Picturesque and profoundly popular, Koh Samui is one of the jewels in Thailand’s tourism crown. It is the second largest island in the Kingdom, after Phuket, and it sits peacefully within the protected confines of the Gulf of Thailand—just below Koh Phangan and just above the provincial capital of Surit Thani. The island is known for its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves, and dense, mountainous rainforest, as well as an ever-growing selection of luxury resorts and posh spas. Many seasoned travelers lament the undeniable over-development of Koh Samui, but it’s worth noting that the central part of the island is still mostly unspoiled tropical jungle. Here you’ll find Khao Pom, the island’s largest mountain, which measures 635 meters. Another vertically impressive landmark—this time man-made—is the 12-meter-high golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yhai Temple.
One of the island’s main tourism hubs is Chaweng Beach, a 7 km stretch of white sand located on the island’s eastern side, not far from the main airport. There are loads of accommodation options here, as well as a colourful nightlife scene that offers everything from ladyboys letting loose at the Starz Cabaret show at the Chaweng Hotel, to fierce Muay Thai boxing bouts at Phetch Buncha Stadium. Another popular evening attraction is the Lamai Night Market at Lamai Beach.
Samui is also full of attractions offering exotic thrills, many involving wild animals. If you’re ethically opposed to things like riding an elephant through the jungle on a pseudo-tropical safari, or posing for photos with overly languid tigers, then stick to fun at the beach. But if you do want to seek out some wild wildlife, there are carnivalesque thrills and chills a-plenty at places like the Samui Snake Farm, a freaky, old-school, off-the-beaten-track roadside attraction located near Taling Ngam Beach, on the southwest end of the island. The guys here look like they’ve had one too many snake and scorpion bites, but they still dutifully put on shows every hour, starting at 11am. For a more involved wildlife adventure, try soaring through the jungle interior with Canopy Zip Line Adventures—featuring six different cable rides—and see the secret waterfalls and lush rainforests from above. Or, make a trip to the serenely beautiful Samui Butterfly Garden, where you can get up close to hundreds of these colourful insects. Basically, keeping tourists entertained is a growth industry here, and there’s pretty much something for everyone, young and old.
Samui is also a great launch point for people wishing to visit the Angthong Marine Park, a fascinating archipelago made up of dozens of tiny islands. Organized speedboat day-trip tours zip past dramatic rock cliffs and bizarre rock formations, making occasional stops at caves, hidden lagoons, and white sand beaches. Park entrance fee is B300 adults, and B150 for children.
Of course, Samui also has some tamer, more culturally significant attractions, including the Muslim community of Hua Thanon—a small but lively traditional fishing village—and annual events such as the Buffalo Fighting Festival held on New Year’s Day and Songkran, where bucking bovines are decorated with ribbons and gold-painted leaves. But for many, Samui is synonymous with nothing more complicated than umbrella drinks, sun drenched vistas, and pure pleasurable indulgence.