The island of Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand is an hour's flight from Bangkok. It is the biggest of 80 islands in the Samui Archipelago, and easily its most popular. With multi-million-dollar resorts appearing almost weekly, for some, Ko Samui is a victim of its own stunning beauty. For others it remains a palm-fringed paradise.
Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai are the two busiest beaches; those looking for somewhere less hectic should head to Hat Bophut. Samui's surrounding waters are not particularly good for diving and snorkelling, so most trips head to the nearby Ang Thong Marine National Park, Hin Bai and Ko Tao.
This has a nice beach and a quaint fishermen's village, and is one of the more attractive places on the island to wander around. Nearby, Samui Monkey Theatre has "monkey work coconut" shows, revealing how simian labour traditionally assists in harvesting coconuts.
The east coast leads to Ko Samui's busiest beach, the 6km (4-mile) -long Hat Chaweng. The stunning powdery white-sand faces clear turquoise waters from the northern headland near the island of Ko Matlang, all the way to the curving bay and rocky end point of South Chaweng. A coral reef shelters the north beach, so the sea is often as still as a millpond. It is also less crowded than Central Chaweng, which is the most built-up. Chaweng Beach Road, behind the cramped line of beach resorts, is a sprawl of restaurants, bars and shopping arcades. Beyond a tiny spit of land the relatively quiet South Chaweng is thinner on accommodation and restaurants.
Samui's second-most populous beach is far less hectic and has better accommodation choices for budget travellers, along with several boutique resorts. A little past the southern tip are two rock formations known as Grandfather Rock (Hin Ta) and Grandmother Rock (Hin Yai), which resemble male and female genitalia, and are hence a popular photo spot. Probably unconnected is Lamai's slightly lascivious nightlife scene, and its stretch of girlie bars.
Although Ko Phi Phi's Maya Bay was the chosen location for the 2000 film The Beach, it was the dramatic scenery of Ang Thong Marine National Park that inspired Alex Garland's bestselling novel. Lying over a 100-sq-km (39-sq-mile) area, 31km (19 miles) west of Ko Samui, these 42 islands are virtually uninhabited. They contain lagoons, beautiful beaches and sheer limestone cliffs, a habitat for wildlife such as macaques, langurs and monitor lizards. Dophins shelter here late in the year.
Several operators run day trips from Ko Samui, which usually include a 400m (1,300ft) climb up to a lookout point on Ko Wua Talab and a visit to Tham Bua Bok (Waving Lotus Cave). Diving and snorkelling are usually best at the northern tip, around Ko Yippon. There are colourful coral beds, inhabited by sea snakes, fusiliers and stingrays, and there are caves and archways to swim through.
Moo 1, Hat Bophut
In the Fishermen's Village, this place has cosy rooms, hardwood floors and balconies with sea views. The upper-floor Pent Hut rooms are more expensive. The beachfront bar does great breakfasts and evening cocktails.
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