Top spot on the Gulf Coast is Ko Samui, Thailands third largest island, located some 650km (400 miles) south of Bangkok and 35km (21 miles) off the coast of Surat Thani. The island covers an area of about 280 sq km (108 sq miles), and measures 21km (13 miles) as its widest point and 25km (15 miles) in maximum lenght.
A mountain ridge runs east to west and most of the hinterland comprises forested hills and coconut plantations, while the coast is dotted with palm-fringed beaches and quiet coves.
With its picture-postcard beauty, Samui is everyones dream of a tropical island. Until recently, actually living that dream was limited mostly to backpackers, but now upmarket travellers are attracted by the ease of air access and the availability of deluxe resort hotels. Despite this, beach bungalows and a youthful, casual atmosphere still predominate.
Travellers arriving by air land at Samui airport in the northeast corner of the island, close to the action, while the ferries from Surat Thani doc on the less-developed western shore, either at Na Thon, the main town, or slightly futher south. A 59km (36-mile) ringroad provides ready access to all points.
The islands two major accommodation beaches are Chaweng and Lamai, both on the east coast. Stretching for 6km (4 miles) and fringed with palms, Chaweng is the more popular and offers a remarkable range of accommodation and other facilities. Lamai, a few kilometres to the south, is also a pretty beach but its development has been more downmarket.
The north side of the island is very quiet and mostly unspoilt, the only major development being at Mae Nam Beach, the site of the delux Santiburi resort. Directly east of Mae Nam, Bo Phut is also peaceful, though less beautiful, while further eastward is Big Buddha Beach, a small bay with views of two offshore islands, one topped by a large seated Buddha. On Samuis northeastern tip is the attractive Choen Mon Beach.
The western and southern coasts lack the dramatic beauty of the north and eastern shores, but reward exploration (easiest by hired motorbike) with a number of quiet and pleasantly isolated coves and bays.
Boats can be hired for trips to Ko Pha Ngan, the nearest and largest island next to Samui. Beaches and scenery are as good as on Samui but the island is even quieter and less developed.
A full-day excursion can be made to Ang Thong Marine Park, a group of 40 islands situated 30km (20 miles) northwest of Samui with superb limestone formations, caves, lagoons and stunning beaches. Organized daily tours to Ang Thong are available from travel agents in Na Thon.
Located some 84 kilometres east of Surat Thani province, Ko Samui, the Coconut Island, is one of the most famous attractions of Thailand. With an area of 247 sq.km., Ko Samui is the third largest island of Thailand after Phuket and Ko Chang (off the eastern coast). It is the main island of a group of islets numbering 48 altogether.
There are several natural attractions located on or near the main ring road. These are included in most guided tour itineraries. You are likely to stop at most or all of them if you take one of the Island Tours offered by several companies. Or you may prefer to map out your own route, and follow it on rented motorbikes or in a jeep.
The most obvious thing to do while holidaying on Koh Samui is to laze on one of the beautiful beaches, and swim or paddle in the warm tropical waters, but you will probably want to do other things as well, and there is lots and lots to do. Some of them are mentioned here, you will find out about others as you get around the Island and through reading the guide books.Watersports, Spas and Tours are mentioned in their own sections.
When the sun goes down, the villages of Chaweng and Lamai have exceptionally vibrant nightlife. Beginning at dusk you can stroll the main strips and choose from hundreds of venues for drinks, dining, and live music. Bophut is more subdued, with a café and bistro scene that is decidedly low key, and preferred for this reason by some. The villages of Maenam and Nathon become very quiet after the shops have closed for the day.
Many souvenirs, clothes, jewelry etc. are produced on mainland Thailand and brought to Samui. By comparison to Bangkok or Chiang Mai some products may not seem like the bargains you had hoped they would be. But they are still likely to be less expensive than they are where you live!
One of the things that makes Samui so appealing is the fact that you can still stop at a street cart for a 30 baht plate of Phat Thai or Fried Rice, while just around the corner a lavish buffet is being served on the beach. All the options are here, including several Thai vegetarian restaurants.
There are numerous spas and health resorts, offering various treatments. They are all in beautiful and tranquil settings, so you get the most out of the experience, mind as well as body. The therapists are of many nationalities and it will not be difficult to find a, course, treatment or therapy to suit your requirements. Many spas sell the natural products they use so you can carry on the good work when you return home, and many have small restaurants serving health foods or drinks. Some give lessons in Traditional massage
Watersports are extensively available on Koh Samui, an island surrounded by smaller Islands and a clear blue crystal sea. Details of what is available can be found in the excellent, very informative local guides, and brochures can be obtained in hotel reception areas, and in the numerous sports centres. The choice is varied and large, and it is a good idea to enquire about insurance cover.
The Gulf of Thailand has prime sites for diving and there are many PADI registered schools and centres, where you can discover scuba for the first time with a free lesson in a swimming pool, take a course to qualify as a certified diver, then there are exciting courses up to Master Instructor, first aid and rescue courses amongst them. Children can take a junior course at ten years old, and the Bubblemaker enables even younger children to experience life under water. Diving on Koh Samui has become an activity for the whole family.
There many organised tours to places of interest around the Island. Details of which can be found in the excellent free guides Some are for the whole day and some for half day. Tailor made tours to suit your own particular needs and interests are easily obtainable . Transport, (you will be picked up and taken back to your accommodation) food, and entrance fees are usually included in the price paid when you book.