compare Koh Samui’s little-known beaches on east, north, west coasts

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The half dozen most famous beaches on Koh Samui hold more than half of its approximately 270 true beachfront resorts. These well-known beaches, starting with Chaweng, Lamai and Bophut, are all found along the island’s east and north coasts. But the number of small, less-known beaches is surprisingly high. These are scattered over all coasts save the far south, with some having a full line-up of beach hotels and others just a remote scattering of hotel rooms.

Here we profile some of those lesser-known beaches, and indicate which coastline that are on.

Laem Set Beach; the remote southeast corner with villages & buffalo

location: Southeast corner; beach length: n/a; development behind beach: hills, plantation, resorts; density of use: low; number of hotels: 7; water depth: shallow

Beach length cannot be measured here because Laem Sett is a patchwork of small stretches of sand snuggled into a rocky headland on this southeast corner of the island. Called a ‘peninsula’ in Thai, this area is quite varied, with its different beaches all beautiful in their own way. At the northern side near the villas of Samui Beach Village and the trendy X2 Resort Samui the beach is so exceptionally flat and wide one could stage a pro football match on it, with space for the crowds. A little further south near the island’s corner, hills seem to tumble over their own rocks as they dive into the water. The huge granite boulders break the beaches into private pockets of sand, making this area exceptionally picturesque, with many romantic nooks.

The few beachfront hotels along the remote coast of Laem Set each have individual stretches of beach to themselves, again broken up by the hills and their jumble-tumble of big boulders, with thick foliage spilling right over rocks and water. The sand alternates from very fine to coarse granite stuff that can give you a nice back scratch. The water is generally too shallow for swimming at low tide. Many big trees remain in this area, giving it yet more natural character. The quaint beaches here, along with the tranquillity, make this a rather romantic part of Samui.

Laem Yai headland - Four Season’s Beach secret, private beach

location: northwest corner; beach length: 210 metres; development behind beach: plantations & resort rooms; density of use: low; number of hotels: 1; water depth: shallow

As the editor photographs suggest, this ‘private’ beach is one of the most classically beautiful on Samui. It is nestled into a small bay at the bottom of the lush hills into which the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui is built on the north shore of Laem Yai headland. The coconut palms waving over this fine-sand beach give it a fine touch with a classic tropical fringe.

The resort has blended its facilities into the old back-of-the-beach coconut plantation with finesse, allowing the beach to maintain a fine, natural integrity. As with most beaches on Samui, swimming is only good at high tide. Outside the 3 – 4 months of the northeast monsoon season, when this beach takes the brunt of the waves directly, the water is usually calm and very clear, giving this beach the look and feel of the South Pacific

Laem Yai Beach, on the southern side of this headland, is very quiet and tranquil, if not as outstanding as the beach above. Here, however, we find a wider selection of accommodation in the three resorts here, with both The Passage Samui Villas and Mai Samui being modern and attractively designed.

Samrong Beach & Thongson Bay; close to Choeng Mon, Samui’s northeast corner

location: Southeast coast; beach length: 190 & 230 metres; development behind beach: plantation & hotel; density of use: low; number of hotels: 5; water depth: shallow

This pair of small bays at the very top end of Samui each has a small and attractive beach hemmed in by steep headlands at both ends that provide an a cosy, private atmosphere. The sand on both Samrong and Thongson Beaches is quite fine and the water as clear as any on Samui, but like most beaches here, it is fine for swimming at high tide, but too shallow at low.

There are just five beachfront hotels across these the two beaches – still not enough to put anything like a crowd on these relatively small beaches. The accommodations here range from the simple, backpacker bungalows at Thongson to the luxury of the Six Senses Samui on the headland overlooking Samrong Beach. Among the resorts between, Melati Beach Resort is particularly attractive, with fine design spread through lush tropical gardens.

This little-visited corner of the island is not so far from Chaweng’s entertainment area or Fisherman’s Village , enabling this to act as a quiet ‘escape’, but one within a 10 - 15 minute drive of restaurants and entertainment.

