Discover Koh Samui
The second-largest island in Thailand, and well-known as a cherished natural beauty, as well as a kayaking and snorkelling paradise, Samui is home to both flashy resorts and backpacker shanties. These jarring contrasts create the background for a uniquely Thai travel experience that still retains much of its national cultural flavour.
Inhabited since around 15 centuries ago. Ko Samui was largely off the map until the l800s, when it began to be settled by Chinese and Malay sea traders attracted to the resource-rich and of course attractive island. The first foreign tourists were ‘hippies’ in the 1960s, stopping by on the way to enlightenment in Kathmandu. By the 1970s, the hippies had spread the word and the island has been gaining popularity as an authentic tropical island getaway.
Due to its roots as a primarily Chinese and Malay community, the main religion on Ko Samui is Buddhism, although there still exists a small Muslim population on the island. The coexistence of these two religions have led to local gods being worshipped in an exotic blend of these two traditions.
Ko Samui still retains a strong cultural tradition, evident in its festivals. One of the best known is the Buffalo Fighting Festival held on special occasions such as Songkran (Thai New Year’s Day). Keep an eye out for buffalo intricately decorated with ribbons and gold-painted leaves, and watch as monks sprinkle them with holy water to bless them before the fight begins.
- PDA frowned-upon
- No touching (especially in head).
- Showing soles of feet or pointing with feet considered indecent and rude.
- No public raging or loss of face.
- Respect elderly and monks (who are not allowed to touch women).
Samui is located about 700km south of Bangkok, on the Gulf of Thailand. The island experiences a tropical monsoon climate with year-round high temperatures and two distinct seasons—from April through September, Samui is pretty dry, while from October to December it’s the wet season.
This beautiful island includes not only the typical white-sanded shoreline—expect to see the coastal lowlands rise up to a mass of natural stone, virgin rainforest sprouting at its feet.
For those who love greenery and animal life, it is essential to try and explore the jungle, which has remained mostly untouched despite the island’s quick development. More cheesy wildlife lovers will enjoy the many opportunities on Ko Samui to pose with crocodiles, ride elephants and watch a monkey show or two.
Before you go
- Language: Thai, or Siamese, a language of the Tai–Kedai family closely related to Lao.
- Currency: Indochina Time, utc+7
- Voltage: 220
- Electric Socket: Type A/B/C
- Local network sim cards are widely available and work on any unlocked phone in the gsm network.
- Prepaid cards sell for as little as $3 in convenience stores.
- A $15 card will get you a month’s worth of internet data and talk time.
- ATMs are widely available throughout Ko Samui and charge approximately $5 to every withdrawal with a foreign card.
- Usually no more than 20 notes or 20,000 baht can be withdrawn at once.
- Foreign exchange can be converted at banks and moneychangers at competitive rates.
- Be aware that defacing or abusing Thai banknotes and coins may be considered disrespectful towards the royal family, a serious criminal offense throughout Thailand.
- Rambutan – This alien-like fruit is red and covered with green spikes. Its strange appearance belies its delicious taste and popularity as a good Thai breakfast.
- Massaman – An Indian-style Muslim curry, heavily spiced as is Southern Thai style.
- Khanom Jeen – A regional favorite, this is essentially rice noodles in fish curry sauce.
In general, tipping is not customary in Thailand but feel free to show appreciation through small gratuities for great service.
- Taxis: Both Thais and expats commonly round up the fare to the nearest multiple of ten
- Restaurants: it is customary to leave behind any loose change in coins as a tip. In high-end restaurants larger tips of 5%-10% are common.
- Hotels: not expected but it is appreciated. Examples of good tips include 20-50 baht for the porter who carried your bags up to your room, or 20 baht left under your pillow for the cleaner.
- Suggested vaccines: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Health: Never drink the tap water and take care when ordering cold drinks with ice in local restaurants (these may sometimes be made with tap water).
Tourist Police (English speaking operator): 1155
Local Police: 191.
Bangkok Samui Hospital (private): 57 Moo 3, Samui Ring Rd, Chaweng, Bophut, Thailand, Tel: (+66) 77 429500
Samui International Hospital (private): 90/2 Moo 2, Chaweng Beach Rd, Bophut, Thailand, Tel: (+66) 77 422272, (+66) 77 230781-2
If you’re looking for more affordable options and are just a tiny bit sick, just go to any of the small clinics dotting the island, especially at Chaweng Beach.
- Hello (in general): Sa-wat-dee
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Koh-tohht
- Thank you: Kob-khun
- You’re welcome: Mi-penrai
- Good morning/evening: Sa-wat-dee-krahp
- Goodbye: Baai-baai
- How much is this?: Rak-ha-tao-rai
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Chai-yoh
- Bon appetit: Kin-hi-aroy
- Where’s the toilet?: Hong-nahm-nyu-nai
- Help!: Choo-wai-doo-wai
- I understand: Kao-jai-lao
- I don’t understand: Mi-kao-jai
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Ko Samui Airport serves the island, and planes fly in almost hourly from Bangkok—be warned that tickets on these flights are considered expensive by Thai standards, costing about 3,000-4500 baht IF you book well in advance. There are also daily flights to and from Phuket and Chiang Mai. From the airport, one can get to Chaweng, the main area, through a taxi (which costs around 400 baht) or a mini-bus (which costs 120 baht per person, and takes only 20 minutes).
Two boat routes end up in Ko Samui: the first is from Chumphon and goes through Ko Tao and Ko Phangan, while the second is from Surat Thani. These are essentially bus routes combined with boat services – if you take the former route from its first stop in Bangkok, you can expect to pay 1250 baht for a one way trip that lasts around 11 hours. In contrast, the latter route from Surat Thani (either the train station or airport) will take you to Ko Samui for around 200-300 baht.
Taxis in Ko Samui almost always refuse to use the meter, so haggle wisely and keep an eye on your route whenever getting in one. Be advised that sometimes drivers may show you official-seeming pieces of paper with ‘fixed prices’ listed: these are not true, thus you should always try to bargain hard once you’ve demonstrated that you know you’re being scammed.
The converted pickup trucks known as songthaews here serve as group taxis. If you want to know if a driver is going the way you’d like, just ask before getting on board – don’t negotiate a fare unless you’d like to hire the vehicle as a taxi. Expect to pay around 50-70 baht for your journey, be aware that drivers may ask foreigners to pay a slightly inflated fee of 100 baht when travelling between 2 cities – this isn’t a huge deal, but remember this when making bargains.
Renting a motorcycle is popular with tourists, and very widely available in Ko Samui, You can expect to pay around 120-700 baht per day depending on the type of bike you’d like to rent, and depending on the season. For reference, you shouldn’t have to pay more than 200 baht for a 125 cc scooter, even during high season. You will often be asked to leave your passport as collateral, this is quite normal, but if the shopkeeper attempts to keep it, call the tourist police.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.