Koh Samui Overview
Koh Samui is Thailand's third largest island with 254 square kilometers of land. In comparison to Phuket, you'll find a lot less concrete here and far fewer roads. However, there's a handy ring road, just 52 kilometers in length allowing you to drive round the island in 90 minutes. It connects all the important places as well as the beaches.
There are no really large towns on the island, but that doesn't mean it's primitive. Koh Samui, with its international airport, five hospitals and numerous shops and restaurants, caters for most needs and wishes. Convenience abounds, but so does beauty, making it a magnet for those seeking a tropical holiday.
It's mostly the coastal areas of the island that are settled, leaving the interior a jungly domain, home to a million coconut trees - this must surely be the original coconut island. The towns meanwhile are great for relaxing when nightfall comes. Chaweng and Lamai offer everything from fine dining to raucous clubbing and drinking.
Samui is a melting pot of different cultures and people tend to be very friendly and welcoming. No matter how long or short your stay, it's possible to partake in the social life on the island. From gyms to nightclubs, from bars and restaurants to karaoke and tenpin bowling, there are a vast number of places to go. Whether you are at your brightest at 2 AM or 2 PM, there's always something happening on Samui.
Just a few decades back the name Koh Samui was barely known outside the region. Ships passed it by, while just one ferry made a nightly journey here, arriving at the island's small port in the morning.
Koh Samui's Beaches
Samui boasts some fine coastlines and it's very easy to hop between them. You'll find great beaches in almost every part of the island and unlike the Mediterranean the beaches are never really crowded - even in high season. Beware, however, of rip tides and strong currents which sometimes occur. Some beaches are marked by flags, others not. Should you see a red flag then don't go into the water.
Samui's foremost beach, the long bay with powder-white sands is a must for sun lovers. The waters are shallow, and in the northern part of the bay there's a small reef, and further up, the deserted island of Koh Matlang.
The beach here is also long but with deeper waters than Chaweng. When it's too shallow for swimming elsewhere, Lamai is for many the first place they head for. Check out the rocky promontory at the northern end, if you like swimming off rocks, and in the south the famous phallic rocks at Hinta-Hinyai.
Fisherman's Village, Bophut
A beautiful long sandy bay fronts the beach road and its many restaurants. As in Lamai, the water remains deep even when some other beaches are too shallow for swimming. It's a favorite with Thais, not just westerners, and you'll see whole families here during the afternoons.
From the ring road it's impossible to see the amazing and undeveloped bay here, with its coconut trees, calm waters and permanent holiday air. Wat Napalarn, on the west side of Maenam is one of the few temples to be located right by the sea, and is a favorite spot to visit.
The West Coast
On the west coast of the island, you come to still more tranquil, empty beaches, since relatively few people even visit the area. Try the beach at Lipanoi's Wat Samut Tararam, 2 kms south of Nathon Hospital, where the temple spires make a great backdrop.
Pharmacies, Hospitals & Health Care
Koh Samui has well over 100 pharmacies, most of which are English speaking. Morya Pharmacy is a chain which sells virtually every kind of medicine at reasonable price - there's always a store nearby, unless you're well off the beaten track. Koh Samui Hospital is the government hospital and there are also four international hospitals on the island. Numerous dentists have established themselves on Samui and reflect the increasing role that health tourism plays. Dental care in Thailand is very reasonably priced and very good.
Private practices are less of a familiar sight in Thailand than they are in the west. If you need to see a doctor while on Samui then head for a hospital. Hospitals on the island vary hugely in the prices they charge, so it pays to ask a local for a recommendation or contact the hospital and check about prices. The hospitals also offer health checks.
Be aware that in most cases you'll be asked to pay by cash/credit for out-patient treatments, unless you contact your insurance first. For motor bike accidents (extremely common on the island) insurance is often invalidated by the size of a motorbike's engine, the lack of an appropriate license or simply by the fact you were riding one in the first place. Check the small print on your policy. Despite all their promises, insurance companies can be irritatingly slow when providing you with a guarantee if you are an in-patient or out-patient, and you may find yourself having to pay cash/credit if you want to make it to the airport in time for your flight.
Note that while there are CT-scans on the island, there's no MRI. For this you'll have to go to Bangkok or the mainland. The island's hospitals are each able to treat the vast majority of cases that they see. In more complicated cases, the patient is referred to hospitals outside the island and helicopter airlift service is available in extreme cases.