Sunday, August 30, 2009

SAMUI

Last visited Feb/March 2017

Listen up trendsetters - who says you can't find laid-back, picturesque, good-value places on Samui these days? This is Jungle Club high in the hills behind Chaweng Noi with 180 degree panoramic views from the pool, those hillside roofed sitting-bures silhouetted at left-background and the Bali-style restaurant. (click to expand pix)

You can check the coastline stretching from Chong Mon/Maitang Island in the north (most distant in shot), down thru Chaweng and Chaweng Noi to the area around Coral Cove in the south. Accommodation here starts at backpacker/flashpacker level. More details and pix t at the foot of the page.

Samui map from http://www.phukhao.com/ The two main beaches, Chaweng and Lamai are on the east coast at right. Chaweng Noi is the smaller beach just above the Viewpoint mid east coast. Tiny Thong Ta Kien is the second small bay (near the road) on the north side of Laem Nan peninsula just north of Lamai.

For a more detailed map it is hard to beat sawadee.com's interactive map. This can be enlarged and the hundreds of accommodation options can be clicked on to bring up sawadee's info, photos, guest reviews and price lists.

SAMUI gets bad press on many travel sites for being overdeveloped and trashy. I disagree. It is hard to find a nicer white-sand beach in southern Thailand than Chaweng and the resorts lining the beach are pretty attractive, not Miami Beach/Surfers Paradise recreated. Lamai is not too far behind Chaweng.
And midrange/high-end travellers deserve a nice scenic island mid-year when the Andaman and eastern Gulf are frequently too wet - as do the sun/swim/party set and the rent-girl chasers. Okay, the girlie-bar areas in Chaweng and Lamai may be a turn-off for some, but these are easily avoided.
True, the road strip behind Chaweng's beachfront hotels and bunalows is becoming a kinda tourist trap with lots of tacky t-shirt and sarong shops and those pesky tailors, but once again this is easily avoided. As is the super busy Chaweng by-pass with just about every type of business you can imagine. You have to remember Samui has quite a big local economy, and this strip contains many of the goods/service-suppliers for such. It aint so much for tourists, but it does make the trip from the north to say Lamai much quicker than the good old days.
Ah yeah, the good old days. All you dudes wishing Chaweng was like the late 80s should consider whether your town is unchanged since that time. And then head a short distance north of Samui where Phangan offers beaches just like Chaweng's good old days at Hads Thian, Why Nam, Sadet, Thong Reng, Mae + Coral Cove, Bottle Beach and others.
But hey, you don't have to go to Phangan. There are still some beaches on Samui which are quiet, scenic and laid back. And on Chaweng and Lamai it is still possible to find some old-time good value traveller type joints.

THE EAST COAST
CHAWENG - CHAWENG NOI - CORAL COVE - THONG TA KIEN - LAMAI - CHONG MON - HUA THANON.

THONG TA KIEN

And who says you can't find a quiet, scenic white-sand beach with good value accommodation on the popular east coast of Samui within a few minutes of the shopping and entertainment of Lamai and Chaweng?

This is THONG TA KIEN, a small bay at the start of the hilly section of coastline between Lamai and Chaweng. There are 4 bungalow joints on this bay and since first seeing it way back I've been determined to stay here some day.
This shot is at about half-tide. At lower tide levels the far end of the bay becomes very shallow and there is a section of rocks mid-bay which is exposed. However the western section of the bay closest camera is sandy right out into deeper water, which at lowest tide is maybe 30m out to be deep enough to swim. Closer to the beach is nice for pottering around looking at fishies etc - or snorkelling when the tide is up. The water was very clear when I visited. I also snorkelled along the western headland - there were small patches of fringing coral, but mainly mono-colour and underwhelming.
The road climbs quite steeply along this headland and there are some nice bar/restaurants with good views within 10 minutes walk. The second one you come to has budget prices.
To the south, the northern part of Lamai beach is only a 10 minute walk. Lamai is a long beach, the busy central part is say 10 minutes in songthaew. Chaweng is about the same.

Thong Ta Kien is a quiet bay - I don't think I saw a longtail boat put in or even pass close to shore. Most accommodation is far enough from the road for vehicle noise to be a non-issue except maybe for some of the rooms at the western-most place, Crystal Bay Resort.

Check further down page for Coral Bay, a similar beach about 2km along this hilly section, closer to Chaweng.

Least expensive standard rooms at Thongtakian Resort.

I saw a Thorntree post way back in the 90s raving about Thongtakian, and when I checked the user reviews on Trip Advisor, travelfish and the various booking sites it seemed to get the most raves for my budget range (just above flashpacker - Lady Tezza do like her aircon and hot water).
Okay, the standard rooms as you can see have a nice garden setting. You get a fridge and TV on top of the aircon and hot-water plus brekka included for 1100 high season August 09.
The room was clean, maybe approaching time for an interior repaint, plenty big enough for 2 and their gear, had sufficient storage, a king-size bed which was pretty comfortable, and was serviced daily. Adequate bathroom with western toilet, plenty of water pressure and good hot water. The balcony was a nice place to hang late afternoon with a glass of red (we brought a cheap Aussie box of wine) or a beer. Note there was a small shop up near reception where beers were nearly as cheap as 7/11s in town - bless that fridge in the room!
Thongtakian has plenty of more expensive rooms and bungalows. You can see the range on Thongtakian's website and sawadee.com. Some guests at the pool said their high-end poolside rooms in the new hotel wing were real nice.
The restaurant was beachfront with some of the chairs and tables on the sand, prices about average for budget bunalows (and this place is mid-range), food pretty nice. The buffet breakfast was served in a separate area up near reception (maybe so you can stuff yer bags with pastries etc when your daytrip shuttle bus comes a bit early) and was pretty good except like every other Thai buffet place this trip, more heat would not have hurt at times. I'm a world class fang merchant - can hoover down tucker like I've been starved the last 10 years - I reckon I easily got thru 200+ baht of multiple juice/coffee/fruit/cereal+yoghurt/eggs/half a dozen other hot things each morning. And if you think I'm good, you should see Lady T go! Lucky she gyms it out and I run/swim/cycle or we could end up circumferencially enhanced like my old pal Singapore Slim.
All this brings into consideration VALUE - we paid 1100 high season but subtract say 400 for brekka and you are talking 700 room only, which makes Mai Pen Rai's 650 baht backpacker bungalow on Had Sadet Phangan, no aircon/TV/hot water/fridge/pool/daily service maybe a bit expensive. Hey, I'm becoming a fan of midrangers - if I have someone to share.

