Ah, Koh Samui: Land of sun, sand, sea, swaying coconut palms and the splash of the turquoise-coloured Thai Gulf. There are plenty of reasons why this shimmering jewel of an island remains one of the top tourist draws in the fabled Land of Smiles. Whether you come to laze on the beaches with a bucket cocktail, pull some downward dogs on the cliffs, sample the ginger-packed, chili-topped sizzle fries of the roadside eateries, or wander the jungle paths in search of mysterious Buddhist shrines and hidden little hamlets made from bamboo, you're sure to find something to satisfy that tropical wanderlust here.
We've been traveling through these paradisiacal parts of Southeast Asia for years now, taking LBW tour after LBW tour to the coves and coastal stretches of Samui and its near neighbours for everything from diving trips to beach parties. That's why we think we're pretty well placed to put out this list of the top most beautiful spots on Koh Samui island. Warning: It might just get you booking right away…
There was a time when Chaweng Beach was the province of long-haired hippy types on the backend of the Banana Pancake trail. But that was the 70s, before Thailand revealed its hidden beauties to the world. Today, the arc of shimmering white sand that defines pretty Chaweng has come to be the most iconic stretch on all of Koh Samui island. It's packed with buzzing bars and spice-scented restaurants, has a lively nightlife scene, oodles of seaside pools to party next too, and awesome sunrise views across the Thai Gulf to the east. Nice.
Angthong National Marine Park
The Angthong National Marine Park is the jewel in the crown of the ocean around Koh Samui – and that's really saying something when you consider the likes of Koh Tao and Phangan are just a stone's throw away! Stretching over a whopping 100 square kilometers, the protected reserve is peppered with verdant islets that rise and fall from the sparkling sea like the backbones of dragons clad in forest. There are empty beaches by the bucket load, often shimmering in pearly white between the cliffs of Ko Wua Talab and secluded Ko Mae Ko. Underwater corals are also a draw, so be sure to strap on the tanks for a SCUBA trip here if that's your sort of thing!
Seclusion abounds in Mae Nam – at least, that is, compared to the wild strips of Chaweng Beach and the Big Buddha. Here, on the less-trodden northern stretches of Thailand's favourite island, the sands are pristine and the vibes are chilled. Backpacker hostels and local kitchens that sizzle with the smells of frying chili and fish pepper the coconut groves. Mountain peaks rise and fall in the distance, and there are oodles of winding pathways to walk along the shore. It's the perfect place to unwind.
It's all about the salt-washed jetties and the bobbing longboats in Bophut. This historic centre of ramshackle Chinese-style fishing shacks and creaking timber boardwalks has garnered itself a rep to rival any of Southeast Asia's seaside towns. Today, it comes packed with quirky souvenir boutiques and earthy guesthouses, not to mention more taste-bud-tingling seafood eateries than you can shake a pad Thai noodle dish at. The beach that lines Bophut – called, simply, Bophut Beach - is also a great place to swim and sunbathe during the day.
You'll have to strap on the walking boots and hit the jungle trails if you want to discover the hidden wonders that are the Namuang cascades. Set deep in the forests right in the heart of Koh Samui island, they crash over a series of sheer-cut cliffs, surrounded by clutches of swaying palms and waxy trees. Over the years, the rocks here have taken on a purple hue due to the mineral deposits of the water, which makes for some seriously interesting views. It's also possible to bathe in the splash pools – which is perfect when you need to cool off after that lengthy jungle trek!
Silavadee Beach is one of the top picks of the remoter spots that line Koh Samui island's eastern shoreline. Hemmed in by jungle-dressed cliffs and clusters of colossal boulders, the little cove is a picture-perfect example of the Gulf's gorgeous sands. A phalanx of coconut palms bend their backs to offer shade, while the light lapping of the water gives way to a clutch of luxurious hotels with those ubiquitous infinity pools and breathtaking views. Just don't expect anything that's light on the wallet!
Not to be confused with much quieter and calmer Laem Yai Beach on the opposite shoreline of Samui (yep, we know, the names can get a little confusing), Lamai Beach is the second most popular spot to bed down on the island. It's packed with great restaurants and hotels, and spreads out over its own wide bay that finishes with a flourish of sun-kissed golden sands that slope softly down into a sea of aquamarine blue. There's also a good nightlife scene here, and you can expect a couple of more budget-friendly options compared to Chaweng to the north.
Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha Temple)
If it's glimmering statues and clicking prayer wheels you're after, then the colossal shrines of the Wat Phra Yai (that's just Big Buddha Temple in English) are the place to go on Koh Samui. They can be found languishing in the waters just off the northern coast of the island, inhabiting their own small speck of land. The central feature here is surely the colossal Buddha effigy itself, which looms a whopping 12 meters overhead, comes inlaid with sparkling gems and painted in beautiful hues of gold and red. The temple complex also has its very own beach and bustling bazaar too, making it the perfect place to buy those last-minute trinkets and souvenirs.
Ban Tai Beach
Those in search of seaside seclusion and romance on Koh Samui island would do well to look to the shiny yellow sand stretches of Ban Tai Beach on the north shore. One of the well-kept secrets of this popular destination, the beautiful spot is surrounded by the pretty waterfalls of Hat Lin, oodles of rugged mountains and serene Buddha gardens aplenty. It's also within easy reach of the capital at Nathon, making it surprisingly accessible to boot.
Last but not least comes the calm reaches of Laem Yai on the north-western edge of Koh Samui island. Dropping down from a series of coastal hills topped with thick jungle, this patchwork of vine-straddled sands and lapping gulf waters is perfect if you're looking to get away from it all. The beaches here might not be the perfect white hues and tropical perfection those Samui brochures are packed with, and it's a hefty journey to Nathon and the east coast, but you're sure to get some peace and quiet guaranteed!
Are you ready to explore the gorgeous sands of Koh Samui island? We've got some awesome trips on the menu on our Thailand tours page. Or, can you think of any more awesome spots to add to this list? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below...
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