Koh Samui’s laid back tropical charm has placed it on the travellers’ map since it became a hippy trail favourite fifty years ago. It is Thailand’s third largest island and easily reached by air from the capital, Bangkok. The secret is out nowadays, as the island has fantastic transport connections and a wide range of dining options and attractions, but there are still pockets of unspoiled tropical greenery around almost every corner. It also benefits from a near-perfect climate. Any visitor to Koh Samui will never forget the uniquely gentle, humid sensation of the sun’s tropical warmth.

The received wisdom about the best time to visit Koh Samui is to make the most of the dry season, and plan a trip between December and April. However, the island’s wet season is nowhere near as wet as the tropical monsoon seasons elsewhere, and it’s worth considering as a destination at any time of year, indeed, there’s something to be said for visiting outside the most popular months. March to May can be extremely hot, though, and the European school holidays of July and August push prices and crowds up. For keen divers, Koh Samui is a dazzling paradise of tropical fish-watching, but poorer visibility during the peak of the rainy season makes this a time to avoid.

The fact that Koh Samui didn’t even have any roads until the early 1970’s gives an indication of how easy it is the get around the island as well as how recently it was that any development started on the island. Many choose to hazard getting around by motorbike, but’s also an easy and pleasant care journey to most of the sights on the island. Of course, the very best mode of transport is the most historic one, too: boats. A day trip sailing to the pristinely beautiful Ang Thong Marine Park, for example, is an unmissable highlight of any stay.

For those travelling with children, it is virtually the ideal beach holiday destination, with warm, clear sea, powdery sand and very child-friendly local people and venues. Maenam and Bo Phut are two excellent beaches for families: they both have shallow water and plenty of other prospective little playmates. The Samui Butterfly Garden is a lovely attraction for small children, and grown-ups too. Paradise Park Farm on the island’s highest mountain has a very welcome swimming pool as well as deer, ponies and birds. Elephant rides and Thai boxing are available for older children in addition to the great shopping and partying experiences.

If there is one thing that Thailand is as famous for as its beaches, it’s the food. Twenty first century Koh Samui offers some of the country’s finest dining experiences. Saffron at Banyan Tree, Samui, fusion restaurant Namu at W Retreat and the breathtakingly scenic Dining on the Rocks (the clue is in the name…) are just three of literally dozens of world class restaurants on this relatively small island. Koh Samui’s take on bird’s-nest soup is a highly distinctive culinary experience for the more adventurous travellers. Five Islands offers a luxurious introduction to the making of the soup as well as a wonderful longtail boat tour.
Nocturnal festivities and hedonism are an important part of the Koh Samui experience too. Chaweng Beach is without doubt the nightlife hub of the island, and though some tourist traps lurk, Q-Bar has a glamorous international clientele and Green Mango is a reliably enjoyable large dance venue. After a heavy night clubbing, the spa facilities, at every hotel and on every street, come as a welcome antidote. Koh Samui is one of the best spa destinations in South East Asia and the range of options can be slightly overwhelming. Most of the spa resorts offer a fantastic service, so a better way of making a selection is to decide on whether a destination spa, medical spa, or a more low key day spa is the most suitable bespoke service.

With so much to offer a decision to never leave the island would be understandable, but it would be a shame to miss out on some other beautiful nearby attractions. Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan offer first rate snorkelling opportunities. Koh Phangan is also just a short boat trip away. Famous as the Full Moon Party island, it has many other charms too, especially the pretty beach at Thong Nai Pan Noi.

On returning to Koh Samui, the very best way to round off the day is watching the sunset from one of the western beaches. Posh Bang Por offers stunning views, and stars of every variety including the celebrity variety, with both David Beckham and Bill Gates choosing to have homes in the vicinity. Nikki Beach Club on Lipa Noi offers sensational cocktails to sample while the sun goes down. Lipa Noi’s splendid isolation also brings home how many untouched areas of beauty remain in Koh Samui. The road back to the island’s more bustling hubs winds through coconut plantations, with wildlife scurrying away from passing cars. The journey captures some of the spirit and sensations of this unique place.

Post by Phileas French.