Oblique Google Earth image of Thong Ta Kien looking from the north-west.


LAMAI

Here it comes again - who says you can't get a beachfront budget bungalow of the old style on LAMAI these days?

Google for New Hut, Lamai. These share-bathroom bungalows were going for 350 high season 2010. One the other side of the atmospheric beachfront restaurant were bigger places with bathroom for 450.
This place was towards the north end of Lamai where a small stream cuts the beach. There is a reef which runs down the northern third Lamai forming a shallow lagoon at low tide, way too shallow for swimming in most places. Some people like this because it allows for some fossicking or just sitting around in a shallow pool of water. I prefer deeper water so I can swim anytime - which is available starting 5 minutes further south - the center and south end of the beach have no reef and good water depth low tide. Note that a bit further north from New Hut is a new small harbour for longtails constructed from dredged reef-rock, which looked a bit daggy low tide.

Lamai beach from the viewpoint on the southern headland.

The beach must be about 4km long. I particularly like the section immediately across from the nearest jet ski, where a collection of boulders gives the beach some character and makes for some nice swimming and snorkelling in water clearer than at the near headland. Note the relative lack of people at prime sunshine time - 11am on a perfect August (high season) day.
Lamai seemed to have fewer big resorts than Chaweng and quite a few smaller places advertising room with air for 700 - a lot had pools.
The far headland is the Laem Nan peninsula - there are some nice resorts along here with elevated views down the bay and neat patches of sand below, but shallow water low tide. The area was a frenzy of new construction when I checked it out this visit.
Thong Ta Kien is a short distance thru the lower saddle in the center background.

Maybe 15% from the far north end of Lamai is this small harbour which kinda detracts from the area and would have a bit of noise from longtails leaving early morning for some fishing. Maybe it would be a good idea to check the location of your resort relative to this - most of the booking sites have a satellite map. btw the beach is not too bad fairly close both sides of the harbour so I'd only worry if my resort is more or less adjacent.

Lamai from the south. A is the start of the reef area which run to the end of the beach at C. B is the river entrance - see below.
Google Earth's image at the time of posting showed this rather large interruption to the beach in the mid-north. I have never seen this - I'm assuming it is a wet season image - in the dry season the stream is just a trickle and the beach more or less straight here.
A closer look at the northern end of Lamai. D is the Laem Nam peninsula. This hilly area has a lot of recent development - much of it mid-range or better. Quite a few on the near side have good elevated views over Lamai's bay and little sandy beaches on the shoreline. I tried to reach that beach to the right of the D last trip but access was blocked by building activity.


CHAWENG

Brace for it - who says you can't get a reasonably priced beachfront place on CHAWENG? This is the beach area for OP Bungalows which gets good posts on travel forums. Aircon - hot water bungalows were going for 1050 when I called around. UPDATE - oops! 2200 in March 2017. Probably still the best priced beachfront joint on Chaweng but Thailand is becoming SO EXPENSIVE.

OP Bungalows is situated on a particularly nice section of sand about one quarter down from the northern end where the beach does a curve. Note the exposed line of reef rocks in background - Chaweng also has a lagoon situation running along its northern third. The lagoon is more attractive than Lamai's and had quite a few people splashing around, fossicking and sitting in the shallows behind camera - plus sunbathers on exposed sand-bars 100m from the beach. Central and southern Chaweng have no reef - low tide water is deep enough for swimming but you may have to go out a bit further than similar areas at Lamai. Lamai's sand is pretty white, but Chaweng is even more so.

Okay old Samui hands - this is the site of the old-time favourite travellers' joint - Charlie Hut. A beach-vendor lady told me in 2013 she used to work here and it had been closed 4 years. It surprises me that such a prime position in the middle of Chaweng would sit idle for so long.

Charlie Hut has in fact had two locations - the first right next door to the south. This is the boutique resort constructed on Charlie's original site. Nostalgia trippers should check for Buri Rasa, but you are gonna pay a wee bit more than the good old days.

The far southern end of the main Chaweng Beach. People wanting very uncrowded conditions should head this way. The breakwater in the foreground is at the exit of a small river against the headland, meaning water clarity isn't great for the first 100m or so, but once up near those beach umbrellas it is fine.

MARCH 2017
Latest pass-by showed significant beach erosian in the south of CHAWENG. Similar section just behind camera. Further north the beach was less wide but still usable.

Pool and premium room hotel block at First House, Chaweng. This place is at the far southern end of the main Chaweng beach. There is a small river between the sunlounges and the far bungalows , with attractive Chaweng Noi beach behind. The bungalows belong to First Bungalow resort. First House has a small bridge across the river meaning you can be sunning it on Chaweng Noi in no time at all. First House also has direct access onto the southern end of the bigger main Chaweng beach.

