Food and Drink in Koh Samui
Seafood is plentiful and is a top choice for dining on Koh Samui, whether it's grilled, steamed, fried or served in a curry. Steamed whole fish is often prepared with garlic and ginger, while curries can turn up the heat with fiery peppers. Most restaurants know that farangs (foreigners) like things a bit less spicy, though. Thai basil and lemongrass are other accents you'll encounter in the local cuisine.
Thais eat with a spoon in one hand and a fork in the other, using the spoon to lift food to their mouths. No need to master chopsticks!
Street food vendors set up carts south of the pier in a large parking lot next to the water. Noodle dishes, grilled fish, skewers of meat, larb (a salad of minced meat or fish) and green papaya salad are typical offerings, at rock-bottom prices. As always, be very cautious about hygiene when eating from street vendors. (We always look for carts with a long line of locals.) There are also roving food vendors on the beaches, and carts in the vicinity of other attractions, including the Big Buddha and Na Muang Falls.
While you'll find the usual mixed drinks most anywhere, Singha beer is Thailand's preferred brew, and one (or five) is a great way to stay cool in Samui's heat. Nonalcoholic fruit shakes (usually made with fruit, ice and sugar syrup) are also an island specialty; our favorite is mango.
The Sunset: Located about a 10-minute walk south of the pier, this restaurant has outdoor tables under shady trees and pergolas with a view of the water. Follow the harbor road (Chonwithi Road) until it makes a 90-degree turn inland, and you're at the restaurant. The menu has both Thai and Western dishes, with seafood playing a starring role. We had a savory mackerel curry, but there's a wide choice of Thai favorites, including pad thai and larb. Ingredients are fresh, portions are abundant, and there are nice touches such as orchids that grace the drinks. (175/3, Moo 3, Tambon Angthong; +66-77-421-244.)
Kob Thai Restaurant: The ambience at this restaurant near Lamai Beach in a gorgeous garden setting can't be beat. The restaurant serves authentic Thai cuisine. Order a special set tasting menu or several a la carte dishes. The sweet and sour pork shouldn't be missed nor should the mango and sticky rice dessert. (Soi Haad Lamai 3; open daily, noon to 10:30 pm.)
Pla Pla: A quick 15-minute drive from the pier, this restaurant in the Four Seasons Resort is perfect for those who want a splurge meal in a gorgeous, serene setting. The restaurant has both terrace and beach dining on the resort's private swath of sand, with a menu offering a range of dishes, including Thai, European and even pizzas and burgers. Thai specialties include seafood coconut soup (kati talay), deep-fried fish with sweet chili sauce (pla tord) and grilled calamari salad. If you don't want to haggle with shore-side taxis, the hotel will send a limo or a taxi to fetch you. (219 Moo 5, Angthong; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; +66-77-243-000)
Le Salon de Ti: Lunch and dinner are served daily, and afternoon tea is offered on Saturdays and Sundays, at this restaurant in the Zazen Boutique Resort. (177 Moo 1)
Beaches in Koh Samui
Koh Samui's big draw is its beaches. Take a dip or get a Thai massage at one of the stands on the beach (around $10 or less for one hour). Many restaurants offer beach chairs and waterfront service.
Best Beach for Those Who Don't Want to Get Away from It All: Chaweng Beach is the island's most famous crescent of sand, and it is crammed with restaurants, pubs, souvenir hawkers and hotels. Located less than an hour's drive from the pier (depending on traffic), it's a prime place for activities such as jet-skiing and banana boating, and there are also plenty of spots for beachside massages. On the downside, all that activity means it's a far cry from the tranquil "island paradise" atmosphere that originally drew travelers. The sand has a gentle slope, so the stretch of shallow water is perfect for those who like to splash rather than swim.
Best Beach for Relaxing: Choeng Mon Beach is the quintessential palm-fringed paradise, located on the island's northeast peninsula, not far from the Big Buddha. Also about an hour's drive from the pier, it's a quieter scene, though there are still hotels located along the half-mile stretch of sand. But because the hotels are upscale, it tends to be less rowdy and a better spot for families. If you feel like being active, rent a kayak and paddle out to the islet that sits just offshore.
Best Beach for Local Culture: Bophut Beach's sand is a bit coarse, the beach is narrow and steep, and the water is sometimes a bit murky, but it has the advantage of being near Bophut fishing village, where you can still spot old Chinese shop houses, despite a recent spurt of development. Many of the shop houses have been converted into restaurants and trendy boutiques. Located about 40 minutes from the pier on the island's north shore, this is also a popular departure point for snorkeling and scuba trips.
Don't Miss in Koh Samui
Grandfather Rock and Grandmother Rock: These rocks are named for their resemblance to certain -- ahem -- anatomical parts. They're located at the far southern end of Lamai Beach. You can see them from shore or on a tour boat. We all have friends who will appreciate a postcard with these landmarks.
Na Muang Falls: There are several waterfalls on the island's more mountainous interior, including this pair of falls, which are the island's tallest and an easy taxi trip from the port. The water cascades over purple rocks, with the first falls easily accessible from the road and the second reachable by hiking or a lift on an elephant. There are also food stalls along the entrance walkway.
Wat Phra Yai: This temple and its 79-foot-tall golden Buddha statue offer good views of the northern coast and open water beyond -- if you're willing to climb an impressive flight of 72 steps. There are shopping stalls at ground level with clothing and crafts, plus carts selling tasty Samui crepes, which are worth ordering just to watch the show as they're made.
Wat Plai Laem: Not far from Wat Phra Yai, this temple is home to an 18-armed Buddha and voracious fish in the surrounding lake. (Buddhists consider it an act of merit to feed them; food is for sale.
Wat Khunaram: Creepy but popular, the mummified monk at this temple is sitting in the lotus position, exactly as he was when he died. He's in a glass case to the right as you enter.
Ang Thong National Marine Park: Snorkelers can enjoy a trip to this park with a company such as 100 Degrees East or In Sea Speedboat. The trip is best arranged in advance, and to maximize your time, be sure transport is by speedboat. It's a popular area, so it can be crowded during some times of the year. Scuba and kayaking can also be arranged.
Animal Attractions: If temples and scenery aren't your thing, you can take in attractions including the Samui Monkey Theater, Samui Snake Farm, Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo, or Samui Butterfly Garden, depending on which critters appeal to you.
Spa: Spa options abound on Samui. Go for a traditional Thai massage (think of it as a combo of pressure points, physical therapy and wrestling). Plenty of basic massage shops line the streets in Nathon ($7 to $10 for a massage), or for a more upscale option, book at seaside Ban Sabai (59 Moo 4, Bohut) or Tamarind Springs Forest Spa (205/7 Thong Takian). If you're up for something really different, head to a fish spa, where little finned friends nibble the dead skin off of your feet or entire body -- not for the ticklish! Try Dr. Fish (200/16 Moo 2 Chaweng Beach Road, Tambon Bophut, opposite Top's Market and Al's Resort)
Cooking Classes: Take a lunchtime Thai cooking class at highly regarded Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts (46/6 Moo 3, Chaweng Beach). The three-hour class includes at least three dishes with a different Thai curry prepared each day. Another option is Smiley Cook (25/125 Moo 6, Chaweng), which offers two-hour cooking classes in small groups of just four or five people, and includes a local market tour and four dishes.
Golf: Golfers can swing some clubs at several locations on Koh Samui. Online reservations for the top two courses can be made via Samui Golf.