Ko Samui is for the most part a very safe place for travellers. There are certain things to keep in mind, especially for those who are not seasoned travellers, to ensure your best chances of staying safe and healthy during a trip to the island.
In an emergency on Ko Samui, these are the numbers you should have on hand.
Emergency call: T: 191 (no area code, from landline or mobile)
Tourist police emergency hotline: T: 1155 (no area code, from landline or mobile)
Bandon International Private Hospital T: (077) 245 236.
Bangkok Hospital Samui 24 hours emergency service: T: (077) 429 500
Samui International Hospital:T: (077) 230 781
Thai International Hospital T: (077) 245 721-6
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 in rainy season, try to 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. Beware of getting a ‘Samui tattoo’ – that telltale burn on a calf muscle caused by a hot scooter exhaust.
Bear in mind that riding a scooter in Thailand while not having a recognised license to do so, may void your travel insurance.
When renting any vehicle, be it a car or scooter, be sure to look it over well and make notes of any defects, on the rental agreement, and take a photo of any pre-existing damage. Many an unsuspecting tourist has ended up paying for damages caused by previous customers. Most rental places will insist on taking your passport (not a copy) as collateral – we were unable to find any agency who would settle on a photocopy. While it is standard advice not to do this, in practise you'll find it very difficult to rent a scooter on Samui without handing over a passport.
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. Most beaches on Ko Samui are not patrolled by lifesavers. 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?
Box jellyfish can be a risk factor when swimming on any beach on Ko Samui, especially in wet season. Lamai Beach is lined with emergency "vinegar stations" and there are plenty of warnings signs up and down the beach. With tentacles up to three metres long, the jellyfish swim deeper than other jellyfish and can be difficult to see – swimming at night in particular is not advisable. Their sting is excruciating and an increasing number of people have died as a result of being stung.
When it comes to drugs — don’t be stupid. Thailand has very strict drug laws and foreigners are treated no differently to locals when it comes to breaking the law. As in most tourist areas, drugs are readily available but that doesn't mean they are legal – this includes magic mushrooms. Don’t accept cigarettes or drinks from strangers, and never leave your drink at the bar when dancing at nightclubs, as you stand the risk of having it spiked.
If you are heading to the Full Moon Party on neighbouring Ko Pha Ngan only take the money you intend to spend, and don’t take anything you mind losing. Although it’s on the beach, it’s best to wear flip-flops due to the risk of stepping on broken glass. Pickpocketing on Samui is rare — but drunken revellers are easy targets. Do you really want to take that expensive camera? Consider buying a cheap disposable one just for the night. If you intend to get a speedboat back from Ko Pha Ngan late at night, bear in mind these boats are frequently overloaded, full of extremely wasted people and have had accidents, with fatalities, in the past. We suggest overnighting in Ko Pha Ngan.
They probably won’t be at the Full Moon Party, but back on Samui, don’t be surprised if at some stage you are approached by timeshare representatives. Don’t be fooled. You’ve won a prize? REALLY? Remember that in order for you to claim that prize, you need to attend a presentation first. This presentation is about a current timeshare development, and the staff are experts at convincing holiday-makers that this is exactly what they need to buy. Don’t be sucked in to the hype.
Still on money, be warned that Thai ATMs often deliver their cash to you before ejecting your card, which means that absent-minded tourists often forget to take their card from the machine, leaving them later stranded without access to their cash. It costs 200 baht to withdraw from a foreign card – besides what your own bank charges. So it is best to withdraw more at a time to save on costs. Be sure to leave this extra cash in the safe at your hotel along with any other valuables. It’s also wise to leave your passport and other travel documents in your hotel safe, but keep a copy of your passport on you.
Taking home souvenirs is great, but a sexually transmitted disease should not be one of them. Do we even need to tell you to use protection and practise safe sex? We don't do we. Bear in mind that if you do take your new friend(s) back to your hotel, keep your eye on your valuables.
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. 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.
Dengue fever is a risk on Samui; it’s unpleasant, so avoid mosquito bites as much as you can; see our full recommendations here. Ko Samui is not a malaria risk area.
Take a mobile phone with a local SIM, and 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.
Ko Samui has a selection of international standard private hospitals equipped with modern facilities and equipment, the doctors are often well trained, and may have studied abroad. Staff speak good English and sometimes other languages too; Russian and German translators are on hand at some places. Comparatively speaking, private rooms are affordable to many in the West and some resemble resorts. The private hospitals also have dedicated offices to assist you in processing insurance claims.
While being often less expensive than in some western countries, the costs associated with a hospital stay, especially for a serious, say scooter accident, can get very expensive, very quickly. You have insurance right? In a situation where you are going to be hospitalised, you need to contact your insurer immediately and they'll assist with choice of hospital and so on. It is imperative that you contact your insurer ASAP.
Hospitals on Ko Samui include:
Bandon International Private Hospital near Big C Shopping Centre. T: (077) 245 236. www.bandonhospitalsamui.com
Bangkok Hospital Samui on the ringroad in Chaweng, shortly before Chaweng Noi if travelling clockwise. T: (077) 429 500. http://bangkokhospitalsamui.com/
Samui International Hospital Northern end of Chaweng Beach Road. T: (077) 230 781. http://www.sih.co.th
Thai International Hospital Opposite Tesco Lotus, Chaweng. T: (077) 245 721-6. www.thaiinterhospital.com
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 25th September, 2016.