I wanted to end our holiday in a nice hotel and show Lady T Chaweng so in typical Tezza fashion booked the cheapest standard room at First House which is in a separate block to the above. On arrival they upgraded us free to a family suite in the newer poolside block on account the aircon in the standard room was broken.
Jeez, what a blow - I've never stayed in a 4200 baht room in Thailand before. So I can't really give a comparative room report except to say the suite was everything I expected, the pool was great, the included buffet breakfast pretty awesome (restaurant prices for other meals were higher than other places this trip but there was a good budget restaurant on the street nearby, not to mention some minimarts with competitive prices), service very good. Being right at the southern end of main Chaweng beach it was maybe a 5 minute walk up to the start of the busy part of the Chaweng beach road shopping-restaurant strip.

Chaweng from the north. The really busy part of Chaweng beach is south from adjacent Ko Matlang symbol.

NORTH CHAWENG
My Google Earth image above is a bit misleading - suggests Nth Chaweng is from opposite Ko Matland north - in fact I would classify it as from the first inward turn of the beach just this side of the "reef" place marker.


Whiteness of sand and water quality can't match Chaweng central further south, bt this a pretty nice area. Here I have a mid-tide shot where the water is deep enough for some protected kayaking. Ko Matlang background provides good shelter making this a protected lagoon. When the tide drops you have the pools for fossiking plus some nice sand bars for sunning.
A host of mainly midrange or better resorts along here - google for Papillon, Chaweng Blue Lagoon, Coral Bay, Al's Leam Song, Anantara Lawana. Plenty more - check Agoda and similar.


There are plenty of competitive beach bars/restaurants along here but these dudes have tried for something a bit special.


The road behind Chaweng beach has a busy business section which runs for maybe 2km. This is the start at the northern end, opposite nth Chaweng. Shops, restaurants, bars, banks --- you name it. There are even a few girly bars. This development has greatly upset old time Samu hands - but the fact is visitors expect to be able to access a full range of retail and services at a prime beach area.


CHAWENG NOI
CHAWENG NOI from the northern end near First House and First Bungalow resorts.
UPDATE - my 2017 pass by showed more development in this northern half - FIRST BUNGALOW RESORT has expanded a good way down the beach.

Noi means small, and the beach is small compared to 5km long main Chaweng to its immediate north, but not in absolute terms.
This is a fine beach with some good shade and particularly clear water in this northern section. The rocks at the small headland out of picture to left make for some interesting snorkelling fish-wise although there is no great coral. Some local dudes have set up a beach bar near these rocks selling cheap beer, other drinks and eats. This northern area can get quite crowded but further down the beach people tend to be less concentrated. Exclusively midrange and high-end accommodation along this beach, but there are some good budget dining places on the sand at the far southern end.
Thong Ta Kien and Coral Cove are tucked in behind those high headlands rear left.

Samui is becoming a real popular place for farang weddings. This is a hotel-beachfront job on Chaweng Noi which attracted a crowd of interested sunbather onlookers.

Lady Tezza commented the location was a bit more romantic than the civil celebrant's shack behind the Shell service station in the salubrious steel-city suburb of Unanderra^^.
Maybe so, but I bet this dude couldn't get his fuel injectors flushed and plugs swapped out while he got hitched. Or make the afternoon shift in the slab mill.

^^for you non-Oztrayans - pronounced Yew-nan-derr-uh.
My kids keep telling their friends mum and dad were married in a petrol station. Jeez - how unclassy do they think we are?


Chaweng Noi and Coral Cove (see below) from the north-west. That's the southern end of Lamai beach you can just see top left. Note cool Jungle Club high in the hills.

CORAL COVE

Coral Cove is the other small bay between Lamai and Chaweng Noi - closer to the latter.

Sand maybe not quite as white as Thong Ta Kien, water not quite as clear, but pretty nice, laid back and no exposed rock at low tide. Maybe a bit of road noise - the main road is very close to the back of the beach in the middle. Coral Cove Resort has a bunch of bungalows, some on the beach, some on the headland behind the camera. These include some budget priced options.
The flash looking place at the far end of the beach in the shot is Coral Cove Chalet, midrange and up. Higher on the hillside in what often is referred to as Coral Cove Heights is a bunch of midrangers with pretty nice views.

One of the hillside joints in Coral Cove Heights - Hi Coral Cove Bungalow.

Pretty snazzy place with a nice pool out of shot, access to small patches of sand between the rocks. Some local dudes were fishing off these rocks, so this could be a place for you keen anglers. Mid-range resort with some flashpacker-priced options. This is shot from the main road restaurant/bar - Chong Mon and Chaweng in background.

Viewpoint from the mountain side behind Hi Coral Cove on a good concrete road which takes off steeply from the main coast road closer to Coral Cove beach.

Ko Matland off the north end of Chaweng can be seen at right, Choeng Mon further away to its left, long Chaweng in the middle and Chaweng Noi disappearing behind the near headland. That's Ko Phangan far background partly under cloud.
Some nice places to stay along this road - check sawadee.com's interactive map for Best View Bungalows and neighbours.


CHOENG MON
This very attractive smaller beach in the north east of the island was pretty undeveloped when I first saw it with only a few hotels and bungalow places, but these days is a thriving beach-spot with mainly more expensive resorts, holiday villas and private dwellings. There is a bustling shopping/restaurant area along the main road thru here - although this road is well away from the busy around-island drag and is pretty quiet in comparison. Both north and south are small bays with similar development. It's not too far from the airport here although you will be away from the flight-path.

Choeng Mon in the far north-east of the island.


Choeng Mon 2013 - I've come to the conclusion this is one of the nicest stretch of sand on the island. The resorts behind the beach are not shabby either.
Choeng Mon food hawker doing business. It's not just budget travellers who appreciate the yummy and inexpensive tucker.


