Koh Tao and Koh Samui: An Island-hopping Itinerary in Thailand

On my second visit to Koh Samui I could barely remember where the good restaurants were that I liked from last time, or that nice beach, etc. This time I’ve put it all down in a post ASAP so even if no one else benefits from it, at least I have a reference for future!

KOH SAMUI ISLAND

The bigger and more developed version of the islands. It’s so big you can forget you’re on an island at all (much like Phuket). You’ll find more posh resorts here than on Koh Tao, and there really are many to choose from.

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Just Floating in the Manathai Pool, no biggie

ACCOMODATION, HOTELS, AND RESORTS IN KOH SAMUI

I’ve stayed at 3 different hotels/resorts in Koh Samui, at 3 different price ranges, and generally I’d recommend them all, but here’s a detailed breakdown of their pro’s and con’s.

MANATHAI  (From £50/night) 

Private beach front and palm-tree shaded pool. Colonial-style room décor.

Has regular transfers to Chaweng for 50 baht per person, but I’d recommend getting a scooter from the travel shop two doors down for 150 baht/day instead. This gives you much more freedom getting around.

It’s a 4-star hotel which is definitely 4-star quality in most regards, but skimps on a few weird things. For instance the beach loungers are cheap white plastic, rather than wooden, which brings down the overall feel of the beach bar.

Example Prices and costs:

  • Americano 130 baht
  • Fresh Coconut 100 baht
  • Pint of Cider 260 baht
  • Beach-front Thai Massage 500 baht/hr

Good:

  • The quality of Shampoo Conditioner some of the best I’ve seen in hotels.
  • The gym is decently equipped with weights, weight machines and running machines. Bright and airy.
  • Breakfast buffet is pretty great.
  • Close to Silver beach/Crystal bay, which I consider the most beautiful beach on Koh Samui.
  • Close to Lamai town, with shops night market, lots of restaurants. Lamai has a much nicer vibe than Chaweng I personally feel. Smaller, cuter, fewer backpackers, but not a great party scene.

Bad:

  • The hotel is separated by a busy main road (the one that circles the island) into the beach front section with pool, restaurant (and beach obviously), and the rest of the hotel where the rooms, breakfast restaurant, and second (smaller) pool are.
  • Prices at the beach club and hotel restaurant are pretty high for Koh Samui.

 

LIPA LOVELY RESORT (From £25/night)

On the west side of the island, which is good for sunsets, fewer crowds, and vicinity to pier to Surat Thani. But it’s far from the busy parts of the island and apart from lots of resorts, options here are limited. But if you just want to get away for a while and relax, this place has everything you could need for a few days of beach relaxation at a really reasonable price!

Example Prices and costs:

  • Americano/Coffees 80 baht
  • Tea 60 baht
  • Can of Coke/soft drink 40 baht
  • Pizzas 250 – 350 baht
  • Thai noodle dishes (Pad Thai, Pad Suei) 180 – 200 baht
  • Breakfast sets 200 baht
  • Beach-front Thai Massage 350 baht/hr

Good:

  • Nice and clean private beach front
  • If you get a stand-alone beach hut, it’s quite pleasant with floor to ceiling windows on 3 sides. (Attached “superior” rooms are a bit lack-lustre and plain)
  • Good juice bar and yoga
  • Decent prices
  • Close to Nikki Beach Club if you like to enjoy one of their beach parties
  • Close to the Lomprayah Pier to/from Surat Thani

Bad:

  • Not many other food options apart from the in-house restaurant. Opposite end of the island from Chaweng, so if you were interested in having a few nights there, it would cost a fair bit to get there and back.
  • If you don’t book a room with breakfast included, you’ll be forced to buy their fixed breakfast add-on anyway, as their kitchen doesn’t serve anything else until 11am and you have no other options.

 

ELEMENTS BOUTIQUE RESORT & HIDEAWAY  (From £80/night)

I really really enjoyed my stay at Elements. It feels very luxury for price of it. Our Garden Villa room was wonderful: Large room with sofa/seating area and beautiful bed. Bathroom was beautiful, included an indoor and outdoor shower. Private outdoor garden area with dipping pool and sofa seating, plus small water feature.

Breakfast was Al a Carte, but very good. There’s a menu where you can order pretty much unlimited from. The quality of food was high. The Spa was also beautiful but expensive.

The infinity pool and beach is beautiful. The beach remains very shallow very far out, with white sand banks in between. Kayaks available. It’s the kind of place where when you go and sit down on a lounger a staff member appears out of nowhere with some iced fruit on skewers for you.

