Whether living in or traveling to Asia, Koh Samui is a hop, skip, and a jump from local tourist hubs Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Krabi, and with direct flights from international cities including Singapore, Hong Kong, Chongqing, and Chengdu.
Fondly referred to by the locals as Coconut Island, Koh Samui is the ultimate destination for families with children of all ages. Located in Southern Thailand in a beautiful enclave of the Gulf of Thailand, the island boasts white sandy palm-lined beaches, shallow shores, desirable food, and smiley hospitality.
Holidaying with kids is year-round on the perfectly formed tropical island. Your little ones will have bronzed skin and enjoy almost daily sunshine, breathtakingly clear azure skies, plenty of swimming pools, and the gentle lapping of warm water on the soft sandy shores that envelop the island.
Thailand is world-renowned as the land of smiles, its creative and exotic flair, attention to detail, and exemplary service offerings. Not only does Koh Samui present the country’s largest concentration of internationally-branded luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Conrad and Intercontinental, but it also enjoys a myriad of exclusive boutique-centric hotels and expansive private villas with up to 26 bedrooms.
You’ll know that Thailand is famed for its extraordinary cuisine; there is a slew of cooking classes available on the island, though none is better than Yings Cooking Home in the south. Private yachts and rickety long-tail boats are always on hand for watery quests, so you can explore tiny islands, watch pink dolphins play, or laze in remote boat-only bays.
After an almost two-year break without tourists, Koh Samui is more beautiful and enchanting than ever. The island has seen nature bloom in abundance. Turtles are returning in their droves to nest on their once-busy beaches, rare mammals are peeking out their snuffly noses to re-explore their native jungle, and the skies are full of magical birdsong.
Koh Samui is synonymous with tropical luxury and is easy to navigate; it takes just an hour to circumnavigate the freshly-laid beach ring road. The island has a wide variety of delicious restaurants, from street-side Thai to freshly imported oysters in a wine bar or lavish lobster in a luxury hotel. There is something for every tastebud and pocket.
Koh Samui, CSM, has what’s known as the ‘prettiest’ airport in the world, accessible from various domestic or international airports, with Bangkok Air as the carrier. There are 16 flights from Bangkok daily, so you can connect easily if traveling from afar.
If you are seeking a budget alternative, you can fly into Surat Thani International Airport, URT, on mainland Surat Thani, a short drive and a ferry journey away from Koh Samui. It takes just over an hour to drive from the airport to Donsak, where you'll take either a Lomprayah high-speed or a Seatran ferry into Lipa Noi in the south or Nathon in the southwest of the island. It adds a little time to your journey, but the sea-crossing is breathtaking. The kids will love to watch Koh Samui appear on the horizon as it draws near.
However you arrive, there are always plenty of taxis around to get you to your destination, or your hotel will be able to arrange a transfer for you.
With hotels peppered all over the island, you can choose the more chilled-out vibes and spectacular sunsets on the quieter southern and western coasts of the island or head north to Fisherman's Village and Bophut if you'd like to be in the heart of all of the action, a busier atmosphere and close to many of the island's favorite restaurants and bars.
You can check out the following guides;
Eponymously named after the sleepy fisherman’s village in Bophut, Fisherman’s Village hosts a fun walking street market each Friday evening between 5 pm and 11 pm. Fisherman's Village lines part of Bophut Beach with rustic-style buildings housing boutique stores, trendy restaurants, a few private villas, and a smattering of small hotels.
Seemingly endless market stalls cram the narrow beach road and the adjoining streets with delicious food offerings, trinkets, and drinks. The heady sound of chatter, tinny Thai music, live street performances, and mouthwatering aromas will make this an experience for your kids to remember. You’ll find everything from 100-baht tee shirts, cheap replica sunglasses, handbags, watches, and beer cozies, to sarongs and beach cover-ups.
The food choices are endless, with giant pans of spicy, freshly cooked curries, soups, crispy crickets, grilled freshly caught squid, deliciously sweet deep-fried delights, ultra-sweet Thai coffee, bubble tea, heady cocktails, and homemade ice cream. Your senses will be in overdrive alongside your sense of fun!
Fisherman’s Village, https://goo.gl/maps/HoQPWz1QjyeBM2Xw5
Go to the market nice and early so you can head to Blind Tiger for dinner. They fire up a weekly barbeque in the garden from 5 pm and serve pitchers of very moreish cocktails.
The contemporary restaurant has a great atmosphere serving some of the finest Thai fusion dishes on the island, paired immaculately with hand-picked imported wines. Little Steps loved the lamb Khao Soi, a delicious take on the traditional northern Thailand dish with soft noodles, a rich coconut broth, and slow-cooked lamb topped with crispy noodles. You'll add chili, sliced shallots, pickled greens and nam prik pao, a sweet and spicy sauce, and finally, a squeeze of lime.
Their resident DJ, Selboir, is on the decks from 7 pm with some of your favorite disco music and other 'dance-the-night-away' tunes. They have happy hours every day from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm. Blind Tiger is popular with the local ex-pat community, so book beforehand.