HUA THANON
This is the big bay south of Lamai and probably the least touristy coastline on the island, but good if you want to check a working Muslim fishing villages area. The beach does improve towards the south-east corner of the island approaching Laem Set and you have attractions like the Samui Aquarium and the Butterfly Farm plus a handful of midrange+ resorts.

Hua Thanon in the south-east corner of the island. My Samui map shows a fair bit of development along here since I last passed thru. Labels may be clearer if you click-expand.


Part of the Hua Thanon coast not very far south of Lamai. Not bad, but sand not up to the standard of the better beaches and water very shallow offshore at lower tide levels. Some of the more upmarket resorts further south probably do the usual excellent job of beach manicuring/improvement but I did not make them on this trip (August 2013) on account I turned inland to the waterfalls/viewpoints soon after the area in shot. I last checked out further south last century in my travel-lite no camera days - there was little development back then.


THE NORTH EAST CORNER
A very short distance north of Chong Moeng is a lovely little area of twin rainforested capes and several small coves with nice sheltered beaches (look for Samrong Bay, Tongson Bay and Tongsai Bay). This is a newish area with mainly high end and midrange accommodation - plus a lot of new villa construction where no doubt the Samui airport taxi mafia will live. Plus all you Wall St fugitive bond traders. You get a sense of islolation here and yet the airport** and Chong Meong business area are only a few km away, Chaweng a bit further.
**off the flght path so noise wouldn't be a problem.

SAMRONG BAY
That's the big bucks Six Senses on the headland. Equally expensive Idlyllic Samui and more affordable Arayaburi Boutique* are hidden at the closer end of the beach. Ko Phangan can be seen right background.
* Arayaburi has a nice villa with breakfast for $us100 in peak early January. Hell I recently paid that for a basic country NSW motel in mid-week. You may think I'm a bit anal checking Agoda etc for prices but I'm always planning Thailand trips with Lady Tezza in tow. She likes comfort. Funny, so do I, and its such a change from my most-typical budget beach bungalow when travelling solo (although The Lady also likes some of her holiday time in these too, bless her).

TONGSON BAY
How sweet is this.?Resorts include Melati, Samui Emerald and Tongson Bay Villas.



Nice area. Airport Departures is 2km south of Big Buddha Temple.

THE NORTH COAST
This is a quieter area compared to Chaweng-Lamai and the favourite of many long time travellers. You will find more budget accommodation here than the east coast, although these days there is no shortage of midrangers and better. I noticed when researching Samui accommodation that some of the midrangers seemed to offer very good value - aircon hot water rooms and pools at what would be flashpacker prices in the Andaman in a similar season.

MAE NAM
MAE NAM is the nicest of the north coast beaches IMHO, particularly here in the western third of the bay where quite a few nice midrange and better resorts are located.

Mae Nam also has probably the biggest range of budget places on the north coast if not the island. The beach is more yellow than white and has a steeper profile and coarser sand than Chaweng, but aint bad at all and the water tends to be pretty clear.

Oblique Google Earth image of Mae Nam from the west. Note that except for a small area near the pier there is no road immediately behind the beach - access to beachfront resorts is mainly by lanes down from the highway.


BO PHUT east of Mai Nam has a string of mainly midrange and better places particularly on its western half but you can still find some very good budget places. Like Bang Rak/Big Buddha immediately east, it is popular with longer term travellers.

The beach is not too bad at all, but maybe a step down from Mae Nam and no match for Choeng Mon and the best parts of Chaweng/Lamai.

East of mid-bay the short street which runs down to the "pier" area from the main road has a lot of character with old-style Thai coastal village shops mixed with traveller-type restaurants and other services. A beachside road runs at a T to this with access to beach restaurants on the sea side and restaurants/resorts on the other. This is the famous Fisherman's Village area. I've come thru here several times (the Phangan east coast ferry lands at the end of the street in shot) but in August 2013 I called in at night around 1930 and was pleasantly surprised - the whole area had transformed into a kind of WALKING STREET - shops and restaurants were brightly lit and people strolling in their finery. Reminded me of the Greek Islands.

Part of Google Earth's composite image was shot in wet season hence the cloud over the vital pier-main street area of Bo Phut. But overall their effort is much better now - previously much of Chaweng and Lamai was covered in cloud. 
Note you can just see the far end of Chaweng Noi beach towards the top left of image.


BANG RAK-BIG BUDDHA looked less appealing to me with a less attractive beach, lots of boats moored and moving around, a number of not so snazzy piers, water not so clear. Nevertheless it is popular with a lot of budget travellers being uncrowded and with a good range of accommodation with no shortage of budget places. It is very close to the airport for Tao/Phangan people wanting somewhere to stay overnight before an early flight.
UPDATE AUGUST 2013 - proximity to the airport is why I decided to spend a few nights at Bank Rak on my way between Phangan and Phuket. I began to see why it is popular with so many - I took me 3 minutes to walk from the central pier to my beachfront accommodation at Bangrak Beach Resort and less than 10 minutes by vehicle to Departures at the wonderful Samui airport. The town has an abundance of good value and more expensive accommodattion/restaurants and shops and is a pretty good base to reach a lot of other Samui areas relatively quickly.

Bang Rak/Big Buddha at the eastern end of the north coast. The actual Big Budhha is at the bay front temple roughly central image - the area names of Bang Rak/Big Buddha seem interchangeable. Note proximity of airport, Chaweng. The closest best beach is Choeng Mon which is on the upper east coast of the island just out of frame to the left - took me 10 minutes on a motorcycle. Bo Phut starts to the right of that headland far right of frame.

