Koh Samui (part one)- the most touristy island of the east coast

Koh Samui is a large, holiday-resort island dominated by Russian tourists. The beaches on Koh Samui are large and sandy but the place is totally charmless and very main stream. Only the island’s interior offers respite from the crowds. Koh Samui is a good place to do a silent meditation retreat.

Skipping Koh Phangan

After 10 days on Koh Tao, we moved to Koh Samui, the largest island of the Chumphon Archipelago. We skipped Koh Phangan deliberately due to its reputation as a party island. It surely has some lovely, secluded beaches and nice hiking routes but we were quite satisfied with Koh Tao and didn’t feel the need to ‘tick’ every single island on our way.

Hills of Koh Phangan from the boat on our way to Koh Samui
We passed by Ko Phangan on our way to Ko Samui

Koh Samui would never draw our attention if not for the fact a donation-based meditation course was taking place deep in the island’s interior. We signed up for this course as soon as we learned about it. You can read more about the experience of meditating on Koh Samui in a separate post.

Besides the course, we stayed on Koh Samui for only two days. We were considering a trip to Na Mueang Waterfall in the island’s interior but finally decided against it since it was a dry season and the waterfall wasn’t going to be very impressive. Instead, we spent those two days on two different beaches.

A day on Maenam beach

We spent our first day on Koh Samui on Maenam beach. We chose it because it was the nearest one to the Maenam/ Pralan pier (where ferries from Koh Tao arrive). Moreover, I read in a guide it is the last of the backpackers beaches on Koh Samui, still free of high-rise hotels.

The island was pretty much empty at this time of the year, which meant we could get a huge, fancy bungalow with A/C and hot shower for a bargain price. Since we were staying for just one night, we allowed ourselves a bit of luxury. Ironically, we couldn’t find any budget accommodation at this particular location.

Weronika sitting on Maenam beach on Koh Samui with a view at koh phangan
Maenam: a narrow, golden sand beach with a view at Koh Phangan

The Maenam beach itself was quite decent: maybe a bit narrow but at least palm trees growing along it provided plenty of shadow.  I really liked the view at the nearby Koh Phangan. On the downside, the sea was getting very deep just a few steps away from the shore and there was some sort of algae in the water causing a slight skin irritation.

Maenam to Lamai

We were planning to take a songthaew from Maenam beach to Lamai beach which -as we heard from the receptionist at our resort- should cost 100 baht. As we were waiting for a songthaew on Ko Samui’s highway, it started raining heavily.  A minivan which we took for a taxi stopped in front of us, luring us in. After heavy bargaining, the driver agreed to take us for the same price as that of a shared songthaew.

We were quite surprised when we realised that the van was heading to totally different beach than we were intending to go. Only later did we understand that the driver’s job was picking up people from various posh hotels and taking them to Lamai beach.

Lamai beach from the meditation hall situated at one of the Koh Samui hills
A view at Lamai beach from the meditation hall

Our journey took twice as long than we expected but at least we spend all that time in a comfortable, A/C car. We got off at a designated meeting point in Lamai to enroll for the meditation course. After eating a simple, free meal, we were taken by a pickup van to the meditation centre, located in the hills above the Lamai beach.

Last day on Lamai

After the retreat we decided to chill just for one day on Lamai – one of the major beaches on Koh Samui- before heading to the Andaman coast. It wasn’t a problem to find a 300 baht basic bungalow with en-suite bathroom just 50 meters from the beach.

Surprisingly, I actually preferred Lamai beach from Maenam. It was undoubtedly much more developed and ugly hotels scarred the coastline. However, the beach was much wider and the sea much better for swimming. There were even free sunbeds in front of the Utopia resort- quite a nice surprise!

PRACTICALITIES:

How to get there?
There is an airport on Koh Samui but a ferry will be a definitely more affordable option.
Car ferries (also for passengers without vehicles) go between Lipa Noi pier and Donsak Pier in Surat Thani (Raja Ferry, 90 mins) or Nathon Pier and Donsak (Songserm, 90 min). You can buy a ticket including transfer from the pier to Surat Thani town or train station.  Passenger ferries (Songserm and Lomprayah) go from Nathon pier on Koh Samui to Donsak Pier in Surat Thani.
Ferry from Koh Tao/ Koh Phangan arrives at one of three piers on Koh Samui: Maenam, Nathon  or Bangrak.
Maenam is the closest beach both for Maenam and Nathon pier.

How to get around?
Songthaews, although far from cheap, are the cheapest available means of transport on Koh Samui. Red songthaews go both clockwise and anticlockwise on a circular road around the island. Make sure you’re going in the right direction!
Songthaew drivers are going to charge you whatever they feel like, especially if the service is infrequent (early morning and late evening).
Renting a motorbike might be far more economical option, especially if two people are going to use one.

Prices on Koh Samui [in Thai baht, as of May 2018]:
600 THB ferry from Koh Tao to Maenam Pier on Koh Samui
500 THB luxurious, A/C cottage on Maenam beach
300 THB budget hut with cold water but en-suite bathroom on Lamai beach
230 THB ferry from Koh Samui (Nathon Pier) to Surat Thani+ bus transfer from Donsak Pier to Surat Thani bus station
100 THB songthaew for a distance of around 20km (eg. Lamai-Nathon or Lamai- Maenam)
100 THB natural mosquito repellent
60-70 THB cheap meal

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