Samui Elephant Haven is Koh Samui's most ethical elephant sanctuary, having rescued over 15 elephants from a life of slavery, trekking with tourists, logging, and performing in circuses. You'll likely meet Maew Sariya, the sanctuary's founder, who had a dream since childhood to create an extraordinary reserve for these beautiful giants so they can roam free for the rest of their lives. The elephants have formed their own 'herd.' You'll have the opportunity to watch them interact in the Haven's beautiful grounds, express their instincts without fear, forage on native plants and play together in their custom-built and natural pools and mud pits.
Samui Elephant Haven does not offer bathing with elephants; it doesn’t allow them to play without restriction as they would in the wild, plus they love to poop in the water! Elephants eat for at least 18 hours a day; you and the kids will make the elephant's rice balls, providing additional nutrition as you feed them by hand, with a dessert of fresh bananas, watermelon, and whole coconuts. Wander through the park at the pace of the eles before having a light vegetarian lunch in their restaurant.
The Haven has a gorgeous Instagram wall, so you can take pictures for your Instagram feed! If you have questions or want to learn more about Maew's amazing work, you can chat with him or the knowledgeable guides. You'll also meet the baby elephants, the very naughty boy Haven and precious girl Luna, who were both born at the Haven. If you want to make your visit extra special, you could order an 'elephant cake,' which helps support the elephants and provide them with some of the endless food they need.
Morning tour from 9 am to 12 noon
Afternoon tour from 2 pm to 5 pm
THB 3,000 for adults, THB 1,500 for children, and complimentary for children under four. Includes a transfer from your hotel.
On your way from Samui Elephant Haven, you can make a pit stop at Hin Tai and Hin Yai, the legendary grandmother and grandfather rocks, the mummified monk at Wat Khunaram in Lamai and Na Muang waterfalls.
The Secret Buddha Garden is a bit of an enigma. Otherwise known as the Magic Buddha Garden or Tarnim Magic Garden, it’s thought that the pretty garden was created by local durian farmer Nim Thongsuk in 1976 when he retired. Nim created the garden so that others could enjoy his love of tranquility in nature and as his final resting place.
The gardens envelop a little stream and a waterfall with native indigenous trees and plants and many Buddha statues that each hold different meanings. You can explore little houses initially built for any traveling monks who needed shelter or a resting place. The houses are now weather-worn and covered in creeping plants and trees. As you walk into the garden, you’ll see two sculptures lying side-by-side, a memorial to Nim’s grandparents. Across the stream are two beautiful sculptures of Nim and his father sitting peacefully in separate enclaves.
The garden is at the top of Pom Mountain, with impressive views across the jungle scapes, seemingly bottomless valleys, and the Gulf of Thailand. For only 80 baht, you can wander around the roughly hewn grounds at your leisure or with a guide. Walk down the steps into the peaceful gardens, explore the Buddha statues, and spot tiny creatures, including frogs, turtles, other wildlife, and even a giant bird carefully hand-carved out of stone.
As you head deeper into the garden, there is an amphitheater-inspired space filled with angels and a group of musicians keeping them entertained. The drive to the Secret Buddha Garden is steep; you can take your own offroading car or join one of the safari tours. Remember to stop at the viewpoint and take in the dreamlike views across the sea to mainland Surat Thani. Surrounding the gardens are various durian farms, bamboo, coconut palms, and forests. Take your time on the drive; you'll likely stumble across nymph-like sculptures and giant fruits peppered throughout the trees.
There's very little information about this magical garden; its history has turned into myths and folkloric tales.
Little Steps Tip
Wear sensible, closed-toe shoes; the pathways are uneven and can be slippery after rain.
Secret Buddha Garden THB 80 per person.
Transportation from THB 3,500 for a half day
Secret Buddha Garden, Pom Mountain, Koh Samui, https://goo.gl/maps/NM7ivapDJiSfDhPPA
After your busy day of exploring the wilds of Samui, head to a bar for sundowner cocktails at the Intercontinental. As you weave through the breathtaking jungle in one of the hotel’s golf buggies, appreciate the almost-undeveloped south of the island with its sweeping valleys and views over the Gulf of Thailand. Upon arriving at the Airbar, you’ll be welcomed with spectacular views across the twinkling turquoise waters, the five islands, and mainland Surat Thani.
The five islands are around 5 kilometers out to sea, and the Airbar has the best view of them! Known locally as Koh Si Koh Ha, which means four islands - five islands, they are home to giant fruit bats, swifts, wild pigs, and the sea gypsies employed to protect the ‘bird’s nests’ from poachers who sell them for thousands of dollars on the black market.
Koh Taen is home to fruit bats, which, most evenings, fly to Koh Samui for their evening snacks; it’s akin to watching miniature pterodactyls flying overhead. It's fascinating to watch and still somewhat of a mystery!
Sip on the signature cocktails, such as their tried-and-tested margarita, as you watch a kaleidoscope of colors form as the sun silently dips over the horizon. The Airbar is featured in the New York Times bestseller, '1,000 Places to See Before You Die'; it's that good.
