Ko Samui is a big island, with more than 1,000 places to stay spread around the island's coast and interior. We commence at the capital and main west coast port town of Nathon, then travel around in a clockwise direction, covering first primarily residential Bang Po, then Mae Nam and Bophut, which run across Samui's north coast and are popular with families. Next comes slightly more affordable Bang Rak, then onto a spur on the island's northeast corner, Thongson Bay and Choeng Mon. After this we head south, along Samui's most popular beaches of Chaweng, Chaweng Noi, Thong Ta Kien and Lamai. These attract the bulk of the island's visitors, especially those looking for the party. For those wanting a quieter experience, the west coast beaches of Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi beckon. From the latter it's possible to walk to Nathon, bringing us back to where we started. One additional entry is the glistening island of Ko Taen, just off the south coast of Samui and attractive to wannabe time travellers.
We have 68 places to stay in and around Ko Samui.
Covering much of the western half of Samui’s north coast, Haad Bang Po and its neighbour, Baan Tai, are favourites of long-termers, expats and retirees who often rent or buy the many condos and villas found in the area. Short-term travellers who like the quiet life can also choose from a handful of quality rooms sold by the night. This stretch hosts a bunch of good seafood restaurants and laid-back beach bars.
The vast Mae Nam Beach stretches as a pleasant middle ground between the other north-coast beaches: busy Bophut and Bang Rak to the east and quieter Bang Po to the west. Buildings are tightly packed behind the centre of the beach in the heart of Mae Nam village, but the western and eastern stretches remain sleepy with a rural feel in places. With a sprinkling of good-value accommodation, it’s one of our favourites of Samui’s major beaches.
Anchored by the artistic Fisherman’s Village, Bophut is a long khaki-sand beach stretching just east of Mae Nam and west of Bang Rak. The nightlife is laid-back compared to Chaweng but you still get a clutch of lively bars and cafes in the village, which is worth a visit even if you don’t stay there. Accommodation comes in small village hotels and hostels along with several beach resorts, and the quality is quite good overall.
Mostly north-facing Bang Rak Beach, also commonly known as Big Buddha Beach, is the closest to Ko Samui’s international airport and has a number of piers at its centre and out to the east. At the eastern extreme sits Wat Phra Yai, or the Big Buddha temple, and after that, low-key Plai Laem. Over the rise to the west lies Bophut. Lodgings are mostly flashpacker to midrange with the highest concentration of places set near the piers. Accommodation towards the eastern part of the beach will catch aircraft noise.
Thongson Bay sits towards the northern top of the peninsula between Bang Rak and Plai Laem and Chaweng, and is one of the few bays in the area that has relatively easy public access. Just two places to stay face directly onto the sand here, though there are plenty of private residences and rentals on the western headland. If you’re after a slightly busier spot, consider Bang Rak or Choeng Mon.
By Samui’s standards, Choeng Mon is a small beach, mostly north facing on the eastern flank of the peninsula that juts north, separating Bang Rak from Chaweng. This is just one of a number of bays and beaches that dot the peninsula, but many of the others are given over to fancypants resorts, which block access to what should be public beaches. The accommodation here is mostly midrange to top end, with many of the most affordable rooms clustered to the eastern end of the beach in a series of three properties owned by different members of the one extended family.
Chaweng is a brash and tightly packed nightlife centre built along a blinding white sand beach that’s the busiest on Samui. Trashy nightclubs, fast food joints, tailor shops and quite a few seedy bars line the heavily developed main drag, which goes for more than four kilometres and is not our idea of paradise -- look to the south and north ends for more relaxing vibes. Expect to hear jets rumble overhead a few times per day, as along with Bang Rak to the north, the north central stretch of Chaweng is right under the flight path.
Stretching to the south of Chaweng proper, Chaweng Noi is a gorgeous strip of soft white sand that’s dominated by huge and expensive resorts including Fair House, New Star, Impiana and Sheraton Samui. While none of these are likely to be a major disappointment if you’re into the large, enclosed resort experience, we prefer some of the smaller options found off the beach.
Long viewed as Chaweng’s little sister, Lamai offers a beautiful beach backing onto a very mixed bag of accommodation. The centre of Lamai village is quite sleazy with plenty of sketchy bars, but you won’t notice that while basking on the sands. Much of the accommodation towards the southern reaches of the beach is, with a couple of exceptions, particularly poor.
Commencing just to the south of the bay that holds the Raja Ferry pier, Taling Ngam goes on and on and on, stretching down the southwest coast of Ko Samui. Dominated by the Intercontinental, there are some more reasonably priced places to stay and the sunsets, out over Samui’s Five Islands, are just magnificent. As with Lipa Noi just to the north, this is a very sleepy, laidback part of Samui and the beach is lovely.
Save a retaining wall at high tide, you can walk all the way from north of Nathon to the small naval base at the southern tip of Lipa Noi – a lovely beach, with good swimming and a relaxed laidback vibe that harks back to Samui a couple of decades ago. It also has some solid midrange spots to stay.