I was pleasantly surprised with the beach in front of my digs at Bang Rak Beach Resort. Nice sand and kept in pretty clean condition despite the wind that time of year blowing stuff over from Phangan. Water however was not as clear as at some places in Samui. Bang Rak Beach Resort was a modestly priced lower midrange joint with clean comfy motel-like rooms (although there was a snazzy family villa beachfont) and excellent staff. Their linked motorcycle hire place gave me an almost new moto for 200 a day.
Not bad sunsets either

Bang Rak north beach is nowhere near as attractive - besides the scratchier sand, shallow water seems more widespread. This was taken from adjacent the northern breakwater of the small craft harbour which itself is about 700m north of the Big Buddha temple. There are a number of accommodation places behind the sand, some of them not budget. Many are calling themselves Choeng Mon located, but that much nicer beach is about 2.5km by road across the peninsula to the right of shot. Bang Rak nth is my name although I have seen some local maps using Plai Laem Beach and the one I'm looking at now labels it Big Buddha Beach.


BANG PO/POR is on the other (western) side of Mae Nam and is a long section of beach which runs almost to the north west corner of Samui. This area was very underveloped on my first Samui visit all those years ago, and I was surprised that it still is one of the quietest areas on the island. Over a very dispersed area there are a few high end villa joints some of which could be time-share, a growing number of midrange resorts, some small housing developments plus a handful of budget traveller places. Some will appeal to health freaks and new-agers when they tire of Had Thian East on Phangan. Lots of unsettled beach along Bang Por.

Bang Por is the first of the nicer beaches from the arrivals piers in Naithon - as such it is sure to become the new frontier for resort/villa development. Already there are some fine midrange places scattered along this nice strip of sand although budget travellers can still find some old-time gems in the area. Many of the latter have a rep for new-age type activities.


Bang Por from near the western end - attractive sand and clear water. But if you check the Google Earth image above this pic you will notice the coral reef rock starts immediately off the sand in most spots, leading to shallow water at low tide. But not too bad - tide is out in this shot and there is no rock exposed.
Bang Por from near the eastern end - some pretty sweet places here - for flash joints, google The Sea Samui Vacation Residences Bang Por (closest camera) - and for value By Beach Resort.
A good value budget place Freedom Beach Sunset Bar and Restaurant is located here. I love joints like this - had to take time out from my beach exploration for a beer or two. Sunsets indeed would be fine, made more dramatic by setting in certain months over the rugged islands of the Ang Thong National Marine Park to the north west, just out of frame to the right. Equally rugged Ko Phangan is immediately north (directly right from camera), only 10km or so away. Actually all the north coast beaches have good views of this big island.
Bang Por actually extends a bit further east than the above 2 shots - this section is separated from the main beach by a short stretch of rocks (a very high hill with some great villas is behind - unlike most of Bang Por which has flat land behind the beach). The  local name for this section of beach is Ban Tai and there appeared to be some resorts behind those palms by the tourist action on the beach. Try googling Koh Samui Resort and Mimosa Resort. Less expensive - Baan Suan Siriwin.


THE SOUTH COAST
Ao Thong Krut (aka Thong Tanote Beach/Thong Krut Bay - lower part of image below) in the southwest is a laid-back area with a couple of midrangers, some good beachfront seafood restaurants, a fishing village to the east, a fair few fishing boats offshore and good views and access to the islands of Ko Tan and Ko Mat Sum. A perfect get away from the crowds spot.
So too is Ao Bang Koa/Bang Kao Bay, the big bay in the central south. Lots of deserted sand and backdrops along here with widely dispersed tourist accommodation and private dwellings. Some sections of this beach are very attractive but you will go nuts selecting which of about a dozen access tracks from the main road you should take.
At the south east corner of the island you have Laem Set, a headland/cove area with small patches of sand and some pretty snazzy resorts plus a slightly longer beach immediately north-east with similar accommodation. When I first visited Samui there were some funky travellers' bungalows in this attractive area - no more.

The south coast from the west. Quite a lot of new resorts are being established along here but because of its size the area is still underdeveloped. Note low tide can present shallow water along here but the flats are mainly sandy, not mud or dead coral. You can daytrip to Ko Kaen - the pier for the boats is just above the symbol for Bang Krut Bay. Any small travel agent or accommodation should be able to organise this.

UPDATE AUGUST 2013 - I'm disappointed I did not have time to cruise the south coast and get some shots to make up for my lack of camera last time I checked the area last century. But I had limited time latest Samui visit and spent way to much of my around island motorcycle trip checking the waterfalls and viewpoints to the near north of the above shot. Maybe next visit.

About the best I can offer is this shot I took from the Bangkok Air flight from Phuket showing about one third of the south coast (at right) and the southern half of the west coast.


THE WEST COAST
Even though I stayed at NATHON in MARCH 2017, I haven't had a chance to check the rest of the west coast on recent trips - it was dark and threatening rain by the time I left the waterfall areas nearby in 2013. I toured along here in the mid 90s and there was little tourist development. The beach areas were pretty nice although no match for the east coast. There is a tendency towards shallow water at low tide.
From the vehicle ferry coming from Don Sak/ Nai Thon later trips I could see a handful of pretty snazzy resorts located at some of the better areas - quite a few on bluffs overlooking the coast with patches of beach below. Knowing the ability of mid-range/high end resorts to further improve beach quality, I reckon prospective guests should not worry on this issue. The west coast gets magic sunsets, has lots of empty beach and good views of the mountainous mainland and the Ang Thong Marine Park islands to the north east.

The west coast looking from south of south-west. Naithon is the island administrative capital and the arrival pier for most vehicle and other ferries from the Surathani coast. However the Raja vehicle ferries come in towards the north end of Taling Ngam beach about 10km south (pedants will note I have paced the symbol slightly too far south - it should be just on the other side of that tiny headland nearly touching it at present) . If you are going to the eastern beaches from there the quickest route if via the southern road as marked. From Naithon you will be taken via the north coast road.


