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A guide to Koh Samui: Where to stay, what to do, and popular attractions

Travel Guide for Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui is a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand that is among the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. It offers a blend of natural beauty, nightlife, and cultural experiences.

From the powdery sands of Chaweng Beach to the tranquil waters of Lamai, Koh Samui is a destination that promises both relaxation and exploration in equal measure.

In this comprehensive travel guide, I discuss the best of Koh Samui, including must-visit attractions, hidden gems, and local cuisine to help you make the most of your island getaway. And for a deeper look, be sure to check out my post about The Best Things to Do in Koh Samui, Thailand.

Table of Contents

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How Do I Get to Koh Samui?

There are two main ways to get to Koh Samui

  • By Plane: The only airline that flies into Samui Airport (USM) is Bangkok Airways, as it is a private airport owned by this airline. There are daily domestic flights to Koh Samui from Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya as well as international flights from Hong Kong and Singapore.
  • By Ferry: If you are coming from southern Thailand, such as near Phuket or Krabi, then you might want to try the train or bus to Surat Thani. You can then take a ferry over to Koh Samui. This combination is typically cheaper and is an adventure in itself.

When is the Best Time to Visit Koh Samui?

My opinion is that the best time to visit Koh Samui is from December to April when the weather is dry and temperatures are pleasant. This is the peak tourist season due to the ideal beach weather, and it can start getting very hot by May.

The rainy season runs from September to November, so you might want to avoid these months due to heavier rainfall and rougher ocean.

How Do I Get Around Koh Samui?

  • Scooter: You will find that many people, especially those staying on Koh Samui for any extended period of time will rent a scooter. They are not expensive to rent and are the most convenient method of transportation. But while some foreigners who are experienced take their children on the scooter with them, I certainly would not. 
  • Taxi: You can find taxis stationed at various spots around the island, such as outside 7-Elevens or the McDonalds in Lamai. Your hotel or restaurant can also call them for you.
  • Motor Taxis: These are sometimes harder to find and flag down, but you can learn where they hang out and find them. This is a cheaper option to a regular taxi.
  • Songthaews: This is by far my favorite and cheapest method for getting around Koh Samui. They are shared taxi trucks that follow certain routes and stop to pick people up along the way. You will see many locals using them. Tell the driver where you want to go and then make sure to agree on the fare before starting your journey to avoid confusion.

Where Should I Stay on Koh Samui?

The best place to stay depends on what you like. The five main areas of Koh Samui where most people stay are:

  • Chaweng Beach: The busiest area with the most nightlife. Ideal for younger adults.
  • Lamai: Quieter than Chaweng, but still has a decent amount of nightlife options
  • Bophut & Fisherman’s Village: There are many restaurants along the beach here that get very busy, but the beach isn’t very busy
  • Maenam: This is the quietest area and is ideal for a relaxing vacation
  • Choeng Mon: This area near the airport has many upscale resorts and is just a short ride to Chaweng

Stay in Chewang For Nightlife

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Henry Africa's Bar in Chaweng

Chaweng is easily the busiest area on Koh Samui. It has the most nightlife and can be considered the party area. It is packed with a variety of nightclubs, pubs, and beach bars. This makes it especially popular with backpackers and younger groups.

Staying in Chaweng Beach means you will be right in the center of the action. But generally speaking, most of the hotels along the beach will be fairly quiet at night, as they are places to hang out at during the day and then head to town in the evening. The exception to this is ARKbar which is a hotel and nightclub and so it has music playing late into the night. So be warned if you are thinking of staying here.

Attractions in Chaweng

Central Samui Mall: This is an outdoor mall with shopping, a grocery store, banks, and restaurants. I found it especially useful for taking out cash from a Bank ATM rather than freestanding ATMs around town.

Chaweng Night Market: This night market opens at 6pm each night and has stalls serving a variety of Thai food.

Soi Mango: This is one of the main streets for nightlife and is named for the popular club at the end (The Green Mango). Henry Africa’s is also a popular bar on this street. You will find many other bars and clubs here.

ARKbar: The most popular beach club, with music playing into the early hours of the morning.

Samui International Muay Thai Stadium: Muay Thai is very popular in Thailand, and you will see many advertisements for fights at this stadium. It is about a 20-minute walk from the beach and sits on Soi Reggae, which is a street lined with beer bars.

