It’s been a while since Koh Samui was a small fishing community framed by white sandy beaches, coral reefs and palm trees. While the beauty of Thailand’s second largest island still exists, the fishermen have long been replaced with luxury hotels, posh spas and a vivid nightlife.
On the island today you will find a cosmopolitan mix of independent budget travellers staying in simple bamboo huts for weeks or months as well as celebrities dropping by on a weekend staying at private luxury pool villas. It is also a very popular place to get married.
This guide is written especially for independent travellers. I also consider a Digital Nomad to be an independent traveller who additionally has a need for a good Internet connection. And even if you are not working online (yet) and you are reading my words here, keep reading, I am sure you’d like to know about nice cafés to sip a coffee and upload your holidays pictures with a good wifi connection anyways!
Why & When Should You Visit Koh Samui
Who doesn’t want to be living in paradise for a while, close to beautiful azure beaches, sunshine pretty much all around the year and eating yummy, affordable food?
The weather on Koh Samui is warm, tropical and humid all year around. The average temperature is around 28 degrees with the most rainfall between September and November. The driest months are from December to February where prices tend to peak. If you come after February, chances are that you will find lower prices especially on accommodation. Haggling on prices with the landlord on the spot is always a good option too, especially if you want to stay for a couple of days or weeks.
I lived on Koh Samui in the months of March and April which is still a great time to visit, but temperatures get really hot around 30 degrees and more and air-con is needed! Especially from May onwards you get the typically sunny mornings and thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Of course, Koh Samui is not Chiang Mai, it is an island and everything needs to be shipped to the island which makes it more expensive on the average already.
There are plenty of cafés and restaurants to chill or check your emails from. Most of them have a wifi connection with some exceptions. For me the Internet was always speedy enough (average 3-5 Mbps) whereas power outages do occur (to my surprise) frequently especially when bad weather is rolling over the island. There is also good 3G reception around the island.
Getting There & Around
You can directly fly into Koh Samui with Bangkok Airways, SilkAir or Thai Airways. Alternatively, you can take a ferry to Koh Samui which takes about 1-2 hours depending what boat you take. There are several companies operating at different times. Check for the location of the pier before you commit as there are several which are 30-45 minutes drive apart. Most boats leave from Nathon Pier which is quite a ride away from Chaweng for example, so you need to organise your transportation to get there too.
Another option is to buy a combined ticket from Surat Thani Airport to Koh Samui which includes a minivan or bus shuttle to the pier and the ferry ride over. You are able to but a ticket on the spot upon touching down at the airport. Also, AirAsia offers combined plane/bus/ferry tickets starting from Bangkok. Then, there is always the option to take an overnight train or bus from Bangkok towards the south and catch a ferry when you arrive at the pier in the morning.
Navigating around Koh Samui is easy as it is compact and driving around the whole island will take 1-3 hours depending on your mode of transport and stops along the way. You really cannot get lost as there is only one single main road looping around the coast of the island. The heart of the island is inaccessible with dense rainforest and a mountainous landscape.
Things You Need to Know About Koh Samui
Songtaews are shared taxis and circle the island on various routes and are most common to get around. They are basically converted pickup trucks and you will spot them easily, most of the time they will honk to get your attention as the drivers are looking for business. Prices start from about 40 Baht. Always better to go in a group as the price will drop. It also helps to know the rough price for a distance so the drivers won’t rip you off. Ask locals or other travellers on the island.
Hiring a scooter for a day will cost you between 150 – 200 Baht and a Jeep is about 600 – 800 Baht. Petrol is cheap as anywhere in Thailand at about 40 Baht/litre. Do not drive on the island if you have no experience with scooters as it is fairly dangerous!
If you want to stay longer, it’s easy to extend your visa on Koh Samui too. The Thai Immigration is just south of the Nathon pier. At the time of writing a 30-day extension cost you 1,900 Baht. Always check the requirements for your nationality at the Thai Embassy.
Money is never hard to get out as the island has plentiful ATMs pretty much anywhere.
In the case you need to go to the hospital, there are several catering to international tourists: Samui International Hospital, Thai International Bandon Hospital and Bangkok Samui Hospital. The latter I have also seen from inside after catching a nasty eye infection and they were all very professional with great English. In any case, if you have a good health insurance, you should be fine!