The Stoned Table is the highlight of Thong Krut, a small, sleepy fishing village on the southern coast of Koh Samui, a stone’s throw from the Airbar.
Chill out on beanbags with a freshly-made smoothie or ice-cold beer, or enjoy a family-style meal with some of your favorite Thai dishes. With a laid-back vibe, you’ll enjoy resting your tired feet and chatting about your day’s adventures. Snack on starters and watch the locals scouring the beach for clams and the fishermen setting off for a night, catching squid as the sun sets over the Gulf of Thailand.
Little Steps ate their fair share of deep-fried pork belly with crispy kaffir lime leaves, succulent chicken satay with delicious peanut sauce, and ‘go-back-for-more’ fried chicken wings. Try the traditional miang kham, made by hand-filling wild betel leaves with roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, roasted coconut, bitter unpeeled lime cubes, and tiny bird's eye chilis with a thick paste of palm sugar and tamarind sauce. Making these bite-sized parcels is an art, but it's worth the fiddle – they are delicious!
The main courses are rich with Southern Thailand dishes, including freshly caught fish, prawns, and squid prepared into salads, fragrant curries, stir-fried dishes, baked, deep-fried, or steamed. There's a great range of pizzas, including those with tasty fusion toppings, burgers, and salads for the kids.
The Stoned Table, 76 Tambon Taling Ngam, Koh Samui, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093096700442
A mere 30 kilometers from Koh Samui, Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, established in 1980, boasts over 40 islands surrounded by 102 square kilometers of crystal-clear turquoise waters fiercely protected by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty recognizing the importance of these wetlands.
Ang Thong aptly means ‘golden basin’ or ‘golden bowl’ and has fascinating topography with limestone karts that rise dramatically from the sea, shaping dramatic cliffs, bizarre rock formations, caves, hidden lagoons, and white sandy beaches that can only be explored by boat. The highlight is Koh Wua Ta Lab, with its beautiful beaches and a 400-meter trail leading to the summit of the hill in the center of the island, kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking.
Oceana is one of Koh Samui’s most highly regarded speed boat charter companies, with a fleet of well-maintained boats, friendly crews, and experienced guides. They’ll happily chat with you and the kids, imparting exciting information about the protected marine park as you travel in luxury for just over an hour. You’ll have the opportunity to swim in the Emerald Lagoon, kayak, sunbathe, or soak up the dreamlike watery landscapes surrounding you.
Lie back and enjoy speeding across the ocean in a 42-foot twin-engine catamaran as your captain takes you to unexplored beaches and sheltered coves in Ang Thong National Park. You can choose how long to explore; the private hire cost remains the same for up to 8 hours.
Little Steps recommends taking the full charter to experience the coastal cruise to the Talay Nai viewpoint, a viewpoint walk, and plenty of swimming in the calm, temperate waters. Bottled water, soft drinks, and snorkeling equipment are all included in the price, while marine park entry fees and lunch on Koh Ploy are additional.
Full-day cruise THB 34,000 for a maximum of 15 guests.
To complete your whistle-stop tour of Koh Samui after returning to your hotel to freshen up, head to Tembo, one of Little Steps Best Beach Clubs In Koh Samui. The colonial-inspired beach club that positively exudes glamour, Tembo, named after the word for elephant in Swahili, is the perfect place to relax with its trendy bar, open-air dining, and a swimming pool overlooking the beach.
It would seem remiss to forgo a Thai massage before leaving your new favorite exotic island, so book one at the Tembo Spa. Professionally trained therapists use the well-loved Thai Alodia products for their body massages and scrubs. Change into a fluffy bathrobe or sarong and enjoy a blissful foot scrub before starting your treatment.
When you are completely relaxed, find the rest of the family chilling out to Balearic beats and enjoy your last Samui dinner together. Dine on Thai-inspired dishes, sandwiches and burgers, homemade flatbreads, fresh seafood dishes, and jet-fresh oysters. Tembo chefs source ingredients from local suppliers, including daily catches from the island's fishermen. They'll take you on an exciting culinary journey that explores the delicate flavors of Thailand with bold, colorful bites. Their sommelier can recommend a fine bottle of wine to pair with your chosen dishes.
Starters include the delicious Miso Mushroom Scallops with miso-marinated king oyster mushroom served on a truffle pea puree, with confit tomatoes, and Tom Yum Goong, a traditional Thai soup with prawns, lime, lemongrass, straw mushroom, and chili, served with steamed rice. Angus Beef Carpaccio, thinly sliced Angus beef served with shitake duxelles, soy and ginger dressing, and a sticky eggplant crostini, is one of the all-time favorites for a main course. There are other dishes, including Grilled Local Fish on a tomato and white bean stew served with homemade potato wedges, or the national dish, Pad Thai with rice noodles with chicken or prawns, beansprouts, tofu, egg, peanuts, and the signature Pad Thai sauce.
Tembo has a fabulous boutique selling all sorts of beautiful home items, beachwear, and pretty treats if you want to take home a souvenir or two. The beach club resort has a couple of gorgeous seaside rooms with hand-carved beach-white furniture and silky-soft bedding set amidst the tropical gardens.