Hot New Holiday Option: Koh Samui

The exact meaning of the word Samui is lost to the sands of time, but as good a linguistics guess as any is that it means “safe haven.” That’s entirely fitting for a Thai island best enjoyed from the seclusion of a high-end hotel or resort. And, while taking a plane to go do not very much at all might not jive with our hyperactive, always-on society here in Singapore, that’s Samui’s great strength these days—luxury resort brands (many of them newly arrived) offering comfort, convenience, and every excuse not to leave the property. In other words, the perfect weekend escape.
Indeed, somewhere on Samui there’s a genius who, 10 years ago, had the foresight to get the exclusive franchise for golf carts on the island. Because the best spots are sprawled across steep hillsides or remote peninsulas, now that flat, more centrally located beachfront plots are so hard to come by (with Hansar an impressive exception). The type of properties being built there also reflect the more upscale travellers who visit; folks with “luggage” as opposed to backpacks and duffels, who don’t mind being five miles from the nearest town, because they have no plans to go anywhere until it’s time to return to the airport.
And, if you only have a weekend, that’s by far the best way to spend it. Quit worrying about ticking some arbitrary list, don’t waste time trying to get back across the island and just relax. (Easier said than done, isn’t it?) What to do, though, if you have a little more time?
Evening Activities
Samui is officially obsessed with walking streets—evening affairs where cars are banned and the roads are filled with stalls of all kinds. There’s one somewhere on the island almost every day of the week, and by far the best is in Bophut, where cool restaurants, cafes, shops and hostels are housed in old wooden shophouses. On Fridays, street vendors take over the tiny Fisherman’s Village Street and sell everything from food and cooking ingredients to souvenirs made from coconut shells. Foodies can sample local snacks at Kanom Chine Pa Somchai (66 (0)87-265-4111) and Pad Mii Pa Paichit (66 (0)80-147-4680) and refresh themselves with the street-mixed mojitos. At the mid-point of the road (where The Pier is) there’s a small space where local artists do traditional music and performances, which vary every week.
With the dishonorable exception of the main town of Chaweng (it really is pretty grim), Samui isn’t a place to party. The scene is still to outgrow the bucket and beer brigade, and there are precious few venues worth venturing out for. In fact, if you’re after a change of scene, then spending an evening at another hotel or resort is probably your best bet. The bar at Hansar runs a happy hour several times a day, and W attracts a hipper crowd than most (even though it’s a bit of a trek).
One independent spot worthy of mention is 9 Gems (141/190 Moo 6, Bophut, 66 (0)77-256-125, 66 (0)80-692-0520. Open Tuesday-Thursday 4pm-midnight, Friday-Sunday 4pm-2am). Hidden away on one of the island’s many hilltops it’s a place to sip Champagne from the rooftop beds while taking in breathtaking views.
If it’s a bigger night you’re after, then you really only have two choices: getting down and dirty at Green Mango (Soi Green Mango, Chaweng Beach Rd. Open daily 9pm till late.) in Chaweng or jumping on a boat and heading for neighboring Koh Pha Ngan.
Although the views from Samui are spectacular, it’s not an island itself blessed with natural wonders. The small Na Muang waterfalls are pretty enough, but if you’re going to leave your resort it’s worth leaving the island.
Angthong Marine National Park, which covers an area of 102 sq km, is spectacular. It’s just 20 km away and, since you can only set foot on a handful of the 40 small islands, is really just a day trip. Countless travel agents sell this trip but the cheapest option we could find that doesn’t involve compromising too much on quality is with Samui Leisure (+66 (0)83-434-1882, +66 (0)86-883-3219). They offer a day trip for US$24, inclusive of a roundtrip transfer from your hotel to the port (pick up around 7:30am), one meal, soft drinks throughout the trip, snorkeling goggles and the national park fee. Note that Angthong Marine National Park is closed November 1-30 every year.
