Koh Samui, Thailand; find the right beach atmosphere & resort

Samui's beach areas are very different; select beach atmosphere before hotel

With these seven sectors of the island being entirely difference in geography, development and atmosphere, Samui really does have something for virtually everyone – but each person has to find it. Deciding on the beach and atmosphere that suits your needs is the critical, first decision each new visitor should make before all else. The seven coastal areas we have divided the island into here are diverse and, each in its own way, quite interesting. Before thinking about at hotels, future visitors to Samui should understand and choose between these distinct zones of the island.

The success, or disappointment, of a beach holiday in Samui will depend largely on selecting the ideal beach in a part of the island that offers the best balance between activity and tranquillity, access and remoteness. Samui has 100s of hotel choices, so once you've identified 'your' part of the island, finding a beachfront hotel or resort in the right price range should not be so difficult.

1) east coast Chaweng; the active, busy Samui beach with lifestyle & entertainment

Here we find the most popular beaches and the greatest amount of beach activity, nightlife and urbanization. Chaweng and Lamai Beaches are the famous two that led the tourism revolution on the island when they became famous backpacker havens in the 1980s. Development of all kinds followed; the airport is nearby, the beaches are now lined with mid-range and up-market resorts, there are bustling tourist towns behind each crammed with shops, restaurants and easy-going nightlife. This is the active corner of the island that attracts those who want beautiful beach by day and food, fun, booze and dancing after dark. The bars and discos here often run into the wee hours, in spite of the closing hours specified by Thai law.

Many visitors who choose to sleep by quieter beaches along different coastal zones can still drive into Chaweng or Lamai in minutes, thus spicing up a tranquil holiday with fun nights in the restaurant and bar zones.

This active east coast hides a few surprisingly quiet, hidden gems of beaches, however. Few people ever get to see, nor realize that Coral Cove, Silavadee and Banyan Tree beaches even exist. See our page on hidden beach gems of Koh Samui .

2) rocky & rugged Southeast Coast; beaches in coves among the boulders

Immediately south of Chaweng, Samui's big mountain reaches the coast, tumbling into the ocean in a jumble of huge granite boulders and rocky protrusions. A number of small but especially scenic beaches have formed in small coves and bays among the rocks. But there is little flat land here save the narrow stretch behind Lamai beach, one of Samui's major resort areas. The Beachfront Club maps show Lamai has the second biggest concentration of beachfront accommodations on the island, after Chaweng. This beach too, has big granite boulders sticking out of the sand like nature's decorative droppings.

The four kilometres of coast between Lamai and Chaweng is especially steep and rocky, but still a number of resorts have chosen to build here, taking advantage of the hillside elevation that provides all rooms with great ocean views, and the interesting rock and forest environments squeezed between mountain and sea.

Swimming is indeed possible in the deeper water off the rocks, which some resorts provide steps to. Snorkelling is also good along here. But the overriding advantages of this pretty coastline are the grand ocean views and the tranquillity that guests find amongst the many big boulders and trees here.

3) the lonely southeast corner; Laem Sett is a romantic, hideaway

It's just 30minutes from the airport to Laem Sett at the far southeast corner of Samui, an area beyond the big mountain, though here too are some low hills with lots of granite. It's a remote little world with short, pretty beaches carved up by the granite boulders, rocky coves and thick foliage spilling down the hills to the water. The beaches are carved up into many picturesque bits and pieces by the ramble of granite rocks. Each of the several resorts in this area occupies its own rather private beach, and some are set deep into the forest, which is in a relatively natural state here.

Laem Sett's sand is generally white and attractive, if sometimes coarse due to the high granite content. Finding water deep enough for swimming is sometimes a problem, especially at low tide, though some nice deep spots can be found with a little walking.

