Basically encompassing the northeast "corner" of Ko Samui, Plai Laem and Choeng Mon wrap around roughly two kilometres of beachfront on Samui's northeast corner, with Plai Laem running up the west coast of the peninsula from Bang Rak and the Big Buddha followed by a series of small bays dotted across the northern coast, and then finishing with Choeng Mon and Ko Fan Noi running down the east.
While the northern bays are mostly given over to luxurious high-end resorts, you will find the occasional more reasonably priced spot, with Choeng Mon having the biggest concentration of flashpacker digs in the area.
Prone to mudflats, Plai Laem is far from Samui's prettiest beach, but it is quiet and you can safely relax with a book and not be disturbed by vendors or jet skis. A few midrange resorts are dotted along the beachfront should you feel like a refreshment. Towards the southern end of Plai Laem, and walking distance from Big Buddha, Wat Plai Laem is a colourful temple housing two large statues, one of the jovial laughing Buddha, and one of an 18-armed Buddha. This is a good place to take children, as they can feed the thousands of catfish, fattened by tourists and worshippers, or take a paddle in a swan-shaped boat across the pond.
From Plai Laem, the road snakes out to the various bays that dot the northern coast. Some, like Samrong Bay, are dominated by five-star resorts which either block access – as was the case with Six Senses who wouldn't even let us approach reception – or suggest you buy a drink or meal to gain access to the public beach (as was our experience at Ayaraburi and Tongsai Bay). Between these two bays though is Thongson Bay, which you can get access to by following the road signs to the friendly low-key Thongson Bay Bungalows.
Continuing around to the east, you'll eventually reach north-facing Choeng Mon, which is a popular spot among expat families. The bay is quite protected and good for swimming, although the jetski rentals can be a bit of a disturbance. Ko Fan Noi sits just offshore, and can be reached by foot at low tide, making for interesting exploration with children.
Choeng Mon boats both fancy resorts like the lovely Sala Samui along with more midrange beachside options including Samui Honey Cottages. Those on a budget will be priced off the beach, but a new hostel, Sirin Samui caters to the more budget minded crew. Also off the beach, a gaggle of tourist-focussed restaurants and bars line the main road.
Although songthaews do travel to Big Buddha and past Plai Laem and Choeng Mon to Chaweng, this is not on the main transport route of the Ring Road, so they are less frequent. For those who hire a scooter or car, Plai Laem and Choeng Mon are only a short pleasant drive to many of the busier areas. Bang Rak is only about two kilometres to the west, and Chaweng about four kilometres via the back route.
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.