Looking for the best place to stay in Koh Samui for your holiday in Thailand? This guide will help you choose.
Thailand is one of those destinations that sticks with you — don’t be surprised when you run into more tourists-turned-expat than almost anywhere else in the world. The calm and laid-back culture, friendly people, and world-famous beaches simply draw people in, and often fail to spit them back out. With the jungle region in the north, bustling Bangkok a bit farther down, and enough islands for a lifetime of exploring in the south, Thailand is the perfect place for your next holiday. This guide will help you choose where to stay in Koh Samui, one of this country’s most gorgeous islands.
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Where To Stay In Koh Samui
Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s largest islands, as well as one of the few with international airports, making it an easy destination to reach from wherever you’re located. Because of Koh Samui’s size and infrastructure, it’s not the kind of island you’ll feel like a castaway on. Fortunately, that means — no matter what type of traveller you are — there’s lots to do and see, and tons of accommodation options.
Chaweng, Koh Samui
Chaweng is Koh Samui’s largest centre for all things sun, sand, and party-related. It has more restaurants and bars than you could ever make your way through, and the options for tours leaving from this part of the island are nearly endless. Often thought of as the ultimate party destination of Koh Samui, Chaweng is the place to be if you truly want to live it up on your holiday.
Why Stay In Chaweng
Chaweng is filled with big resorts, tons of restaurants, and a beach bar for everyone. There’s a good reason this part of Koh Samui has become such a destination, though: Its white sand and clear water. Both Chaweng Beach and neighbouring Chaweng Noi look like your average computer background (aka pristine and gorgeous). If you want to stay at a big hotel, watch fire shows on the beach at night, and do your fair share of partying, Chaweng is the spot for you.
Why Avoid Chaweng
The downside to Chaweng is its lack of local charm. You’ll still find hole-in-the-wall spots to grab authentic Thai food, but in Chaweng, those places are shadowed by restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe. Chaweng is great if you’re looking for a holiday where you can splurge and enjoy yourself on a gorgeous beach. You won’t experience local Thai life here, though.
Bophut, Koh Samui
In the north of Koh Samui, Bophut has a calmer blend of nice beaches and things to do. The Fisherman’s Village and old-timey buildings add an authentic charm to the place you won’t find in either Chaweng or Lamai. Bophut still has things going on, though — you’ll find resorts and hotels here, too. That being said, there’s no doubt this part of the island has a more laid back, local feel to it.
Why Stay In Bophut
Bophut is great if you want a mix of “tourist” attractions and a local village feel. It’s not nearly as built up as other parts of Koh Samui but still won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been stranded on a deserted island. Bophut is great for families or travellers looking for things to do, but with a more laid-back vibe.
Why Avoid Bophut
Bophut won’t give you those pristine, tropical beaches you think of when Thailand comes to mind. The long stretch of sand and ocean in Bophut are still beautiful, but the water isn’t as clear as other parts of the island. People come to Bophut for the surrounding village, and not just the beach.
Lamai, Koh Samui
Lamai is like Chaweng’s younger sibling — a little smaller and less crowded, but with the same gorgeous sand and water. You won’t find things like The Hard Rock Cafe in Lamai, nor will you find sprawling resorts. In fact, looking toward Lamai from the ocean, the backdrop of the beach looks overgrown and lush with palm trees. The hotels are unassumingly tucked back, giving this part of Koh Samui a wonderful tropical feel (but without being in the middle of nowhere).
Why Stay In Lamai
Because of its undeniable draw to expats, Lamai is dotted with French cafes and Italian restaurants. Since it’s less built-up than Chaweng, though, a 5-minute walk outside the main road will leave you feeling like you’re wandering through a local Thai neighbourhood... in fact, you are. Lamai is the perfect combination of good food, beaches, and nightlife, combined with an authentic Thai feel.
Why Avoid Lamai
If you’re looking for a quiet, tropical holiday where all you hear are the sounds of waves and palm trees swaying in the wind, you won’t find that here. While Lamai is certainly smaller than neighbouring Chaweng, the motorbikes and traffic are hard to miss. If you’re looking for seclusion, peace, and quiet, Lamai won’t fit the bill.
Maenam, Koh Samui
Maenam has become the unofficially designated “backpacker” area of Koh Samui. That means there are lots of budget options and an overall more relaxed vibe than you might find in other areas. That being said, you’ll also find a few mega-luxury resorts hidden away in Maenam. It’s a great place for a quiet getaway or family vacation.