A little further out, both Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan lie north of Samui. Normally, most tours will take you to Koh Tao in the morning for sunbathing and snorkeling and to Koh Nang Yuan, where you can catch views of a beach that connects three small islands, in the afternoon. Prices are inclusive of a roundtrip transfer, soft drinks and one meal. Try Samui Leisure (US$55) or Lomprayah (US$58).
Further afield Koh Taen and Koh Matsum are two small islands located southwest of Samui best known for their untamed forests and beautiful corals. A day trip runs from 9am to 3pm. Try Thai Tour Group (US$55) or Magic Samui (US$42).
Where to Dine
In culinarily blessed Thailand, Samui doesn’t really rate. Save coconuts, any raw ingredients worth their salt reach the island via Bangkok—even much of the seafood that is caught in nearby provinces. But while a distinctive local cuisine has never really developed, five-star resorts are expected to serve five-star food, which means you can enjoy world-class menus at Samui’s ever growing list of top properties. There’s modern Japanese at the W’s Namu, where funky rolls share the stage with luxurious dishes like braised pork belly or foie gras-ed fried rice; stunning special occasion meals at Six Senses’ award-winning outlet Dining on the Rocks, with its 270-degree views; or the humble breakfast interpreted and elevated to perfection by the chefs and servers of the Four Seasons, just to name three.
We encourage you to go native at least once during your stay, however. Two local restaurants we can recommend wholeheartedly are Sabeinglae (438/82 Moo 1, Maret, 66 (0)77-233-082, 66 (0)81-538-7045), where they serve up authentic local dishes like gang kua hed lhoob (mushroom curry), wai kua (squid simmered in coconut milk) and gang som pla grapong yod mapraw (sour curry with seabass and young coconut) at super-affordable prices (two can dine like kings for under US$40), and Janhom (7/3 Bang Por Beach, 66 (0)77-236-458), for their fiery Southern dishes like nam prik goong sod (vegetables with fresh shrimp “dip”) and kua gling moo (stir-fried pork with spicy herbs) at US$4-6.50 per dish.
Beach club Sunday brunches, complete with daybeds, DJs, and drinks, are a fairly new thing in Samui. At Beach Republic (176/34 Moo 4, Maret, 66 (0)77-458-100) on peaceful Lamai Beach, you can lounge on huge outdoor beds or in the oceanfront infinity pool between international buffet bites. Another hip hangout is Nikki Beach (96/3 Moo 2, Lipa Noi, 66 (0)77-914-500), the sister of celeb clubs in Miami, Vegas and St. Tropez.
Finally, little cafés and tea houses are sprouting up all over the island, but the best ones are on Bophut Beach. Namcha (Fishermen’s Village, 66 (0)77-427-115) is by far the most charming, with a great open-air vibe and a full selection of teas from around the world. Le Salon de Ti (Zazen Boutique Resort, 66 (0)77-425-085) is an open-air space on the second floor of a teak building and does a mean high tea. Bakabung (145/5 Moo 1, 66 (0)84-636-9090) is another beachside café that, just 5km from the airport, is ideal for relaxing before your flight.

Bangkok Air and SilkAir run a codeshare on direct flights (1h 50mins) to Samui but, although the latter can be cheaper, Bangkok Air’s schedule is best if you’re looking for a weekend getaway. They fly daily, departing Singapore at 8:10pm, and returning from Samui at 4:35pm. SilkAir flies five times a week (not Monday or Saturday) departing Singapore at either 7:55am (ouch!) or 8:10am, and returning from Samui at 9:45am. You can also get there in more roundabout fashion (5-7 hours, including transit) with Firefly with daily flights via Subang.
Incidentally, Samui Airport bills itself as “The Most Beautiful Airport in The World” and, for once, the PR’s not far off the mark. It’s not quite Six Senses, but it is rather nice; with an outdoor shopping arcade, open-air departure lounges and free drinks and snacks while you wait to board.
Top Hotels in Koh Samui