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See our detailed travel pages with in-depth info and good photos of all Koh Samui.
Koh Samui; too many beaches to count, about 270 true beachfront hotels & resorts
Four different coastlines, many diverse areas – we count seven
The map of Koh Samui shows bays and peninsulas facing all directions – however, I identify seven different sectors of the island each with it’s own distinct atmosphere and ambience - and how they differ! enough to be considered separate beach zones (see the link above). The northeast corner around famous Chaweng Beach is the party and nightlife zone. It’s crowded, busy, colourful, sexy and bawdy in places, and for many, great fun. The opposite, southwest corner of the island at Taling Ngam, is just that, entirely opposite; undeveloped coconut plantations with only a few isolated hotels, no modern facilities and scattered fishing and farming communities.
Too many beaches to count, and they are so different
While Chaweng is too busy and noisy for many, Taling Ngan is way too quiet and tranquil for others – call it boring. But between these two extremes Samui offers just about everything, spread over so many beaches it’s difficult to count. The drive from the lonely southwest corner to Chaweng passes through a rainbow in shades of grey; beaches with only one resort, others with just two or three; beaches growing denser till we reach the side-by-side resorts of the northeast. How active or quiet do you want your beach? Whatever your taste, the choice is there. Check the beaches carefully before hunting for a hotel.
a rugged island with high central mountain and fringing beaches
Samui’s high central mountain dominates almost all views of this island, providing a beautiful green backdrop pixelated by the shades of coconut palms and tropical forest. It also provides the island with a very different, highland world a few degrees cooler, where lush plantations of tropical fruits thrive. The durian from this plateau are prized by locals. All ascents to this mountain are steep, with many of the roads requiring four-wheel drive vehicles. Some companies run safari tours over the plateau, but it’s surprising how few visitors to Samui ever venture here.
The beach views from up high are quite stunning. They also show how little flat land this island has, the mountain occupying the biggest portion of it.
The most famous beaches Chaweng, Lamai, Maenam & Bophut
Samui’s most famous beaches are those that attracted the first waves of hippie-style travellers in the 1970s and 80s; Chaweng and Lamai. It was the outstanding tropical beauty of sand, water and fringing coconut palms that drew young dreamers from around the world – and of course the fact that they could do or smoke just about anything they liked on these uninhabited stretches of sand.
Despite that Chaweng and Lamai are now well built-up with extensive commercial suburbs behind, the beaches themselves remain in good condition. Thank Mother Nature, who provides an annual rejuvenation as monsoon waves hit the beaches each November, cleansing and reforming all in their path.
With Chaweng and Lamai filled with resorts, new openings moved to beaches all along the north and east coasts. Maenam, Bophut and Choeng Mon, all northern beaches, are now second in room density. The beaches might not rank as beautiful, but the lower density of hotels and guests makes them preferable for many visitors.
Samui becoming the boutique resort capital of Thailand
Samui is fast emerging as Thailand's major boutique centre, with scores of small and medium size hotels built beautifully into their beach environments with creativity and fine design. It seems there is real competition among Thailand’s creative young architects and designers, all trying to leave the most outstanding mark in the highly visible field of stylish beach resorts. Samui surely boasts more stylish beachfront creations that any other Thai beach destination.
There’s no centre for this trend, with attractive boutique resorts found on many Samui beaches, including in some remote, quiet corners of the island, – like Elements Boutique Resort in far-off Phang Ka. Look through our maps and photos carefully to discover these designer jewels, or take the shortcut this page provides: Koh Samui’s Top 10 Beautiful Boutique Resorts.
Island of health and wellness – a crown that is slipping away
In the 1990s Samui’s reputation for health & wellness centres made it the foremost destination in Thailand for a variety of esoteric arts related to body and soul. The reputation lingers, and the arrival of a number of upmarket spa resorts has helped it capture more of the mature market; older folk seeking to de-stress over-worked minds or trim over-weight bodies. In addition, virtually every good resort here has a spa, health club and some health treatments like Thai massage, therapeutic massage and beauty treatments.
However, the movement of younger, more spiritual people and practices has ebbed away as Samui has become a more developed and conventional tourist destination, slipping across the straight to neighbouring Koh Phang island.
Samui offers nightlife, shopping and lifestyle in the north and east
Chaweng is the vibrant restaurant, shopping and nightlife centre of Samui. Here the streets pulse with life and colour as tourists mix it up with street and market vendors. Shopping opportunities range from big, modern Central Festival, popular for brand name clothing, shoes and other products it carries, to cheap local street bazaars crammed with bargains. The main entertainment street runs parallel to the beach, set back about 100 or 200 metres, but it’s narrow and sometimes a hassle to negotiate with peak season crowds and traffic. In recent years this street has moved upmarket, with respectable restaurants and open-air bars for families and couples. All sexy bars targeting single males with pretty girl hostesses are now far out back beyond the lake.
Lamai has a similar, but much smaller nightlife centre set behind the south end of the beach. There are a few bars with hostesses, but these are as likely to be patronized by couples as single men.
The other nightlife scene is in Fisherman’s Village at Bophut. This is all happy-family entertainment, with lots of restaurants and (respectable) bars along the waterfront, with market stalls and shops behind. This can be a fun scene on Fridays and some holidays when it’s turned into a walking market street.
Beachfront hotels in Samui range from backpacker to 5-star luxurious
The great majority of this island’s accommodations, however, are somewhere in the middle, 3- and 4-star range. And as mentioned, there are some particularly beautiful resorts here. The traditional Thai beach resort is based on the 1980s bungalows-in-a-coconut garden establishments that flourished when beachfront land was cheap and tourism in its infancy. Many are still found in that comfortable, green configuration, though in all but a few cases the old wooden bungalows have been replaced by modern concrete ones, or by two-storey buildings, still hiding among coconut palms and lush tropical gardens.
Progress is pushing new resorts to cram more rooms into smaller spaces, not surprisingly, so there is now a wide range of styles – many beautiful and stylish, but not all. If you prefer a garden bungalow to a hotel block, check the photos of the resorts carefully.
At the top end we find a handful of super-luxurious resorts, some form major international chains like Conrad, Four Seasons, Banyan Tree and W Resorts. For such luxury, check out Koh Samui’s Top 5 Super Luxurious Beach Resorts. Or if you like your luxury packaged smaller, try Koh Samui’s Top 10 Small Luxurious Beach Resorts.