Orientation & Things to Do
There are 5 distinct areas on Koh Samui:
The most developed and likewise the most touristy area is called Chaweng. Here, one big resort is lined up to the next with shops and restaurants in-between. The beach is huge and truly beautiful, white soft sand, azure warm water and the occasional wave depending on the weather, whereas other parts of the island are normally pretty flat.
At Chaweng beach there is plenty of space to lie your towel or rent a beach chair, sip on a cocktail for $3, take a beach walk or enjoy the many water activities like jets skiing, snorkelling, diving, kayaking.. the options are endless! You will spot the small booths offering the various activities as you walk along the beach, just walk up to them.
Maybe you are even lucky to stay at one of the places directly at the beachfront which happen to also have a pool to lounge around with fantastic views over the beach.
The nightlife is buzzing in Chaweng especially in the central part whereas both the north and south are a little more quite.
Chaweng is also home to the only shopping mall on the island called Central Festival. On Wednesdays there is a small market with food, souvenirs and clothing stores in front of the mall starting from dusk. Good to grab a snack and have a browse around.
Additionally, there is a walking street market including a big food offer just off the main street in South Chaweng which opens from 5.30pm till midnight every day. Some other street stalls have lined up around the food stalls, selling beach dresses, t-shirts, fake watches and bags in all shapes and sizes.
In the evening you can also find numerous permanent markets stalls opening up along the main street of Chaweng which sell tacky souvenirs, sunglasses, elephant shirts and whatever else you want to take home.
Maybe one day you fancy just doing something different than going to the beach, then I can recommend you take an authentic Thai cooking class in the area.
A little south of Chaweng is the town of Lamai. It is the second largest beach after Chaweng. Driving down from Chaweng to Lamai you will inevitably recognize the spectacular scenery and soon you will pass Lad Koh viewpoint.
Stop to enjoy the panorama over the island and grab an ice cream from the mobile kiosk.
Driving on you will pass Coral Cove, one of the best snorkelling spots on the island which is worth stopping. Also check the Angthong National Marine Park if you want to spend some more time in and around the water snorkelling and sea kayaking.
Reaching Lamai beach you will find similar scenes like in Chaweng – music pumping from bars, restaurants and hotels aligned next to each other on the beachfront. The beach is a little less crowded and the food in the street behind it seems to be a bit cheaper than in central Chaweng. There is also a small night market on Sundays.
Towards the south of Lamai, you will find the natural wonder of Hin-Ta and Hin-Yai, also called Grandfather and Grandmother rock. Those two rocks have naturally formed by the elements and look like male and female genitalia. Many tourists come here for a photo opportunity. Of course the street leading up to the rocks is lined with souvenir and food stalls.
Other things to do in the area include visiting one of the waterfalls which are nicely signposted about 10-15 minutes out of Lamai driving along the main road to the right hand side. The waterfalls are okay, not the prettiest in Thailand though. I visited Na Muang Waterfall and didn’t even go for a swim as I didn’t think the water looked that great. In case you are keen on waterfalls though, check out where you can find all of them here.
The third biggest area is Bohput which is especially known for its’ cute Fisherman’s Village It’s my absolute favourite spot on the whole island. I remember the first time I came here and I immediately liked this little street with its wooden Chinese shop houses set right on the beach with many cafés, restaurants and little shops.
Fisherman’s Village has a very special rustic vibe and it’s great to hang out by the beach or go for a swim even though the water is not quite as clear as in Chaweng. It can be very quiet throughout the day but it sure gets more busy in the evening.
Admitted, Fisherman’s Village it is a littler pricier especially when eating at the beachfront but you can find Happy Hours or keep your eye out on some 2 for 1 deals. There are quite a few spas along the street with fantastic views over the beach, in case you fancy a massage or pedi.
I recommend coming here for the Friday Night Market when the whole street is lined with small stalls. Come right at dusk and it’s less crowded as people will start flooding to the market only after sunset.
At the end of the main street of Fisherman’s Village you will find The Wharf, a small beachfront shopping center which offers some more tasteful but also pricier shopping opportunities. From here the ocean combined with the retro architecture has something close to the Mediterranean I think.
