Thailand’s Southwestern Gulf Coast is home to some of the best beaches and diving spots in the world. There is plenty to see and do across the coast and its adjacent islands – beaches, jungles, waterfalls – the lot. We’ve focused on the Gulf Islands here – but by all means, if you have the time it’s recommended to explore all that this part of Thailand has to offer.
This island has been blessed with picturesque beaches on all four sides, making it a prime target for travellers. Samui is the kind of place where you’re in charge of your destiny – be it to relax and chill out, or party the nights away with other revellers. The island is pretty compact in terms of the different towns so getting to see most of it poses no problem.
One of the main attractions of the island is the few waterfalls that lie in the centre. The highest, Nam Tok Na Muang at 30m provides a beautiful setting for a dip in the pool at the base as the water cascades over ethereal purple rocks. There are also two smaller waterfalls – Na Muang 2 and Nam Tok Wang Saotong that will provide further scenes of natural beauty if you have the time to spare. Also, catching a glimpse of the huge golden Buddha overlooking Big Buddha Beach is sure to be a picture you’ll keep for the screensaver at work.
Bo Phut is the town to have as your base whilst on the island. The Fisherman’s Village, with its vibrant boutique cottages and narrow roads oozes character, while the plentiful seafood restaurants ensure you can enjoy the freshest catch of the day. Whilst there are better beaches elsewhere on the island, the chilled out vibe away from the neon lights of Chaweng and Lamai will guarantee you the chance to unwind.
Elysium recommends staying at the W Retreat Koh Samui – the funky hotel group has created a paradise within paradise here and there is lot of extra touches that you soon love and wish it was part of your everyday life. The W Beach, with 900m of golden sands is the best way to work on the tan, while if you feel a little pampering is needed the Away spa is the best way to enjoy the natural healing therapies available.
Rooms are suitably styled and spacious enough, offering amazing sea views and even your very own private pool to laze away in. The Sweetspots – free sweet and ice-cream dispensers around the resort – are a very welcomed touch that sweet-toothed explorers will enjoy…perhaps a little too frequently!
Eating wise, you’ll be well served throughout the island but Elysium became a huge fan of the Namu restaurant at the W Retreat. The innovative Japanese fusion cuisine, aptly named Asia Tomorrow, served up by Chef Matthew Woolford takes you on a truly unforgettable gastronomical adventure in the intimate environment of Namu – the Maine Lobster stir-fried with udon noodles and fish carpaccio is highly recommended. It’s the place to take the lady if the desire is to impress!
Elsewhere on the island you’ll find Chaweng and Lamai as the hot spots for nightlife and partying. Flame throwers and jugglers entertain the crowds en mass but you can still be a part of the fun without it being in your face. Venues like Ark Bar provide great drink and food options, while Bar Ice drops the tropical temperature substantially if you want to really chill out (coats provided) and the ice works are impressive.
The island, famous for its moon-related parties, also has a lot going for it other than sheer hedonistic revelry. It’s true that thousands flock to Hat Rin during the key lunar cycles (full, half and black moon) with many resorts booked up well in advance but the island has a certain laissez-faire charm that many sun worshippers will appreciate.
Chilling out by the beach sipping on cocktails by day, then enjoying the frantic rave culture by night will appeal to many and the moon-related parties is definitely something you should try once. Hat Rin beach is converted into one big party as UV lights highlight the luminous body paint favoured by ravers. Just ensure you’ve left your valuables at the hotel and you don’t mind getting your clothes dirty (the paint doesn’t come out of clothing) and you’ll be fine.
Shaking off the hangover from last night, Elysium recommends a visit to the stunning northern beaches of Chalok Lam through to Thong Nai. Many revellers don’t bother to check out the rest of this beautiful island so you may be one of the lucky few to enjoy a private beach to yourself for a moment or two. The many waterfalls throughout the island’s interior are also worth a peek – Than Sadet, Than Prawet and Nam Tok Phaeng should all feature on your to-do list.
A stay at the CocoHut Beach resort is highly recommended during your visit to Koh Pha-Ngan. The clean and spacious bungalows with all mod-cons are very reasonable, and the spa facilities are top-notch. Breakfast watching the sunrise is a must.
We’ve saved any mention of scuba and snorkelling until now, as Koh Tao is THE place to satisfy all your underwater desires. This small island, with its turquoise waters, draws thousands with the promise of some of the best diving action in the world. Sharks, rays, neon corals and a moving collage of hundreds of marine fish cater to the diving enthusiast or scuba virgin, while snorkel fans still get a piece of the action due to the crystal clear waters. You might even be lucky enough to see a whale shark too. Day trips are easily arranged from Koh Pha-Ngan if a brief visit is more to your liking.