Koh Samui Thailand – The Ultimate Tropical Island Paradise On A Shoestring

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by Marc Valentine

My dream of backpacking around the world became that little bit closer to reality when I stumbled upon a dreamy photo on a Travel Blog…

With a rope style hammock swinging between 2 coconut palms just metres from the oceans edge, on what looked like the perfect, deserted sandy beach.

I would often catch myself day dreaming about that photo during the day while I was at work… and it was one of the final motivators that convinced me to go online & lock in my plane tickets to Asia.

Having been to Phuket once before, we knew we loved Thailand’s coast – we just didn’t know how much we would grow to love it by the time we had left Koh Samui.

The location of that idyllic photo – was By Beach Resort on Koh Samui, Thailand. A budget beachside resort on Bang Por Beach far away from the tourist crowds & suit tailors of Chaweng beach.

We opted to take the cheaper train/ferry combo rather that flying to Koh Samui – catching an overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani (we left booking the train so late that we couldn’t get a sleeper… so spent the entire 11 hour journey sitting upright – doooh!) and then the Ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Samui – approx 2hrs.

My very first memory of Koh Samui is of stepping out on to the top deck of the ferry as we approached the island, marvelling at the clear blue water that lapped at the seemingly endless sandy beaches dotted with coconut palms… and mouthing the first two words that came to my mind… F*@ing Paradise.

When we finally arrived at By Beach Resort – after handing my phone over to the taxi driver so he could call for directions (it’s such a well kept secret most of the taxi drivers don’t even know about it) we were warmly met by Jeff one of the managers, and immediately I knew Koh Samui was going to be all I had imagined + more.


Koh Samui - Thailand a Tropical Island Paradise

What We Woke Up To Everyday On Koh Samui

Our new home for the next few weeks was a basic bungalow style room with our own ensuite & a small timber deck attached to the front with a few bamboo chairs & an uninterrupted view of the beach… it was just how I had imagined it.

Our simple bungalow couldn’t have been more than 20 metres from the waters edge & no more than 15 steps to the tiny bamboo bar that overlooks the practically deserted beach.

The rest of our first day in Samui was spent lounging on the beach & around the resort in bathers – taking onboard the fact that we were finally there, in Koh Samui… at the exact location where that dreamy photo – that was partially responsible for our being there in the first place was taken.

And that we were sleeping practically on the waters edge, on a beautiful tropical island… all this for around $21 a night.

The next few days were pretty lazy. My day beginning with an early morning swim around 6 – 7am… ritually climbing out of bed & wadding straight out into the Gulf of Thailand, before taking my morning shower outside under the cold water shower midway down the path that leads from our bungalow down to the sandy beach.


Koh Samui Sunset On The Beach

Occasionally We Had To Share the Beach With A Water Buffalo

Bang Po beach is so low in tourist numbers, in the early morning a local farmer briskly exercises his pony down the beach flashing the type of big grin that only a person who’s lived his entire life on a tropical Island can smile as he passes By Beach Resort.

Its not uncommon to see the sillouhette of a huge water buffalo appear… bearing down the beach towards you, dragging a man behing him on a flimsy lead while enjoying a cold Chang beer at the makeshift bar as the sun begins to set on another magical day on the Island.

Hiting Koh Samui’s Roads On Two Wheels

Jeff organised us a scooter for the day after our arrival so we could explore Koh Samui a little more. (taxi’s are relatively expensive on the island compared to other parts of Thailand so scooter is the preferred method of transport).

We’ve ridden scooters before in Asia so were fairly confident on the roads, & find it’s by far the best way to get around… with the flexibility of exploring at your own pace plus you can wander off in any direction, up any road you wish which can lead you to some cool places you would never find if you were travelling by taxi or bus.


Getting Around Koh Samui by Scooter

Exploring Koh Samui On Two Wheels

The roads can be pretty rough at times on Samui, but most of the island is dead easy to navigate with a big ring-road that you can follow around the entire Island… its fairly hard to get lost.

Slap plenty of sunscreen on your shoulders & thighs when spending the day exploring the island via scooter – the sun beats down pretty hard when it peaks during the day.

After a hectic day of touring the Island and battling the traffic… it’s a welcome relief rolling down the long driveway that leads back to our little slice of paradise, By Beach Resort. Finally a break from the traffic noise & street hustlers.

Fisherman’s Village – The Best Place To Go When You Don’t Know Where To Go

A cute little town on the waters edge with a cluster of bars, restaurants and a few holiday apartments – it’s a reasonably quiet place, just busy enough to keep you interested.

One of those places you find yourself back at time and again for dinner & the odd cocktail when you’re having a hard time deciding on somewhere particular to go.


View of Koh Pha-ngan From Koh Samui

View of Koh Pha-ngan From Fishermans Village

If you care to look, you can find the odd second story bar that offers unrivalled views of Koh Phangan (which often looks like only a brief swim from Koh Samui) and on a really fine day Koh Tao.

Koh Samui’s Houdini Night Markets… There One Night Gone The Next

Pretty much every Asian city we’ve ever visited has some kind of night market.  Koh Samui’s markets are a little different though, as they actually move around the island.

Every night when the markets close, the vendors pack up their t-shirts, handbags, wine bottles & trinkets… along with their racks, display stands & cabinets… only to reassemble it all the next night in a new location on the island.

We visited when they were closest to our hotel, at a little spot by the water near Fisherman’s Village. The markets are heavily geared around food so go with an empty stomach and don’t make dinner plans that night.

We strolled between stalls snacking on freshly cooked Shish-kebabs & BBQ’d corn on the cob. But there’s all kinds of local & international delicacies on offer… from local Pad Thai Noodles to Aussie Meat Pies and everything in between.

