With its stunning white sand beaches, luscious tropical landscapes, and vibrant nightlife, Koh Samui is a hot spot destination for travelers wanting to experience the islands of Thailand.
Over 2 million people visit Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand each year, and that number only ever seems to be increasing.
But why is that? Is Koh Samui worth visiting? The answer largely depends on the kind of experience you are looking for. Koh Samui is a beach destination with world-class resorts, but it can also be considered overly touristy now, which won’t appeal to every traveler.
In this guide, we will unpack all the reasons to visit, and reasons not to visit, Koh Samui – so you can decide for yourself whether you think it’s worth visiting.
Is Koh Samui Worth Visiting?
But let’s begin with our opinion on whether Koh Samui is worth visiting. Having spent a few weeks there, we have decided that yes Koh Samui is worth visiting, but it’s not somewhere we would spend a lot of time.
Koh Samui is the second largest island in Thailand and with that it’s become largely overdeveloped and packed with resorts. It’s a popular hot spot for families, and groups of friends looking to take advantage of the beaches by day, and nightlife by night.
For some people, this overly touristy atmosphere is far from idyllic, but you can avoid this by staying in a quieter location such as in the Mae Nam district.
The beaches in Koh Samui are beautiful, but aside from this, there isn’t a huge number of attractions on the island – at least, not ones we would want to do.
If your goal is to find a stunning beach that backs onto a world-class resort, then Koh Samui is for you. If you love adventure, you won’t find much of that here.
Reasons to Visit Koh Samui
Before we get into the potential downsides to Koh Samui, let’s look at some of the pros of visiting Koh Samui…
1. Beautiful Beaches
Being one of Thailand’s stunning tropical islands, you’d half expect Koh Samui’s beaches to be pretty nice.
Well, you’d be absolutely correct. This fairly large island is home to plenty of beautiful beaches, with each one offering a unique atmosphere and beauty. We can’t mention them all, but here are some of our favourites from the island.
On the northeast coast, you’ll find arguably the most popular, Chaweng Beach. As well as having gorgeously soft white sand and crystal-clear waters, despite its popularity, Chaweng Beach is also really clean, even in the off-season. Many hotels and resorts reside along this stretch of sand all contributing to the cleanliness of the sands.
Head a little further south and you’ll find Lamai Beach, another popular choice. Lamai is a little more rugged than Chaweng and the sand not quite as soft, but it’s still gorgeous nonetheless.
It’s backed up by an endless row of green palm trees, swaying in the sea breeze, as well as several bars and restaurants for you to chill in too.
Moving back up north, you’ll find Bo Phut Beach, which is strategically located right beside the busy Fisherman’s Village. As well as being a beautiful long stretch of sand, there are lots of bars and restaurants along the promenade which really adds to Bo Phut Beach’s lively atmosphere.
And finally, for something a little quieter and more ‘hidden’, I suggest Crystal Bay. This small and rustic beach is perfect for a quiet afternoon of lazing around, fringed by plenty of palm trees and huge granite boulders giving it a unique aesthetic.
2. Diverse Range of Accommodation
One of the best things about Koh Samui is that it has that big island feel to it, almost like you’re back on the mainland.
I know this might sound a little strange if you’re on a Thai island, but the hustle and bustle just adds to Samui’s overall atmosphere, and with a big island feel comes a diverse range of accommodations.
Home to plenty of high-end luxury resorts like the Four Seasons, Banyan Tree, and W Retreat, this is certainly the place to come if you want idyllic beachfront locations and private villas on a remote Thai island. Perfect for a honeymoon in Thailand.
In keeping with Koh Samui’s traditions, there are also plenty of traditional Thai-style beachfront bungalows to stay in, with supreme access to the beach and that true, rustic island atmosphere. Jasmine Garden Bungalow is a great option for beach bungalows, as is Lipa Lodge Beach Resort.
As well as a whole host of mid-range hotels with swimming pools and other amenities, Koh Samui also caters to the budget traveller too with plenty of hostels on the island.
