Koh Samui is in the Gulf of Thailand, only an hour or so by air south of Bangkok, and like Phuket, Ko Samui despite the vast development and popularity with Westerners, remains a tropical paradise with all of the delights and downsides of a white-sand-ringed island. Speaking of which, your decision to visit Koh Samui or Phuket, located across the Kra Isthmus on the Andaman Sea, should consider the weather (below).
The airport opened on the island in 1989, much to the chagrin of hardier boat travelers who thought they'd secured Thailand's best-kept secret but although tourism has increased, but Ko Samui has maintained much of its appeal: pristine beaches; tropical waterfalls; luxury resorts; with pockets of seclusion (and nearby islands that are more remote places, including diving paradise Koh Yao and Koh Kut/Kood).
The island has a strongly Buddhist population, and there are some mildly interesting religious emblems, such as the Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai, but beach leisure is the order of the day for the visitor here, along with food and drink to ease into the good night. The Four Seasons is a comfortable departure point for the crystalline ocean waters: The resort's villas afford spectacular views of the sea and nearby islands.
Family Adventures in Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao
Snorkeling and Diving
The Thai islands are a world-class diving destination, with over 2,170 kilometers of tropical coastline on the Gulf of Thailand (Samui side) and Andaman Sea (Phuket and Krabi), featuring one of the richest marine faunas in the world. A tropical climate ensures year-round diving conditions in pristine waters with varied terrain and wide abundance of marine life. Click on our map (right) to view the primary dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand.
For children, there are always snorkeling options right from the resort, or by short boat hops. There is also "snuba diving," a hybrid between snorkeling and scuba that does not require thorough dive training.
For diving, PADI certified dive centers are numerous and most offer children's specific training and certifications, including Seal Team. In fact, Koh Tao is second in the world for issuing PADI certification. Ask for dive operators in Samui and Koh Tao.
Liveaboard cruises are active on the west coast of Thailand around Phuket, offering multi-day trips diving at beautiful dive places including the Similan Islands, Richelieu Rocks and many other spots like Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. See more on our Phuket page.
Only 21 square kilometers (1/10th of Samui), Koh Tao lies in a group of about 80 islands north of larger (and far more developed) neighbors, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Although Ko Tao was named by first settlers for the island's turtle-like geographic shape, it is actually an important breeding ground for Hawksbill and Green turtles. Most notably, Koh Tao features some of the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand, with exceptionally clear waters and unique species and Whale sharks are common to the area. Indeed, more PADI certificates are issued on Koh Tao than anywhere else in the world except Cairns, Australia.
Jungle Mountain Bike, Horse and Elephant Treks
Travelers often think of Koh Samui as white sandy beaches and not lush jungle, but the island features broad swaths and mountains of thick jungle canopy.
Our favorite family elephant encounters are in Luang Prabang and Chiang Rai, but thrilling elephant treks as well as horseback riding or cycling through the jungle can be organized with others or privately on Samui.
There are also wide variety of wildlife and the island is a nesting ground for several rare species of birds. The Samui Butterfly Garden and Insect Museum is located on the south end of the island. There is a huge collection of different butterflies, some nearly a foot wide. Visitors can also enter the insect museum nearby to see a variety of rare bugs and a bee house. The Secret Buddha Garden is worth a view for it's panoramic views of Samui (the garden is the highest point on Samui). Organized tours to the garden last for about 2 hours. There is also a tiger "zoo," crocodile and snake farm, monkey theater, and aquarium on Samui but these places are often criticized for poor treatment of animals.
Kid's Clubs and Parks
Paradise Park is an excellent destination with children offering mixed activities, including swimming in the infinity pool, encounters with monkeys and other small animals in the middle of the countryside with breathtaking mountain views. Highly recommended for younger children. For adventure, there is a zip line cable outfit (Treetop Tour) in the central area, with offering over ten thrilling lines through the jungle canopy.
Most larger resorts, including the Four Seasons offer extensive children's clubs with broad activities far beyond day care. At the Four Season's, for example, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM children two to twelve are supervised and instructed in arts and crafts, Thai cooking lessons, sand castle building, as well as cartoon and movie time. The Anantara, our favorite in the Golden Triangle for their elephant camp, offers tandem kayaking, family cooking classes, and the Baan Ling Noi ("little monkey") Kid’s Club, playing mini garden soccer, hunting for treasure and making coconut paintings while mom enjoys yoga.
Samui also offers bowling, miniature golf, volleyball and other children's sport and arcade activities.
Kayaking, Sailing and Boating
Ang Thong ("Golden Bowl") National Park (right), an archipelago of over forty islands spread over 250 square kilometers boasts a grand display of marine and bird life and offers picturesque kayaking. Kayak day trips are typically from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, with boating and lunch in the park. There are also some short hikes up to waterfalls and lakes, overlooking dramatic rock cliffs and odd rock formations. Ko Mae Ko (Mother Island) is a more strenuous hike, into an emerald seawater lake in the middle of the island is encircled on all sides by limestone cliffs linked by an underground tunnel connecting with the sea. Older children may do this hike, but it takes about one hour. Reaching the lake entails a strenuous climb of 40 minutes or so, but is rewarded with a spectacular view across the whole park. Caves, hidden lagoons and white sand beaches are there to be explored and snorkeling among the shallow coral gardens are highlights.
Catamaran charters can also be organized, gliding through the small island peaks of the park. Sunset cruises, half day charters, day charters and overnight trips to the neighboring islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao are also offered. Full-day deep sea fishing featuring coral fishing, trawling, and sea bed fishing is also available. Catch includes snapper, squid, mackerel, shark and barracuda.
Full Moon Rave
Older children (or those who are still young at heart) will no doubt hear about the world famous "Full Moon" party that takes place on Koh Phangan during the full moon and holidays (there are three in December). Parents can comfortably distance themselves from the noise on nearby Koh Samui while kids take the hour-long ferry over for the all-night celebration. For more information and a calendar of Full Moon party dates, visit this site.
On Koh Samui, we recommend the Baan Taling Ngam, Santiburi,and the Four Seasons (right), the premier resorts on the island. The Orient Express also runs the Napasai Villas, which offers weddings. A longtime favorite of past travelers, especially families, is Rocky's Resort, which has a spacious family suite with fabulous views. As us for more information about which properties are under seasonal renovations and which would be best suited for you, including those with kid's clubs.
Bangkok Hospital Samui
57 Moo 3, Thaweerat Phakdee Road, Bophut, Koh Samui , Suratthani 84320
When to go?
The decision to visit Phuket and nearby locales like Krabi on the Andaman Sea or Koh Samui and adjacent islands on the Gulf of Thailand should in part be based on the weather as each area is distinct. The high season on Koh Samui, like Hawaii, is from mid-December to mid-January. January to April has the best weather, before its gets hot although June and July are a drier alternative to Phuket which sees heavier rain (about double than in the Gulf of Siam, see below).
October through mid-December are the wettest months, with November bringing extreme rain and winds that make the east side of the island rough for swimming. August sees a brief increase in visitors, a mini-high season, but the island's west side is often buffeted by summer monsoons from the mainland.
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