Bang Rak Beach is often commonly referred to as Big Buddha Beach thanks to the gigantic, impossible-to-miss seated Buddha statue overlooking Wat Phra Yai at the eastern extreme of the beach.
If you're coming by ferry from Ko Pha Ngan, this may well be your arrival point onto Samui as the beach itself has several piers – Big Buddha, Petcherat and Bang Rak – ferrying passengers between the two islands. Luxury vessels as well as local fishing boats moor in the bay and along the piers, making for an interesting outlook. Likewise if you're flying to Samui, Bang Rak is the closest beach to the airport.
Bang Rak runs more or less east to west. Over the headland to the west lies the very popular, and more sophisticated, Bophut Beach, while to the east, after Big Buddha the beach bleeds into the mudflatish and extremely low-key north-south running Plai Laem. Like Bang Rak, it's home to a large temple, Wat Plai Laem.
Big Buddha, an impressive golden landmark, has several clothing and souvenir shops on the grounds and the upper deck offers views across the bay and over to the small island of Ko Som, inhabited only by one fishing family. This island can be reached by kayak or sailboat, and is great for exploring or to get a true deserted island feel.
Along the western stretch of Bang Rak, the sea also turns to mud flats and in the early morning you may spy locals harvesting shellfish and fishermen wading out to a large sand bank to fish. It is not uncommon to see water buffalo being walked along the beach, or even taking a cooling dip in the sea. The central area of the beach is better for swimming, but, as mentioned above, there are a number of piers and plenty of boat traffic.
As with most of Samui's beaches, Bang Rak has a significant expat community, with many housing developments near the coast as well as running off inland back off the beach. While there are a handful of private villas dotted along the beach, most of the accommodation on Bang Rak Beach is diverse, ranging from five-star establishments through to small bungalow operations and hostels. Standout places to stay include the unusual but off the beach, Dream Field Resort, beachside Secret Garden and the family angled Villa Tanamera. Budget travellers should aim straight for Samui Backpacker Hotel.
While Bang Rak is not on Samui's primary loop road of Route 4169, it is on a spur of this (Route 4171) which continues on east from Bang Rak to Choeng Mon before running south to Chaweng. This road gets a significant amount of traffic. As it runs parallel to the beach, virtually all of the beachside accommodation catches some of this traffic noise. Also, the eastern end of the beach, towards the Seatran pier, is directly underneath the flightpath to Ko Samui International Airport, which further adds to the noise mix. If you're a light sleeper, choose your accommodation carefully, or opt for a quieter location like Choeng Mon or Bophut. Taxis and songthaews do frequent this area, although perhaps not as much as on the main route. Jeep and scooter rentals are abundant, as are motorbike taxis.
Racket aside, the central stretch of the road is lined with hotels, bars, restaurants, shops and general businesses. The area is known for its sports bars, where locals, expats and tourists gather to watch events on big screens over a local beer. Although there are several hostess bars along this stretch, they are not as prominent or sleazy as in areas of Lamai or Chaweng. Restaurant choices are plentiful, both streetside and indoor.
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 24th September, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.