Lamai Beach, on Samui's southeast coast, is the island's second most popular after Chaweng and when you're on the sand, as with Chaweng, this is truly a beautiful beach with fine sand and crystal waters hemmed in by boulder-strewn headlands at each end.
Lined for nearly its entire length by hotels and guesthouses, this is, after Chaweng, Samui's most developed beach. You'll see clutches of deckchairs and umbrellas at regular intervals for its entire length. Southeast facing, Lamai gets nothing in the way of a sunset, but sunrise can be pretty dazzling. The resorts generally look after their beachfront and have done a good job in rehabilitating the beach, with the middle section in front of the larger resorts such as the Pavilion or slightly further along at Lamai Wanta being in notably good condition.
The beach is quite exposed, with the best swimming at the centre and southern reaches of the beach. Heading north from the centre the water gets quite dirty in places, in part due to a festy creek that empties out into the ocean from near New Hut. There's also a hemmed in anchorage for a small fishing fleet in the same area, and the further north you go the more mudflattish it becomes, adding to the reasons why you're better off swimming at the other end of the beach. The beach itself is fine – great for walking or running on – we'd just head south for a swim.
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.
Despite being as built up as it is, Lamai lacks the hectic vibe of Chaweng, especially off the beach in the village itself. Aside from barbecue corn on the beach, the food scene here is lacklustre – think cheap cafes offering "all Thai food 79 baht"-style deals. The downtown area is packed with tourist restaurants and bars offering everything from pizza to pasta to steaks to Indian curries.
Prices tend to be a little lower than in Chaweng, making Lamai a more popular option for those on a budget who don't want to go for one of the northern beaches. Like Chaweng, Lamai can be quite sleazy and sketchy in places; this is most pronounced along Lamai Soi 1, a thoroughfare running from the beach to the bypass road, but also in a couple of other areas along the main strip.
As with the food and entertainment, accommodation prices are cheaper too. Lamai has a decent selection of affordable hotels and guesthouses, though some of the cheaper beachside places are in dire condition, especially towards the southern end of the beach. If you're planning on taking advantage of cheaper accommodation in Lamai but partying in Chaweng, this is probably a false economy as the costs will add up (especially late in the evening) commuting between the two. So if you plan to spend your evenings in Chaweng, we'd say stay in Chaweng.
Like Bophut on the island's north coast, Lamai is popular with expats living on Samui, especially the French and Brits, and the beach also boasts an excellent (though very expensive) spa, Tamarind Springs, and the hippie-style yoga and detox retreat, Spa Samui Resort.
Lamai's walking street market is hosted on Sunday evenings along the road between the fresh market and the bridge. As with Samui's other walking street markets, this one offers good cheap street food, cocktails, clothing stalls and music. Coco Splash, Samui's only water park, is located in Lamai back off the beach towards the northern end of the village and is a good bet to keep the kids busy for a while.
One of Samui's "natural wonders" is found just south of Lamai. Hin-Ta and Hin-Yai, Grandfather and Grandmother rock respectively, have been naturally formed by the elements to resemble male and female genitalia, and are sometimes referred to as the "rude rocks". A tourist trap, it remains popular for photo opportunities. The road leading to the rocks is lined with gift shops and locals pointing you to parking areas where you can pay to park your scooter.
Continue over the rise to the south and you'll reach a series of small bays and beaches that taper out at Hua Thanon, an area well considered for its wooden shopfronts and the Muslim fishing village just beyond where the main road turns inland. Along this stretch you'll find a few more seafood eateries but as the quite busy road runs immediately behind them, this isn't the sleepiest spot for a meal.
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 25th 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.