We got a free cooking class with our stay and it was fantastic. They took us to the market to buy the ingredients with the chef, then we cooked many classic Thai dishes together with the chef at the hotel near the pool.

 

The hotel also gave us a free private sunset boat-ride to the nearby small islands where we could snorkel in crystal clear water.

Again I’d recommend renting scooters for flexibility due to the remote location.  Overall I have very little negative to say about this place. Highly recommend.

Good:

  • Feels more high-end than the room price suggests. Service was 5-star.
  • Private beautiful and clean beach front.
  • Not too far from many Koh Samui sights.
  • One of the few hotels that’s positioned so you can actually see the sunset
  • Has decent gym with most equippment you could need.

Bad:

  • It’s in the part of the island where most of the high-end resorts like the Conrad are. The beaches here are cleaner and more beautiful, but you’ll have fewer restaurant/bar options down this end.

 

EAT & DRINK IN KOH SAMUI

NANA TAM RESTAURANT, Lamai

This and crystal bay beach club are my favourite restaurants in Koh Samui. Nana Tam has a cute garden area with a pond that makes for pleasant dining atmosphere. Serves all the classic Thai dishes at really fair prices of 150 – 250 baht per dish.

My recommended dishes: Penang Duck Curry (200 baht) and Prawns in Tamarind Sauce (250 baht)

garden
Garden dining at Nana Tam

IMCHAI THAI FOOD, Lamai

Cheap Thai restaurant with very quick service and very large portions for price. Mains range from 150 – 200 baht.

Pad thai and Cashew chicken came in huge portions. Yam Nuea beef salad and Morning Glory were tasty.

CRYSTAL BAY BEACH CLUB

romantic dinner crystal bay
Romantic Dinner at Crystal Bay Beach Bar

This place is great for a sunset cocktail (though you can’t see the sunset from this side of the island) and dinner date. The beach-front seating is very romantic with fairy lights and huts. The quality of food here was very high. Prices for mains about 200-300 for Thai dishes, and 300+ for western dishes.

My recommended dishes:

  • I highly recommend the Yam Nuea beef salad here because it’s made with steak-quality beef and seasoned to perfection.
  • Steamed Sea Bass made in pla nung manau style was also delicious, and served as a whole fish (read: large portion)
  • Paenang Duck Curry
  • Lychee Martini
crystal bay cockatils
Sunset Cocktails at Crystal bay

NU SAMUI, Maret

Small road-side family run place serving cheap but really good food. Fresh fruit cocktails 99 baht.

My recommended dishes:  Pla nung Manau (Steamed white fish with lime) which was one of the best Pla nung manau’s we’ve had in southern Thailand. Unusually, filleted for you.

SILVER BEACH RESORT, Silver Beach

On the same beach as Crystal Bay beach bar, this one is more casual and does decent cocktails and mixers at Happy Hour.

silver beach drink

THONGTHAKIAN BAR, Silver Beach

The cheapest joint on this beautiful beach, serving good value for money coffee/beers/cocktails/shakes with nice small beach bar atmosphere. Nice coconut shakes.

PARTY & NIGHTLIFE IN KOH SAMUI

As far as I can tell there’s only one kind of night out in Koh Tao. Everyone starts at Ark Bar and ends up at Green Mango. This is in Chaweng, as there’s no real night-life anywhere else on the island. Lamai has a funny go-go bar area next to the night market that comes to life at night, but not much else. (Maybe that Australian bar opposite kind of maybe??)

ARK BAR

Where pretty much everyone goes to start the night. Awesome fire dance shows pretty much every night. It’s a massive beach bar/club with DJ.

fire-show-at-the-beach-party-ark-bar-chaweng-beach-koh-samui-thailand

HENRY’S BAR

Fun Go-go bar excellent for people watching. There’s only actually one pole dancer (unlike the ones in Phuket) but lots of ladies working the crowd.

GREEN MANGO

Massive super-club that everyone goes to from midnight. Two different dance floors with different music/DJ.

 

KOH TAO ISLAND

nanyuan kurt & i 3
Nangyuan Island Viewpoint: Beware of boatloads of screaming chinese tourists.

Koh Tao definitely still has that island-vibe that Koh Samui has lost due to its size and commercialisation. The streets are small and you’ll see lots of people mingling about (mostly divers, backpackers and the accompanying street vendors).

The beach was surprisingly littered, but still very pleasant. Lot’s of activity options here: SUP paddle boarding, Kayaking, Hiking, Dirtbiking, snorkelling, and of course diving. It does feel like 90% of the people are here to dive, but I guess that’s ok right?

