Photo: Bake with boulders on Taling Ngam.

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.

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While Thong Krut in Samui's southwest corner doesn't offer much in the way of development, around the bay to the north, and onto Samui's western coast, one reaches Taling Ngam, a less developed bay with views across to five limestone islands.

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These islands gave the Five Islands Restaurant its name and, as one of Samui's most famous dining venues, this Asian fusion restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and sunset cocktails. The restaurant also offers longboat tours to the five islands, a perfect way to drag out a lunch outing and view Samui from another angle.

Taling Ngam is a secluded part of the island, but Nathon is only a 20-minute drive away to the north for shopping, and Lamai or Chaweng only about 30 minutes' away for nightlife. Spectacular sunsets can be observed from the beach or resort cocktail lounges, as the sun sets with the Marine Park islands in the distant background. Most resorts allow day visitors to their pools and restaurants, so even if you don't fancy staying at this quiet location, a day trip is worth the while for the views and tranquility.

Inland from Taling Ngam, a turnoff from the Ring Road leads one up a steep, twisting road to viewpoints, as well as Paradise Park Farm. This attraction is a combination of a petting zoo, restaurant, swimming pool and lookout over the five islands and to the Marine Park. Paradise Park is a great place to take children, as there is an assortment of well-looked after animals in a forest environment, included painted doves, deer, ponies, monkeys, hedgehogs, and an assortment of tropical birds to name a few.

Also up this road is Heaven's garden, also known as the Secret Statue garden. A fourth-generation Samui local, Nim Thong Suk, began creating the garden with its sculptures at the age of 77, and was still working on it when he died at 91 years old. Both these attractions are a great way of seeing Samui's forests and interior, with planned walkways through the shaded foliage. Remember to wear insect repellent!

To the north of Taling Ngam lies Nathon, the island's administrative and business centre -- one that does not offer much in the way of recreation.

This said, it is still a great place to visit for a day, due to its abundance of shops offering goods at far cheaper prices than the tourist towns of Chaweng and Lamai. Wooden Chinese shophouses line the main road, and sell clothing, wood carvings, silk items, arts and crafts and just about anything else.

The main ferry dock is also located in Nathon, transporting passengers to the mainland town of Donsak, as well as to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. Watching cars being loaded onto the ferries and other harbour activities makes for an interesting hour or two, and a few good local restaurants overlook the harbour.

Nathon's walking street market is held at the main ferry pier every Saturday night, is popular with locals and offers the cheapest street food available. There are a few smaller hotels and guesthouses for those that need to be close to the ferry for early morning departures, but otherwise, there are better places to stay than Nathon.

Just south of Nathon is Lipa Noi, home to the second car ferry port that transports vehicles and passengers to the mainland port town of Donsak. The beach is lined with a few resorts, including Nikki Beach, well known among the happening crowd for its parties and Sunday lunch buffets.

Upmarket villas are positioned between resorts, taking advantage of the west coast's quieter beaches, and, in the case of Lipa Noi, good swimming. Apart from the beach, there is little else to do in the area, and one will have to drive to the far side of the island for some activity and nightlife.

Exploring off the main road on the west coast gives a taste of the old Samui, home to locals who are not as frequently in touch with tourists. Chaweng is about a 40-minute drive away.

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