Looking south at the northern part of the west coast plus a small part of the north coast (bottom of image). I don't know what this smaller beach west of Ban Por is called - the main north coast road from Nathon misses most of this beach and so holiday residential development is low.
If you click expand you will be able to see how shallow the west coast water is north of the Nathon piers - not a lot of holiday activity along this stretch. But the steep mountain slopes east of the beach have some nice looking place (some hotels - many are private villas).

At the south end of the west coast is the hilly Laem Hin Klom peninsual and a new joint which caught my eye from the ferry last two trips is the very high end Conrad Ko Samui cascading down the steep hillside. I reckon the views from the higher areas would be outstanding.
I'm not sure how Google Earth generates relief on its oblique images but some structures end up looking a bit weird - the units are not tipped as they appear here.

NATHON
I have passed thru this west coast pier town and Samui's administrative capital many times, off ferries from the MAINLAND, PHANGAN and TAO and on around island motorcycle tours. But in MARCH 2017 I spent a few nights here before and after my stay at ANG THONG NATIONAL MARINE PARK.
Thing is NATHON has always been popular with budget conscience travelers - accommodation is more reasonable than the more "IN" beaches, there is no shortage of good value eats/drinks places and a rent-moto provides an inexpensive way to get to other places on the island (I'm not too sure if SONGTHAEW users get value - in 2017 it cost 100baht to CHAWENG alone. If you wanted to tour the whole island by songthaew it would cost multiples of a moto hire.) A better option which many travelers take is a hire moto - dirt cheap particularly for multi-day hires and gets into spots the songthaews don't go.
It's more Thai town-typical than the touristy east and north coast places, with good shopping, budget eating, a fair but of traditional architecture and magic sunsets, all of which make it a good destination for day-trippers. The Saturday night WALKING STREET when the seaside road sets up as a pedestrian mall with heads of food and other shopping activities is a particular attraction.

The nightly food market is seaside just south of the main (central) pier and has a stack of elcheapo and yummy food/drink stalls. However the 500m of the adjacent beach road also has a bunch of vigorously competitive restaurants which are not too much more expensive and way more comfortable. I believe the parallel road one inland has much the same.
For some reason I did not take my camera to the above and had to pinch this shot from samui.com

ACCOMMODATION.
INCOMING, my ANG THONG booking agency suggested the joint across the street, the budget COFFEE ISLAND. No prizes for guessing its ground floor restaurant specialised in coffee and seemed to attract a good crowd of jitter-juice aficionados. Meals covered all budgets and were pretty good. My fan/outside bathroom room at 350 baht was maybe 100baht more than value (I was too tired to bargain) -  it was top floor and faced west and so suffered HEAT SOAK big time. However it was comfortable and not too noisy, despite the main road outside.

NATHON. I forgot to add a linear scale: it is 750m in a straight line between the place markers of SEATRAN PIER and SRI SAMUI

OUTGOING (after ANG THONG) I decided to head upmarket a bit and got a room at SRI SAMUI, on the beach road in the southern part of town about 400m south of the main pier,
This place has the advantage of being away from the main road - up behind a restaurant/bar. Reviews talk about the quiet but unfortunately my room was closest to the bar which played music until midnight on this week-day night. It wasn't as loud as a lot of places but light sleepers should maybe specify on a the more distant rooms.
Otherwise the place was fine - contemporary style 3 room apartment (living, bedroom and bathroom all big), well equipped, lotsa hanging space, quiet aircon. At 700baht I represented good value.
.



DAYTRIPS

ANG THONG NATIONAL MARINE PARK.

The viewpoint at Wua Talap, the National Park headquarter island is not too bad at all with 360 degree views of dozens of islets - image http://www.thailand-travelonline.com/

The climb up here is pretty strenuous but well worth while. That's part of the headquarters area bottom left - last I heard it was possible to rent longhouse rooms and camp here. There is a separate climbing track to the right of the viewpoint one to some okay cliffside caves.
I did this on my first visit to and reckon it is a must not-miss. There are seemingly hundreds of islands in this area between Samui and the mainland.
Most daytrips involve some snorkelling/beach time, a trip to overview Thai Nai - the Emerald Lagoon on which the lagoon in the novel/movie The Beach was based (the novel had the heroes starting in Samui and chartering a longtail to a secret nearby island - almost certainly in the Ang Thong group and a hell of a long way from Phi Phi Don in the Andaman where the movie was shot) and a fair bit of time on headquarter island. Any hotel travel desk or small travel agent in Samui can organise a trip - both slow-boats and speedboats can be used. I noticed prices had gone from budget to midrange since my last visit.

Trip reporter MV sent me this great shot from the viewpoint at Ang Thong National Marine Park headquarters island.


I pinched this Ang Thong map off http://samui.sawadee.com/map/12img/121angthong.jpg

UPDATE MARCH 2017 - I finally got the chance of staying over at ANG THONG. It didn't disappoint.
These panorama shots click-expand nicely


Chez Tezza


Cute

I have done a separate page with more info and pix HERE.

OTHER ISLAND DAYTRIPS
Trip sellers also offer daytrips to neighbouring Ko Phangan and Ko Tao/Ko Nangyuan. Both areas are real nice and well worth seeing, but I personally consider Tao/Nangyuan a bit of a stretch in a boat unless you are going to stay there.
Note that these days Lomprayah's fast catamaran from Mae Nam calls in at all three and is usually a bit more comfortable and not too much slower than the speedboats doing the trip. People have told me the cats are not too good in real rough seas - neither are the speedboats. The slower ferries are usually the go in these conditions.
You can also visit Ko Kaen to the south of Samui. Google travelfish for a good article.