ACCOMODATION IN KOH TAO

I only have one recommendation here as I’ve only stayed in one place (it was great), but Kurt who’s been to/lived in Koh Tao innumerable times always stays here, so it must compare well to other options!

SAMATHA GUEST HOUSE

A lot more trendy than the name suggests. Just on the edge of the busy area. Rooms are bright, clean, and minimalist. Included breakfast is eggs any style with toast and jam, or pancakes. (Plus Tea/Coffee). The coffee shop downstairs has a great atmosphere and serves some of the best coffee in Koh Tao. Staff were wonderful. I don’t have a bad word to say about this place.

EAT & DRINK IN KOH TAO

beach sunset
Enjoying the Sunset at Blue Water

BLUE WATER

Beachfront café/restaurant/bar with similar trendy style to Samatha (I think they’re the same owners?)

I recommend: The Skippy seafood platter for 400 baht (to die for) and Green Dragon tequila cocktail 180 baht (included in happy hour offerings). Coffees/Teas are around 70-95 baht and done very well.

BARRACUDA

Mains 250 baht+, Glass of wine or cocktail 190 baht.

There are two locations and both are great. They do all the Thai dishes you would expect to see but to a very high standard, usually with a twist. Unsurprisingly there are many Barracuda dishes. Good wine and cocktail selection.

A Note About Surat Thani

I’ve flown through Surat Thani / Surat Thani Airport three times now, so I can say with conviction: Avoid it altogether if you can. Fly out of Koh Samui, it’s worth the extra money. My reasons:

  1. There is nothing worth seeing in Surat Thani city. I don’t mean this in an off-hand dismissive way, I’ve attempted on every visit to find something worth seeing and failed.
  2. It’s actually rather difficut for english-speaking travellers. Decent restaurants or sources of food are very few and far between.
  3. The bus journey from ferry pier to Surat Thani is long and tedius, and prone to delays, so you have to leave plenty of extra time before your flight, which you’ll spend at the tiny tiny Airport, leading me to the next point….
  4. Surat Thani Airport is possibly the worst in Thailand. It’s uncomfortable, cramped, wifi-less, and shops are overpriced.
  5. The cost of extra ferry from islands to Surat Thani + bus transfer + possibly accomodation if you have to spend the night + tuk tuk to airport + half a day of travel time = more than the extra it would cost to fly out of Koh Samui directly.

BUT, if you do you to spend time in Surat Thani, here are a few establishments that were significantly above the average city standard:

Stay at The Little PP Hometel & Blue Sheep Cafe (£25 or 1000THB /night for private double room)

[Address: 5 Rat Uthit, Tambon Talat, Amphoe Mueang Surat Thani, Chang Wat Surat Thani 84000]

It’s less than 10 min walk from where the busses drop you off into the city, so you can walk it from there if you have few bags. The rooms and coffee shop are clean, modern, and trendy. The coffees in the cafe are excellent and the staff friendly.

Eat at Nan Yuan Noodle Shop, Rat Uthit, Tambon Talat (Big noodle bowls from 50 baht)

This roast duck and noodle shop happens to be diagonally opposite the Little PP Hotel, but we searched far and wide around the city and this was the best meal we had. It’s clean, service is quick and friendly. The roast duck is excellent, and the wontons were fresh and some of the best I’ve had. (Remembering I’ve lived in Asia for half my life). The menu is in english and has pictures.

The shop sign is in big red chinese letter but you’ll be able to see the roast duck….

Cafeteria Suratthani (coffees from 60 baht, Breakfast sets and Burgers from 200 baht)

[Address: 82,84,86 Chonkaseam Mueang, ถนน ชนเกษม, Tambon Talat, อำเภอเมืองสุราษฎร์ธานี, สุราษฎร์ธานี 84000]

One of the only places we could find that served a decent breakfast. They’re big and hearty and quite american style. It’s a nice atmosphere with comfy seating and plenty of power plugs everywhere with good wifi.

Tapee Eatery (Mains from 40 baht)

A street-food style restaurant that’s wedged between Cafeteria Suratthani and the hotel next door. It’s one of the cleaner ones and has a big picture menu for non-thai speakers.

The Chicken and Rice dish and Pad Suei Pork together came to 80 baht and were delicious and generously portioned.

The Night Market

Don’t go there. You will find nothing you want/dare to eat. I usually LOVE nigh markets and live off them in Taiwan, but this one…. made my stomach churn. I arrived hungry and left feeling nauseated.

 

[ More to follow as I remember to add them…. ]

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