Forty-eight hours is not enough time on an island as diverse as Ko Samui; nor is it enough considering how much time or money you'll likely need to spend on getting here. This itinerary aims to either act as a guide for those popping over from Ko Pha Ngan to check out the island, or as a taster for those looking to explore before deciding where to spend longer on the island.
Following this itinerary will have you based in Fisherman's Village, a compromise between hectic Chaweng and the almost uninhabited south. Day one will lead you in a clockwise direction, through Choeng Mon, Chaweng and up to Coral Cove just before Lamai. Day two will take you in the opposite direction anti-clockwise, exploring Mae Nam, Samui's capital Nathon, past Lipa Noi, Taling Ngam in the south, and up to Lamai. You'll need your own transport – scooter or jeep.
It's ideal if you can start your trip with a late Friday afternoon arrival, to take advantage of the weekly Fisherman's Village Walking Street Market. Locals, expats and tourists alike gather from about 18:00 to sip 60 baht cocktails, watch free poi (fire dancing) shows, sample deep-fried insects and other street food and shop at market stands plus upmarket boutiques. The market fades at around 22:00, allowing for an early night. If you have the stamina, bars such as Red Moon, Karma Sutra, Billabong and the Frog and Gecko will continue festivities until the early hours.
Both Fisherman's Village and greater Bophut have great accommodation options across a range of budgets.
Leaving Fisherman's Village, turn left immediately onto route 4171 and follow the road past Bang Rak to visit Samui's two most impressive temples, Big Buddha (Wat Phra Yai) and a few hundred metres further on, Wat Plai Laem with its jolly laughing Buddha. Continue along to Choeng Mon for a short stroll along this pretty beach. Choeng Mon will tempt you to stay longer, but remember that this is a taste of Samui, and there is still plenty to see.
The 4171 enters Chaweng from the northern end. Shortly after Samui International Hospital, turn right and follow the road past Chaweng Lake; you'll be heading back to Chaweng later in the day. Where the road once again connects with the 4169 ring road at a set of traffic lights, pull in at the French Bakery right in front of you for a late breakfast. They do a great latte, buttery croissants and a filling scrambled egg and bacon baguette.
After brunch, continue south along the ring road towards Lamai, being sure to stop at the lookout point just past Dr Frogs Restaurant. Just around the next bend is a small bay, Coral Cove, where the pace of your trip will slow for a while. This bay as well as the next one, known as Crystal Bay and Silver Beach, offer about the best that Samui has in the way of snorkelling. Keen snorkellers may want to book a trip to the Anthong Marine Park later during their stay. Spend a couple of hours in either of the bays, snorkelling or just relaxing under a tree.
When your batteries have recharged, go back the way you came towards Chaweng, taking the beach road turnoff. Find a parking spot, explore the shops and stalls, try your hand at bargaining, and then make your way to the beach via any of the resorts for cocktails and dinner. As evening approaches, restaurants and bars turn their daybeds into dining platforms, fairy lights and lanterns add mood and restaurants vie for customers by displaying fresh seafood on ice in mini longtail boats. Style ranges from laid back through to hip and happening – such as Ark Bar with live DJs pounding out the tunes – as well as more sophisticated, such as Poppies. There's also Muay Thai fights on offer regularly.
Full and tired, make your way back to Fisherman's Village content that you have covered the island's busier coast.
Leaving Fisherman's Village, turn right on the 4169, travelling through Bophut towards Mae Nam. At the Mae Nam traffic lights turn towards the sea, following the road to the Chinese temple, which is quite different to the Thai-style temples of the previous day. Across the road is Kim's Gallery, worthy of a poke around to look at the local art if it's open.
Moving on through Bang Po towards Nathon, admire the scenery as the road climbs a hill, winds past the Four Seasons and offers views of the ferries docking in the main port. For great coffee, shakes and light meals, stop in at Kalasea. The owner is an excellent photographer and her work is for sale, along with quirky homemade knickknacks.
Unless cheap shopping is a drawcard, there is no real reason to stop in the capital of Nathon, so drive on, taking the 4170 in the direction of Taling Ngam. Pass through the elephant gates and follow the road towards the beach. Set yourself up at either Am Samui or i-Talay and enjoy lunch and the quieter side of island life before continuing onwards.
Leaving i-Talay the way you came, turn east when the 4170 meets the ring road and head towards Hua Thanon and Lamai. A quick and easy to reach waterfall is Namuang One, with only a short walk to the falls, past an elephant camp and several food stalls. Try durian crisps –- the infamous odour is lost in the deep-fry process.
Other quick-stop options on the way to Lamai include the ‘rude rocks', Hin Ta Hin Ya, naturally shaped like male and female parts, or the mummified monk at Wat Kunaram; a bit sombre as he died more than 20 years ago, but he's still wearing his fake Ray Ban sunglasses.
Lamai is Samui's second largest beach, and hosts its walking street market on a Sunday evening, ideal for a light casual meal after a filling lunch. Alternatively, Lamai beach has its share of beachside dining where you can sample BBQ seafood and wiggle your toes in the sand.
From Lamai it is a straight run back to homebase at Fisherman's Village, from where you can plan your next Samui-exploration – there are some great viewpoints in the interior!
By Rosanne Turner.
Last updated on 6th October, 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.