The Koh Samui Guide
In Thai, “koh” means island—and we’d wager that “samui” means perfect. Okay, not really, but you wouldn’t be far off in thinking that Koh Samui, off the coast of eastern Thailand, is the perfect island. From above, Samui looks like concentric circles of color: The center, dense with lush, green jungle, is surrounded by a ring of white, powdery sand, which is surrounded by an endless sea of sapphire-colored water. It’s a screensaver of a landscape. Colossal mountains jut out of the ocean, and quaint bamboo huts line the shores. Samui is a feast of natural beauty, but there are also restaurants that serve the freshest ceviche and juiciest island fruits, and the locals treat you like family.
“Samui has everything you need for a wellness getaway—massages, healthy food, healthy drinks, Ayurvedic wellness, essential oils…everything,” says Briohny Smyth, a global wellness leader and yoga instructor. Smyth, whose mother is Thai, has a deep connection to Samui. Every year, she and her children spend the summer on the island. “You feel taken care of in the most luxurious way,” she says.
To dive into all that luxury, we zeroed in on the best places to stay, eat, explore, and rejuvenate, so you leave the island feeling like yourself—only, let’s say, more “samui.”
Lamai Temple64/12-15 Bophut, Koh Samui | +126.96.36.1991
It's impossible to see all of the temples in Thailand, so choose wisely. On Samui, the Lamai temple, just a five-minute drive from popular Lamai Beach on the island's east coast, should be a priority. It’s a striking example of the ornate gold structures in the country that seem to transcend time. Locals come to pray and offer gifts to the Buddha. A nearby museum store sells artifacts and offers an impressive history of the city and island. Wear respectful, conservative clothes—no bare arms or legs—and comfortable shoes to allow for plenty of walking around the grounds.
Na Muang WaterfallNa Muang, Koh Samui
Don’t leave Koh Samui without making the pilgrimage to Na Muang. Try to visit during rainy season, which runs from late October to the middle of December. This is when the water creates a rushing, visually stunning cascade into the rock pools below. These pools fill up and transform into the most idyllic spot for a swim surrounded by beautiful, untamed jungle.
Ang Thong National Marine Park45/1-2 Moo 1, Thongsala Koh Phangan Surat Thani
You know those photos of dense jungle and white sand next to gigantic mountains jutting out of crystalline water? That’s the Ang Thong National Marine Park. This archipelago, made up of more than forty islands, is so bright and vivid, it looks Photoshopped. It's about an hour or two from Koh Samui (depending on the type of boat you choose; you can take a touristy slow boat, like the Red Baron, or a speedboat for the day). Depending on whether you take a private charter or a group tour, the local companies will tailor the day to what you're looking for, which will likely include some type of snorkeling, swimming, and trekking along the trails of a few of the inhabited islands (most are uninhabited).
Fisherman’s Village Walking StreetBo Put, Ko Samui District, Samui
Thailand's bustling markets are famous around the world—and for good reason. These are where you can score locally made silk shawls next to handmade baskets, colorful souvenirs, dried herbs, and so much more. One of these cultural bazaars can be found in nearly every city, island, and village. On Samui, you'll find it on Friday nights at the Fisherman's Village Walking Street in Bophut, a beach village on the northern end of the island. This is a fun stop for an evening out. Bring cash, as most vendors won't take credit cards. Afterward, grab dinner at one of the local beachside cafés.
Secret Buddha GardenNa Mueang, Koh Samui
From 1976 until his death, durian farmer Nim Thongsuk placed sculptures around his family’s expansive jungle garden, making it one of the most gorgeous landmarks on all of Samui. High on a hilltop and surrounded by greenery, the Secret Buddha Garden sits beside a serene waterfall that trickles into a stream. Some of the statues are of Nim Thongsuk himself and his parents, seated beside characters of Buddhist folklore and a band of musicians. Get an experienced taxi driver with a four-wheel drive to take you to this mountainous getaway (the country road can be a little bumpy—heads up).
Discovery DiversAmari Palm Reef Resort, Chaweng Beach, Samui
An efficient, professional diving school that offers PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certifications. You can keep it easy here and have the team teach you basic skills for breathing with scuba and snorkeling gear. Or you can go deeper with an intensive two- or three-day course for PADI certification. When you're ready to go into the deep crystalline waters, ask your dive master to take you to Chumphon Pinnacle, where you'll see white-eyed moray eels and great barracuda.
Four Seasons Thai Cooking Class219 Moo 5, Angthong, Samui
You'll undoubtedly leave Koh Samui with a craving for the food. Thailand's spicy, savory, umami, and sweet dishes are satisfying, addictive, and incomparable to anything else. Which is why taking a cooking class while you're on the island should be a mandate. There are many to choose from, but the Four Seasons’ class is one of our favorites for its patient culinary team. One of the hotel's incredibly skilled chefs takes you through two dishes on the menu, starting with a tutorial on each one's history and ingredients before showing how it's prepared, step by step. You'll learn to make specialties like steamed sea bass with spicy lime sauce and grilled prawns with tamarind, which will impress back home.