Koh Samui is the third biggest island in Thailand, after Phuket, the largest, and Koh Chang, Koh Samui was once one of the richest islands in the world in terms of natural resources, where locals survived easily on fishing and farming, and enjoyed all the bounties of the sea, mountains and waterfalls. Then, some 30 years ago, backpackers and free-loving hippies discovered it, and gradually but surely news of the tropical paradise spread. Tourists were drawn to the island, so were investors, ready to cash in on a destination that would clearly turn a profit. Samui was to be turned not only into hippy’s ides of a dream island, but everyone’s dream island instead. As roads were laid, infrastructure built and hotels designed, Samui was ready for a whole new era: as a dream vacation for all.
The island plays the role well. In spite of its almost hurried growth, with luxury hotels, fine dining outlets, spas and night life joints mushrooming all over the island, Samui also continues to provide the visitor with boundless natural beauty, coupled with all the fun-filled activities that any holiday should include: nature trekking, swimming at the waterfalls and hiking though the forests are just some of the outdoor fun to be had there. Visitors can also glimpse the island’s rich local culture. As for getting to the island, Bangkok Airways provides an extensive network of flights, connecting by air all the major cities of the region.
There are a wide range of activities to be found on Koh Samui. Sign up for island hopping to the neighbouring islands, a one-day trip that covers the famous five rock islands plus the swallow nest cave.
The Five Islands’ package comes with food too or else take a ferry from Bo Phut or Nathon pier to Angthong National Marine Park, and discover 42 islands for sightseeing, snorkeling and kayaking. Visit to the natural stone bridge at Koh Sam Sao, and the amazing emer¬ald lagoon at Koh Mae Koh. Koh Hin Dub, with the longest beach, is considered the most beautiful island of all. For those who would prefer to keep to land though, rent a motorcycle, car or the local song-taew (red minibus) and enjoy a spot of beach driving. Check the rental rates with your hotel when getting a minibus to the picturesque Bang Rak, Choengmon, Chaweng, Lamai and Laem Set. Stop over at Koh Tan for sunbathing and swimming.
There are several waterfalls in Koh Samui, with Na Muang Waterfalls (10 kilometres from Nathon) considered the island’s most beautiful. There are actually two waterfalls: Na Muang I, at 18 metres high and accessible by car, and Na Muang II, at 80 metres high, and reached by a 30-minute walk. While Na Muang I is small, it nevertheless has historical significance, having been visited by several Thai Kings: King Rama V, VII and King Bhumibol. Today, it is also one of the island’s water sources.
The mummified monk (Luang Pho Dang, the exabbot of Wat Kunaram) is a must-see on Samui. Renowned amongst his disciples and Buddhists, Luang Pho Dang is also remembered for his serious meditation practice. After his death, his body did not decompose, and has been kept in a glass casket in accordance with his last request – to inspire the younger generation to embrace Buddhist teachings.
The Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai) is however the most popular attraction. A sacred temple of the local people, here The Big Buddha statue sits 15 metres tall on the hill. The statue was built in 1972 by the local community, to provide visitors with a place to pay respect.
The Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks (Hin Ta Hin Yai) comprise a famous rock formation depicting the male and female sex organs. In contrast to nature’s own erotic display here, the spot is rather tranquil and beautiful, with a turquoise-blue pool nearby.
Eat, drink and be merry, as no visit to Koh Samui would be complete without experiencing at least some of the island’s many fine dining outlets and award-winning restaurants, including: Art Cafe by June, formerly About Art & Craft, a vegan-friendly bistro (serving both meat and vegetarian options) and healthy bakery. The Cliff Bar & Grill, fusion of European-Mediterranean cuisine delights just as much as the venue’s location – overlooking the crystal-blue waters of the bay and Elephant Rocks. For a view to remember, try also the award-winning Dining on the Rocks, but only if money is no object! The Page, a smart conceptual design beachfront restaurant, serves western and Thai fusion dishes. The Pier, a chic chill-out bar and restaurant, is known for having a great atmosphere, and the mood is kept romantic thanks to the venue’s splendid sunset views. Prego, meanwhile, is one of the finest Italian restaurants on the isle, and is famous for its authentic pizza and home-made pasta. Great prices and services also. Red Snapper, an award-winning Mediterranean restaurant at the Chaweng Regent resort, features creative cuisine, live band and a chilled out ambience, with both indoor and alfresco seating. Or try local flavours at: Krua Chao Baan at a beach south of Lamai, or Bang Por Seafood on Bang Por Beach.
The liveliest road in Koh Samui is Chaweng Beach Road. At noon, there are plenty of shops, fast-food and international dining options, but at dusk the road takes on a whole new look: with vibrant beats and colourful lights. Soi Green Mango is a hub of nightlife spots, including: The Ark Bar, Mint Bar, Jungle Club, The Reggae Pub, Solo Bar, Sound Club and the famous hillside Q Bar. And for anyone who is looking for a more chilled out ambience, head out for Fisherman’s Village.
Or else lie back on a daybed and sip a cocktail at The Sunset Terrace Lounge at Nikki Beach, a world-famous beach club concept with a fusion of dining, fashion, music and entertainment.