Koh Samui’s most famous beaches compared – all on east & north coasts

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Chaweng & Lamai were the first beaches to attract backpacking visitors ... due to their beauty

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Koh Samui’s most famous beaches were not selected by hotels and resorts, but by hippies and backpacking coco-dreamers in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, they gravitated to and gyrated on beaches whose natural beauty was worth a half-world trek and lots of mosquito bites. On Koh Samui it was first Chaweng, with its immaculate, powder-fine sand and crystal clear water. When some beach freaks decided ten people were a crowd, they migrated down the island to Lamai, the second choice. Only after that did Bophut and Maenam on the north coast join the halls of hippie of the fame.
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The children of the flower-power generation are back on Samui in force, but these opulent, now middle-aged tourist travellers come armed with credit cards, I-Pads and a new generation of internet-connected kids. And all five of these onetime hippie hangouts have upgraded to accommodate them, redeveloping bamboo beach huts into luxury boutique rooms with swishy, contorted swimming pools.
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Which beach is right for you? Below we provide a comparative look at all five. And perhaps the biggest surprise is that some of the 1980s backpacker huts do survive on three of those beaches, sandwiched between 4- and 5-star neighbours.
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Check out some of the many pages of info & photos that we offer on Koh Samui, and about all beaches in Thailand with beachfront hotels:

Chaweng Beach – the heart of Samui’s beach party action

location: northeast coast; beach length: 3,850 metres; development behind beach: side-to-side resorts; density of use: high; number of hotels: 59; water depth: shallow in north, medium in south

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Chaweng Beach is by far Koh Samui’s most famous stretch of sand, completely lined by scores of beachfront hotels and resorts. This is the island’s entertainment and fun zone, and is often seen as a ‘younger’ destination- though many older, but ‘young at heart’ visitors are also seen here. A whole range of diverse beach bars cater to those seeking fun on the beach, while the busy back road holds a large portion of Samui’s entertainment spots.
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Chaweng grew into Samui’s most famous destination due to the classic, tropical beauty of its fine white sand, its clear water and coconut-fringed shoreline. That natural beauty has taken a battering as edge-to-edge hotels have removed trees and the beach has become covered with extensions of the hotels, though the sand and water both remain clean and clear.

While bamboo and thatch huts were the standard here 20 years ago, upmarket bungalows and boutique resorts have long since taken over. Chaweng now boasts some outstanding examples of beautiful design and creativity in the new wave of boutique resorts.
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Despite that many trees have gone, Chaweng’s beachfront is still reasonably green and pleasant. Some resorts have protected their big beach trees, providing guests with deep shade throughout the day. Countless small bars and restaurants are found along the beach, with many of the latter setting their tables in the sand in the evening for under-the-stars dining. Vendors patrol the sands, selling food, tropical clothing and silly souvenirs, but they are generally polite and not too annoying.
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The water is deeper and better for swimming at the south end, while Chaweng’s far north end is sheltered by a reef and three small islands. These create a tranquil, shallow lagoon, which makes a perfect playground for children – or for those who just want to loll about in calm, warm water. Some people take their sun chairs into the shallows here and read their books.
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This crescent-shaped zone facing the lagoon is reasonably quiet, and holds a number of up-market resorts. The far south end is the quietest part of Chaweng, and again offers some good quality resorts like Poppies and Samui Resotel . The biggest resort on the beach, with the widest gardens and open spaces, is the Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui .
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Massage is found all up and down the beach, run by both the hotels and freelance masseuses working under the trees. The hot beach party zone is found on our Chaweng Beach Central 1 beach map, with Ark Bar Beach Resort being its focus, attracting lots of youthful revellers to both daytime pool parties and night beach raves.
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Chaweng Noi Beach – the more elegant, romantic end of a famous beach

