Helpful Tips- Koh Samui
Places of Interest
Na Muang Waterfall (The Purple Waterfall) - This is a waterfall in the jungle that is known for the purple rocks that glow underneath the raging cascade. The waterfall itself is quite beautiful; feeding into a river that disappears into the jungle. The area around the waterfall is filled with tourist nick-knack shops, food vendors and an elephant riding encounter.
Magic Alambic Rum Distillery - This is a local rum distillery that is owned and operated by a group of young French immigrants. They sell a variety of excellent (strong) rum in several different flavors. There is an area outside where you can sit and have your rum with honey and lime juice. You can also walk through the area where they process raw sugar cane for rum making.
Wat Khunaram - This temple is known for housing the mummified corpse of a famous monk who lived and died on the island. The mummified monk is on display in a glass case for all to see and is often wearing sunglasses while sitting in a lotus position.
Wat Plai Laem - This is a temple complex on the shores of a small lake that has three main displays. On the far right is large white statue of what looks like a Hindu deity with 18 arms. In the center there is a small but ornately decorated temple. Inside the temple there is a shrine to the Buddha with what looks like the Buddha's journey to enlightenment painted on the walls. Finally, the display on the far left is a statue of a large, fat and smiling Buddha.
Big Buddha Temple - This is a temple complex on the shores of the beach and main pier with a long staircase that reaches up towards a big Buddha statue.
The Beach - The prettiest beach that we saw was in Chaweng. The sand is white and soft and the water is crystal clear. In Lamai (where we stayed), the water is also crystal clear but the beach is rocky and the sand is coarse. However, this beach was way more authentic because it wasn't packed with tourists and felt like a tucked away paradise next to the jungle.
Private Drivers - Hiring a private driver is generally inexpensive if you have a predetermined list of sites you'd like to visit. This allows you to make the most of your trip as you don't have to worry about driving, parking, or waiting for a songthaew. In our opinion this can be the fastest form of transportation around the island. We paid about 2,000 Baht (about US $67 at an exchange rate of 30 Baht to 1 USD) for 5 hours.
Songthaew (pronounced song-tao) - Taking a songthaew is one of the cheapest forms of transportation on the island. In general, a songthaew is just a pick up truck that has been converted into a ride sharing taxi by turning the bed of the truck into an extra cabin with wooden seats and metal bars installed. It's very easy to identify the songthaew because they are the only trucks painted red and you will see them all over the roads.
Songthaews travel in predetermined circuits/routes and you have to flag them down much like hitchhiker would. Once they've pulled over you have to tell them where you are going. If they agree to take you then they will quote you a price. At this point you must negotiate (at least half of what they quote). Never accept the first quote and never get into the songthaew without having agreed to a price. Otherwise you risk being price gouged.
Generally, the more people you have in your party, the better rate you can negotiate but the best we were able to do was 300 baht for 2 people.(approximately $10). Also, keep in mind that songthaew drivers do this for a living so you are better off just accepting the fact that although you may be able to negotiate a lower price, you will never really win the negotiations.
Lastly, expect the songthaew to be one of the slower forms of transportation available. This is because the drivers continually stop along the way to pick up and drop off other travelers and if you are on a songthaew full of people going to different places it can really delay things. Just go with it and don't be in a rush. And don't worry about the driver forgetting about where to drop you off. These drivers have an uncanny memory and never forget. So don't believe them if they try to act like they forgot which rate you agreed to.
Taxis - Taxis are generally only available around major attractions, such as Chaweng beach and the surrounding area, so don't expect to hail a taxi so easily in other areas of the island. Taxis will be one of the more expensive forms of transportation since they do not use meters and they have no competitors on the island. Most of them will price gouge you so we would recommend using the more affordable songthaews. Otherwise, expect to pay at least double or more what a songthaew would cost.
Scooters/motorcycles - We would highly recommend that you stay away from renting a scooter or motorcycle unless you are an experienced driver back home. Although the locals make it look effortless, we've witnessed several accidents where a naive traveler lost control of the scooter and landed hard on the pavement or had their leg trapped underneath the scooter after a fall. We've watched as injured travelers hop on crutches or have entire arms and/or legs bandaged because of scooter accidents. In then end, they can't even enjoy the beautiful waters of the beach because they are all bandaged up and can't swim.
Remember, even if you know how to drive a scooter you will still have to adapt very quickly to all of the different traffic laws (they drive on the left side of the road), driver behavior, undeveloped roads, difficult terrain (a lot of hills) and lack of street lights at night. Add to that the fact that you can be charged exorbitant penalty fees (the equivalent of several hundred US dollars) for so much as returning the scooter with a tiny scratch and it is really not worth the risk.
Make sure to carry enough cash (Thai Baht) at all times because very few vendors and establishments will accept any other form of payment.
Generally, the further away you stay from major tourist areas, such as Chaweng beach (northeastern province), the more affordable the accommodations. We stayed at a boutique hotel in Lamai (southern province) called Villa Nalinnadda. The hotel was clean, beautifully decorated, and just steps away from the crystal clear waters of the beach. Our room was very spacious and included an outdoor shower and hot tub overlooking the beach. The view was absolutely stunning and overall it was an excellent stay at a reasonable rate (approximately $100 a night) which includes a 1 hour Thai massage.
We found Koh Samui to be very safe in terms of personal safety. None of the street vendors will bother you and for the most part everyone was generally helpful and friendly. As with most places in a developing country, do not drink the tap water. Always drink bottled water which is widely available at any 7-Eleven (they are on every street corner) and are really cheap. We paid between 20 - 30 Baht (less than US $1) for a 20 ounce bottle of Nestle water.