Happily for Koh Samui, beaches line about 90% of its coastline, one reason for its global fame as a top beach holiday destination. These beaches include everything from the four kilometres of unbroken sand on Chaweng to sandy coves of just 50 metres secreted among the huge granite boulders on the southeast coast. Several beaches, like Lamai, Chaweng and Bophut, are wall-to-wall with hotels and resorts while others have barely a bungalow for each kilometre of coconut fringed sand, as on the south and west coasts.
All beaches are public land in Thailand, we should note, from the highest high tide mark down, and open to all citizens. Resorts like to claim theirs is a 'private' beach, and while it may be effectively true, it is based only on their monopolizing all access to a beach because outsiders cannot cross their land. Anyone, however, may come ashore on any beach in Thailand by boat – even if hotel security guards try to tell you otherwise.
The beauty of Samui's beaches is almost legendary. Many of the images that sell Thailand to the world show crystal waters calmly lapping white sands, with coconuts swaying above and green mountains towering behind. That's Samui through and through. Visitors to Thailand are often disappointed when they reach the beaches along the mainland coast, and find they have no resemblance to the stunning beauties in the travel promos. They had probably seen a Samui beach, or a beach on another of Thailand's many resort islands.
The sand on Samui's beaches varies radically, from the super fine powder on Chaweng Beach to the mini-stones of Lamai; ground up granite particles. But even this sand, coarse enough for a back scratch when you lie on it, makes a beautiful beach. However, Samui's beaches have lots of sand, and be it white, yellowish or granular, and it's mostly very clean.
The water clarity too, is usually excellent through the calm, high season months. The Gulf of Thailand is shallow, and especially so close to Koh Samui. When storms and waves blow up the local seas are soon stirred and the clarity lost. November to January is the northeast monsoon season in Samui, do remember, and the water is mostly rough and murky then.
Shade on the beach – another critical issue in a place as hot as Samui – is provided in most places by big beach trees that have been preserved or planted long ago. However, there are some more barren, hot zones where the resorts have cut the trees in favour pools and hotel facilities right up against the sand. Here Guests are often forced indoors during the hottest hours of the day, even during the 'winter' months. When checking hotel photos, remember the importance of thick, natural shade close to the beach – not all resort developers do.
Beach massage comes in an avalanche on Samui beaches, with freelance masseuse ladies found under shady trees on all of the major beaches, politely beckoning passers-by. As the number of masseuse hopefuls has risen over the years, prices have remained low, below $10 per hour.
Beach vendors are found in small numbers on the busier beaches, with the largest concentration on Chaweng. Those selling fruit and local food like som-tum, roast chicken and sticky rice do a booming business, with their services clearly appreciated by the many customers. Those selling clothing, sarongs and souvenirs are less appreciated, and sometimes more intrusive. In general, though, Thai beach vendors are polite.
Samui's many unseen beaches; one of the most potent forces behind this island's global fame is the number of beaches that few people ever see. Many little beach gems are secreted away in remote bays that mainstream tourists neither see nor even suspect exist. Romantic hideaways lie hidden in picture-perfect coves crowded by huge granite boulders. And in many cases one simply cannot get to the beach without checking into a high-class resort, or hiring a boat. See Samui's 7 perfect, unseen beaches .