Phang Ka Beach; the remote, sunset corner of Samui

location: southwest corner; beach length: 480 & 1,400 metres; development behind beach: plantations, hotels; density of use: low; number of hotels: 5; water depth: shallow

On Koh Samui you can’t get any further from the hustle-bustle of Chaweng than Phang Ka and Thong Tanote Beaches, remote on the southwest corner of the island. Even the island ring-road doesn’t come close to the shoreline here. The beaches have shallow water, and while they may be narrower and not as classically beautiful as those on the east coast, they make up for it with their near- natural state and lack of development. Coconut palms both fringe all beaches and completely cover the rolling hills behind in a vast plantation.

Four beachfront resorts share this corner of the island, and offer everything from 5-star super luxury in the Conrad Koh Samui with amazing views from its hilltop perch, to simple bungalows by the sand. Elements Boutique Resort is true to its name, bringing fine design in a distinctly cosy, up-market package to this area. Phangka Paradise, the first comer to the area, enjoys one of the best sectors of beach, with bungalows opening directly onto the sand.

For those who want to spice up the complete tranquillity of Phang Ka with a little entertainment, rent a motor scooter or car, then make the easy trip to nearby Nikki Beach Club, Nathon Town or nearby Thong Krut beach where there are a few pleasant restaurants overlooking the sea.

Coral Cove Beach – hidden among the giant granite boulders

location: southeast coast; beach length: 180 metres; development behind beach: rocky hillside, hotels; density of use: low; number of hotels: 3; water depth: medium to deep

There is perhaps more ‘cove’ here than real ‘beach’. This is a rugged stretch of the island where Samui’s big central mountain falls directly into the sea. Even the road finds it difficult to cling to the coast here without falling off – so beware when driving. Samui is built from granite rock, and here bus- and house-size pieces of it have tumbled down the slopes into the sea, creating quaint little watery nooks and coves. Coral Cove Beach , with 130 metres of coarse sand, is just one of two significant stretches of sand hiding here that could claim the title ‘beach’. The road runs close behind, giving brief glimpses through the trees that encourage some passers-by to stop. But with just one small resort directly on the beach there is never anything like a crowd here. An especially attractive ocean-front resort is nestled in among the big rocks on the southern side, from where its guests get great beach and ocean views. Coral Cove Chalet also has access to some private little sectors of sand divided off and hidden by huge chunks of mountain granite. With direct access to the beach, this true beachfront resort surely has the most beautiful location along this scenic coast.

Lipa Noi Beach; quiet beach, local villages and fishermen

location: west coast; beach length: 330 metres; development behind beach: coconut plantation & hotelss; density of use: medium low; number of hotels: 12; water depth: shallow

Here is the really quiet side of Samui, and the place for those who want to escape to a place that feels more like a Thai village than a tourist resort. The accommodations here are widely scattered, and while most are budget, there are a few very up-market establishments among them.

Apart from the hotels, Lipa Noi’s long beaches have very little built along them, and for the most part are still fringed by coconut palms and deserted, even in the high season. Most of the countryside beyond the beach is still coconut plantation with scattered houses. There are a few villages along this coastal strip, with a mix of fishermen and farmers. Most of the inhabitants here are Buddhist, and a monastery is found by each community, usually well hidden among the coconut groves.

The west coast beaches cannot have the fine soft sand found along the east, for these are relatively protected and are not subjected to the same punishing monsoon waves that create the fine granules. Swimming is generally restricted to high tide.

Tongtakian Beach; dramatic little bay with mid-range bungalow resorts

location: southeast coast; beach length: 270 metres; development behind beach: plantation only; density of use: low; number of hotels: 5; water depth: shallow

Similar to Coral Cove above, this east coast beach is another classic beauty, snug in a small bay created by headlands of tumbled, jumbled granite boulders. Steep headlands rise on each side, both enclosing and giving the beach geographic grandeur. Behind the sand there is enough flat land to allow a handful of pleasant, mid-range bungalow resorts to create attractive gardens and lawns.

Thongtakian Beach’s sand is fine, white and soft, encouraging visitors to use towels on the sand instead of sun lounges. A number of big trees growing right out of the sand afford deep shade where freelance massage ladies are invariably found pummeling bodies on mats. The water is clear, with plenty of it at high tide, but only enough for lying around in at low tide. When the water is low visitors often walk out among the big rocks looking for sea creatures, or go snorkelling along the rocky coast.