Why Stay In Maenam
Maenam is a great option if you’re travelling to Koh Samui on a budget. You’ll find lots of cheap options here, along with decent prices at the few nearby restaurants. If you’re into outdoor activities that don’t involve large tour groups, you’ll have options like kite-surfing and other water-sport adventures.
Why Avoid Maenam
While there are some high-end resorts in Maenam, the gap between budget and luxury is big. People coming to Maenam tend to sway toward either end of the spectrum. The water around Maenam is also more cloudy than other areas of Koh Samui. If you’re looking for a mid-budget option with pristine beaches, consider looking elsewhere. There’s also a lack of nightlife here.
Bang Rak, Koh Samui
Also known as “Big Buddha Beach,” Bang Rak Beach is another popular spot with backpackers travelling to Koh Samui. It boasts some of the cleanest, clearest water anywhere around the island. Because of its general quietness, it’s a great place to escape the crowds or bring your family. If you’re interested in taking the ferry to nearby islands like Koh Phangan, Bang Rak is also a great jumping point for overwater trips.
Why Stay In Bang Rak
Bang Rak particularly appeals to travellers looking for easy access to places like Chaweng, but with a much quieter atmosphere. Bang Rak is the best of both worlds. You can quickly get to other hot-spot beaches and villages on the island, but without having to listen to the crowds and parties into the night. This is a great spot if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway.
Why Avoid Bang Rak
While there certainly isn’t as much going on in Bang Rak as other parts of the island, the traffic on main roads can get loud and busy at certain parts of the day. If you’re interested in wandering around the area on foot, it might become a nuisance. Also, while the beach here is absolutely gorgeous, some areas have too many rocks to comfortably swim. If getting into the water is a must for you, make sure you check what the beach near your accommodation looks like before booking.
Choeng Mon, Koh Samui
This string of coves along the northeast part of Koh Samui is home to classy resorts, a beautiful beach, and some really great sunsets. It’s less of a “budget” traveller destination than Bang Rak, although it still has low-cost options to choose from. Visitors to Choeng Mon are often honeymooners, families, and international expats (there’s a large German and French influence).
Why Stay In Choeng Mon
If you’re looking for a luxury resort, Choeng Mon has more than a few. However, they’re not party-pumping like the ones you tend to find in Chaweng. Choeng Mon is laid back but has a heavy international influence. You’ll feel less of the traditional Thai vibe here, but it also lacks the loud music and bars. Choeng Mon is a great place to vacation when you want to spend time a resort on a beautiful beach, and don’t mind the lack of nightlife outside what your hotel offers.
Why Avoid Choeng Mon
If you’re looking to live like a local or party it up on holiday, Choeng Mon might not be the best choice. Resorts are a big draw in this area, and most of the entertainment happens within them, rather than during a pub crawl or night out.
Bang Po Beach, Koh Samui
Heading away from Samui’s eastern beaches, you'll eventually reach Bang Po, a quiet, long stretch of sand with only a few resorts to be found. While Bang Po isn’t the most attractive beach on the island, it still puts many other beaches in the world to shame. Bang Po is the kind of place you come to truly leave it all behind. Expect quiet, uncrowded beaches.
Why Stay In Bang Po
If you don’t want anything to do with the shopping, nightlife, and restaurants that fuel Koh Samui’s tourism industry, Bang Po is likely for you. Come here to escape into a tropical paradise, enjoy delicious seafood, and experience a completely different side of Koh Samui.
Why Avoid Bang Po
You won’t find the same crystal clear water in Bang Po as you will in other parts of Samui. Add to that a rocky ocean floor, and leisurely swims in the ocean can become a bit difficult. The tradeoff is the lack of crowds, but if you’re looking for a nightlife scene, that will be a drawback for you — there aren’t late night bars and parties in Bang Po.
Koh Samui truly has something to offer for everyone. Whether you’re looking for nightlife, pristine sand, or hideaway beaches, this island encompasses a little bit of everything. To top it off, regardless of where you head, you’ll be able to find a place to stay in Koh Samui within your budget.
Kristen Youngs co-operates two online businesses while travelling the world full-time. Visit her website, One Bag Nomad, to learn how to travel as long as you want and build a successful online business, completely location-free. Don't forget to check Kristen's Pinterest account.