A visitor’s guide to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Surat Thani province

The city of Surat Thani is a major transit point for travelers en route to some of Thailand’s most famous islands: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing on the picturesque jungle-backed beaches are popular things to do here, as are boat trips around the sublime seascape of Ang Thong National Marine Park.

From the Thai capital of Bangkok you can reach Surat Thani by plane, train or bus – although the latter two are lengthy overnight trips. Regular ferries also run to the islands from Donsak Pier, about 40 miles from Surat Thani town, as well as between all three islands – the journey between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan takes just half an hour, making the island easy to see and to see all the sights.

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1 Koh Samui

Koh Samui
 

This holiday resort is the biggest draw in Surat Thani province, rivaled only by neighboring Koh Phangan. Popular with foreign visitors for its beautiful beaches and lavish resorts, Samui offers warm Thai hospitality in a quintessential tropical setting. Many visitors prefer Samui for its relaxing yoga, meditation and wellness retreats. Picturesque fishing villages on the island, as well as coconut and durian plantations, and waterfalls are hidden in the dense jungle. Motorcycle or bicycle is the best mode of transport and a great way to see the island.

Koh Samui offers every kind of water sport such as diving, snorkelling and windsurfing. Other popular things to do on the island include Thai cooking classes; visiting the beautiful temples Wat Plai LaemWhat Sila Byin Great Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai); boat trips around the beautiful seascape of National park Mu Ko Ang Thong; and bask on the beautiful beaches.

Official Site: https://www.kohsamui.com/

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Koh Samui beach

Koh Samui beach
Koh Samui beach
 

Koh Samui’s beaches offer variety and tranquility in equal parts. Chaweng Beach is one of the most popular on the island – and the most developed. It is home to luxury resorts such as Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort and Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort. Chaweng Noiin the south, is one of the top-rated beaches in Thailand.

Lies lies on the less developed southeast coast Laem Set beach, home to the holistic spa, Kamalaya Koh Samui. In a beautiful natural setting, this quiet, palm-fringed stretch of coast has a beautiful offshore coral garden and unusual rock formations. Head northwest to catch the sunset Phang Ka beach for spectacular views.

Op Lamai Beach, Koh Samui’s second largest resort area, look for the distinctive rock formations colorfully described as “Grandpa” (Hin Ta) and “Grandma” (Hin Yai), referring to their anatomical similarity to their names. You can stay on the beach at the 4-star Rocky’s Boutique Resort. The five-star Banyan Tree Samui offers luxurious villas overlooking the bay. northeast of here, Silver Beach (Haad Thong Ta-khian) is a picturesque palm-fringed bay flanked by smooth granite boulders, with great snorkeling in the tranquil cove.

on the north coast of the island, Bophut Beach stands with the old Fisherman’s Villagewith its Chinese shophouses, hip boutiques and popular Friday night market, and in the northwest, quiet Maenam Beach offers a dreamy view of Koh Phangan. You’ll find an attractive range of accommodations here, from affordable backpacker bungalows to mid-sized boutique hotels, such as Code, and five-star resorts, such as the Santiburi Koh Samui and the W Koh Samui.

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2 Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan
 

Surat Thani’s other big draw is a stone’s throw from Samui. You can even see one of the other coasts. The coast of Koh Phangan is more rugged than Koh Samui, with huge granite rocks and jungle-shrouded mountains behind the beaches. Most development clusters along the south and west coasts.

Koh Phangan is home to the monthly Full Moon party, an event that overshadows the island’s more genteel charms. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, it’s best to avoid Haad Rin, the Full Moon Beach, and choose one of the many beautiful locations on the island that offer a peaceful retreat and stunning underwater scenery. Scuba diving and snorkeling along the colorful coral gardens are popular things to do, and you can also take a bike or cultural tour around the island.

