Things to do in Koh Samui – My Highlights in Koh Samui
In January, I went to Koh Samui, where I spent a week with a friend who is also a digital nomad. The island is located in the Gulf of Thailand and is very popular with tourists. The things to do in Koh Samui make sure that you won’t get bored…
Koh Samui – Paradise for Travelers of Any Age
Koh Samui is an island off the east coast of Thailand, on the Kra Isthmus. The island belongs to the province of Surat Thani, although Koh Samui has had a municipal status since 2012 and is therefore self-governing. It is the second largest island in the country after Phuket.
The origin of the name Samui is unknown. The theory that I personally like best is that it comes from early Hainan traders. It is said to be similar to the Hainan word for “first island” or “door”. Since Samui was the first island of Thailand the traders passed by, this word became its name. Koh (or Ko) is the Thai word for “island”.
Until the end of the 20th century, Koh Samui was rather an isolated community. Until the early 1970s, there were hardly any paved roads, and the 15 km from one side of the island to the other had to be covered by foot – through the mountainous jungle.
Today, Koh Samui is heavily dependent on tourism. But also the export of coconuts and rubber are primary sources of income.
Koh Samui is popular with travelers of all ages. The infrastructure is very good, there are four hospitals on the island and the inhabitants are prepared for the tourists. This is reflected in the high number of hotels and restaurants. Last but not least, the island is popular because it simply has a lot to offer. Breathtaking waterfalls and beaches around the island are a tourist magnet.
Koh Samui – How to Get There
If you are not already in the country, the journey to Koh Samui usually takes you to Bangkok. From there, there are three possibilities to travel to Koh Samui:
- By plane: Koh Samui is the only island in the Gulf of Thailand with its own airport. However, it belongs to Bangkok Airways. Due to the monopoly position, the flights are correspondingly expensive. If you are willing to pay around 100 euros for a domestic flight, this is an option. Alternatively, you can fly to Surat Thani and continue your journey by bus and ferry.
- By Bus and Ferry: The cheapest option is the bus. For my first trip to Koh Samui in 2015, I decided to take a bus. All in all, I paid around 30 euros back then. This is probably the cheapest, but also by far the least comfortable way.
- By Train and Ferry: I have been a big fan of trains in Thailand since I first took a night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok in 2017. That’s why I decided to take the train in January and didn’t regret it. From Bangkok to Koh Samui you pay 1400 to 1500 Baht (about 40 Euro), but you can sleep in the sleeping compartment and arrive early in the morning in Surat Thani, from where you take the bus to the ferry station and then the ferry to Koh Samui. When booking, make sure you get a lower berth: you will have much more space!
Koh Samui – Things to do
Koh Samui has a lot to offer. Waterfalls, hikes and beautiful beaches await nature lovers. If you want to get in touch with the Thai culture, you can visit temples and stroll through the markets. I recommend a good mix of both to get to know the island better!
There is an incredible number of waterfalls in Koh Samui. The best known are the Namuang Waterfalls. There are two of them, which is why they are commonly referred to as “Waterfall 1” and “Waterfall 2”.
Waterfall 1 is easy to reach by scooter and not even five minutes from the parking lot.
Waterfall 2, on the other hand, is a bit tricky. First, you have to get from the parking lot to the entrance of the waterfall. Either you walk (it’s one kilometer) or you take one of the jeeps. The cars leave every 15 minutes and act as shuttles.
From there, you will have to hike up the hill to get to the top of the waterfall. I’ve seen travelers with flip flops, but I strongly advise you to wear sturdy shoes. Also bring enough water (you will get a small bottle when you pay 200 Baht for park entrance and jeep costs), as the ascent is very exhausting in the Thai heat and you can easily dehydrate.
Once you reach the top you will have a fantastic view:
If you want a little thrill, you should make a day trip to the Tartain Waterfall. The waterfall itself is rather unspectacular and the hike of about 20 minutes is not very exhausting. But the ride with the scooter is quite a challenge. The roads in the interior of the island are not in good condition and some parts are extremely steep.
