THE PASSAGE BLUE GUIDE TO KO SAMUI: 4 THINGS TO DO ON THE ISLAND
Come with us on a little adventure on the laid back island of Ko Samui. It needs little introduction; surrounded by the sea, its shoreline is dotted with soft, sandy beaches and a thick fringe of palm trees. Its interior on the other hand, is covered with a dense, tropical rainforest. Before we arrived, we gathered that the island would be large enough for some serious exploration yet easily circumnavigated in just a couple of hours by motorbike. We rented a villa for seven in the outskirts of Chaweng, where most of our daily travel plans were made.
Our days were spent exploring the island’s verdant interior, swimming in the sea, visiting other neighbouring islands within the archipelago and walking the markets at night. It is true; parts of the island are indeed overdeveloped and overcrowded, and some of the tours hold little regard for the long term sustainability of the island and its wildlife – but in spite of all that, Ko Samui is still a wonder if an island and surely worth a visit. It has a little something for everyone, and we believe that your visit can be as calming or as lively you make it. Here are four of our favourite things to do here.
#1 Ang Thong National Marine Park
We planned to explore Mu Ko Angthong National Marine Park and its hidden lagoons by boat and kayak with Blue Stars. Unfortunately the weather didn’t hold up, our sea kayaking excursion had to be indefinitely postponed and our next option was to go with a local tour on a much larger boat instead. Our voyage took us northwest on a mildly sunny morning over some strong waves. The sea was choppy and our journey was far from pleasant – imagine slightly over a hundred people on a rocky wooden boat spewing thick clouds of black smoke! What seemed like an endless journey across the sea soon ended; we got there eventually and before us was a stunning archipelago of 42 little islands, clustered together in the dreamy Gulf of Thailand. The view was spectacular; little islands covered with tropical forests and limestone cliffs rising from the sea.
We clambered into smaller long tail boats and were subsequently ferried to Mae Ko island in the marine park. It was anything but quiet and calm – the beach was overcrowded with tourists and we were stunned to see almost every square foot of sand taken up by..well, feet. Despite feeling a little disheartened, we left the beach and climbed up and down a series of stairs to Talay Nai or the Emerald lagoon, a saltwater lake within the island. The climb entailed ascending and descending flights of stairs and walkways built into the natural karst landscape.
From the lookout point was a calm, emerald lake glistening silver in the early afternoon sun, surrounded by the grandest limestone cliffs we had ever seen.
We then descended a final series of stairs, almost perpendicular to the ones before to get to the base of the lagoon. Flowering cacti lined out path as we made our way down, past the craggy cliffside and towering trees. As the narrow walkway unfolded into a little wooden deck, we stood over the lake and watched quietly as fishes swam in and out of little caves. Quiet moments like this fill my heart with immense gratitude.
After our climb, we returned to the beach and kayaked to a calmer side of the island. Despite the trip being a little too touristy and overcrowded, the Angthong National Marine Park still deserves a visit. Opting for a smaller, private tour company would have given us a much better experience so hopefully next time, we’ll be able to do just that. For the intrepid explorer, consider camping on the island overnight. We could only imagine how serene the marine park would be once the day-trippers have left.
#2: Ko Nangyuan
Just fifteen minutes northwest of Ko Tao lies Ko Nangyuan, an island made up of three specks of rocky outcrops connected by a dreamy sandbar. Home to just one dive resort, Ko Nangyuan is endowed with powdery, sandy shores and a shallow ocean floor, making it a wonderful place to swim and snorkel.
We arrived by high speed catamaran and were completely enamoured by the island’s rugged beauty. We circled the island on foot and proceeded to climb up a staircase paved through the forest to get to the viewpoint. The final section of our climb required a little bit of scrambling over some large boulders, but our overall journey up took only fifteen minutes and wasn’t difficult. Admittedly, the weather could have been a little better; the wind casted a light mist over the island and it was barely sunny, but the view of the three highest peaks was striking nonetheless. Ko Nangyuan has been one of the most unique and picturesque islands we’ve ever been to in Thailand, and we would love to return for a longer stay. The island is thronged by day-trippers from early to late afternoon, so we’d recommend that you either leave later or stay for at least a night to have the island to yourself.
#3: Lamai Beach, East of Samui
One morning, we rode eastward for a day in Lamai. We journeyed past little street side restaurants and livestock grazing in the grass until we finally arrived at Hin-Ta and Hin-Yai, the infamous rock formations commonly mentioned in most travel sites. We spent some time admiring them as kayakers glided by. From here, look to your east and you’ll see a cosy little swim spot by the rocks. We went further down south and spent the rest of our afternoon unwinding on the beach, watching the sun dip into the horizon. We rode home, got changed and then had one of our best dinners yet at Cafe 69, situated not far from the Bophut Fisherman’s Village. The seven of us had a wonderful time tucking into their daily specials served in whimsical little portions. If it’s still on the menu, we loved the red snapper and papaya salad stuffed with soft shell crab.
#4: Exploring Samui’s green, leafy interior
We embarked on a nature tour with a local guide to learn about the culture and rural way of life on the island. Prior to the 1940s, there were no roads nor vehicles on Samui. Early inhabitants lived off the island with very little contact with the outside world. Being out in nature is always refreshing, and it made for a nice change after spending days in the sea. We visited a coconut palm village where bunches of wild petai, or bitter beans were harvested. The rich soil means that the island is ideal for farming, although tourism has now overtaken it as its main source of income. All local tours can be customised – I would personally give the elephant rides and monkey schools a miss. We then visited the Big Buddha Temple and ended our day with fresh coconut ice cream, scooped into little coconut halves.
Ko Samui is a versatile, all-year-round holiday island; and although no particular season is best, we’d recommend visiting during the dry season from January to April when the sea is calm and idyllic for island hopping excursions.
Have you been to Ko Samui? What are your recommendations?