WATERFALLS
Most accessible are the Namuang falls in the central south. I visited in a previous trip (travel-lite:no camera) and found the lower falls underwhelming (only 18m high) and didn't have time to access the upper falls (you had to walk for about 30 minutes), but people on later trips said the 80m drop is worth it. Apparently there are some other attractions like elephant rides along the track.

Okay, in August 2013 I got to Namyuang Waterfall 2. I didn't think this met the description of an 80m drop, but.....
....maybe they are including this lower section. Thing is I picture waterfalls as FALLING directly from above, not like the above, which I personally would classify as STEEP RAPIDS. tezza rating here - undewhelming, but maybe I'm hard to please.
Okay, the good news - unlike my last century visit to this area, there is now a road  (good condition, sealed) which goes withing 10 minutes rainforest walk of Falls 2. Look for the signs towards the western end of the village on the main east-west cross island road (see image below) - about 4km from the east coast intersection with the road heading to the south coast.
 There is an elephant trekking place maybe 2km south of the falls, which would be a neat way to access.
I didn't worry about Falls 1 which didn't impress me last century. The road in there is separate, but the turnoff is only about 300m further west on the main southern east west route.

Route to Namyuang Falls and some other nearby falls and viewpoints (see below).

OTHER FALLS AND VIEWPOINTS
Samui must have a dozen waterfalls. For instance by mistake I took an early turn towards the mountains when looking for Waterfall 2 (was fooled by "WATERFALL" sign when cruising the cross island road, turned inland at about 2.5km from the east intersection with the road heading to the south coast (behind the 4170 marker above) instead of 4km) - but the ride up this road was not exactly wasted time. Only trouble is I spent so much time checking out this area I didn't have enough left to grab some pix of the south and west coast beaches. Next time.

Khao Yai Falls - this is about 5km up the road - about a 30m drop, pleasant enough but once again maybe underwhelming for we dudes looking for the sheer drop. There is a path leads up to the top of the falls on the left. The access path drops steeply from the mountain road - sign says 20m to falls but more like 300. The good thing is it's well sealed and okay for motorcyclists - you will have to walk the last 70m or so. A dude collects 20baht just past the parking area. (Namyuang Waterfall is free!).
Note there are maybe another 3 or 4 similar waterfalls along this road.
Roadside above the Khao Yai waterfall access path is a nice budget restaurant with.....
....an okay viewpoint (another 20baht trendsetters) looking over the south east corner of Samui. You would think that there would be simply sea in this direction between Samui and north Borneo, but in fact that land far background is the mainland coast which turns to the east south of Samui.

GOING HIGHER - this road continues steeply into the mountains. I was impressed with the condition - a very good concrete surface. Seems to me someone in Samui has political push - similar roads on Phangan or Tao would be dirt after 1km - this one didn't turn to dirt until maybe 10-12km.


Getting real high - maybe only 2km from the end of the sealed section, is a neat joint, Sea View Restaurant. This has an okay viewpoint and this sweet pool with good views over the south west corner of the island. The Don Sak/Surathani mainland coastline in the background. I think the viewpoint had a charge of 20baht and the pool 100.
Note there are several similar viewpoint restaurants up in this region (but I don't know if they run to pools) - plus safari parks and similar.


OTHER ACTIVITES
You can do dive trips and deep sea fishing. There are about 3 different jungle treks including one of those treetop walkways, more elephant joints, a snake farm, butterfly garden, go-karting, golf - it seemed to me Samui now offers as much variety in activities as Phuket. Several Island Tour outfits will combine a handful of these attractions with visits to some of the more scenic viewpoints on the island.


WHEN TO GO.
The Samui/Phangan/Tao area tends to have a different wet season to most of Thailand. Normally this kicks in late September/early October and runs into early January, although the fact that Christmas/New Year is peak season indicates that it can't be too bad come late December.
The good news is that when the Andaman and Eastern Gulf islands are in wet season midyear, Samui is usually much drier. Sure it will rain a bit in these months but usually sunshine dominates. This drier weather means a second high season in July/August and consequently not the bargain accommodation prices you will find in Phuket, Krabi or big Ko Chang etc.
February thru April are even drier. Note March April can be pretty hot.
A point about this area's wet season - frequently this can be as holiday friendly as most other Thai regions, but every now and then they have a shocker. In all the years I have been following Thai weather this is the only place I have seen forum posters complaining about persistent bad weather, prolonged heavy rain etc. This seems to happen every 3rd or 4th year, but not necessarily on a regular basis. So if I was planning a Thai beach holiday in say Oct, Nov or early Dec I might think more about the mid or eastern Gulf or the Andaman. However if these months were the only time I could visit and I really wanted to see Samui, I would not be put-off - my first visit into this area was in a November and I got real nice weather, as good as my 3 August visits.
A smaller point - May in this area and many other Thai regions often gets a little blip of extra rain compared to adjacent months. Usually this is not enough to make it a mini wet season but once again I occasionally see complaints from the Phangan/Samui/Tao areas about prolonged rainy spells.

For the price conscious, you are going to get good discounts in wet season. But note months like March, April, June and a lot of Septrember are usually not wet, yet many accommodation places go into low season pricing. Note too that low-budget places are much less variable in pricing compared to midrange and high-end joints.


GETTING THERE

From Bangkok
The least expensive way is to get a bus/ferry or train/ferry combination ticket right onto Samui. Most of these involve travel to the Surathani area piers, although Lomprayah and Seatran run their buses/fast catamaran or ferry via Chumpon-Tao-Phangan.
Both offer an overnight bus services, and the sleeper train option is also popular with people wishing to minimise beach time lost to travel.

Many complaints have come about thefts from luggage in buses put on by travel agents in the Khao San Road area of Bangkok - people are urged to use the government buses from Bangkok's southern bus terminal which also provide the combination ferry ticket.
  Lomprayah is one private operator which seems free of theft.