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Beaches of Koh Phangan

Beaches of Koh Phangan: jeeheon / photo modified
Beaches of Koh Phangan: jeeheon / photo modified
 

Unlike the many expanses of flat beaches along Koh Samui, Koh Phangan’s coastline tends to scale into sheltered coves, flanked by granite outcroppings and backed by lush hills. On the relatively quiet east coast of the island, Thong Nai Pan Noi in Thong Nai Pan Yai are among the most popular beaches – Noi in particular tends to be cleaner and has plenty of food outlets. Accommodation options here range from budget resorts to the five-star Anantara Rasananda, Koh Phangan Villas and the four-star Buri Rasa Koh Phangan.

on the northwest coast of the island, Had Yao, Hat salad (Salad Beach), a Chief Son, also known as “Secret Beach”, are great options, with decent snorkeling a short kick from shore. Accommodation options here are mainly budget and mid-range resorts, such as the Green Papaya Resort on Salad Beach and the Sunset Hill Resort, perched high on the hills overlooking Secret Beach.

just to the south, Haad Chao Phao, about 30 minutes from the pier and the main tourist area, offers a perfect balance between comfort and tranquility with several good restaurants and small seaside bungalow parks such as Seaflower Bungalows. It’s easy to find transport to other parts of the island, but so quiet that you feel you have a little piece of Phangan (almost) to yourself.

For a truly remote experience, Bottle Beach (Hat Khuat) on the north coast of the island is an excellent choice, but it’s best reached by longtail boat – unless you don’t mind a walk through the steamy jungle along an unpaved dirt road. Accommodation here is fairly basic, such as the beachfront bungalows at Bottle Beach 1 Resort.

3 Editor’s Pick Ang Thong National Marine Park

The Thong National Marine Park
The Thong National Marine Park
 

Both Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are part of this breathtaking archipelago of 42 islands. If you only do one tour while vacationing in this area, make sure you include one around Ang Thong. Many tour operators offer one-day packages and you can usually arrange these through your hotel or guest house. Most include a boat tour of the islands with stops for snorkeling, kayaking and hiking to viewpoints where you can admire this amazing chain of islands. Limited accommodation is available in the park. Be sure to have your camera ready and find a spot above the deck, as you won’t want to miss the breathtaking photo ops.

Official site: https://www.thainationalparks.com/mu-ko-ang-thong-national-park

4 Koh Tao

Koh Tao
Koh Tao
 

From the air, Ko Tao looks like hills of granite boulders covered in greenery, floating on a jade-green sea and connected by stunning white-sand beaches. Besides dreamy, tropical scenery, diving is the big attraction here. Colorful coral reefs fringe the clear waters that are home to some of the best diving spots in Southeast Asia. Huge schools of fish, brightly colored sea anemones, stingrays and even whale sharks are among the marine life here and the island is a popular and relatively affordable place to obtain PADI diving certificate. While certainly not off the beaten track, Koh Tao tends to have fewer tourists than both Samui and Phangan. Accommodation consists mainly of villas and bungalows peeking out of the jungly slopes, with breathtaking views of the bay, such as Monkey Flower Villas and The Place Luxury Boutique Villas

Official Site: https://www.kohtao.com/

5 Sail Rock

Sail Rock Remko Tanis / photo modified
Sail Rock Remko Tanis / photo modified
 

Divers will want to make it a point to check out this popular dive site between Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, marked by a huge limestone rock jutting 10 meters out of the water. This famous wall dive with a maximum depth of about 40 meters is known as one of the best areas in Thailand for swimming with an array of exotic fish, and even whale sharks if you’re lucky. You can also see giant black coral; moray eels; and large schools of fish, such as batfish, snapper, and trevally. Another feature is the swim-through of the vertical chimney. Sail Rock is suitable for all levels of divers, depending on the conditions.

Overnight in Surat Thani province for sightseeing

We recommend these great value hotels near the beach in Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao:

  • Poppies Samui: Koh Samui luxury resort, beachfront location, tropical gardens, Thai-style cottages, thoughtful touches, complimentary breakfast and arrival gifts.
  • Buri Rasa Koh Phangan: resort in the middle of Koh Phangan, traditional thatched buildings, cooking classes, free use of kayaks, outdoor swimming pool.
  • View Point Resort: affordable Koh Tao villas, small beach, beautiful sea views, smiling staff, infinity pools
  • City Dance Hotel: Koh Samui budget hotel, opposite Chaweng Beach, near restaurants and entertainment, trendy feel.

Read also:

20 tips for the most beautiful places

The Kamalaya Koh Samui: the most beautiful wellness retreat in Thailand

Discovering Canada’s Secret Gems: The Unique Attractions that Will Surprise You

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