Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui sunset, image via Steve Jurvetson

Located about 400 miles from the capital city of Bangkok and 50 miles off the Thai mainland, Koh Samui (sometimes romanized as Ko Samui) is one of Thailand's largest and most popular island destinations. Beaches and resorts give parts of Samui a mainstream tourism feel. However, the island's size is a huge asset. Visitors have access to resorts, shopping and lively beach scenes. At the same time, there are completely deserted stretches of sand around the island and small villages and lush forests that are almost completely untouched by the tourism boom. With waterspouts opportunities, dining, shopping, inland adventures and nightlife all within reach for every visitor, Koh Samui is one of the best places to introduce yourself to the Kingdom of Siam.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Samui traditional boats, image via Aurimas

The expanded Koh Samui Airport makes it possible to fly directly into the island without first going to the usual entry points of Bangkok or Phuket. However, direct flights can be expensive (depending on where you connect from), so flying into Bangkok and then getting a domestic flight to Samui is probably cheaper than flying directly to the island. You should know, however, the international flights fly into one airport and domestic flights fly out of another, so you will have to enter the city. High-speed boats take tourists from the mainland to the island. Some compaies offer bus/boat packages that take you directly from Bangkok to the island. The entire overland and over-sea joinery takes about 10 hours. Once you get to the island, taxis are plentiful, though it is also easy to rent a bike or motor scooter. It is generally cheaper and more convenient to use the always-available taxis instead of renting your own car.

Koh Samui, Thailand

The beaches of Koh Samui, image via Web Design Samui

There are two tourism centers on the island. Much of the shopping, dinning and nightlife is centered around Chaweng Beach and Lamai Beach. For people who want to avoid the "party" atmosphere at these two locations, there are two other options that offer shopping and dining options without the over-the-top beach scene. These places are Big Buddha Beach and Bophut Beach. You could also stay in the main town, Nathon. This is not a tourist center by any means, but it has a nice water-front and is a good place to soak in the laid-back atmosphere and local lifestyle that Thailand is so famous for. For a deserted beach experience, you can head to the northern part of the island. Mae Nam and Choeng Mon both have long stretches of sand that get few visitors.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Lush shoreline of Koh Samui, image via Sarah_Ackerman

The Bophut Elephant Camp offers a chance to get up close and personal with the giant mammals that are a symbol of Thailand. Nearby Bophut Beach also has monkey performances. Elephant safaris into the interior can be booked through the elephant camp.Meanwhile, the Secret Buddha Garden features lush landscapes and statues of people and Buddhist deities. The Koh Samui Butterfly Garden is another spot to come in contact with the island's unique flora and fauna. Many people come to Samui for the water. Diving is very popular, with dive shops in Nathon and the more-popular beach areas offering trips to various places around the island. Kayaking is also widely available option. Nearby Koh Tao, about an hour from Samui by boat, is popular with divers and kayakers.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Fire performer, image via David Sim

Koh Samui has a diverse nightlife. The cheapest restaruants are found near Chaweng, which is also home to most of the bars and nightclubs on the island. There are even fire-juggle performances here sometimes. Things are quieter on the northern section of the island. Laem Yai is home to the Terrace, a world class seafood restaurant. Just down the coast in Bohput is a laid-back nightlife scene with beachside pubs like Frog & Gecko and Billabong. Most other beach areas that we've mentioned have a drinking spot or two near the water, as well as a seafood eatery or two. though Chaweng is the best place for nighttime action, it does have high 'tourist" prices in many of its restaurants. Better food is cheaper elsewhere on the island.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Luxury villa on Koh Samui, image via Estate Weddings and Events

Samui has a huge range of accommodations. If you put a premium on comfort, a private resort or rental villa is the best option, by far. The Infinity Retreat Koh Samui can take your Thailand stay from a nice vacation and turn it into a memorable holiday in paradise. This modern villa sits on a private hillside overlooking the water. Guests are treated to stunning sunsets and daytime views that stretch all the way to nearby Koh Tao.

Your turn...

Have you spent time in Thailand? Let us know what your favorite destinations in Thailand are in the comments section below.