Being one of Thailand’s most popular tourist locations, Samui’s beaches may no longer be as secluded as those of the smaller islands. For some, this is not a negative; a beach with a party scene or more activity being preferable. Those still opting for isolation or authenticity need not worry, as this can still be found along the island’s southern shores, as well as a few hidden bays amid the busier north and east coast beaches.
What makes a good beach? To some it means soft white sand, clear and calm water, a coconut palm to offer shade and no distractions. To others the mental picture of the perfect beach involves plentiful deck chairs, entertainment in the way of music, a barman on call to top up that cocktail and a crowd to share this with. Still to others with young children this would imply a safe swimming beach, bathroom facilities, family friendly restaurants and no topless bathers. It is therefore not possible to list Samui’s beaches from best to worst, as this would be in the eye of the beholder. We have made a few suggestions, allowing one to choose the best spot to lay your towel, depending on your ideal memory-making beach.
Chaweng Beach lies on the island’s east coast, and is Samui’s longest and busiest beach. Should one arrive early morning, it is easy to see why this was the first beach area to develop in tourism. Private villas no longer grace Chaweng’s shores and every available space has been used for economic benefit in the way of resorts, restaurants and bars. Room rates along this beach are inflated, and there is no longer anything available in the backpacker or even flashpacker range. However, those wanting a social scene have made the right choice in Chaweng, as venues such as Ark Bar pump out music and fill every open patch of sand with sun beds. Do not expect peace and quiet – if the vendors don’t disturb you, the jetskis will. At night the party continues, and day beds are turned into chill platforms, while the serious deejays hit the deck.
Those enjoying water sports have several options with all the main beaches offering some form of equipment hire. Surfers will be let down however, as Samui has no waves – at all. SUP (stand up paddling) has become the latest trend on the island as no waves are needed, and boards and lessons are available in Chaweng, Lamai and Mae Nam. All the busier beaches, as well as many of the resorts will hire out kayaks at around 100 to 200 baht per hour, a great way to exercise the upper body, and see Samui from a different angle. Kite surfing is popular along Mae Nam beach, particularly at the point in front of the W Retreat, where Mae Nam beach meets Bophut beach, and the wind is at its best by Samui standards. Jetskis are controversial on the island, as they annoy anyone not on one. However, should you prefer engine power over muscle power, then they’re available for hire at Chaweng, Lamai, Choeng Mon and Bophut beaches. Be aware of bathers, as there don’t seem to be designated areas for the jetskis, and nasty accidents have happened.
Underwater world lovers may want to book a day snorkeling trip to Ko Tao, about 90 minutes by ferry from Samui, and known as one of the best snorkeling and dive locations in South East Asia. Should you not want to venture as far, then the best snorkeling option would be to either take a longboat trip, only a few hundred metres across to Ko Tan and Ko Matsum, two small islands off the southern harbour of Thong Krut. Here the snorkeling is even better than the Ang Thong Marine Park. Without leaving Samui, try the small bays of Coral Cove and Crystal Bay, between Chaweng and Lamai.
If the thought of a quiet beach, shared only with a few fishermen and perhaps a water buffalo appeals to you, then explore Samui’s south western coastline. Taling Ngam beach, is long and at parts is shared by a few resorts, but other parts are totally isolated as is neighbouring Phang Ka Bay. Don’t be afraid to travel down a dirt path and explore -- Samui is safe to do so, and there’re a few patches down south that are completely void of development. Samrong and Thongson Bays at the north eastern tip of Samui, although not undeveloped, have managed to escape mass tourism, as they are not on the main routes, and only those in the know, or guests of the resorts in these bays will share them with you.
Choeng Mon beach (where our TEFL centre is located) is popular with expat families, due to clean water and protected bay. You’ll find good restaurants as well as a few food vendors around when the hunger pangs arrive, but the bar scene is unobtrusive. Bang Rak beach is popular with Thai families, and here one will see children swimming early evening, while grandmothers dig with toes in the sand in search of clams for dinner.
The best backpacker spots can still be found nestled between high end resorts and villas along the much underrated Mae Nam beach as well as a few to the western end of Bophut beach.
Whether a cushioned sun lounger, attentive barman keeping the Mojitos rolling, and cool vibes blaring from nearby speakers -- or a patch to spread your towel under a palm, book in hand, to call your own for a few hours is your scene, Samui has it to offer. Time to explore.