Every traveler in Thailand has an opinion about Ko Samui. Chaweng's party is better than Bangkok's, say some; it's paradise well and truly lost, say others. What is clear is that this island is same, same but very different to when backpackers first set foot on its palm-fringed shores in the 1970s. Today Ko Samui is more holistic spas and five-star hotels than bucket showers and beach shacks. One look at that powder-soft sand and aquamarine sea, and all seem to agree that Ko Samui still feels idyllic.
Party, flop under a coconut tree, swim, party -- that's the daily rhythm on Ko Samui and you'll soon get the hang of it. Popular Chaweng has dazzling aquamarine water and five-star resorts, but hawkers and blaring music stop it short of being paradise. Find a quiet cove between Lamai's striking granite boulders, escape the crowds on palm-fringed Bophut, or snorkel on secluded Mae Nam and Bang Po. When you tire of these beaches, you're just steps away from others.
Things to Do
Take a boat across to Ang Thong Marine Park, where rainforest-cloaked limestone pinnacles rise out of impossible turquoise waters. Or dive in the kaleidoscopic coral reefs off nearby Koh Tao. The 36-foot-tall golden Big Buddha shines in Koh Samui's most important temple, Wat Phra Yai. Wat Khunaram hides a more ghoulish shrine: a 20-year-old mummified monk in meditation position. Hitch a ride on an elephant to Na Muang Falls to bathe in refreshingly cold pools.
Eating and Drinking
Elegant Italian bistros, fast food joints, Thai-style dining on cushions by the sea -- Chaweng has the lot. Dine on a spicy green curry or freshly grilled snapper in an Ayutthaya-style teak pavilion at Poppies. Chinese shophouses have been cleverly converted into hip Mediterranean restaurants and grillhouses in Bophut's Fisherman's Village. Bypass Lamai's farang (tourist) haunts in favor of the food stalls, where locals whip up fiery curries and noodles in their woks for a few baht.
Nightlife and Entertainment
The biggest beach party is at Chaweng, where hedonistic clubs, go-go dancers and one pumping bar after the next pack the sois (alleys). Lamai's scene is mixed, with Thai boxing halls and techno clubs giving way to chill-out beach bars. More relaxed still is Bophut's Fisherman's Village, where the mellow music and cocktails come with moonlit sea views.