Koh Samui, Thailand

Phuket’s more relaxed sibling is a sun-blessed, moon-struck altar to carefree living: once a party-pleasure centre for the backpacker crowd, Samui has grown into a sophisticated tropical retreat. And while a stay here is all about admiring aquamarine seascapes and monolith-strewn shores, there are outlying islands, picturesque waterfalls and densely forested hills to refresh the beach-bored. Thailand’s third largest island may come to regret its popularity, but with a little effort, it’s still possible to find that idyllic paradise beach.

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When to go

Koh Samui has two high seasons – from May to November and from January to March – both producing a high number of sunburnt bodies and motorbike mishaps. It’s still pleasantly sunny during the off-peak periods, but be prepared for rain.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Largely open-air and with a flower-lined runway, Samui’s teak-beamed airport is certainly one of a kind. Operated by the hip, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing people at Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com), it receives the airline’s regional jets from Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore and Hong Kong, among others. Thai Airways also flies from Bangkok (www.thaiairways.com).
  • Boats

    If you have time to spare, you might want to take a Seatran Ferry (www.seatranferry.com) from the mainland to one of three ports on Koh Samui, but be prepared for confusing timetables and a rather long trip (it takes between one and three hours in dry season, depending on the boat). Once on Samui it’s easy to get ferries and longtail boats to neighbouring islands.
  • Trains

    There’s a comfortable sleeper service, with two-person first-class cabins, from Bangkok to Surat Thani, which links up with a bus-and-boat connection to Samui (www.railway.co.th).
  • Automobiles

    A car or jeep is essential if you want to explore; the Tawee Ratpakdee ring road follows the island’s perimeter, so getting around is child’s play. If you prefer two wheels, there are plenty of cheap motorbikes to hire, but there are also plenty of injured tourists: get a helmet, don’t wear flip-flops, and take things slowly.
  • Taxis

    Cabs cruise around the more populous areas of the island. Meters are installed but their purpose seems to be primarily decorative, so agree on a fare beforehand.

Thai temptations

Thai temptations

Criss-crossed with canals, a mighty river and a handy Skytrain, Bangkok is a city of mega-malls, historic royal temples and gold-leafed pagodas. It’s also surprisingly easy going and affordable: indulge in sumptuous day spas, exquisite dining and on-the-hoof street snacks. To the north, Chiang Mai (Burmese-style temples, boho-chic boutiques and lots of elephants) and Chiang Rai (sleepy backstreets, mist-shrouded hills and, yes, elephant-packed too) are gateways to densely packed jungle, glittering waterways and local hill communities. To the south, Thailand’s party beaches, sybaritic islands and crystal-clear waters beckon: hop on a long-tail boat to under-the-radar Koh Kood, carefree Koh Samui or spectacular Phang Nga bay.

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