So you've arrived for the first time ever and you're wondering, what are the must-do activities on Ko Samui? Well, aside from laying on the beach and having a bit of a swim, there are a few other activities that are well worth doing. Some are well known, others less so, but, in our opinion, these are all worth sticking on your short list.
First and foremost, don't make the mistake of sticking to your one strip of sand and not exploring any further. Ko Samui has well over a dozen beaches and just about all of them are well worth a look. If you have your own transport, this is easy, but otherwise, use Ko Samui's songthaew system to get to the other main beaches. If you're staying on Chaweng or Lamai, take a look at Thong Ta Kien or Chaweng Noi as both are good day trip destinations. Or from Chaweng, head north to Choeng Mon and the bays around the peninsula (you will really need your own transport for this area).
If you'd like to do some shopping, both Fisherman's Village in Bophut and Nathon town are bursting with shops – the better, more stylish shopping is at the former – but Nathon is great for cheap t-shirts and souvenirs. If you're looking for beaches that just go and go and go, Mae Nam in the north or Lipa Noi and Taling Ngam to the west are great choices. The west coast beaches also offer great sunsets too.
On the water rather than by it, do a trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park. There are a variety of trips available, from one day snokelling trips to multi-day kayak adventures and luxurious yachting options, so do your research to see what appeals the most, but whatever you choose, do it.
Another, closer to home option is visiting Ko Taen. If you have the time, we strongly recommend an overnight stay being worthwhile, but if you can't fit it in, a half-day snorkelling trip from Thong Krut to here and neighbouring Ko Matsun is well worth it. This is the best snorkelling you will see around Ko Samui proper.
Away from the beach, a great way to remember your island experience is learning to cook the local cuisine. By far the best cooking school on the island is SITCA (Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts). This is a hands-on cooking class, and ingredients and methods are explained in detail. Other off-beach activities include golf, grabbing a bottle of rhum agricole at the Magic Alambic Rum Distillery or perhaps swinging by a bird singing competition. If you're after a luxurious rubdown, consider a splurge at Tamarind Springs.
While Samui is best known for the photogenic Wat Phra Yai (better known as Big Buddha), Wat Plai Laem is considerably more interesting and also photogenic in its own right. Luckily they are walking distance from one another so there is no reason why you can't see both.
Last but not least, if you have your own wheels, Samui is a great place just to go explore. Head down to the southern area and get happily lost following the small roads between the palm plantations and wooden Thai houses. There is plenty of undeveloped beach down there, but, being Thailand, there is always somewhere to eat and get a cold drink – what more do you need?
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 26th September, 2016.