Koh Samui sits in the Gulf of Thailand, 700 miles south of Bangkok. It's Thailand's third largest island, after Phuket and Koh Chang, measuring 13 miles at its widest point and 15.5 miles at its longest. Settled 150 years ago by Chinese seafarers, Koh Samui remains most populated at its periphery. Mountains cover the island's interior, while coconut palms blanket the lowlands that lead to Koh Samui's famously white beaches. The most popular beaches—Chaweng, Lamai, and Bophut—are no longer so idyllic, attracting foreigners and Thais to the flourishing nightlife scene. Those seeking Koh Samui's quieter side can spread their towels out on the southern shore's often-deserted beaches, such as Lipa and Thong Krut, where the scenery appears little changed from the days when coconut plantations dominated the island.
WHEN TO GO
Dry and sunny weather reigns in Koh Samui from December through February, but so do high room rates. For lower rates, you can consider booking in July and August. You may encounter the occasional mini-monsoon, but it's over quickly and bookended by clear and sunny skies. Or you can book March through June, when the skies are clear (though the days can be quite hot). The average temperature on Koh Samui ranges from 77°F to 84°F.
HOW TO GET THERE
Koh Samui is served by the charming open-air Samui Airport (USM). Bangkok Airways no longer has a monopoly on flights to and from Samui, but it does operate around 24 daily flights from Bangkok, as well as offering departures from Phuket, Siem Reap, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Thai Airways serves Koh Samui twice daily from Bangkok, with connections to Los Angeles.
One ring road, known as 4169, circles Koh Samui, fed by a handful of smaller numbered roads and many more unmarked lanes. Tourists often rent motorbikes, which are cheap and easy to park. Make sure to rent helmets—and wear them: Samui's party types aren't always the safest drivers. Look for daily and weekly rental signs near the main tourist areas like Chaweng and Lamai beaches. Taxis on Samui are inexpensive, and drivers speak just enough English to find the most popular destinations. Ask your hotel concierge to write out in Thai both your destination and the hotel name for the return journey. Worth the small premium is Samui's only native English–speaking driver, Johnny Arber (66-8-6945-5259; firstname.lastname@example.org), whose daily rate is on par with renting a car from Avis or Budget but without the hassle of map-reading. Those who do go the rental car route should make sure that full insurance is included, as Samui's haphazardly paved roads are notoriously dangerous.
Koh Samui celebrates not one but three New Year's celebrations: January 1, Chinese New Year in late February, and Songkran in mid-April, which is marked by all-out water fights in the streets.
Though we hope you have no need for it, it's worth being aware of Bangkok Hospital Samui (57 Moo 3, Taweerat Phakdee Rd., Bophut, Koh Samui; 66-77-429-500), which has a clinic in the airport in addition to its main facility in Bophut. The latter is open 24 hours and accepts international insurance, and its thorough staff includes the only neurosurgeon on the island. The hospital can arrange transfers to the hospital in Bangkok as required.
The most comprehensive, up-to-the-minute tourism resource for any Thai destination is the user-friendly Tourism Authority of Thailand Web site. Piles of unofficial free guides to Samui can be found in the hotels, restaurants, and watering holes popular with international travelers. Save a tree by accessing the latest updates on www.samuiguideonline.com and www.essential-magazine.com (the latter emphasizes Samui's burgeoning bar scene).View Thailand Factsheet