location: northeast coast; beach length: 1,100 metres; development behind beach: side-by-side hotels; density of use: medium; number of hotels: 7; water depth: medium
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Chaweng Noi , or ‘Little’ Chaweng, might be something of an extension of its famous sister, but the atmosphere is entirely different. For beginners, a hill presses in at the back of the beach, giving most of the resorts here elevation and great sea views. All seven resorts on Chaweng Noi are quite large, with most in the 4-and 5-star range. The relatively smaller number of rooms here also means fewer people on this quieter and more exclusive beach.
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A rocky patch divides Chaweng Noi into two equal sectors, but these are easily walked over, or bypassed at low tide. A small stream also empties into the sea by running right across the beach, though this too can be walked through at all times except after heavy rain.
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This beach has exceptionally fine sand and the water is generally quiet deep, and thus ideal for swimming, though it gets shallower at the south end.
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This southern end between Impiana Resort and The Sarann is a restaurant zone, where many small establishments are crammed into the narrow space between the road and the sand. Small entrepreneurs have set up tables and chairs right in the sand, and offer all kinds of Thai dishes and sea food at reasonable prices.
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Chaweng Noi is also a little more ‘exclusive’, with most hotels here being quite up-market, and set in tropical, hillside gardens. The Imperial Samui Resort, the first hotel here and for long an icon of Chaweng Noi, disappeared in 2015 when it was refurbished and rebranded as the Sheraton Samui Resort .
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Lamai Beach – boutique resorts, with hints of the bygone backpacker era

location: north coast; beach length: 3,000 metres; development behind beach: side-by-side hotels; density of use: medium; number of hotels: 3; water depth: medium
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The three kilometres of sand of Lamai Beach can be divided into two distinct zones; the straight 2,000 metres at the bottom that faces deep water, and the rocky, curved bay at the top that faces very shallow water. The south end is thus the swimming zone, while at the north people can only splash around at high tide. While the northern part of the beach is less attractive, it is distinctly quieter, and also quite scenic, which some visitors prefer.
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Lamai is sometimes considered Samui’s second beach after Chaweng, for this was the second to be invaded by backpackers in the 1980s. The northern bay of Lamai still has many small bungalows, the last remnants of that early, ganga-smoking era. Recently, however, several up-market resorts have swallowed up and replaced cheap bungalows, signalling the coming of Samui’s new boutique era to this last bastion of the past. Pre-eminent among these is the exclusive, beautifully designed Le Meridien Koh Samui Resort .
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The small rocky headland that cuts off Lamai in the south boasts one of the island’s most famous landmarks, the Grandfather and Grandmother rocks that bear a humorous resemblance to male and female genitalia.
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Lamai’s sand is especially coarse, being almost all granules of the granite that pervades the entire southeast corner of Samui. The beach is still attractive however, and the huge granite boulders form pretty rock pools at the south end.
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The local community in Lamai is a mix of Thai Buddhists, Muslims and descendants of Chinese merchant families who settled here generations ago.
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Bophut Beach – peaceful, with lots of lifestyle attractions nearby

location: north coast; beach length: 1,900 metres; development behind beach: side-by-side hotels; density of use: medium; number of hotels: 17; water depth: medium
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Bophut Beach is known first for its Fisherman’s Village, a narrow village street of trendy restaurants, quaint bars and shops that runs along its eastern end. There’s an English pub really run by an Englishman, an Australian sports bar run by an Aussie, lots of seafood establishments and all kinds of specialty eating places. The beach below the restaurants is not at all remarkable; it’s narrow, has coarse sand and the water is barely OK for swimming. But the overall atmosphere of the drinking and eating establishments here, looking out over the water towards Koh Phangan, is indeed special. On Friday nights the village road becomes a walking-only street market. Bophut is certainly worth an evening visit.
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The western end of Bophut Beach is very different, for here the island ring road runs 2-300 metres to the back of the beach, leaving good space for many spacious resorts. The road is lined with shops, minimarts and restaurants, and gives quick access to the nightlife and party zones of Chaweng.
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While Bophut’s sand is not that fine, the beach here has its own distinct atmosphere. It’s much quieter than both Chaweng and Lamai, and the water is quite deep, making this is an excellent swimming beach. Bophut’s comfortable balance between serenity and accessibility is preferred by many visitors.
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Maenam Beach – a quieter, more relaxed swimming and sunning beach

location: north coast; beach length: 1,900 metres; development behind beach: side-by-side hotels; density of use: low to medium; number of hotels: 29; water depth: medium
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This long northern beach is one of the most popular for visitors seeking peace and quiet on Samui, and a good place for swimming. The beach faces the mountainous island of Koh Phangan, ten kilometres across the water, and the defining feature on Maenam’s horizon. While much of the beachfront here is lined with resorts, the density of both buildings and people is far lower than in Chaweng, Lamai or Bophut. Many resorts have long beachfronts and wide spaces for gardens and lawns, enhancing their relaxing environments.
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Maenam’s beach is long and varied, with some stretches being very narrow, almost disappearing at high tide, and others wide and sandy at all times. The water is good for swimming along most of its length, with only a few places being too shallow at low tide. The sand is relatively coarse, but still attractive and pleasant to the touch.
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Maenam village lies midway along the beach, and is quite large, offering street food, restaurants, min-marts, banks, ATMs, pharmacies and plenty of shops. But there’s little entertainment here, so nightlife and a greater choice of restaurants can be accessed with a 20 minute car trip to Chaweng Beach or 10 minutes to the Bophut Fisherman’s Village. Samui’s only full golf course is scenically carved into the low foothills at the base of the central mountain, about a kilometre behind Maenam Beach.
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Choeng Mon Beach, pretty location on the northeast peninsula

