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Ko Samui
 Thailand


Ko Samui is Thailand's third largest island at 247 km2 and during the last decade it has become one of Southeast Asia's premier tourist destinations.

Samui sits snugly in the Gulf of Thailand, surrounded by other island gems like Ko Pha-ngan and Ko Tao, and is located 84 km east of Surat Thani, the provincial capital on the mainland.  With soft sand beaches shaded by towering palms, delicious fresh seafood and a vibrant nightlife, Samui has a magical formula that seems to cast its spell on everyone.  Many visitors are constant to laze the days away on the beach, soaking up the sun and cooling off in the turquoise waters, but for action enthusiasts there are plenty of choices like diving and snorkeling, windsurfing and paragliding, beach volleyball and off-road driving, and other similar activities.

One of the island's most appealing features is its loop road, which makes a 50 km, circuit around the island, giving tantalizing glimpses of superb beaches on the north, east and west coasts.  It runs past sleepy fishing villages and through seas of coconut palms, passing Samui's most impressive waterfall and tempting turn-offs into the highlands along the way.  Other attractions on or near the road include a butterfly garden, a snake show, a monkey-training center and health spas dedicated to pampering the body. 

There is plenty on Samui to keep even the most jaded traveller happy for a week or two, but for anyone spending even a few days here, an opportunity not to be missed is a trip to the emerald islands of Mu Ko Angthong Marine National Park, which offers yet another version of a tropical paradise.


Beaches

Hat Chaweng
Situated on Samui's east coast, this is Samui's longest and most beautiful beach, a 6 km strip of powder-soft sand fronted by crystal clear water.  It also has the island's largest concentration of accommodation, ranging from five-star resorts to simple bamboo bungalows.  Hat Chaweng is the center for watersport activities like windsurfing and jetskiing in the day, and it has a great social scene at night, when the dance halls pulsate to the latest rhythms.

Hat Lamai
Also on the east coast, just south of Jat Chaweng, Hat Lamai attracts surfers to its playfl waters, which run a little deeper than at Hat Chaweng. Behind the beach there are several spas, where visitors can trat themselves to an herbal sauna, a relaxing Thai massage, or even a mud facial.

Hat Maenam, Hat Bophut and Hat Bank Rak
These are all located along the north coast, and ideal places for those who want to get away from it all.  Bank Rak is often called 'Big Buddha Beach' because of the huge Buddha image the eastern end of the beach that looks particularly impressive at sunset.

South and West Coast Beaches
Even more isolated than the north coast beaches, those on the south and west coasts are not linked by the island's ring road, though access is easy enough for anyone curious to take a look.  At Laem Set in the south, the sea is too shallow for swimming, but the huge smooth boulders on the beach and coconut palms leaning over at impossible angles give it a special feel.  In the island's south-west, Hat Taling Ngam may not be quite as perfect as Hat Shaweng, but has a long strip of sand that is often deserted and makes an ideal spot for a beach ramble.  At the northern end of the bay, the luxurious Ban Taling Ngam Resort has several swimming pools and villas set on a hill with great views of the beach.

Sports

With such clear waters and an abundance of marine life, water sports are very popular on Samui, and the king of these sports is diving.  Around a dozen dive companies based on the island offer a chance for experience divers to join them and for beginners to learn how to dive which can be arranged through the hotels and guest houses.  If diving sounds a bit too much of a challenge, then snorkeling is a good second best.  Join a trip to one of the nearby coral reefs, put on a mask, a snorkel and fins, then float above the reefs and marvel at the varied shapes and colors of the fish.  If you'd rather keep your head above water, then maybe sea kayaking is the sport for you.  Once you've mastered how to propel this small light craft, you can explore the shoreline in perfect peace.  For a bit more of a thrill, try windsurfing, jetskiing or paragliding, and feel the tropical breeze in your hair.  Hotel and guest house owners can give you more information about your chosen sport.  If you're water shy, just hang around the beach in the evening and join in one of the spontaneous games of beach volleyball that are so popular, or even 'Takro' a Thai game of skill that is something like playing volleyball with the feet.  If exploring the islands interior sounds like fun, hire a 4WD vehicle and try your hand at off-road driving on the bumpy trails leading to the highlands.

Other Attractions

Namtok Na Mueang 
There are two levels to this attractive waterfall, which tumbles down out of the highlands.  The nearest one to the road has about a 20-meter drop and a refreshing pool to cool off in.  A steel side road leads to the higher level, which is even more impressive, and where elephant treks are also possible.

Na Thon
This is the island's main town and port, situated on the west coast, and is constantly bustling with visitors arriving and departing.  It is the place to go shopping for beach gear, extending visas or just watch the port activities from a street cafe.

Samui Butterfly Garden
Set on a gentle slope in the southeast corner of the island, the garden contains a wide range of bright and unusual flowers, above which flit hundreds of butterflies, creating a captivating environment beneath meshed nets.  The garden also features a display of insects, moths and some beehives.