Affordable dorm-style rooms come with communal spaces to meet like-minded travellers and some great examples include p168 hostel, Timeless Hostel, and Chill Inn.
3. Stunning Natural Beauty
We’ve already mentioned Koh Samui’s gorgeous beaches, but what about the rest of the island’s drop-dead stunning natural beauty? Samui’s interior is covered in thick, green lush jungle giving you a peaceful retreat from the busy coastline.
Being a remote island in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand, the jungles are home to many diverse plant and dangerous animal species like wild monkeys, a whole heap of snakes, and scorpions, so keep your eyes peeled!
As Koh Samui is also fairly large, the terrain is very mountainous in areas meaning there are some spectacular waterfalls to be discovered.
Na Muang has two waterfalls for you to enjoy, and Hin Lad is the second largest on the island, cascading down into a large freshwater pool for you to enjoy.
Along the beaches, if you’ve got a snorkel handy, you may also notice the vibrant coral reefs that call the island home, teeming with marine life.
Coral Cove is without a doubt the best spot to go snorkelling on the island and if you’re lucky you might even spot a seahorse.
4. Rich Culture and Plenty of Temples
Naturally, being a Thai island, Koh Samui is deeply rooted in Thai Buddhism and you’ll instantly be able to spot this from the moment you fly into the island.
The Big Buddha Temple is an iconic symbol of the island, with the gigantic 12-meter-tall golden Buddha almost acting as a guardian to those who live here. As well as the statue, the temple complex is beautiful, with many smaller statues to see and locals selling all sorts of products.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself even deeper in the religious culture, Koh Samui is home to several other beautiful and ornate temples.
Wat Plai Laem is one, with an imposing Chinese-style eighteen-armed deity named Cundi set around a peaceful lake. Wat Khunaram is another serene temple, famous for housing the mummified remains of Luang Por Daeng, a devoted monk who unfortunately passed away whilst in a meditative position.
For a dash of vibrancy, Wat Ratchathammaram is another must-visit temple on the island. This temple is unique in the fact the entirety of the temple building is an intriguing terracotta red colour which provides an amazing contrast to Koh Samui’s usually blue sky.
The temple interior is again really pretty and houses a stunning contrasting golden Buddha.
5. Electric Nightlife
Koh Samui’s nightlife is up there with some of the best on the Thai islands partly due to the sheer variety on offer to visitors.
All along the beaches there are plenty of beach bars and restaurants allowing you to enjoy a cocktail or three, dance to live music, and enjoy the dazzling fire shows that takes place most evenings.
The Chaweng Beach area is the liveliest during the evenings, with a huge ‘strip’ offering plenty of bars showing live sports, live music performances, and clubs where you can dance the night away.
Fisherman’s Village, on the island’s north coast, is a sleepy area by day with various restaurants and bars feeding tourists, and by night transforms into a lively beachfront marketplace with a wonderful atmospheric feeling to the streets.
Coco Tams is famous for its vibrant beachfront vibe and has probably the best fire show on the island.
As is customary in Thailand, once the sun sets there are plenty of night markets to choose from including Lamai Night Market in the southeast, and Maenam Walking Street in the North.
If you’ll be on Koh Samui coinciding with the full moon, if it’s your thing, you can even get a boat across to the neighbouring Koh Phangan and experience the madness of the official Full Moon Party.
Read more: Which is Better: Koh Samui or Koh Phangan?
6. Opportunities for Water Sports
Being a relatively small island completely surrounded by the bluest of oceans, it’s really hard not to engage in some of the amazing water activities available to you when you are on Koh Samui.
It’s one of the best islands to snorkel around due to the clear waters and vibrant coral reefs found on the eastern side of the island.
If you enjoy some scuba diving and have your license, Samui is again one of the best places in Thailand to head deep under the surface.
You’ll be able to explore locations like Sail Rock, which is best for whale shark sightings, and charter a boat out to the nearby Ang Thong Marine Park, which is made up of 42 individual limestone islands and home to underwater caves, swim-throughs, vast overhangs, and gradual sloping coral reefs.
