Thailand wasn’t my original plan for my Christmas holidays, but life threw a few curve balls my way and I had to look for an alternate vacation destination. I settled on Thailand, a country I’ve been to many times before, but never to Koh Samui. I spent a week there right before Christmas and had a love/hate relationship with the island. Half my time in Samui was spent at a wellness/yoga retreat in the south and the other half was spent in the popular area of Chaweng – two very different experiences. So, if you’re planning a trip to Thailand and wondering is Koh Samui worth visiting, read on to find out more about my experience.
I spent the first four days in Koh Samui in the south at Samahita Retreat where my days were filled with yoga, meditation, and eating healthy vegan food. Needless to say, it was amazing. I loved how relaxing and peaceful the environment was and I left feeling so refreshed. Afterwards, I made my way to Chaweng Beach for the next three days of my holidays before I flew back to Phuket.
For those that aren’t aware, Chaweng Beach is the largest and most tourist-heavy area of Koh Samui. I chose to stay in Chaweng for a few reasons: it was cheaper than the other areas of Samui, I was simply curious about the area I had heard so much about, and I wanted to have a different, more lively experience compared to the one I just had on my retreat.
The good things about staying in Chaweng is that everything is basically at your finger tips – the beach is big and quite nice, there’s a Family Mart or 7-11 at every turn (perfect for those Chang beer runs), plenty of beachfront hotels, and a plethora of restaurants and cheap massage shops. If you’re looking for a fun night out, Chaweng is where you want to be – we saw some great live cover bands and a few of the beach bars have nightly fire shows.
At the end of the day, there was nothing special or unique about Koh Samui (cue the hate-mail). Sure, if you’re just wanting to book a fancy hotel on the beach and stay there, it’s great.. but so are a million other places around South East Asia.
Plus, it ain’t cheap to get to: a round-trip flight from Hong Kong to Koh Samui is anywhere between HK$5,000 – $7,000 thanks to Bangkok Airway’s monopoly on the airport. Taxis are also quite expensive compared to other parts of Thailand – a 15 minute drive from the airport to Chaweng will cost you 300 THB and 900 THB to the south of the island.
While the beach itself is beautiful, I was constantly pestered by people trying to sell me trinkets; everything from inflatables and ice cream to sarongs and beach towels. Yes, I am fully aware they do this for a living and I completely respect their ability to hustle, but when it’s happening multiple times an hour and all I want to do is listen to the waves under the sun, it gets annoying.
Basically, the island has capitalized on the tourism industry, which is great in that it provides employment for many locals, but it also means that much of the island’s original beauty has been commercialized (as I’m sure we’ve all seen happen to so many other places around South East Asia).
Overall thoughts on whether Koh Samui is worth a visit
If you’re heading to Samui for a wellness or yoga retreat and don’t mind paying a million dollars to get there, I’d say definitely go for it. However, if you’re planning a trip to Samui because you think it’s a beautiful island oasis, you might want to think again. Instead, I might recommend somewhere like Koh Lanta or even Phi Phi if you’re wanting something a bit more lively.
That being said, I only spent time on my retreat, in Chaweng, and a bit of time in the north of the island to visit a bar for sunset drinks and a feast at a night market. I’m sure there are other parts of the island that are much more chilled out and tranquil, so it would definitely be worth it to look into alternative locations on Samui.
Obviously everyone has different opinions on a destination based on their expectations and experience, so feel free to take what I say with a grain of salt. I would never tell someone not to visit a place, rather, I think people should be aware of both perspectives on a destination instead of making a decision to visit somewhere based on all the insta-worthy photos out there.