Osaka (KIX) to Ko Samui (USM)
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The idyllic island of Koh Samui is a perennial traveller’s favourite thanks to its chic resorts, glorious spas and paradise beaches. With watersports and incredible beaches aplenty, most travellers find little reason to leave its golden sands. Those who do swap their flip-flops for hiking boots will be rewarded with an unspoiled jungle-covered mountain interior and hidden-away Buddhist temples.
Driving anywhere on Koh Samui will only take a couple of hours. Songthaews (converted pick-up trucks that function as buses) run between beaches during the day, while motorcycle taxis and regular taxis will chauffer you around at your will. If you want to avoid fare bargaining, rent a motorcycle or bike from any resort.
The action on the island centres around Chaweng Beach on the northeast coast. When the sun shines, the glinting sands fill with sunbathers and touts and the waters become busy with jet-skis and boats. When sunset comes, the beach bars are soon swarmed by thirsty revellers. The further south you go, the more likely you are to escape the crowds.
Samui has several temples. Among the most famous of them is Wat Khunaram in the southeast, which holds the mummified remains of a monk sporting sunglasses. Wat Phra Yai at the northern end of the island is another popular spot with a 15m-tall sitting golden Buddha.
For more active pursuits, fly through the tropical treetops on zip lines, hike to waterfalls and wander around the scattered statues of deities at the hilltop Secret Buddha Garden. Near Lamai Beach you’ll find the Hin Ta (grandfather) and Hin Yai (grandmother) rock formations, whose resemblance to genitalia lures tittering tourists eager for photo opportunities.
The nearby Ang Thong Marine Park, the 42-island archipelago that inspired The Beach, is a dreamy day-trip destination. Snorkellers, meanwhile, will enjoy the creature-filled coral off Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
After a few days spent soaking up the sand and sipping cocktails, your body might be calling for a little exercise. Since you’re in Thailand, do it the Thai way and sign up for a Muay Thai boxing lesson. If you’re not in the mood for pulling punches, watch professionals do it instead at Chaweng Boxing Stadium.
With its narrow streets, red lanterns and Chinese shop houses, the beachfront village of Bophut on the northern coast proudly displays its Hainan heritage. It’s at its liveliest on Fridays when the roads close to traffic and a market sprawls across its streets.
Given its relatively small size, Samui’s dining scene is pretty diverse, ranging from street stalls to casual sit-down shacks to exclusive fine-dining establishments. For fresh and affordable shellfish, such as lobsters, prawns and crabs, head to the Fisherman’s Village in Bophut. The weekly market here is also a good spot to try fresh-off-the-grill squid and corn on the cobs. Elsewhere, the island’s resort areas brim with vendors hawking coconut juice, ice cream and some of the sweetest, juiciest mangoes on this planet. Inland, the Magic Alambic distillery offers tastings of their island-brewed rums.