by Jennifer Miller
Any trip to Thailand should include some time spent at one of the country's incredible beaches, which are known for their magazine-worthy shorelines packing fine white sand, cerulean water and luscious palm trees. Thailand's beaches are an ideal escape from the heat and bustle of Bangkok, offering quiet havens and cafes cooking fresh Pad Thai just an hour outside of the capital city.
But many people end up gravitating toward the popular island of Phuket, which is not only overly crowded, but also has the potential for heavy spring and summer rains. Instead of following the masses, head to the sandy shores of Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, which offers a variety of relaxing beaches for any budget. To help navigate the small island's major beaches, below is an in-depth look at the sands comprising this picturesque holiday destination.
Marvelous white sand, stunning blue water and $8 massages are at the heart of Chaweng Beach on the northeastern part of the island. But as Samui's busiest town, Chaweng is also home to a pulsating nightlife and seemingly non-stop dance music, which may be bothersome if you're not there for the party.
Chaweng's northern tip is the quietest area to stay in (although the bass never entirely disappears), and is less commercial than the main part of town. The Chaweng Regent Beach Resort is decidedly one of the more relaxing locales, and a seawall prevents waves from reaching the shore adding to the mellow atmosphere.
Choeng Mon Beach
A small crescent-shaped beach at the island’s northwestern tip, Choeng Mon’s cove-like geography makes it feel a little like a lakeside retreat. The sand is second to Chaweng’s; much of it is fine, white and dotted with marine plants that have washed ashore. Hotels span the upscale to the budget-minded, and many of them offer on-the-beach dining options for visitors as well as guests.
The adjacent small town has a distinctly non-touristy feel, with locally owned restaurants and small shops. This is the best bet for peace and quiet and generally terrific sand, but not for waves and open ocean. And with many of the beach restaurants offering two-for-one happy hour cocktails, unwinding is the ultimate activity at Choeng Mon Beach.
Located west of Choeng Mon, the sand at Bophut Beach can be a little rocky, requiring a few more (million) years of wave-wear to suit human feet. The ocean view is full of boats—sail and speed—that ferry visitors to snorkeling and diving trips in nearby Ang Thong Marine Park and Koh Tao island. The dive culture means small guesthouses rather than large resorts, and has helped preserve the charming fisherman’s village bordering the sand.
The village features preserved 19th century wooden shop houses, water-view bars and small boutiques. Friday nights feature a “Walking Street” in which merchants line up outside to sell delicious—and scrumptiously cheap—street food. The neighboring town of Mae Nam is less crowded and has a locals-oriented walking street while the sand there is considerably softer, though less fine than at Chaweng.
Located to the south of Chaweng, Lamai Beach is the second largest beach on Ko Samui, featuring a large selection of big resorts and smaller hotels. Both the beach and the adjacent town are less frantic than Chaweng and the blue ocean rolls into the shore in unimpeded glory. The sand is less smooth, however. Whiter than Bophut and less pebbly, it’s still sometimes difficult to walk on for long stretches.
At the tippy-tail end of Lamai, there are two well-known landmarks; "grandfather" and "grandmother" rocks, which bear a striking resemblance to male and female genitalia. (If you’re brave, you can send a post card of the formations home to your grandparents.) After the requisite photo opportunity, head down the road past the end of the beach to Sabeinglae, a terrific seafood restaurant that cooks up fresh-caught fish for tourists and locals alike.
Images by Jennifer Miller for Cool Hunting