This is one of Samui’s classically beautiful beaches, with fine, mid-range beachfront accommodations and not too many people.

Plai Laem Beach – distinctly Thai, quiet, close to action of Chaweng & Bophut

location: northeast coast; beach length: 1,250 metres; development behind beach: village & plantation; density of use: low; number of hotels: 2; water depth: shallow

This is a strip of undeveloped coastline as much as a beach. The straight, uninterrupted strip of sand is quite narrow, disappearing at high tide, but extending out over sandbanks for hundreds of metres at low water. Plai Laem Beach is protected from strong waves all year, and thus does not have particularly fine sand. But the lack of a classic swimming beach does not detract from its appeal for the many visitors who value peace and quiet, and the more ‘Thai’ atmosphere here. This is a rare bit of the east side of Samui that faces west, and the beautiful sunsets that light up the island’s northern shore.

Plai Laem Beach’s beachfront accommodations are few, leaving the kilometres of beach virtually empty of tourists. The two major resorts here are distinctly boutique and comfortable, with the 81 rooms in Deva Samui Resort far out-sizing the small but chic Tango Luxe Beach Villa with just 14 luxury villas. Both look out over a small boat harbour.

Those seeking a truly quiet get-away not far from the many lifestyle amenities of Bophut and Chaweng, might like this area. Especially if they like a cool drink while watching spectacular sunsets.

Taling Ngam Beach – tranquil, peaceful, natural beach on Koh Samui’s southwest coast

location: southwest coast; beach length: 1,500 metres; development behind beach: coconut plantation only; density of use: low; number of hotels: 2; water depth: shallow

If there is a quiet, tranquil and ‘natural’ corner of Koh Samui, this has to be it. Mass tourism has engulfed the east coast of the island, but not here. The few beachfront resorts here are so scattered and low-key that most go barely noticed, either from the road or from the sea. This end of the island is still largely a big coconut plantation.

Taling Ngam and other beaches here on the ‘back’ side of the island are not classic swimming beaches. Here they are protected year-round and do not face pounding monsoon waves that create and build up sand. Thus, all west coast beaches are narrow and the water is shallow – only suitable for swimming at high tide. Yet the coast here has a tranquil, undisturbed atmosphere difficult to find elsewhere. Here you may wander along kilometres of beach and find only fishermen, not tourists.

If getting-away-from-it-all is on your agenda, this tranquil side of Samui might fit the bill. The more upmarket of the two beachfront resorts here, The Sunset Beach Resort & Spa, is a beautifully designed, boutique resort with a decidedly romantic touch. The other, Am Samui Resort, is spacious, and spread among big shady trees in a manner that could make it an ideal resort for children.

Hua Thanon Beach; local village, fishermen, quiet beach and hotels

location: southeast coast; beach length: 2,000 metres; development behind beach: plantation & village; density of use: low; number of hotels: 8; water depth: shallow

Most of the beach in this southeast corner is shielded by an offshore reef that creates shallow water and sandbanks between it and the land. And without big waves breaking on the sand during the monsoon, the beaches are not well developed. Most of Hua Thanon’s beach is narrow, disappearing at high tide while leaving 100s of metres sandbanks exposed at low.

But this southeast corner of the island is still largely a coconut plantation and has its own ‘Samui’ charm. Hua Thanon village has not yet been redeveloped with the uncontrolled concrete and wild wiring we see elsewhere. Here we find less development, more coconut palms and more empty beaches. A little west of Hua Thanon are wide open spaces, green and dotted with the hulk of lumbering buffaloes.

There are some pleasant Thai seafood restaurants facing he ocean where the road follows Hua Thanon beach, just north of town. Further up from there, where the coast becomes a little hilly, we find a couple of very attractive resorts blended into the sand and boulders that mix it up on this coast, with Rocky’s Boutique Resort being the star among them. Rocky’s has an entire bar and restaurant perched atop one spectacularly large granite boulder protruding from the ocean – definitely one of the most interesting, romantic places to dine on Koh Samui.

by John Everingham