Things can get a little windy on Koh Samui making it ideal for activities like kiteboarding down on Bangrak Beach and windsurfing on Maenam.
Paddleboarding has also seen a massive rise in popularity in recent years, and again, paddleboards are available to rent on most of Koh Samui’s beaches.
If you’re a keen fisherman, aside from strolling the historic streets of Fisherman’s Village, you can also join a fishing trip, enabling you to experience deep-sea fishing out in the ocean.
Many tour operators offer a half-day or full-day experience so there’s something to suit most budgets.
7. Perfect Position For Day Trips
Koh Samui is such a good island to base yourself on if you’re in Thailand on a holiday. There’s simply so much to see and do that you’re almost guaranteed to not fit everything in.
Even if you did and you find yourself with a few empty days, there’s a huge variety of day trips that you can book yourself onto.
Ang Thong Marine Park is one of the most picturesque places on the planet and many tour operators offer day trips to the archipelago. You’ll be able to explore the untouched jungles, swim in the emerald-coloured lagoons, and hike up to a view that will be burnt into your mind for eternity.
If you’re short on time, the neighbouring island of Koh Tao is one of the best spots in the world for snorkelling and scuba diving. Also known as Turtle Island, you’ll have opportunities to spot turtles and explore the island’s charming towns and viewpoints before returning to Samui.
Related Reading: How to Get from Koh Samui to Koh Tao
8. Shoppers Paradise
If you’re partial to a bit of shopping here and there, Koh Samui is one of the best places in Thailand to do just that.
You’ve got the bustling night markets of Fisherman’s Village, Chaweng, and Lamai as we’ve mentioned, where you’ll be able to find all types of clothing, jewelry, and more local products.
Modern shopping malls like Central Festival (which is the largest on the island) offer visitors the chance to shop in more international branded shops, and the walking street markets, particularly in Maenam, Hua Thanon and Nathon, provide you with that real, local feeling with an abundance of handmade souvenirs and cheap street food to fill up on.
As well as these options, the island is home to plenty of independent, boutique shops where you’ll find quaint, unique products for sale allowing you to really contribute to the local economy.
9. Tasty Thai Cuisine
Koh Samui is such a good island if you’re a foodie as there’s just an unbelievable amount of choice and luckily, Thai food is some of the best in the world.
The flavour combinations of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy are just so unique and unlike anything else you’ll find in the world.
The island offers a really diverse culinary scene with a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
Obviously, local Thai food can be found in abundance, with Pad Thai, spicy curries, Tom Yum soups, and Som Tam available in most restaurants.
Supattra Thai Dining is one of the best local Thai restaurants on the island, as is Khaw Glong Thai. These restaurants will have plenty of authentic Thai dishes on the menu, so why not try something completely different?
Koh Samui’s ideal location right in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand makes it a superb destination to enjoy the fresh culinary delights of the sea.
Many restaurants will offer freshly caught seafood, including whole grilled snapper, steamed clams, and fried squid with garlic and pepper.
Make sure to head over to Haad Bang Po in Maenam, it is one of our favourites and we find ourselves returning each time we go back to Koh Samui.
10. One Of The Most Accessible Islands in Thailand
Another reason as to why Koh Samui is worth visiting is because of how easy it is to access. Granted, Koh Samui is a remote island in the middle of the ocean, but it’s actually incredibly well-connected by air and sea.
The most common way to reach the island is by flying into Samui Airport. This is the island’s main gateway and is really well-connected to most major Thai cities like Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and also select international destinations.
The flight from Bangkok takes just over an hour meaning you can wake up in Bangkok and be on the beach in Samui by lunchtime!
As well as flying, you can also reach the island by ferry. These operate on the hour from the mainland from Donsak Pier in Surat Thani province taking around 60 minutes, and also from the neighboring islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.
11. Close to Koh Phangan & Koh Tao
For us, the biggest benefit of Koh Samui is that it’s close proximity to other island in the Gulf of Thailand, such as Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Koh Phangan’s Haad Rin Beach is a 20 minute speedboat away, which is perfect for those who want to visit for a quick day trip or weekend stopover. It’s also possible to catch the boat over to experience the Full Moon Parties, which take place every month on Haad Rin Beach.