On special occasions like Songkran or other festivals, this is probably one of the places you want to come to as events are frequently arranged around here.
Keep an eye on the local calendar.
The food court in the middle of The Wharf will soon take you from the Mediterranean feel back to Thailand as there is a good variety of stands selling authentic Thai food, some Russian goodies as well as pasta and steak for the one craving European food. Prices are surprisingly low and you can get a full Thai meal for around $2-3. Prices at the beachfront start from about $5-6 for Thai meals and are again more expensive for European food.
Bang Rak beach sits right between Bohput and the Big Buddha temple. I would consider it to be a more local beach since I’ve seen many local family coming here to have a meal, swim or make a bond fire. It’s great for a swim and the sand is very white while there are enough palm trees to give you some shade to lie on the beach. Further towards the East of the beach there are a few smaller resorts.
The main attraction around here is the Big Buddha temple (Wat Phra Yai). The 12 meter high golden Buddha can be spotted from several locations around the island and sure is impressive. On the bottom surrounding the statue is a courtyard where you can find numerous vendors selling amulets, clothing and religious artefacts as well as food including ice cream.
Remember to dress appropriately and cover your shoulders and knees as the temple is a sacred place.
While I think the Big Buddha is nice to have a look at, there are more impressive temples in Thailand. For me, the really amazing thing is the view you get from the top after you climbed the staircase which is framed with a colourful dragon that leads to the platform where the Buddha has taken a seat.
Most days you can spot planes approaching the Koh Samui airport which is 3km from here and they fly quite low over the beach. Keep that also in mind when planning to lie down at the beach. However, this is only the case at the most eastern part towards the Big Buddha, the rest of the beach is fine and you cannot hear or see any airplanes going over your head.
Nathon is the industrial center of the island and the main ferry port so you will most likely arrive here when taking the ferry from the mainland. Out of all places on the island, Nathon is probably still the most original town inheriting some Thai feeling whereas all the other towns are much more cosmopolitanized and Thai culture is not very apparent anymore.
This side of the island is known for its fantastic sunsets and that is for a reason. They are nothing but spectacular!
South of Nathon is also home to the famous Nikki Beach Club and Resort. Every Sunday they hold a massive brunch which includes lounging in the pool with awesome music, tanning in the sun chairs or swimming into the calm waters of Lipa Noi beach.
The brunch starts at 11am until 4pm, so try and eat A LOT before they close the buffet. Sunset is normally around 6.30pm. It’s definitely worth it on a special occasion (I celebrated Easter there) as the buffet is huge and probably the best on the island serving anything from seafood, veggies, crepe, sushi, including an omelette and carving station as well as pasta and thai specialities, not to speak about the huge desert buffet!
There are a lot of families going there so it doesn’t go hyper crazy like at other locations around the world.
Cafés to Visit to Sip a Latte or Work From
Naturally, I have only chosen cafés where you can get onto the Internet and which I have seen with my own eyes.
Coffee Club in Chaweng
Coffee Club is a large Australia coffee shop franchise which I quite like. There are two Coffee Clubs on the island, one at Central Festival Mall and the other is a little further up on Chaweng Beach Road. While the later is quite large with two levels, they both provide wifi upon purchasing a drink or food. They both have air-con however some days they have the doors wide open and don’t turn the air-con on, depending on season.
June Art Café in Bohput and Nathon
June Art Café is also represented twice on the island. There is one in Nathon and one on the main Ring Road not far from the turnoff/traffic lights from Bohput beach travelling south towards Chaweng, you can check the exact location here. The wifi is okay, unfortunately only fans but they serve organic food which is super fresh. The café has also a very arty interior.
Coffee Cup in Bang Rak
Eat, drink proper coffee, check your emails over the free wifi, at Coffee Cup you can do it all. However no air-con again. The café is located right opposite Petcharat pier on Bang Rak beach and it’s not so easy to spot when driving past so look closely on the right hand side driving towards the Big Buddha.
I kid you not. It’s such a cliché, I know, foreigners searching for the nearest Starbucks. And I have to tell you, there are at least 5 on the island.
The one right at Central Festival in Chaweng has a great big space on the 2nd level with plenty of chairs, tables and most of all: air-con! It was never crowded when I visited. The only thing is the wifi: In Thailand, the wifi at Starbucks is not freely provided, here you don’t even get access when you purchase a drink. You have to buy access!
