Chasing Chill in Koh Samui
Palm trees. Balmy nights. Salty hair. Coconuts... and traffic chaos, obnoxiously loud and sunburned tourists, beach hawkers and neon lights. Chasing chill is sometimes not as easy as your wanderlusty instagram feed would have you believe.
Cropped just outside of that desert-island looking shot are 50 other beach-goers and seven washed up plastic bottles. But know where to wander, where to look, and those island-vibes actually aren’t as far off the beaten path as you might first think.
Thailand’s Koh Samui is absolutely up there with the country’s most ‘touristy’ hot spots. It was for that reason, that I intended on only passing through, a couple of days before sailing off to smaller islands. Three weeks later, I was still there. Living my little island-life, daily chill, successfully avoiding the crazy.
Here’s how I did it...
Where to stay
To carve out your own piece of paradise, it goes without saying, avoid the obvious. Don’t grab yourself a room ‘on sale’ from one of the top listed, ‘best location’ hotels on your favourite website. [‘best location’ = where everyone stays.] Spend a little time, do a little researching or stalking, find something that not everyone else can be bothered, or savvy enough, to.
Head down into the southwest corner, a find yourself a space amongst the coconut palms. You will need a scooter* to avoid being completely stranded on your desert island, but there are just enough little restaurants and beach shacks to find a meal and a beer in around here if you don’t want to venture far. The beaches here are gorgeous, with views across to neighbouring islands, Koh Phaluai and Koh Wua Ta Lap, and being the west, obviously here is where you want to catch a sunset as it dips behind those islands.
Where to play
Beach days are clearly the object of a chill-vibes kind of Koh Samui stay, so here are my top picks.
Taling Ngam Beach – If you’ve taken my advice and found yourself a nest on the southern end of the west, this stunning and sometimes even empty little stretch of sand and blue will be your local. Enjoy.
Crystal Bay – In a 20 or so minutes' drive around the island (anti clockwise) you’ll come across a small sign for Crystal Bay. A small little beach that seems part of the Crystal Bay Resort, you can absolutely walk through the villas and onto this secluded cove. Don’t expect to have this beach to yourself by any means, but do expect it to be relaxed, calm and free from the hectic-ness that can be part of Thailand beach life. Take some snorkeling gear if you feel like it, or otherwise laze under the trees or drift in the shallows.
Lamai Beach – A little before Crystal Bay you will come across the turn off for Lamai. One of the busier beaches here for sure (absolutely not the busiest), but head to the far end, and pull up a patch of sand just outside the main hotel strip. The water is deeper here and a little better for a real mermaid-style swim, or to seek out a paddleboard for a cruise.
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Where to avoid
If you’re chasing chill, Chaweng is not for you. The most famous of the areas in Koh Samui, true, but it’s for that reason that this is where you will find literally everyone else on the island. Busy streets, the bulk of the islands nightlife and neon lights, touristy stores and hustle. Chill – fail.
Now let’s not kid, you are after all in Koh Samui, a tourist Mecca. So when-it-roam-it and take a couple of nights out of your vacay to get a little more amongst it.
Lamai by night – This was a favourite of mine, for the budget and for the hangs. Half way down the main street you’ll find a small set of food stalls and a bunch of plastic tables and chairs. Tiny but bustling, the food here is super fresh (the volumes the are turning over here, you know there’s nothing left over from the night before) and cooked to order in front of you. Grab yourself a plate of green curry and a dragonfruit juice, and pull up a chair next some new friends.
From your perch on your plastic chair, as the night progresses, you will have the perfect view of a little taste of that Thailand-tourist-tack that you love to hate. Head over after dinner and grab a sexily-named, sugary cocktail from a table dancing waitress.
On Sundays this same street shuts down to traffic and comes alive with street stalls. Souvenirs, knocks offs, fashion, live music and an insane number of amazing food stalls (and street cart cocktails naturally). Soak up the atmosphere and maybe don’t eat for the day leading up, save the space to literally eat your way down the road!
The best part of it all though… jumping on your bike, leaving the hustle behind you and arriving back to your little slice of paradise under the star-filled sky afterwards.
With so many more of us salty-hearts seeking our own little patches of sand, tracking it down can seem impossible, as the ‘touristy’ vibe spreads wider each year across our most loved island destinations. But just look a little closer, shift a little off that main road, and you’ll find it. Still there, still sandy, empty and beautiful… And when you do, treasure it.
**Don’t forget to read up on insurance and regulations before you go, and drive smart, don’t be another ‘What Really Happens in Thailand’ trash TV story please!
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