location: north coast; beach length: 1,100 metres; development behind beach: side-by-side hotels; density of use: low to medium; number of hotels: 12; water depth: medium to shallow
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This attractively positioned beach is enclosed in a deep bay with two small islands adding an artistic touch to the horizon. It is certainly one of the outstanding locations on Samui. As the map show, resorts now line much of the beach. Among these are some especially attractive, boutique establishments, though a few old-style bungalows still survive. In the middle of the beach a large, Thai-style restaurant provide tourists food, drink and shelter from the midday sun.
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Choeng Mon Beach has fine soft sand, and the beach is wide and flat with a long slope to deeper water. Quite a good swimming beach, it’s also great for children.
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A new shopping area has sprung up along the main road to the back, but it’s still relatively small with only the basic mini-marts, an ATM, a few restaurants and minor shops. There is not yet any entertainment here. But the north of Chaweng is just 5 minutes drive away for that.
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Despite the number of hotels along the beach, Choeng Mon remains a relatively quiet corner of Samui. The resort with the elite location in Choeng Mon can be seen across the water from the main beach. That’s The Tongsai Bay, seen behind its own private beach, with bungalows protruding from the forested hillside.
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Among the boutique and beautiful resorts on this beach, Sala Samui really stands out for its serene design and architecture. Royal Muang Samui Villas is another offering top-end, luxury accommodations.
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Bangrak Beach has, and is, the Big Buddha

location: north coast; beach length: 2,500 metres; development behind beach: side-by-side hotels; density of use: low number of hotels: 17; water depth: shallow
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Called Bangrak in Thai, meaning ‘place of love’, this beach has been called Big Buddha Beach by foreigner visitors for so long that many local people now also refer to it by its new foreign moniker. With Samui’s huge Big Buddha image gazing over the entirety of this beach, it’s not so surprising.
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For purposes of clarity when viewing the hotels, we have enlarged the 2½ kilometres of beach and cut it into two, calling the west side Bangrak Beach and the portion close to the famous Buddha temple Big Buddha Beach.
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The entirety of this beach is quite narrow, and the water shallow, so it’s not a good area for swimming. But the atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant, with one of its major attractions being the sunset. This is one of just two beaches on this side of the island that face the falling sun. Many small bars and restaurants on both sides of the big public jetty cater to the many people who come to celebrate the fiery hot, day-ending spectacle with cool drinks.
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This wide bay is Samui’s safest boat anchorage, giving reasonable shelter from both monsoons – though it’s neither safe nor deep enough to attract expensive modern yachts, which inevitably bypass Samui. A traditional fishing port, scores of local wooden craft are anchored in the shadow of the Big Buddha, though many boat owners have turned away from fishing their barren seas to catching more lucrative tourists. A large public jetty services ferries plying the routes between Samui and the mainland, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao (Turtle Island), plus boats taking visitors on diving and day cruises.
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The road runs close to the back of Bangrak Beach, hemming in the beachfront accommodations and keeping them quite small. A new commercial village is stretched out in a thin strip along this road, and near the jetty there is a fresh market with all the varied produce, fresh seafood, newly-prepared food and the pungent smells of Thailand.
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Despite that planes from Samui airport pass overhead, the disturbance is minimal in most resorts here. This writer often chooses to stay on Bangrak Beach, due to the convenient access it gives to different parts of the island, plus its pleasant eating and drinking venues. And the tasty curries from the fresh market. It’s an ideal location for business travellers.
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The transition from old era accommodations to more modern, trendy places has begun only recently in Bangrak–Big Buddha, though much of Samui has been moving this way for years. Boutique, more attractively designed places here include Saboey Resort & Villas, The Privilege Hotel and Samui Pier Beachfront Resort.
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by John Everingham