Recommended Hotels in Chaweng

Digital Nomads




Luxury Boutique

The Library

Stay in Lamai for Fitness & Moderate Nightlife

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Red Elephant Beach Club is on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui
Red Elephant Beach Club in Lamai

Lamai is a smaller and quieter version of Chaweng. While there are plenty of bars and restaurants, they tend to be more laid back and close at a reasonable time. There is one area filled with beer bars that stay open later, but they generally weren’t very busy when I was there.

You will find that this area is also very popular for fitness.

Attractions in Lamai

Fitness Retreats: Lamai Fitness Retreat and Koh Fit are both located here. They are essentially fitness camps that help you lose weight, build strength, and improve fitness.

Lamai Night Market: This is a popular night market with food stalls and restaurants.

LUUMA: This new sauna/spa has an outdoor pool, hot tub, cold bath, ice bath, two saunas, and a restaurant. WiFi is good, so you can even work remotely if needed.

Lamai Viewpoint: This is a lookout deck with a bar and zipline.

Recommended Hotels in Lamai

Mid Range

Jasmine Resort


Crystal Lamai



Stay in Bophut For Beachside Dining in Fisherman's Village

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Beachside Dining at Restaurants

Bophut is one of Koh Samui’s most attractive areas, blending historical charm with modern amenities. It’s especially known for its famous Fisherman’s Village, which provides a glimpse into the island’s past through well-preserved architecture and a quaint, laid-back atmosphere. Restaurants with beachside dining line the walking street.

Attractions in Bophut

Fisherman’s Village: This is the main area of Bophut, with a nice beach and walking street with many restaurants.

Big Buddha: This statue lies about 2 miles to the east of Fisherman’s village. You can get here easily by taxi or songthaew.

Coco Tam’s: This is one of the most popular bars in the area, due to the nightly fire show held on the beach. There are multiple performances but get there early as seating fills up.

Red Moon: This restaurant that blends Thai, Vietnamese, and French cuisines is one of my favorites in Koh Samui.

Recommended Hotels in Bophut


Holiday Inn


Zazen Boutique

Adults Only


Stay in Maenam for Quiet & Privacy

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Maenam is located in the northeast section of Koh Samui and is known for its quiet and more relaxed atmosphere compared to the bustling areas like Chaweng and Lamai.

It is ideal for travelers seeking a peaceful retreat from the usual tourist crowds. The area contains both Maenam Beach with many restaurants and resorts as well as the quieter Bang Po to the east. 

The area has accommodations that range from the ultra-luxurious Four Seasons hotel to budget options near the beach.

Attractions in Maenam

Maenam Beach: Renowned for its 7 km stretch of golden sand, Maenam Beach is perfect for those looking to relax in a quieter setting compared to the island’s busier beaches. Its calm waters make it ideal for swimming and family outings.

Santiburi Samui Country Club: For golf enthusiasts, the Santiburi Samui Country Club offers a challenging 18-hole championship golf course set in a beautiful location with spectacular views of the mountains and the ocean.

Recommended Hotels in Maenam





Ultra Luxury

Four Seasons

Stay in Choeng Mon for Luxury and Family-Friendly Resorts

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Staying in Choeng Mon is ideal for those who prefer a quieter, more upscale vacation experience while still being close enough to more lively areas and attractions. It is located on the northeastern tip, close to the airport. The beautiful beach, excellent high-end accommodations, and relaxed pace make it a top choice for many visitors to Koh Samui.

Although the main attraction in this area is the beach, it is just a short 10-minute or so ride to Chaweng Beach for much livelier nightlife. And it is also very close to Big Buddha and Wat Plai Laem.

Recommended Hotels in Choeng Mon


Kimpton Kitalay

Luxury & Family




Is Koh Samui Family-Friendly?

Yes, Koh Samui is family-friendly, with many resorts catering to families with children. There are safe beaches for swimming, children’s activities, playgrounds, and family-oriented tours and attractions. If you are there for an extended period of time and would like help with childcare for young kids, I recommend you reach out to Cloudville Child Care and discuss their options.

Children Play Area in Central Samui Mall

What are the Top Things to do in Koh Samui?

You won’t run out of things to do on Koh Samui, whether it be hiking, exploring the cultural sites, or enjoying the nightlife.

Visiting the Big Buddha is one of the most popular tourist activities in Koh Samui
Big Buddha

Visit Big Buddha

One of the most iconic landmarks and popular tourist attractions in Koh Samui is the Big Buddha. It features a massive 12-meter-high golden Buddha statue.

