Ko Samui is so big, we’ve split it up into areas, select one of the below for detailed accommodation and food listings in that area. Sights and general overviews for Ko Samui as a whole can be found via the icons above. Don’t know where to start? Read an overview of Ko Samui’s different areas.
Chaweng is Ko Samui's most popular and famous beach, stretching for some five kilometres along Ko Samui's east coast. Chaweng Noi ("Little Chaweng") is a smaller beach, just to the south of the main deal, and is the last strip of sand before the winding road south via Coral Cove and Thong Ta Kien to Lamai Beach. Around the headland to the north you'll find Choeng Mon.
The beach remains one of the most beautiful on Ko Samui. Walking along the squeaky white-dust sand to the clear waters is indeed an unforgettable experience. It's just a shame that today you have such a short window of opportunity to enjoy it -- between sunrise and 7am, at the most. After that the deckchairs, vendors, masseurs, jet-skis and other noisy stuff begin their parade and within a few hours, it's a mess. Of course, if you like all that hustle and bustle, you'll love Chaweng.
Once the sun is up and breakfast is dealt with, vendors patrol the beach selling everything from beach bats to doughnuts, wood carvings to bikinis and henna tattoos. The vendors tend to not be too pushy, and a friendly "No thanks!" should be sufficient for them to leave you alone -- just bear in mind you may need to let every one of the vendors know that!
That said, they're not all bad and some of the best and most affordable beach-side snacks can be had from "beach kitchens" – one-person kitchens carried on a pole braced over the shoulder, with food prepared for you while you wait right on the beach. Try grilled corn on the cob, skewered chicken, spicy seafood papaya salad or fresh fruit.
If that's a bit too wild and crazy for you, the beach is also lined with plenty of restaurants and resorts, ranging from simple bungalows to five-star luxury, which lay out sun-loungers for patrons ordering from their bars.
When it is time to work off your third breakfast, Chaweng's quick drop off in parts make it ideal for swimming and water sports most of the year, with the northern shores, protected by an outer reef, being shallower and more child-friendly. All manner of water sports are available from kayaks and parasailing through to windsurfing and a private sailing charter. Jet skis whiz up and down, often causing a disturbance to swimmers and those relaxing on the beach.
Should you over exert yourself, massage salas can be found every hundred metres or so, offering massages or pedicures from as little as 200 baht. Weak swimmers should note that waves and currents can pick up in November and December, causing the moored sailing vessels to move around to their Bang Rak moorings this time of the year.
When the sun sinks, Chaweng beach transforms, as the sun-loungers are pushed together to form dining platforms, tables are set up at the water's edge, fresh seafood is set out on display, and fairy lights and lanterns set the stage for a photogenic and enjoyable evening. Areas in front of the five-star resorts work to create romantic dining experiences, while the beach in front of bars such as Ark Bar become a party hub, with various DJs vying for the crowds. The beach is long enough to get away from the noise if you prefer a more laidback scene.
Both on and off the beach development at Chaweng continues on its merry way, with five-star hotels shooting up alongside western junk food outlets and an array of international eateries. Then there are the clubs, bars, girlie bars, massage parlours, CD and DVD shops, tailors, and the rest, all designed to peel those hundred baht notes out of your wallet. The most obvious sign of Chaweng's unbridled development is that its main road still horribly floods after even the briefest of rain-storms.
Trivial matters like urban planning aside, Chaweng has a long commercial shopping stretch, from market stands offering cheap brand knock-offs to designer boutiques, and countless tailors offering bespoke fashions. Restaurants and bars line the street and alleys, ranging from street food through to fine-dining. A wide selection of Thai and international food is on offer, including a few chain fast food outlets, such as McDonalds and Starbucks.
Strolling down the street in the evening is a good way to people watch, as lady boys entice customers to their cabaret shows, music blares out of bars and clubs and cheers and boos emit from the sports bars. Soi Green Mango is where it's all happening if music and dancing is your thing, and bars are packed with revellers partaking in the obligatory Sang Som buckets or cheap Chang beer. Areas of Chaweng can get a little seedy with hostess bars, drunken tourists and questionable massage parlours. This aside, Chaweng is still good for entertainment, as these areas are easily avoided if not your scene.
Those looking to be where it's happening, can do well to stay in Chaweng, but be warned: party noise can keep you up at night, and the stench of over-used drains and waterworks can be overpowering at times. It may be better to stay towards the northern end of Chaweng or Chaweng Noi to the south for easy access to Chaweng without these negative aspects. Due to its popularity, Chaweng no longer offers the cheapest accommodation, and with public transport readily available, budget travellers may prefer to stay in Lamai, Bophut or Mae Nam and commute to Chaweng for the odd night out.
Chaweng Noi and Chaweng Hills separate Chaweng and Lamai by way of steep hills and dramatic cliffs and rock formations. A drive on the Ring Road between Chaweng and Lamai offers some of the most breathtaking views of the bay. Several excellent restaurants have taken advantage of these views and resorts have been built precariously on huge boulders overlooking the bay.
By Romi Grossberg.