Ko Samui is for the most part a very safe place for travellers. There are certain things to keep in mind, however, especially for those who are not seasoned travellers, to ensure your best chances of staying safe and healthy during a trip here.
Ko Samui has a high motorbike accident rate — among the highest in Thailand. Scooters are a great way to explore the island, but be smart. Always wear a helmet; you never know when a dog may run out in front of you or you suddenly hit a water-filled pothole. Especially now in rainy season, try stick to the main roads which are tarred and generally pot-hole free. Short cuts, such as the Ghost Road that joins Bang Rak to Chaweng, are treacherous in rainy season. If you intend having a few drinks, leave the scooter at your hotel, and take a taxi or songthaew; your life is worth more than the extra cost. Beware of getting a ‘Samui tattoo’ – that telltale burn on a calf muscle caused by a hot scooter exhaust.
Samui’s waters may look calm, but underlying rip currents do exist, so don’t venture out if you are not a strong swimmer, particularly in the monsoon when waves can be higher. Always ask for a life jacket when renting a kayak or jet ski. Beware of coral and broken glass when snorkelling. Trust your instincts; don’t get on a tour boat if the staff don’t seem to know what they are doing. Are there life jackets? Do they have a license to take passengers? Has the skipper given a briefing before departing?
Be aware that you are in the tropics, which means it’s hot, so stay hydrated. If you stop sweating, you have already dehydrated and a headache is sure to follow. It is generally not a good idea to drink the tap water in Thailand, however it is fine for brushing teeth. Bottled water is cheaply available at all shops, restaurants and resorts. Generally speaking, most restaurants and bars have ice delivered that is made from purified water, so ice in drinks should be fine.
The tropical sun is strong, so use a high SPF sunscreen, especially when you first arrive. Don’t be fooled by cloud cover; it’s just as easy to burn. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the back of the neck and ears when snorkelling. Aloe gel is available at pharmacies and shops, and helps to cool burnt skin. Should you get a wound, be it a cut or a mosquito bite, and it becomes infected, go straight to a pharmacy and get an antibacterial cream.
Thai food is spicier than what most Westerners may be used to, but restaurants in tourist areas cater to the Western palate; ask for ‘mai phet‘ (not spicy) if your stomach is not used to the heat. Wash fruit well before eating. Buy street food from market stands that appear busy, as the food is likely to be fresh and beware of food that looks as though it has been standing awhile. Most street food is generally fine, as it comes straight from the fire or the soup pot. Should you get an upset stomach, go straight to the pharmacy for rehydrating fluids.
Dengue fever is a risk on Samui; it’s unpleasant, so avoid mosquito bites as much as you can; see our full recommendations here.
Holidays and travel are all about exploring, but do so wisely. Take a mobile phone with a local SIM (free at the airport), and let somebody, such as reception at your hotel, know where you are. Keep local emergency numbers on this phone. Take enough water. Several tourists have slipped on wet rocks when exploring waterfalls. Walk with a stick in the jungle and coconut grove areas, and bang the ground in front of you to chase away snakes.
Should you need medical attention, here’s who to call:
Emergency call: 191 (no area code, from landline or mobile)
Tourist police emergency hotline: 1155 (no area code, from landline or mobile)
24 hours emergency service (Bangkok Samui Hospital ): (077) 429 500
Samui International Hospital: (077) 230781/2
Samui Rescue: (077) 421 444
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 17th November, 2012.