been on display since 1973 as per his instructions to remind people of “the transience of human existence”. Note: be prepared to cover your shoulders and knees to visit a Thai temple.

For a more hands-on (and delicious) cultural activity, take a Thai cooking course. Learn techniques to recreate the perfect pad Thai, red curry, or even a sticky mango pudding.

Thai massage courses and Muay Thai boxing lessons are another wonderful way to immerse yourself in Thailand’s fascinating culture.


temple in Koh Samui, Thailand

Thai temples are gorgeous works of art. Image: Shutterstock

Koh Samui festivals you won’t want to miss

If you’re fortunate enough to be on the island during one of the enchanting annual festivals, you’re in for a treat. Chinese New Year festivities in February last for a few days. As does the Thai New Year (Songkran) celebrations, where island-wide water fights ensure next-level fun.

Loy Krathong is another big Thai celebration on during the November full moon. Join the locals in lighting lanterns and candles in boats, plus the extra festivities laid on, including funfairs, market stalls and street eats.


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