Once we were on the island and explored a bit more, our experiences and observations confirmed this.
It seems that the island was not that developed 10 -15 years ago, and since then with the increasing popularity of Thailand as a destination, the island of Koh Samui has boomed. Saying that, because the development seems to have been fairly recent and also fairly rushed, in my view, the development of the towns has suffered. Apparently the island started to get visitors in the 1960s as backpackers sought out unexplored corners of Thailand. And even in the 1970s there were no roads and so it took a day to travel the 15km from one side of the island to the other.
I have very mixed views about the island and Koh Samui as a destination. The place that we stayed was very beautiful. We stayed at a place called Tongsai Bay, which are small villas dotted all over a hill running down to the beach. There are many similar developments across the island. But once you venture out of your development, you are – once you go into the centers – in a somewhat tatty tourist nightmare. Full of shops selling cheap and rip-off merchandise, loads of tourist fare, rather than Thai, restaurants and theme bars. There is no real sense of Thai culture or “Thai-ness” about the place. I felt like I could have been at Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands or one of the intensely developed Spanish resorts in the Costa Brava. This was a disappointment.
We hired a car for a few days, but ended up not using it that much. The island itself is not that large and so you can fairly easily do a trip around the island in less than a day. It is easy to find your way about, as there is effectively a circular route to drive. The island is the 3rd largest in Thailand, with Phuket and Koh Chang being larger.
So with all this in mind what are my tips for travelers visiting Koh Samui
(1) Best time to visit
Thailand has three distinct seasons: hot, rainy, really hot. We were on the island in March and it was indeed hot. But what times of the year are best and what to be avoided?
The Rainy Season when rain is heaviest is October through to mid December. But as
Koh Samui is a tropical island there can be some rain at any time, but nothing too much of an issue.
Dry Season runs from mid December through March, and this is the most popular time for tourists to visit. The temperatures will usually be 30C / 85F and sunny.
Hot Season starts in April and lasts until the cooling rain, which begins in September / October.
(2) Getting there and getting about
The Ko Samui Airport is actually a private airport. Bangkok Airways originally built it and is still the main user. As I mentioned earlier they run an almost hourly service to and from Bangkok. You can also fly to other destinations from the airport, and these include Phuket, Singapore; Chiang Mai and even Hong Kong.
The airport is slightly unusual and has a slightly unusual process, but it is quite quaint as it is all open sided buildings due to the weather on the island.
If you don’t have pick-ups arranged with your resort from the airport there are many
minibus and taxis at the airport.
In terms of getting around the island, there is of course car rental (which is fairly cheap). The guide books rather alarmingly talk about how it can be dangerous driving and how you need to take “extreme care”. This may be because the roads are limited and busy.
Another thing you see a lot of is tourists on motorbikes. There is a booming industry in renting out these and they certainly seem to be popular. A lot of people did not wear helmets, but the guidebooks warn that it is the law and there are fines.
(3) Go to the Beach
To be honest, just about the only thing to do is go to the beach. Even hunting online and asking for tips, the only real feature of Koh Samui are the beaches. This reflects the short history of the island I guess.
Probably the best-known beach area on the island is Chaweng Beach. This is how one website describes it: “it covers a large portion of the island’s northeast coast, and is easily the most crowded and tourist saturated region on the island. The beach itself, while beautiful and clean often suffers from seasonal overcrowding as ever increasing numbers of visitors discover the island.”
This area is also where there are all the bars, restaurants, tourist trap shops, nightspots and where people hang out in the evening. It is busy and bustling at night. It also has it’s share of
Many the resorts that have sprung up across the island have private beaches as part of the complex. So, unlike the Caribbean where all beaches are public, only guests may use the beach outside a resort.
(4) Go and see the Big Buddha
The Big Buddha is located on the north of the island. There are, which guide books and free guides will tell you, other temples worth seeing, The main tourist attarction is the huge and bright Buddha. It is huge and in the area are a number of other statues.
So that is it. If you want to escape and hang out in a resort and you have the money to stay in one of the new smart resorts with stunning villas and pools and you want to be doing very little than enjoying the fact there is nothing to distract you, then you will love Koh Samui. Also if you are a young backpacker type you will love that you can get cheap accomodation and party at Chaweng with piles of likeminded travellers.
Read my review of the Tongsai Bay Hotel in Koh Samui: click here