In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago.
The cool sound of water tumbling down a rocky cliff face and into a pool greets you at Na Muang Falls.
Nestled amongst the island's central mountains, the falls have two tiers: a lower stretch easily reached by foot and a higher tier that’s best reached by hiking or riding on elephant back. The lower tier of falls is suitable for swimming.
The road to the lower falls is lined with food stalls and souvenir vendors, and elephant handlers offer their animals for rides to the top tier.
Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks - or Hin Yai/Hin Ta - are rocky outcrops on Lamai Beach. Often photographed and commented on, the rocks bear an uncanny resemblance to male and female genitalia.
The rocks are set on a lovely stretch of beach, and create tranquil rock pools when the tide is in.
Chaweng Beach - or Hat Chaweng - is Koh Samui’s most popular, longest and perhaps most lovely beach.
Clear blue-green sea, palm trees, coral reefs and lively nightlife come together to create a laid-back party atmosphere at Chaweng, the second biggest resort hub on the island.
Drinks are sold on the beach by passing vendors and there are water sports for every taste, from windsurfing to water skiing.
Dive operators run tours from Chaweng Beach, and this is where you’ll find most of the island’s nightclubs and bars. At beachfront restaurants you can dine right on the sand as the sun sets over the sea.
Lamai Beach vies with Chaweng for title of Koh Samui’s prettiest beach, especially along its less coral-strewn southern stretches. Less developed than Chaweng, and therefore more tranquil and relaxed, Lamai offers year-round swimming and the interesting formations of the granite Grandmother and Grandfather rocks. It’s a good spot to look for resort accommodation and tasty restaurants on Koh Samui.
Apart from the beaches, Koh Samui’s distinctive icon is the golden Big Buddha Temple - or Wat Phra Yai - visible above the red-tiled rooftops on the island’s north coast.
The 12 meter (40 foot) Buddha statue is visible from several kilometers away, and even from an airplane if you’re arriving or departing by air.
The temple, shops and restaurants cluster at the base of the statue, and ceremonial stairs lead up to the top for terrific island views.
No trip to Koh Samui is complete without spending a day at sea visiting the islands of Ang Thong Marine National Park. Scattered across the sea lies an archipelago of 42 small islands with sheer limestone cliffs, white-sand beaches, hidden lagoons and dense vegetation.
A lovely sight from sea or land, the islands offer snorkeling and diving, beach picnics and hiking to lagoons and caves.
Travelers looking for seclusion and solitude on Koh Tao, one of Thailand’s most popular islands don’t have it easy. But on the southeastern side of the island, between the Sai Daeng Beach to the north and the Tanote Beach to the south lies the 200 meter long Aow Leuk beach. This stretch of sand is difficult to reach, and because of that, the tourist crowds stay away. Aow Leuk offers crystal clear waters and the peace and serenity necessary to forget everyday life and recover from stress. The bay is shallow, surrounded by the islands typical, fine white sand and big boulders and due to the low depths, is a protected site and a great place for snorkeling and training dives to see luminous butterflyfish, blue angelfish and parrotfish among the corals.
The beach prides itself on being very clean and it is accordingly not allowed to bring your own picnic. But there are a few small, family-run bungalows and a restaurant, so you won’t have to worry about basic necessities.