Archaeologists suggest the island was first inhabited about 1,500 years ago when it was settled by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and southern China. By the early 1970s the first backpackers had arrived, however, the early travellers didn’t appear to share their secret because it wasn’t until 20 years later that the tourism industry really began.
Where to stay
Today, Chaweng Beach in the north is the most lively resort town. With a long stretch of white sand, it’s also home to the island’s biggest shopping area and has an array of hotels, activities, attractions and restaurants.
Less frantic but still full of life and packed with shopping and restaurants is Bophut Beach. Lamai Beach is quieter and less busy but offers a selection of luxury accommodation and dining. Choeng Mon Beach, just above Chaweng on the north-eastern tip of the island, is dominated by a handful of quieter mature resorts.
Top picks in Chaweng include The Library, an ultra-modern five-star resort with a distinctive contemporary design. For something more traditional, take a look at the Kirikayan Boutique Resort, set on the quieter part of the beach.
Further south and nestled on the hillside at the southern end of Lamai Bay, is one of our favourites, the luxurious all-pool villa Banyan Tree Samui Resort. Built in the Thai contemporary style it also benefits of its own private beach and several excellent restaurants including The Edge and the elegant, dinner only Saffron. On the southwest tip of the island we find Conrad Koh Samui, a tranquil luxurious property with some outstanding accommodation, a glorious beach and excellent dining; it’s perhaps the perfect island getaway.
What to see and do
Boasting pristine beaches and some of the best diving and snorkelling in the region, take a boat ride to Koh Tao, a small island to the north named after the hawksbill and green turtles that return annually to breed. The trip also takes you via the island of Angthong and the very impressive National Marine Park.
Erected in 1972 the 12-m tall Big Buddha statue is located inside the grounds of the Wat Phra Yai temple. Just up the beach is the famous Fisherman’s Village at Bophut, with the reputation for being one of the nostalgic and colourful places on the island. As well as some of the island’s best-known bars and restaurants, Bophut hosts water sports centres, a famous night market and is a key departure point for day trips.
Small in size but colossal in terms of quality, perhaps the best known restaurant with gastronomes on the island is Chez Francois. With a justified reputation for excellence, Chef Francois Porte presents no menu but instead offers a surprise three-course experience or, if guests prefer, will cook based on what’s in his kitchen.
Hansar Samui’s signature dining experience, H Bistro, helmed by Executive Chef Stephen Jean Dion offers an outstanding French Mediterranean experience. The flame-lit beachfront dinner for two under the stars is an exceptional experience.
Back at the Banyan Tree, Saffron offers an impressive and creative selection of sumptuous authentic Thai cuisine served in one of the most splendid settings on the island, whilst at the Conrad we highly recommend the fantastic in-villa dining and the Zest buffet.
No matter whether it’s the hustle of Chawang in the north or the relaxed sophistication of the south, Koh Samui is an appealing destination that’s popular with singles, couples and groups of all ages.