In my opinion, it is still worth it, because there is not only a river and the waterfall but also a natural pool – a tiny wellness retreat – that gives the feeling of having landed on another planet in the middle of nowhere. The entrance fee is 200 Baht and you get a soft drink of your choice.
On the way back, the road is much less frightening and I actually wondered why I sweated with fear on the way there.
You also pass the Tar Nim Waterfall & Magic Garden on your way to Tartain Waterfall. The entrance fee is 80 Baht and even if the waterfalls are small I liked the short stop.
In the east of the island, there is also the Hin Lad Waterfall or the Wanorn Waterfall. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there.
If you like beaches, you’ll find at least one in Koh Samui that you will love. The main tourist beaches are Lamai and Chaweng in the east. Personally, I preferred the more lonely, narrow sandy beaches in the west. However, the beaches in the west are also dirtier, as the inhabitants only clean up the beaches where tourists go.
Also, the beaches in the north are worth seeing. Maenam and Bophut – where I had my accommodation during my first Koh Samui stay four years ago – are much less touristy than Chaweng and Lamai. Why not combine a walk along the beach with a visit to the night market? There is only one row of houses between the two. You can either walk between the houses or through a restaurant or massage studio – ideal to get pampered for an hour.
Buddhist temples are an important part of Thai culture. No matter where you travel in this country, countless temples will await you. Here in Koh Samui, the Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai Temple, which you can see on its small peninsula on arrival or departure by ferry to Koh Phangan, or Wat Plai Laem are especially popular. This complex, where the statues of the gods sit on platforms in an artificial lake, is located only 2 km from the Big Buddha, so that you can combine a visit to both temples very well with each other.
There are also temples in the south. In Wat Khunaram, for example, you can admire a mummified monk. The Laem Sor Pagoda is not far from there and is situated directly at the sea. Also nearby is Wat Rattanakosin.
In Koh Samui, there are numerous viewpoints offering a wonderful view of the island and the sea. I wanted to have a look at some official viewpoints, but in the end, I never didi. I do not see it the point in paying an entrance fee for a simple viewpoint if I have at least an equally beautiful view completely free of charge from a waterfall or from the street in the hills.
If you want to visit the official viewpoints, take a look at the following:
- Samui Viewpoint
- Lamai Viewpoint
- Jungle Club Viewpoint
- Lat Ko Viewpoint
- Wat Phra Yai Viewpoint
Hin Ta and Hin Yai
These two rocks, the Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s Rock, are called Hin Ta and Hin Yai in Thai and have the shape of a male and female intimate parts.
Legend has it that an elderly couple shipwrecked here and got petrified on the coast to be united forever. Although this is a tourist attraction, Hin Ta and Hin Yai are especially popular with locals. A visit is said to increase fertility and make the wish to have a child come true.
Walking Streets and Markets
Walking Streets and markets are as much a part of Thailand as temples and should not be missed during any stay in the Land of Smiles. In every city, there is a night market. The best thing to do is to ask at your accommodation when it will take place in the area. We stayed near Lamai Beach, where it’s especially big on Sundays. I went to the market at Bophut Beach twice. The biggest one is on Fridays.
What can you on such a market? Starting with Thai delicacies, with which you can fill your stomach for small money until you almost burst, clothing, decorative items, and souvenirs to electrical goods.
Koh Samui – Scoot Around the Island
If you feel safe on two motorized wheels, for me, there’s nothing better than exploring Koh Samui on a scooter. It gives you flexibility and you can easily drive to all the places I mentioned. In most accommodations, you can rent a scooter. For this, you should expect 150 to 250 Baht per day – depending on the model and the rental period. In addition, there is usually a special price for weekly or monthly rentals. I rented my scooter directly from a scooter rental company because there was no weekly price in the hotel.
If you are afraid to get lost: The orientation on Koh Samui is very easy. There is a main road around the island. From there, there are small roads leading either to the sea or inland. When you don’t know where you are, you just drive back to the main road.
You can either refuel at one of the few real petrol stations or stop when you see a cupboard with glass bottles containing a yellowish liquid – petrol – in front of a house.
I especially liked the quiet south of the island, where you can drive a while directly by the sea.
