In the eye of the beholder
Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, and Ko Samui is one of the reasons this is so. Being one of Thailand's most popular tourist destinations though, Samui's beaches are no longer as secluded as those of smaller islands. But never fear: some beautiful stretches of sand can still be found with a little help, some busy, some not so much.
What makes a good beach? Well, everyone has their own idea of what makes a good beach. To some it means soft white sand, clear and calm water, a coconut palm to offer shade and no distractions. To others, plentiful deck chairs, music, a barman on call and a crowd to share this with make a beach something to remember. Still to others with young children, safe swimming, bathroom facilities and family-friendly restaurants might make a great beach. With this in mind, we've taken a walk around the island to help you get an idea of which beach on Ko Samui is best for you.
Covering the long and rambling beaches on the western third of Samui’s north coast, Bang Po and Baan Tai beaches are quiet, quiet, quiet. Pretty patches of white sand are found to the east, around Mimosa Resort and By Beach Resort. Darker sand and mud flats fills in much of the western reaches, where the ring road cuts very close to the beach near a clutch of seafood restaurants that are worth a trip from across the island.
The longest of the north coast beaches, Mae Nam boasts the wide open stretches of sand that are a distant memory down in Chaweng and Lamai. Families, long-stayers and non-partying backpackers will appreciate Mae Nam’s balance of tranquility and convenience, with a location that puts busier Bophut and other beaches within easy striking distance. You’ll also find some good food in Mae Nam village, situated at the centre of the beach.
Also on the north coast, Bophut is a long and narrow beach with coarse golden sand that once collected broken-down fishing boats. It offers excellent swimming, no matter the tide, along with a great food and shopping scene in Fisherman’s Village, which now lacks fishers but was more-or-less tastefully revitalised for tourism. Bophut is popular with families; it also has an excellent selection of accommodation both in the village and on the beach.
While being far from Samui's best beach, bustling Bang Rak beach is popular with expats and Thai families alike, and here one will see children swimming early evening, while grandmothers dig in search of clams for dinner. As with Mae Nam to the west, Bang Rak has some more affordable places to stay. Towards the eastern end, you'll find a clutch of well positioned bars for sunset.
Moving around to the northeast, Choeng Mon beach is popular with expat families, thanks to its clean water and protected bay. Beachside vendors selling simple food are handy when it's time to feed the family, but the bar scene is unobtrusive.
Chaweng Beach lies on the island's east coast, and is Samui's longest and busiest beach. Judging on aesthetics alone, Chaweng is up there with the very best beaches in Thailand. Wide patches of dusty white sand stretch for several kilometres along Samui’s east coast and should one arrive early morning, it's easy to see why this was the first beach area to lure tourists to Samui.
Some feel that overdevelopment, boat traffic, aggressive touts and a seedy scene in places has made Chaweng more of a hassle than it’s worth, but those wanting a social scene make a good choice in Chaweng, as venues such as Ark Bar pump out music and fill every open patch of sand with sun beds. Do not expect peace and quiet: If the vendors don't disturb you, the jetskis will. At night, the party continues as daybeds morph into chill platforms, and DJs hit the deck both on and off the beach. Stay in the centre of town if being close to nightlife is important to you, else look to the southern and northern ends for quieter settings that still have an abundance of shopping and eating options nearby. Room rates are inflated, and little in the backpacker or even flashpacker range is available these days in Chaweng.
An intermission between Chaweng and Lamai, Thong Ta Kien is a cute little bay with a handful of places to stay and some of the best snorkelling on Samui (not, however, that that is saying much). Popular among flashpackers, the appeal of here is the relative quiet and easy commuting distance to Lamai or Chaweng. Coral Cove, slightly closer to Chaweng, is a similar affair.
Compared to Chaweng, Lamai is almost as long, almost as beautiful, a bit better priced and a bit sleazier. The beach is certainly no slouch, especially at the centre, where the squeaky sand runs out to a great swimming beach, though the northern end is patchy and not so tempting. Lamai lacks the clubs and brashness of Chaweng's nightlife and while sections of town are positively festy, the occasional beach bar makes for a comfortable spot to recover from the day's sunburn. Better priced accommodation attracts more backpackers and families seeking midrange priced hotels to Lamai, and off-season deals here can be an absolute steal.
If the thought of a quiet beach shared only with a few fishers and perhaps a water buffalo appeals to you, then explore Samui's south and southwestern coastlines. From Laem Set in the southeast and along Bang Kao and Thong Krut you're more likely to find, well, nothing, than something. The beach goes and goes along this coast, with little development. It isn't great swimming like what you'll get on the east or north coasts, but rather expect to enjoy long, slow beach walks, do some fossicking and devour seafood at a beachside restaurant. The fishing village of Thong Krut delivers the goods for a sunset seafood dinner and is also the launching point to one of Ko Samui's best kept secrets, Ko Taen.
Perched on Samui's southwest corner, Phang Ka Bay isn't the island's most beautiful beach, but it delivers on isolation, as at low tide you can walk out for almost a kilometre and never reach knee depth, all the time gazing out at islets sprinkled across the sea. To the north lies Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi, both of which are both long and relatively undeveloped, with some stretches totally isolated. Here you'll find families and couples wanting to drop off the map for a few days or weeks, swapping the hubbub of the east coast nightlife for the nightly lightshow as the sun plummets into the ocean.
Those enjoying water sports have several options, with all the main beaches offering some form of equipment hire. Surfers will be let down however, as Samui has no waves at all. SUP has become the latest trend on the island as no waves are needed; boards and lessons are available in Chaweng, Lamai, Mae Nam and Lipa Noi, among others. All the busier beaches, as well as many of the resorts, will hire out kayaks. This is a great way to exercise the upper body and see Samui from a different angle (though we prefer to adjust our daybed's height).
Kiteboarding locations vary depending on the prevailing winds, taking place either near Nathon on the west coast between May and October, or by Hua Thanon at the south east (south of Lamai), between October and April. Jetskis are controversial on the island, as they annoy pretty much anyone not on one. However, they are available for hire at Chaweng, Lamai, Choeng Mon and Bophut beaches. Be aware if you are swimming, as there don't seem to be designated areas for the jetskis, and nasty accidents have happened. If you must hire one, always check the jetski thoroughly for damage before agreeing to hire it.
While Ko Samui has no diving to get excited about, it is possible to arrange diving to sites out by Ko Tao from Samui, but you will be spending a significant amount of time in transfers. If you're planning on diving a lot, we strongly suggest basing yourself out of Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Tao. Snorkelling is reasonable off Ko Taen and Ko Matsum, two small islands off the southern harbour of Thong Krut. Another popular option is the Ang Thong National Marine Park, but visibility is not as good as what you will enjoy elsewhere. Without leaving Samui, try the small bays of Coral Cove and Crystal Bay, between Chaweng and Lamai.
Time to explore!
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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