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The beach paradise island of Koh Samui has been a favourite holiday destination since its discovery by hippies in the late 20th century. It’s changed a great deal since its early days and is now a vibrant hub for nightlife and water sports. Located offshore from Thailand’s Kra Ithsmus, its most popular and commercial beaches are Lamai, Chaweng and Bophut, while the western shores of the island are catching up fast with new upscale hotel and resort developments. Koh Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket, making self-drive with car rental the best way to get around.
Who to Book With
Koh Samui offers a good choice of car rental agencies, both at the airport and in the beach resorts, with Budget, Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt augmented by a local branch of Thai Rent a Car. The high season here runs from December through to February, although visitors flock to the island during the late spring and summer months as well. For the best price and the car of your choice, booking in advance online is advised.
Best Time to go
Due to its tropical climate, Koh Samui is a year-round destination, although any month except February could see rain in varying quantities. October and November are the wettest months, but showers rarely last for more than an hour.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents should be presented when you pick up your car:
- A valid UK or home country driving license
- A second photo ID, such as your passport
- The credit card used for the reservation
- A print-out of your rental confirmation
Driving on Koh Samui is easy if you take your time and are aware of local motoring habits, although road conditions outside the main tourist areas leave much to be desired. Road signage is bilingual, and petrol stations are plentiful and take credit card payments. Vehicles to watch out for include trucks and motorbikes, whose drivers are infamous for ignoring the rules of the road as regards lane discipline and overtaking. A seatbelt is mandatory for drivers, and mobile phone use while driving, although illegal, is standard here. Drink-driving laws are strict but rarely enforced, with care needing to be taken when driving late at night. Parking isn’t usually a problem if you avoid yellow lines.
Getting around by public transport on Koh Samui involves the ubiquitous songthaews (converted pick-up trucks), which double up as the local bus service. Fares are fixed, with 50 baht per journey an average. Taxis can be hailed on the road or booked in advance, but overcharging is rife and meters are rarely used. There is no train service on Koh Samui.
Officially, taxis here are operated by the public Koh Samui Taxi Service, but drivers mostly refuse to offer metered travel, preferring to charge inflated sums for all journeys. There are no fixed-price journeys here, so haggling is necessary to get an acceptable price, which is usually less than half of the original quote. Airport taxis and minibuses are best booked in advance to save money, with Samui Taxis a useful option.
Songthaews provide the island’s bus service for locals and visitors, with fixed fares dependent on distance and no fixed routes. You’ll need to ask the driver if he’s going your way, after which you’ll be told the charge. If you’re travelling in a group to a particular destination, hire a songthaew for the journey and negotiate a fixed price.
All around the island are diverse locations waiting to be explored, both above and below the water. Koh Samui is a hub for snorkelling and diving amongst the island’s many coral reefs, and the interior holds areas of natural beauty with waterfalls, small farming villages and spectacular traditional Buddhist temples.
Coast Road - The island’s 80kms coast road gives a scenic overview of beaches and famous rock formations, such as the ‘Grandmother and Grandfather’ rocks with their strong resemblance to the male and female genitalia. There are plenty of stopping-off places for a wander and a delicious seafood lunch, and road conditions are generally good.
Chaweng Beach - Starting from Chaweng Beach, another scenic drive heads to the Buddhist pilgrimage hub of Kunaram Temple, famous on the island for holding the mummified corpse of its most-loved abbot, who died whilst meditating. Nearby are Hua Thanon Village and one of the island’s largest coconut plantations, where you can watch specially-trained monkeys harvesting the ripe nuts. On the return journey, stop off at the Big Buddha Temple on Fan Island.
Koh Samui’s northern coastline - This boasts lush tropical forests, rising to the slopes of Khao Pom, the island’s highest point at 635m. Heading towards the island’s northwest tip, you’ll find the secluded Laem Yai beach with its picturesque views of Angthong marine park’s offshore islands. Nearby Mae Nam beach is also peaceful and lovely.