An easier and cheaper way to get wifi is to make use of the existing wifi hotspots at the mall by one of the mobile service providers in Thailand. Both TrueMove or AIS wifi hotspots can be accessed from here, so you just need to signup for a cheap data package with them or use the initial 10 hour gratis for a start. For more info on the AIS wifi hotspots, click here. And for info on TrueMove wifi hotspots, follow this link.
Black Canyon Coffee
If you are craving some Black Canyon Coffee (yes, I am a fan too), head to Tesco Lotus in either Chaweng, Lamai and Nathon as they all have one as part of the shopping center. There is also one at the Central Festival Mall on the second floor. The coffee is good, but it’s not the cheapest. Wifi access upon purchase.
Sunset Café in Bang Rak
Probably my favourite spot to work from on the island. Sunset Café is not only cool at sunset but indeed throughout the whole day. It’s actually walking distance from the Big Buddha temple, you will spot it to the left of the gate before entering the road leading up to the Buddha. If you manage to grab a seat in the front row you will sit in the middle of paradise. It’s shady enough to see your computer screen still and breezy enough to not melt away. Plus they have free wifi and coffee is decently priced.
Southern Coffee at Tesco Chaweng
It should be easy to spot this one as you are turning into the parking lot to Tesco supermarket. The Southern Coffee is the big building right in front. Air-conditioned throughout is a plus on hot days. The interior looks quite fancy and the place is especially popular for sweets and deserts. Wifi available of course.
The Villagian in Fisherman’s Village
Another one of my favourites. It’s just awesome sitting beneath this massive map progressing on work. I have found little evidence online so far that this place even exists, but you will spot it when walking from the main entrance of Fisherman’s Village through the big gate about half-way through the street towards the pier you shall spot this café on the right. Opposite is an Indian Restaurant and you most likely get distracted by the Indian guy luring you into his restaurant (and yes, they have great food but more on that later..) while walking past.
At the time of writing this coffee shop had a Happy Hour for any coffee after 2pm when everything from a Cappuccino to a Latte cost 60 Baht. Try and find it, it’s a really cool café and has a small souvenir shop integrated too.
Billabong Surf Club in Fisherman’s Village
I have personally not worked from here, however I have seen people sitting inside with laptops and it seems like a cool café. It has a big terrace at the back where you can take a seat at one of the high bar stools, so it’s perfect to have a drink and work with a view over the ocean. The sign outside states that they have live music in the evening – sounds good to me!
Hacienda Hotel in Fisherman’s Village
In the same row on the beachfront as the Billabong Surf Club is the Hacienda Hotel. While hunting for an apartment on Koh Samui I walked into this hotel to ask for directions and the staff was super friendly. Ever since I’ve been back a few times in the morning where they serve a lovely breakfast with a view and their coffee prices are great starting from 50 Baht.
They have free wifi when you purchase something and after the hotel guests have had their breakfast there is hardly anyone there. Additionally, it is very breezy as it’s right on the beach and very open and light.
Cream Cafe in Chaweng
Very close by Central Festival Shopping Mall is Cream Cafe with affordable coffee prices, air-con and comfortable chairs. They have yummy ice cream, macarons and cake. It’s quite modern and surprisingly calm inside compared to the bustling main street of Chaweng. Of course they have wifi.
Look for the table with the two big pink chairs! (I am sitting in one of them taking this photo)
Where to Eat
In general, I am not a big fan of tourist food and crowded restaurants full of farangs (Thai for foreigners), so I tend to opt for locally owned and operated restaurants, where Thai people still cook the meals and benefit from me visiting. Having lived quite close to Fisherman’s Village, here are a few choices I like to eat at in this area plus some others around the island.
Ali Baba Indian at Fisherman’s Village
A great place for an Indian meal right in Fisherman’s Village is Ali Baba. Go for the set menus and you will get an appetizer, beer and two curries of your choice with rice and naan which feeds two people for less than $10. There is also a lot of vegetarian options available.
The Wharf Food Court
At the end of Fisherman’s village main street right in the heart of The Wharf, a higher class shopping establishment, this food court is surprisingly cheap. You can find Thai meals, Russian cuisine, curry dishes and some European delights.