The relative isolation and natural environment that the Laem Sett corner of the island affords will suit some people. Anyone eager for both the tranquil accommodation here and some outside activities by day need only rent a car or motorcycle. Hua Thanon village, where there are a few good local restaurants, is less than 10 minutes away. Several seaside restaurants and bars at Ban Thong Krut in the southwest are also little more than 10 minutes drive. And the rest of the islands is never too far if you have your own wheels.

A little way up the east side of Laem Sett the granite topography suddenly gives way to a long, wide stretch of sand – so wide you could play several football games at once. This starts near Samui Orchid Resort and runs for over a kilometre to Hua Thanon fishing village, providing a pleasant walk, and an entirely different environment for the classy X2 Resort Samui .

5) northeast peninsula Choeng Mon, Samrong & Thongson.

The big peninsula that juts northeast from the airport might be considered an entirely separate corner of the island. Choeng Mon and its deep bay and small islands is especially scenic, and the sand here is wide and soft. Resorts completely line this beach, so while pretty and reasonably quiet, it is far from lonely. A few smaller beaches up on this peninsula become much quieter and more tranquil, however. Few people even get to see the pretty twin bays at Samrong and Tonson , where we find a few resorts on quite natural beaches. The long, lonely stretch of beach facing the sunset at Plain Laem may not be particularly remote, but hardly anyone is ever seen on the beach here.

A small, private beach on the west side of this bay has one of Samui's iconic resorts, The Tonsai Bay, sprawled over a wide, green hillside. Though one of the oldest luxury resorts on the island, this has been renovated and kept up-to-date.

Anyone staying in this northeast peninsula will have the sense of getting off Samui's well-beaten track, yet have 10-minute access to most of the lifestyle attractions on the island; Chaweng's nightlife, Bophut's Fisherman's Village, the boat port, beach bars and market at Big Buddha's and the island's main shopping areas. And it's also within a stone's throw of the airport.

6) Samui's west coast: sunsets, restaurants, ferries & Nathon town

Absolute tranquillity. Kilometres of coconut trimmed beach to yourself. Lonely and romantic. It's all here on Samui's west coast, south of Nathon town and the big ferry port. The beaches are rather narrow and not as well-developed as those in the east, for these face a relatively calm, enclosed body of water between island and mainland. The water is also quite shallow making west coast beaches less suited to swimming. But the undiscovered tropical paradise look is everywhere, and the unbroken green of the coconut clad hills backs it up.

There are several resorts scattered along this coast, and just one little cluster of them at Lipa Noi Beach . Spacious 2-star and 3-star bungalow hotels are the norm here, though there are couple of more up-market establishments.

The far north end of this coast – displayed on our Bang Po West map – offers a couple of interesting, lonely 4-star establishments. Likewise, the far southwest corner has an unexpected mix with the 5-star Conrad Koh Samui Resort and Elements Boutique Resort , a pretty boutique establishment. Then there are a couple of off-the-beaten-track, mid-range places. See our Phang Ka map .

Anyone coming to this part of the island should consider renting a car or motorcycle, unless it's a complete chill-out, go-nowhere, do-nothing holiday you seek. Personal transport puts many restaurant, bar and shopping options within 15 or 20 minutes drive, no matter where you stay.

7) what happened to Samui's remote, empty south coast?

While not forgotten, the south coast is simply not developed. Here we find seemingly endless kilometres of coconut-fringed beach without a hotel or bungalow in sight, and only the occasional fisherman's house. These lonely beaches provide an exceptional experience with tranquillity – for those who can get there. There are several small access roads leading to the beach off the main southern artery. The little village of Baan Thong Krut, just before our Phang Ka map, has a series of delightful beach-side restaurants. It's worth stopping here for real Thai food – and if the local fishermen have been lucky, you may get some hard-to-find, really fresh seafood. Virtually all seafood served in Samui hotels and tourist restaurants arrives from Surat Thani on the mainland, having been offloaded from Thai fishing boats working distant seas.

Anyone driving around the island – as we suggest every visitor to Samui should do at least once – can plan a pleasant stop here for lunch or sunset drinks.

by John Everingham