Na Muang Waterfalls are one of the most scenic hikes you can do in Koh Samui.
Na Muang Waterfalls

Hike the Na Muang Waterfalls

The Na Muang Waterfalls are one of Koh Samui’s most famous natural attractions. They are located in the central part of Koh Samui, about 12 kilometers south of Nathon town. The first waterfall, known as Na Muang 1, is about a 100-meter walk from the parking area. The Na Muang 2 waterfall is about a 30-minute hike up the mountain.

Attending a Muay Thai fight is one of the best things to do in Koh Samui.
Muay Thai fight at the stadium in Chaweng

Watch a Muay Thai fight

Muay Thai, often referred to as Thai boxing, is a traditional martial art and combat sport originating from Thailand. You can take classes at local gyms. But the best way to experience it might be to watch a fight at one of the stadiums around the island.

Click here for my full list of the Best Things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand.

What Are Some Day Trips From Koh Samui?

Of course! These are two of the most popular day trips from Koh Samui.

Visiting Ang Thong is one of the most popular day trips from Koh Samui.
Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park is a stunning archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It is a popular day-trip destination from Koh Samui. The most common way to visit is as part of a group tour. You can sign up through your hotel, a local tour agency, or book online through Viator. There are even a handful of bungalows and tents if you want to stay overnight!

Na Muang Waterfalls are one of the most scenic hikes you can do in Koh Samui.
Na Muang Waterfalls

Koh Phangan

Visiting Koh Phangan is a popular excursion for travelers seeking to explore the vibrant culture and natural beauty of Thailand’s island landscapes. Koh Phangan is best known for its Full Moon Parties held on Haad Rin Beach, but also offers serene beaches, lush jungles.

Food & Dining in Koh Samui

Papaya salad is a popular dish in Thailand
Papaya Salad

Pad Thai is the most famous dish from Thailand and you can find it on most menus and at the night markets. But it isn’t that popular among locals. Make sure to try these authentic Thai dishes as well. 

  • Som Tam (Papaya Salad): A spicy salad made from shredded papaya, tomatoes, carrots, and peanuts in a sweet and spicy sauce.
  • Pad Kra Pao (Basil Stir-Fry): A street food favorite, this dish consists of meat such as chicken, pork, or beef stir-fried with Thai basil and plenty of chilies. It is usually served over rice and topped with a fried egg.
  • Tom Yum: This is a classic Thai soup known for its distinct hot and sour flavors, with a fragrant spice profile that includes herbs such as lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. There are several variations of Tom Yum soup and can include shrimp, chicken, or a mix of seafood.
  • Larb: While this traditional meat salad is most common in Laos and northeastern region of Thailand, it can be found on most Thai menus here. Larb is made with minced meat, commonly chicken, pork, beef, or duck, that is cooked and seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice, roasted ground rice, and fresh herbs like mint and cilantro. 
  • Mango Sticky Rice: This famous Thai dessert is especially popular in the warmer months. It’s made from sticky rice cooked in sweetened coconut milk, served with ripe mango slices.

These are some of my recommended places to visit for food and drink on Koh Samui.

  • Coffee Shop: A Slow Bar was easily my favorite coffee shop in Chaweng. It is a short walk from the Central Samui Mall, though it lies halfway up a hill. 
  • Night Markets: While the Nathon Night Food Market has the most local feel to it, you can find great local food at the night markets in both Chaweng and Lamai too.
  • Local Thai Restaurants: The names can change often, so rather than specifying specific places, I recommend seeking out restaurants on the outskirts of the downtown areas
  • Upscale Thai: Some of my favorite meals were at Day & Night of Koh Samui. They have a few other locations in Thailand as well. They serve small plates and some of the best cocktails on the island.
  • Cocktail Bars: Some of the best cocktails I had were at Day & Night of Koh Samui, Chom Chada Cocktail Bar & Bistro, and Suvarn Bar. The drinks here aren’t cheap.
  • Fine Dining: Tree Tops at the Anantara Lawana Resort is perhaps the best fine dining restaurant on the island. They serve a pre-set tasting menu.
  • Most Scenic View: Other than places right on the beach, you can find some of the best views on Koh Samui from above at the Jungle Club and The Roof.
Day & Night in Chaweng is an upscale restaurant that has some of the best cocktails in Koh Samui.
Day & Night