The Full Moon Parties are one of the biggest bucket list items in Thailand and for party lovers, should not be missed.
Koh Tao is a world-class divers hot spot, known for its population of Black Tip Reef Sharks and being near to other diving sites where you can spot sharks in Thailand‘s waters.
Reasons Not To Visit Koh Samui
With every plus, there is always a drawback. Here are some of the cons of visiting Koh Samui…
1. Overly touristy
Koh Samui is 228.7 km² and hosts 2.7 million travelers a year – that’s a lot of people on not a lot of landmass. It shows, and finding other travelers on the island is unavoidable.
One of the reasons we loved visiting other islands in the Gulf of Thailand, such as the remote Koh Kood island, is because they still feel very authentic and secluded.
While you can find quiet places in Koh Samui if you visit at the right time of year, the chances of you being alone without other tourists is pretty slim.
To compensate for the crowds of tourists, you can expect Koh Samui to be packed with clubs, bars, and resorts. The overall feel of the island is more Westernized, compared to other islands in Thailand.
2. Not many “authentic” things to do
We found that after a few days on Koh Samui, we were running out of things to do. There are plenty of beaches, sure, but aside from that, there weren’t any exciting attractions.
You can take a boat tour to Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park, visit a few waterfalls (if you are visiting after the rainy season, otherwise they dry up and are not worth it), and check out the temples such as Big Buddha, and after that you’re pretty much done with the highlights.
Of course, there are ATV tours, zip lines and even foot golf (which is actually more fun than you would expect), but these attractions have been built for the purpose of tourism and are not authentically Thai.
If you’re interested, there’s a couple elephant sanctuaries you can visit, but if you’re going to see elephants anywhere in Thailand, then Chiang Mai is famous for its elephant sanctuaries.
3. It’s expensive compared to other islands
When you compare Koh Samui to other islands in Thailand, it feels a bit more expensive. Everything from eating out to prices of accommodation, is more expensive than other islands.
The only expense we found cheaper than its neighboring islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao was the scooter rental, and that may have been because we visited during the off-season.
While it is expensive compared to other islands, it’s still only marginally so (we’re talking an extra $1 or $2). It’s worth noting that it’s not expensive compared to Western standards. It’s possible to find accommodation for as little as $25 USD per night, and food costs $3-$4 per meal.
FAQs About Visiting Koh Samui
Is Koh Samui better than Phuket?
In our opinion, Phuket is better than Koh Samui as it has more diverse attractions. While Koh Samui has beautiful beaches, Phuket has beautiful beaches and then some. The nightlife scene is more vibrant in Phuket, and the Old Town in Phuket is historically interesting.
How long should you spend in Koh Samui?
We recommend you spent a minimum of three days in Koh Samui to see the highlights. If you enjoy beaches, you may want to stay longer, or take a boat to its neighboring islands.
Why is Koh Samui so popular?
Koh Samui is popular because it’s easily accessible with its international airport, allowing you to fly directly onto the island. It’s also popular for its white sand beaches and world-class resorts that offer exceptional service.
Why is Koh Samui so expensive?
Koh Samui is expensive because everything is imported by boat from the mainland, adding an additional cost to commodities. However, it’s still possible to travel to Koh Samui on a budget, and the additional costs are only marginally more expensive compared to the mainland.
So, Is Koh Samui Worth Visiting?
In our opinion, Koh Samui is worth visiting if you are the right kind of traveler. There are many pros and cons, as you can see in this guide, but we feel the pros outweigh the cons.
Koh Samui may be overly touristy now and because of that, it packs a hefty price tag, but it’s still idyllic and has gorgeous beaches and world-class resorts.
Of course, if you don’t enjoy it, you can always catch the boat to Koh Phangan which is only 20 minutes away.
We hope this guide helped you decide whether the island of Koh Samui is worth visiting.