Thailand by sea: cruising to Koh Samui

You’ll be able to cruise to the beautiful Thai island of Koh Samui when it becomes a brand-new destination for Carnival in 2018. Here, the best of the island…

Koh Samui is a tale of two islands. On the surface, Thailand’s most established holiday spot is glamorous and gleaming, a mecca for luxury lovers and hedonists with its immaculate five-star resorts, lavish spas, boisterous beach parties and hip nightlife.

On the flip side, there’s the local Thai life of family-run cafes, seafood beach barbecue joints, Buddhist temples and yes, even some secluded and quiet stretches of beach.

To get the most out of your time in Koh Samui, decide which face you want to see and go for it. Or combine the two – that’s easy to do in this compact holiday enclave. It may be 247 square kilometres but there’s plenty to see within striking distance of your ship.

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Cruise ship visitors arrive by tender at Nathon, the main town. There are restaurants on the waterfront and good souvenir shops along the main road. There are plenty of taxis here, but you’re best to take the local form of transport, the songthaew, a pick-up-truck that acts as a bus. You may also wish to rent a motorbike or hire a driver, which will make it easier to see less-populated parts of the island. Nothing much on the island is more than about 30 minutes from Nathon.
Chaweng is about 20 kilometres from Nathon, and is cited as Samui’s most popular beach for good reason. Soft white sand, shaggy palm trees and crystalline water make for a beautiful tropical photo. Head here for the postcard-perfect Samui experience.

If you want to spend your time in Chaweng shopping for Thailand’s famous bargains, visit Central Festival Samui, a funky open-air atrium full of shops and restaurants. It’s divided into four sections – Chaweng Port, Bird Cage, Fisherman Village and Beach Town Market. Browse for handcrafted silver jewellery and familiar clothing labels such as Adidas, Rip Curl and Uniqlo.

But for true bargains and bargaining, Chaweng Walking Street Market is the place to haggle for souvenirs, bags, T-shirts, sunglasses, watches, cheap and cheery sundresses, shorts, bikinis and jeans. There’s some good street-food options and drink stands when you need to recover from all that negotiating.

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Not far from Chaweng, find Big Buddha Beach, named for the 12-metre-high golden deity that looks out from a hill on a small connecting island. The beach itself is quieter than Chaweng, has lots of eateries and some good shops.

For more relaxing beach time, head a little further east to Choeng Mon Beach, a series of white sandy bays backed by five-star resorts. To taste fantastic traditional Thai food here, The Mother Restaurant is highly recommended. Patrons rave about the lobster and tiger prawns, so look out for daily seafood specials on the blackboards. Wash it all down with a fresh coconut juice – Samui is renowned for its delicious coconuts.

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Other recommended beachfront eateries include Think & Retro Cafe, a few kilometres south of Nathon. The restaurant is constructed of colourful shipping containers and painted car tyres, and serves a mix of Thai and western food.

Further south, Krua Chao Baan at Lamai Beach serves a rainbow of southern Thai flavours, such as red snapper with chilli and mango salad. The restaurant also offers use of its kayaks for free.

You’ll find one of Koh Samui’s most-loved restaurants, Chez Francois, on the north of the island in Fisherman’s Village. It has a daily changing menu depending on what’s at the market and you’ll need to book ahead.

For more active pursuits, there are plenty of half-day and shorter snorkelling trips available from Koh Samui, to match whatever time you can spare to soak up the marine wonders.