The Hut at Fisherman’s Village
The Hut is quite crowded around lunch time as the food is not only tasty but also really good value. They offer delicious Thai food as well as fusion dishes like spaghetti with Penang curry, which is a really tasty combination. The fruit shakes are also great. Wifi available.
Friday’s at Fisherman’s Village
Sort of across the street from The Hut on the left corner at the end of the street which also marks the end of Fisherman’s Village. Friday’s restaurant is only open in the evening and serves good Thai food for really affordable prices. Try the green curry or broccoli chicken! I could not find any evidence online for the existence of this place but you should spot it easily in the evening as it is normally crowded with people.
Gringos Cantina in Chaweng
If you are carving Mexican Food, go to Gringos Cantina just off the main road in Chaweng. It takes some good eyes to spot the place even though they have a huge sign. The street the restaurant is located in is quite small, but look for the Islander Bar, it’s right behind there. Prices are reasonable for the proportions you get and it’s tasty. I always go for the margaritas too.
If you are looking for more options on great local food, check out the link here. I also find this site useful to find places to eat as well as I am using Foursquare App a lot. However, I realized many things are outdated and places that are listed have vanished. Look for the last review on Foursquare and if it’s been some time since the last one, you can be sure the place has disappeared.
Big C, Makro, Tesco, the island’s got it all. I like Tesco the best while Makro has the best wholesale offers. I tend to go to smaller markets for fruit and vegetable shopping. My favourite one is Bohput Market, it’s to the right after the traffic lights turning left from Fisherman’s Village towards Chaweng, there is a big sign and you will spot the Thai market atmosphere. Mostly happening in the afternoon. Mango Sticky Rice costs 30 THB instead of 180 THB at the beachfront of Bohput. Talking about tourist food!
For more upmarket and brand shopping go to Central Festival Mall in central Chaweng.
There is a night market every night of the week in a different place around the island. Check here for the schedule. However, the best shopping for souvenirs can be done at the Friday night market along Fisherman’s Village. In Chaweng you have plenty of small markets and shops being open every night. I also like the market outside of Central Festival Mall every Wednesday evening.
7/11 and Family Mart are the most common convenient stores on the island and can literally be found on every corner especially in the touristy areas.
How to Find Other Travellers and Nomads
I am a big fan of local Facebook groups, no matter if it’s for finding apartments, things for your home or to connect with like-minded people. I tend to just put my location into the search field and see what Facebook comes up with and join the groups I find interesting. I have found my apartment like that on the island and sold a blender for making fruit smoothies which I originally bought on Koh Phangan as I liked the idea of fresh home-made smoothies.
For Koh Samui there is a Digital Nomads group which is still small and only becomes active depending on the season.
Some recommendations if you are only staying for a short time:
Smile House at Bohput Beach
Located in the charming Fisherman’s Village with easy access to the beach just across the road. They have a nice pool right outside the traditional Thai bungalows surrounded by breezy palm trees. They often have deals, you can check here for the most current prices.
Pelegrin Hotel Samui at Bohput Beach
Also set right in Fisherman’s Village and only seconds to the white sands of Bohput beach. Comfortable, big rooms with wifi and a balcony. You can choose between fan (cheaper option) or air-con. Great value for travellers on a budget. Check rates here.
Montien House at Chaweng Beach
In the heart of Chaweng and still in a quiet location surrounded by tropical gardens is Montien House. It’s directly beach front with a pool and restaurant facing the sea and walking distance to all the action of the main street. You can check the most current rates here.
Alternative: Rent an Apartment
If you are thinking of sticking around the island for longer I can recommend renting an apartment or at least negotiate a rate for your room in a hotel. In high season it will be harder to find a good deal whereas hotels mostly won’t offer monthly rates and only charge by the night.
I lived at Replay Condominium which is a modern apartment complex across from Bang Rak beach and a 10 minute walk into beautiful Fisherman’s Village and Bohput beach. It’s a 10-15 minute drive from busy Chaweng.
The complex has a big pool, gym and tennis court. There are different types of studios and apartments on offer and you can directly ask to the reception for their current availability and they will show you around. Sometimes there are offers from private owners too which might be a little cheaper and mostly pop up in the various Facebook groups, just keep an eye open.