Koh Samui – Spots to See The Sunset or Sunrise
If you’ve been following me for a while (for example, on my Instagram account for Barbaralicious) you know how much I love sunrises and sunsets. For me, there’s nothing more beautiful than watching the sun spread its warming rays across the sea or follow the last seconds until it disappears behind the horizon. Therefore the following places were my personal highlights…
Located on the western tip of the northern coast, Beryl Bar awaits you with an exceptional view of the sunset. Because the coast is a little bent here, the sun does not set over the sea, but over the rocks of Koh Samui. Thus, it is best to be there at least one hour before the indicated sunset time in order to really see something. I didn’t know that and came just in time to photograph the last rays before they disappeared behind the rock, which was half an hour before the actual sunset time.
The food is super delicious and very cheap for Koh Samui and the portions are huge.
At low tide, you should consider coming even earlier. Then you can go through Beryl Bar and walk around the rocks. After about 400 meters you get to a temple in a cave where some monks live. However, I would like to ask you for moderation at this point! A temple is always a place of worship, a sanctuary. Dress accordingly and behave humbly, as is rightly required in every other temple.
Samui Sunset Garden
The Samui Sunset Garden is not quite as much of an insider tip as Beryl Bar. Here you should be there early to grab a seat or even a bean bag. The view is great, but the food… Well, let’s say the bar doesn’t need to score with the quality of the food. Apart from that, it’s tourist-expensive and the service, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired when I was there. Parts of the order were forgotten or misplaced. The best thing to do here is to plan on just enjoying a cocktail at sunset and go to another restaurant for dinner.
Now it gets even more expensive…
After seeing great pictures of the Four Seasons in Koh Samui on Instagram, I thought I’d drop by and see if I could get in. The bar with pool and sea view is open to the public, even if you have to register at the reception and then get there with a buggy (the hotel area seems to be huge!). To be honest, that alone is worth it. To drive up and down the hills with the buggy with a pleasant wind and to see the wooden bungalows on your right and left, the staff on the roadside make way with folded hands and a cheerful “Sawasdee Kha”…
Arrived at the pool, you can relax nicely. Unfortunately, the pool is only available for hotel guests or for a fee, but if you are satisfied with the sight, you can spend a few relaxing hours here. My non-alcoholic juice cost 400 Baht. My friend had a cocktail for 650 baht. So the prices are quite high by Thai standards. But one afternoon you can treat yourself to it, I think.
And now comes my tip for the early risers: Our hotel was right at Lamai Beach and it turned out to be perfect for sunrise photos. For me, getting up early was really worth it and I would do it again anytime.
Koh Samui – Hotel
I stayed with my friend at the Beluga Boutique Hotel*. This is located directly at Grandfather and Grandmother Rock on the east side of Koh Samui. Personally, I especially liked the delicious breakfast with sea view and the friendliness of the staff. I felt like home!
Koh Samui – Where to go Next
If you’ve come from Bangkok, it’s a good idea to explore the south of the country. Possible destinations would be:
- Chumphon: Chumphon is a province next to Surat Thani that is great for snorkeling, admiring nature in the mangrove forest or taking pictures of great photo spots. There is also a ferry between Chumphon and Koh Tao if you want to visit another island in the Gulf of Thailand before returning to the mainland.
- Ranong: Ranong is a province bordering Chumphon. It is great for exploring secluded beaches and relaxing in hot springs and spas. From there you can easily travel on to Myanmar.
- Phuket: Why not also explore the islands on the other side of Thailand in the Andaman Sea? The region around Phuket with Krabi and the islands Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi is a popular region for digital nomads.
Koh Samui – Final Thoughts
I think Koh Samui is very beautiful. For me personally, the island is a bit too big with too long distances, if you want to drive back and forth between the ends to watch for example sunrise or sunset. Maybe a hotel on the north shore of the island would have been strategically better so that one is in the middle and does not need that long to get to the sides. From our hotel, which was located on the east side and therefore ideal for sunrise, it takes a good hour by scooter to the next Sunset Spot. I would have liked it better to spend the time at the places instead of sitting on the scooter for several hours a day to get from A to B.
Nevertheless, I liked the island very much and I can only recommend it if you like waterfalls, temples and incredible sunsets!
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