Snake Shows
For anyone fascinated by snakes, a visit to one of the island's snake shows is a must.  The fearless handlers play with deadly species, and offer visitors the chance to get up close and touch their slithery skin.

Monkey Shows
The monkeys' famed ability as coconut collectors once formed the bases of Samui's economy, and at the shows their skills are displayed for all to see.

Shopping

There are plenty of shops behind Hat Chaweng where you can buy beachwear, and tailors will measure you and make up a suit or dress while you relax on the beach.  If you're looking for souvenirs, there are plenty of options, ranging from colorful carved soaps to chopsticks and coasters made from local coconut wood.  There are also several art shops selling reproductions of famous works of art at very reasonable prices.

Nearby Islands

Mu Ko Angthong Marine National Park
Situated about 35 km west of Samui, this archipelago of 42 islands fits everyone's image of a tropical paradise, with huge limestone rocks covered in virgin rainforest rising out of the aquamarine waters.  Most people come here on a daytrip tour from Ko Samui, which is easy to organize.  There is a fantastic viewpoint on Ko Wua Talap, just above the park headquarters, looking out over the uninhabited, pristine islands. Trips around the park usually include a visit to a delightful concealed lagoon on Ko Mae Ko, as well as the opportunity to paddle a sea kayak around the strange limestone formations.  For more information, contact the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department - tel: 0 2562 0760 or Mu Ko Angthong Marine National Park - tel: 07728 6025, 0 7728 6588, 0 7728 0222.  

Ko Pha-Ngan
Just 20 km north of Ko Samui and a short boat trip away.  Ko Pha-ngan is a mountainous island ringed by secluded bays that offer ideal getaways.  Its only town of any size, Thong Sala, has a bank, a post office, supermarket and shops selling beach equipment and souvenirs.  Many of its beautiful beaches are accessible only by boat, though pick-up trucks and motorbikes also ply the island's rough roads.  Its most famous beach is Hat Rin, in the southeast corner of the island, which is the location for the world famous full moon parties that attract thousands of visitors each month to dance the night away on the beach.  The island's most picturesque beach is Thong Nai Pan, a double bay in the northeast of the island, which has good swimming, and snorkeling sport, as well as the island's most comfortable accommodation.  A little south of Thong Nai Pan is Than Sadet, the island's most impressive waterfall, which was once a favorite place of King Chulalongkorn.

Ko Tao
'Tao' means turtle, and the island is named for it's shape when seem from out in the waters of the gulf.  Smaller than Samui and Pha-ngan, Ko Tao lies about 40 km northwest of Ko Pha-ngan, and is also easily accessible from Chumphon, directly west on the mainland.  The island is particularly popular among divers, and has a reputation for some of the most exciting dive sites in the entire gulf.  Several dive companies based a Mae Hat, the island's only town, can arrange dives for beginners and experienced divers.  There are many peaceful and idyllic beaches on the island such as Hat Sai Ri, the island's longest beach on its west boast, Hat Chalok Ban Kao and Hat Sai Daeng on the south coast.  There is also a unique geological phenomenon at Ko Nang Yuan, a tiny cluster of islets just off the northwest coast of Ko Tao, where stunning causeways of sand join the islands, offering visitors the choice of two seas to swim in.

Getting There

By Air
Bangkok Airways operates 15 flights a day between Bangkok and Ko Samui, which is by far the easiest way to get to the island.  Flights take just 1 hour 20 minutes. Tel: 0 2265 5555 (Bangkok Office)

By Rail
Eleven trains a day leave from Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok to Surat Thani, from where it is necessary to take a bus to Don Sak Pier and then a ferry across to the islands.  Railway Station Hotline: 1690 or Hua Lamphong Railway Station Tel: 0 2220 4334, 0 2223 7010, 02223 7020, Surat Thani Railway Station Tel: 0 7731 1213.

By Bus
Buses from Bangkok leave frequently for Ko Samui, but the fare does not include the ticket for the ferry.  The journey time is around 14 hours.  Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal Tel: 0 2435 1199 or Surat Thani Bus Terminal Tel: 0 7720 0032

By Boat
To Ko Samui - Both passenger and car ferries run 15 times a day from Don Sak Pier, taking about 1 hour 30 minutes.  The first ferry departs at 5:00 and the last one departs at 19:00.  An express boat leaves Surat Thani every morning and takes 2 hours 30 minutes.  There is also an overnight boat that departs Ban Don Pier in Surat Thani at 23:00 and arrive Ko Samui at dawn around 5:00.  The overnight boat departs Ko Samui at 21:00 and arrives back to Surat Thani around 4:00.
To Ko Pha-ngan - Direct boats from Don Sak Pier to Ko Pha-ngan leave 15 times a day and take 2 hours 30 minutes, while regular ferries from Na Thon on Ko Samui take just one hour.  The first ferry departs at 7:00 and the last one departs at 17:30.  There is also a daily overnight boat from Ban Don Pier, Surat Thani to Ko Pha-ngan, departing at 23:00 and arriving at 6:00.
To Ko Tao - Daily boats between Ko Pha-ngan and Ko Tao take about


 


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