Note that Surathani's railway station is Phun Phin, about 12km west of town. The most used piers are some 60+km east of Surathani, in the Don Sak area, although Seatran's express boat and the night ferry leave from the Bandon pier in town. If you arrive without a combined ticket, the small travel agents across from the station will sell you a combination bus/ferry ticket to the pier and beyond. Ditto if you fly into Surathani airport or arrive at Surathani town's bus station.

Seatran vehicle/passenger ferry at Samui's Naithon pier - 90 minutes to Donsak (140baht May 2012) plus 45 minutes Seatran bus into Surathani (100baht) - buy a combined ticket. Drops off at travel agency on main drag. Some of these have a reputation for mucking people* around so I wandered up to the nearby bus station and caught a minibus to Phuket.
*one outfit which has a good rep with a modern spacious aircon office in Surathani is Pantip Travel. I have used them with satisfaction. Their office is in the main road (TALED MAI RD) block immediately north of Bus Station One where most intercity coaches and minibuses are based. Don't get off an incoming bus a few blocks before the terminal when the conductor yells TRAVEL AGENTS TO SAMUI etc - the agents here are venal and dishonest.




Don Sak east of Surathani.

From the west and south.
You can also get bus (or minibus)/ferry tickets from Phuket, Trang, Hat Yai, Penang, KL, Krabi and Phi Phi. Note in relation to the latter that one of the main operators, PP Family probably gets more complaints than any other regular Thai transport operator - not only for underbus thefts but for time wasting and general lack of care - travelfish advises against them. I reckon if you catch the first ferry out and the normal Krabi-Surathani minibus you would make it in a day. Catching the night ferry from Surathani town pier around 2200-2300 assures this. Actually you would probably be able to leave PP on the afternoon ferry and still make the night ferry.

Note the sleeper train option is popular with people coming from Penang, Kl and Singapore.

Lomprayah ferry arriving at Samui's Mae Nam pier early afternoon. People on right of pier are disembarking - those on left are leaving for Ko Phangan, Ko Tao and Chumpon/Bangkok. Lomprayah is not a bad outfit -runs a very good delivery/pickup service on Samui, but needs to streamline check-in. They get you to write your name on a passenger list - a computerised list which they could simply tick off would be so much quicker.

Very handy for people arriving too late for the last ferry out of Donsak (1900) is one of my favourites, the night ferry which leaves around 2300 from the town pier, chugs down river and then across the bay, you on your designated matress and pillow, arriving in Samui about 0530 where transport is waiting at the pier to take you to your beach of choice. You can grab a swim and brekka while all those lazy travellers are still tucked into their bungalows cutting the zzzzzs.

From Phangan and Tao
A number of companies run ferries to both NATHON and the north coast piers - a pretty good timetable showing just about ALL ferry services (ie not only from the neighbouring islands but also Chumpon and the Surathani coast) is on sawadee.com
This doesn't show the small ferry which runs down the east coast of Phangan, starting at Thong Nai Pan around 0900 and picking up at several beaches on the way down including Than Sadet and East Hat Rin and arriving at Bo PHut around1100-1130.
You can also cross from Phangan and Tao by speedboat - dearer, often bumpy, but saving bulk time.
The Had Rin Queen approaches Bang Rak pier near the airport. This is the best way to access from south east Phangan. But if you are coming from Phangan's east coast anywhere north of Had Rin, the best bet is to use the smaller east coast ferry (although there is only one service each way per day, compared with the Had Rin Queen's several).

Flying
The one advantage of flying into Surathani can be cheaper tickets, but direct flights into Samui's uniquely appealing airport is worth the extra $ in time saved. Some good ex-airport transport info on that link.
Bangkok Air and Thai fly into Samui from Bangkok - and Bangkok Air also flies in directly from Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai and U-Tapao near Pattaya.
International flights:
Direct flights into Samui are offered by Bangkok Air from Hong Kong and Singapore. Berjaya fly from KL as does Firefly.


BACK TO THE JUNGLE CLUB

Jungle Club's Balinese-style restaurant from the pool. Has similar panoramic if not so precipitous views as the pool and hillside bures. Prices maybe 10-20% higher than budget bungalow restaurant level, but still a steal by western standards.

Accommodation here ranges from neat old-style budget bungalow to high-end - check the range at sawadee.com which also has a bunch of excellent pix. This place gets user raves on the booking sites and travel forums. I walked up from the southern end of Chaweng Noi beach in 30 minutes. The access road takes off from the main Samui coast road about midway along the Chaweng Noi strip and JUNGLE CLUB is well sign-posted. The access road, very steep in parts, is concreted for all except the last 400m which is not as steep and would not be too tricky for amateur motorcyclist. I gotta spend a few nights here next visit.

Which I did. In May 2012 I jumped across from Phangan specifically for a few nights at Jungle Club.

Jungle Club's atmospheric restaurant has fine views. Food is very good with prices maybe 20% higher than average budget bungalow restaurants (most of the accommodation here is lower midrange). Quite a lot of outsiders seemed to make their way up here to dine. Excellent friendly service.


As said up page, Jungle Club also has budget bungalows. That's Chez Tezza above.  Old time backpackers will do deja vu all over again. Typical budget bungalow except for the hot water. Plenty of room but not for a third mattress. King sized bed can sleep 3 friends. Nice fitted net. Good lights, quiet fan. Very quiet up here all round. Spacious manicured grounds. 800 baht good value considering the inferior 1000 baht places on Ko Ngai same trip - and they didn't have a pool. Hell, I'd pay an extra 300 a day just for JC's pool.


Sweet
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If you visit Samui you might also be interested in nearby:

KO PHANGAN (PAGE 1)
KO PHANGAN (PART 2)

KO TAO

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If you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all island pages daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.

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