Chaweng Beach Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be…

I’ve always found it strange hearing travellers say they didn’t like somewhere because “there’s too many tourists” or “it’s too touristy” – I mean aren’t you a tourist? You are touring around someone else’s country…

After experiencing the contrast between Bang Por beach where we had made our home on Koh Samui & Chaweng Beach where most of the tourists flock – I finally understand what those people were trying to say.


The View of By Beach Resort from Bang Por Beach

The By Beach Resorts Bar is Practically in the Water

All I can say is that if you’re after a 5 star resort style holiday… where you can get waited on, while siting on your ass on the beach all day – you might be better off going to Phuket.

Chaweng beach is overcrowded & filthy (we had to literally step over garbage the entire length of the beach the one and only time we visited).

Could We Have Found The Best Green Curry in Thailand…?

The best kept secret on Koh Samui next to By Beach Resort… with hands down the best Green Chicken Curry we had in Thailand. We ate here at least once – sometimes twice pretty much everyday.

It sits on the 4169 Ring Rd – next to by Beach Resort’s entrance, if you’re on the island, stop in here one night for dinner – you won’t be disappointed.  It’s an unmissable family run operation with mum cooking, dad taking orders and kid’s delivering meals.

Upsetting The Neighbours – A Send Off With A Bang 

Our beach was so deserted, at times you felt it was yours alone and no one else had any right to enjoy a stroll along the waters edge – the perfect place for a fireworks show.

It just so happens, I’d spied a fireworks shop a few hundred metres away from By Beach on our first day – so I knew a trip to the store was imminent. What can I say, the 9 year old inside me was screaming to be let out for a play.

Anna doesn’t share my infatuation with fireworks so after repeated attempts to get her blessing failed… she invariably awoke from an afternoon siesta one day to find me wide-eyed & fondling a large bag of Roman Candles & other various sky rockets on the floor of our room.

What? Ive already bought them… They’ll never give us our money back – so we may as well use them 🙂

On our last night, as fate would have it another guest was also keen to launch his stash of rockets before flying home the next day…

We was about to have ourselves a good ole fashioned fireworks show down!

As we ate dinner – he went about preparing his bevy of fireworks, placing an absolute monster of a terracotta centre piece precisely in the centre of the smaller rockets (& I ain’t even gonna lie it was intimidating)

His show went off without a hitch and suitably impressed the small number of people dining at By Beach Resorts small outdoor restaurant that night – and left me with the feeling that I may have been outgunned.

After dinner it was my turn… casually strolling down to the sand from my bungalow with my own arsenal of rockets, I recruited a friend to help with the task of lighting the rockets so they would go off in perfectly timed sequence…

1… 2… 3

Hiiisssssssss…… BOOOOM!!

The show was so impressive I genuinely received a round of applause from the patrons of the restaurant who were grateful for the entertainment… not even the blasting I received from a guest of the neighbouring resort about the noise could bring me down from the high of that night.

Marc – 1. 

Other dude – 0. On ya bike son!

A BBQ On The Beach For Our Final night

The night before leaving Koh Samui we decided a beachside BBQ was a perfectly fitting way to say good bye to our beloved beach.

Jeff confirmed it could be done with the usual “of course – no problem” and vowed to take care of the BBQ side of things, so we headed off on our scooters bound for the food markets to pick up some fresh seafood.


Fresh Seafood Market Koh Samui Thailand

Food Market Near The Ferry Terminal On Koh Samui

If you’ve never been to a fresh food market in Asia, let’s just say they’re not exactly the super markets of the modern world.

With zero refrigeration and little more than a few kittens for pest control… everything is iced, sliced and diced in spectacular fashion as you watch from the isles. There’s no getting away from the fact that what your’e buying for your kitchen table was a living breathing animal of some description not too long ago.

Non the less, we bought ourselves a whole fish and some prawns and made tracks back to our beachside retreat – thoughts swirling through our heads of becoming vegetarians.

It was the perfect night for a BBQ… eating freshly cooked seafood, sipping Chang beer and listening to the waves crash on the beach.

Getting To and From Koh Samui By VIP Bus

After a week or so at By Beach, we pretty much gave up trying to figure anything out for ourselves, we’d learned to save the effort & seek out Jeff or one of the other managers at By Beach to get their advice about all matters Thailand.

Jeff mentioned the VIP bus service was how he gets to Bangkok when he travels North. A lot of people recommend the sleeper train from Surat Thani – but after having done both, we can’t recommend the Vip Bus Service highly enough.

Each bus is a standard size coach but with only 24 seats as opposed to the 50 something crammed into a typical bus.

Your seat lays right back to almost horizontal & you get a ton of leg room so you can spread right out.

After adding up all the time it takes to travel to & from ferry terminals & train stations + time spent waiting for trains to depart & the fact that you need taxis or buses in between all the stops & starts… we found the VIP bus to be faster and far more convenient than the train.

The bus actually drives right inside the ferry at the ferry terminal at Koh Samui, then off onto the mainland at the other end where it continues on to the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok.

The one criticism is that the bus pretty much turns into a ice locker after a few hours of the air-con blasting. I was dressed for Thailand – in shorts and a thin t-shirt so I struggled to keep warm with the single rug they provide on the bus.

The VIP bus costs around 900 Baht

Intending to spend 3 – 4 weeks in Koh Samui, some travelling buddies we met on a cruise in Croatia a few years back, were in Samui the same dates as us… so we decided to join them on a self guided tour through Vietnam –  then continue on alone through Cambodia and head back to Koh Samui to spend some more time at By Beach before leaving Asia.

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