The best things to do in Koh Samui

Going to Thailand? You need to know the best things to do in Koh Samui. Check out these trip ideas to have a blast on your vacation.

Koh Samui beach aerial

Long before five-star hotels offered luxury-drenched spa treatments and other lavish things to do in Koh Samui, this place was a sleepy fisher island. Legend has it the name Koh Samui comes from the Chinese “Saboey,” or “safe haven,” because Chinese traders anchoring off the island’s shores found it ideal for settling down.

It’s no longer sleepy, so we’ve rounded up the six best things to see in Koh Samui to make decisions easier for you. Whether Chaweng Beach, Lamai Beach or another spot on this fascinating island is your point of interest, you’re sure to have a blast.

Dive into Koh Samui nightlife at Chaweng

Fire spinning at Ark bar in Koh Samui.

Arguably one of the best beaches in Koh Samui, Chaweng is also the busiest. Twenty-somethings and the young at heart frequent this four-kilometer-long strip of soft, golden sand to enjoy happy hours and banging beats. It’s a mecca for nightlife, with pubs and restaurants galore. 

Want to hang out in the middle of everything and yet be in a more chilled-out setting? Then the beachfront eateries and bars are for you unless it’s Ark Bar, where fire jugglers deftly spin balls of fire on chains with the ends ablaze to attract the crowds.

Marvel at the Fisherman Village’s Rusticity

Fishing village Koh Samui

Fishers don’t live at the Fisherman’s Village anymore

Off the main drag of Chaweng and Lamai on a narrow beach road in the Bophut area, you’ll stumble across a lovely village that fishers used to inhabit. While they have gone elsewhere, bucolic buildings retain the 19th-century charm. 

Besides boutiques, there are also a few smaller hotels and restaurants specializing in Thai food. Picture yourself eating some Pad Thai noodles in a beachside eatery open at the back, with views of Koh Phangan unfolding across the ocean. 

Dropping by at Bophut’s fisherman village, you’re bound to see something different. On Fridays, the village’s walking street turns into a market full of life.

Unwind at Maenam Beach

Maenam Beach – popular with backpackers in looking for things to do in  Koh Samui

With its old-world feel, Maenam enchants not just because of its Thursday market; its tan sand beach is magnificent.

Maenam is popular with backpackers since it’s reasonably priced, and the palm-fringed beach is relatively untouched.

Few vendors interrupt the peace as you lounge in your hammock, enraptured by that cradling sense of softly swaying from side to side. The locals are laid-back, and most pubs close early along this seven-kilometer stretch of beach. So, in a coco-nutshell, this is the place to recharge your batteries. 

Witness Buddha’s life at Wat Plai Laem

The eighteen-handed Guan Yin in Koh Samui

One of the things to do in Koh Samui you mustn’t miss is going to Wat Plai Laem in Koh Samui’s northeast.

Open from dawn ‘til dusk, the brightly colored temple complex incorporates Chinese and Thai traditions. It offers a glimpse of multicultural beliefs and skillful Buddhist art and architecture. There’s an 18-armed, 15-meter tall statue of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, said to support the poor, foster good health for children, and safeguard sailors from being harmed. 

Just as eye-catching is Hotei, the white Laughing Buddha, bringing in wealth and happiness. Access these two icons via a small bridge straddling the pond teeming with hungry catfish. 

As an aside, if you donate to the temple, you’ll get fish food for the schools of shark-catfish wrangling and splashing about with their mouths wide open. 

Murals adorn the temple walls depicting Buddha’s life. And Buddha sitting on a lotus-shaped throne underneath the Bodhi tree radiates peace. As do the pond’s spinning mills and swan pedalos.

Soak up ocean views at Lamai’s Overlapping Stone

Koh Samui landscape

While some associate Koh Samui with the genitalia-shaped granite outcrops Hin Ta and Hin Yai, one of the unusual things to do in Koh Samui is just a stone’s throw away. The Overlap Stone is two stones stacked atop each other by nature in a virtually impossible position. The overlapping ten-meter rocks are situated in a scenic spot offering views of hillscapes and the sea. 

To get here, watch for the sign a kilometer south of the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks (Hin Ta and Hin Yai) on the right side of the ring road. It’s an arduous 20-minute climb up a steep, rough path, but you can fuel up with drinks from the vendor waiting on the top or announce your presence with a loud dirt bike.

Jump in a boat and dive 

turtle underwater

Keen to dive into this tropical paradise with its brilliant blue waters and abundant marine life? You don’t have to go on a liveaboard for several days; you can join short recognized dive courses.

Either way, you’ll have a whale of a time.

The best time to go to Koh Samui

When to go to Koh Samui and your entire Thailand itinerary depends on your preferences. Traveling on a tight budget? Do crowds put you off? Then you’ll enjoy the off-season from late October to mid-December. The peak season is for sun worshippers when rain is rare.

While the dry season from mid-December to February is the best time to visit, the Koh Samui weather is never a hassle for too long. Sure, you might have to spend some time indoors in the rainy season, but you can also catch some rays when the masses thin out. 

The low season is when posh Koh Samui hotels are more affordable. 

Where to stay in Koh Samui, you ask? Choose Chaweng or Lamai if you’re into nightlife and Crystal Bay or Coral Cove for a more relaxed environment.

Getting to Koh Samui

2 guys walking on the beach in Thailand

As for how to get to Koh Samui, you have many options to reach Thailand’s second-largest island. 

Whether traveling from Bangkok to Koh Samui or taking the Phuket to Koh Samui trip, flying is the fastest travel method. 

Currently, you can find six to seven direct flights to Koh Samui from Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok every day. The downside is Bangkok Airways’ monopoly on flights to Samui. But despite the higher prices, you’ll love the Koh Samui airport, hardly double the size of a bamboo hut. With its lack of buses and gates, it’s the world’s cutest for many.

Other transportation options

turquoise seas of Thailand

What other option do you have regarding how to get to Koh Samui from Bangkok?

Riding a bus from Bangkok is cheaper than flying and convenient at that. You’ll get a reclining seat and snuggly blanket for the 14.5-hour overnight journey. Watching the landscape roll past, as you gradually doze off to sleep, you’ll arrive before you know it.

Rail buffs can hop on a train from Bangkok to Suratthani and then on a minivan to Don Sak. No matter what, the last leg of your journey involves a ferry to Koh Samui. It takes 90 minutes for the Seatran and Raja ferries to reach the island, but the former arrives at Nathon and the latter at Lipa Noi pier, a tranquil, palm-fringed beach with white sands and turquoise waters. Don’t miss the relaxing experience of walking on this beach, one of the best free things to do in Koh Samui.


Is Koh Samui good for beginner Scuba divers? Can we get certified there?

Yes and yes. Scuba diving in Koh Samui is for beginners and experienced divers alike.

Which is better? Koh Samui or Phuket?

People love to compare but there’s no winner in the Koh Samui vs. Phuket comparison. Both have a lot of personality and beaches to die for. We suggest you go to both, and let us know which one is your favorite?

What’s the cheapest way to get from Bangkok to Koh Samui?

Although it’s not a short ride, the bus and bus+ferry are the cheapest options.

Posted April 19, 2022
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Philipp Meier
Philipp Meier is a Phuket-based travel writer passionate about Thai culture and wandering off Thailand’s well-trodden tourist trail. His work has been published on the Nat Geo Traveller India, South China Morning Post, Culture Trip, BootsnAll, GoNOMAD, and elsewhere. You can find him at Writer Philipp Meier and LinkedIn.
image of blog writer Phil