On my ASEAN Explorer trip, courtesy of the AirAsia travel pass, I planned a stop in Surat Thani, in Southern Thailand to visit the nearby Khao Sok National Park. But with the tricky Thai ground transport putting my onward flight at risk, and having just spent a lot of time exploring nature and wildlife in Borneo (read here and here), I changed plans to relax on the beach of Ko Samui instead. With a romantic getaway planned for later this year at the luxurious InterContinental Samui, I decided to try out the main beach of Chaweng, center for most activities and nightlife.
Ko Samui has long outgrown the hidden gem status it had long ago, yet it has retained its charm with a long, beautiful beach, soft sand and warm water! It is fortunately not as overdeveloped as Pattaya or Patong on Phuket, the two largest beach resorts in Thailand. You have still plenty of sand to throw down your towel and bake in the sun (without having to fight for it with beach chair vendors like in Pattaya) or have the main road right behind you (like in Patong).
But Samui is very developed and now caters to travelers of all ages and budgets, from allover the world. You will find backpackers coming for beach parties, families on their resort vacations or retirees spending a few months to escape the winter at home. There is something on offer for all of them in Chaweng.
Ko Samui airport is located in Chaweng at the very North Eastern tip. Close by is Chaweng town with its many food and entertainment options, all along the main beach road. It’s a busy place with a constant stream of cars, vans and pedestrians.
Between the beach road and the warm waters, you find full service resorts right on the beach, mostly mid- and up-scale resorts. You can spend your beach vacation here without ever leaving: enjoy a nice room, have your meals at the hotel restaurant, plop on the beach for sun or activities and relax with a massage at the spa! You can try any of the water sport activities on offer, from jet skies to banana boats. And you are still in walking distance to the town.
On the other side of the beach road and the alleys leading off it, you have budget and mid-sccale hotels. They are generally lower priced and you get a nicer room for your money than right on the beach, but you won’t have the tropical island feel and have to make your way to the beach across the road and past the beachfront resorts. My choice for this stay was among them, the Mercure Chaweng Tana hotel (read review here). Further away from the beach you find budget hotels, hostels and long-stay accomodation.
Wherever you are staying, you will have access to town. There are restaurants offering, off course Thai food and the ever present Italian food, but also Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Greek and German food, catering to visitors from all around the world. There are plenty of bars, along the road as well as the beach, and even fire dancers. You also have some clubs for late-night partying and dancing – or so I heard – I was in bed to early to check it out. The clubs looked good though with impressive sound system, though empty when I went. There are also Muay Thai stadiums organizing regular fights, including foreign competitors! As on every Thai beach, you will find plenty of massage shops offering inexpensive relaxation and beauty treatments. And there is even a Central Festival mall, if you haven’t done enough shopping yet!
With all the city infrastructure come some annoyances. The vans advertising the Muay Thai fights or other entertainment you just MUST know about, blasting from their speakers all evening are one thing that should be banned! The share taxis that are trying to extort 10-20 times the price of similar transport elsewhere in Thailand, and end up running empty most of the time as a consequence, should be next on that list of the Good General to improve happiness in Thailand.
Overall though, Chaweng Beach on Ko Samui offers a good balance between the tropical beach experience and offering lots of activities and entertainment. If you prefer entertainment and activities as part of your beach trip over the remote island experience, Chaweng on Samui is a great option and I’d prefer it over Pattaya or Patong any day! If you are looking for a more luxurious getaway, read about my luxurious getaway to Ko Samui with a stay at the InterContinental Samui!