That Is Where We Started as Digital Nomads
We love this island, and this was the first Asian island we've ever visited (it was in 2014).
The second time we arrived there, it felt like second home. Since everything was so familiar to us and we lived there for 3 months previous time we came to Thailand. But something has changed on the island for these 3 years. It wasn’t that clean and became more touristy.
In general, the island has a village vibe. You can find there a lot of local food cafes that look very basic, watch a daily life of Thai people, hear not western but local music etc.
Along with this, they have an area that called Chaweng. It’s close to the airport, has a lot of hotels, the biggest shopping mall on the island and a lot of western food options. It’s a little bit hectic due to lots of tourists and vendors. So definitely not the place to chill out or do some work in a quiet atmosphere.
We stayed at Lamai area and the overall experience was good. It’s a second developed area on the island with lots of cafes and hotels, shopping mall and walking street each weekend.
It’s not the most comfortable place to do some work. Cafes mostly oriented on tourists and it’s hard to find a good WiFi or quiet place with A/C. Not much of coffee shops.
However, it’s a good place to explore different beaches, go by picturesque road in the mountains in the middle of the island. Visit the Paradise Park, waterfalls, secluded beaches on the south of the island or go to the national park that consists of several small islands with beautiful color water and almost untouched nature.
The island has an airport, and it takes an hour to go there from Bangkok. It’s the closest airport if you want to go to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao islands. The ferry to Ko Phangan is close to the airport.
The best way to explore and commute is to rent a scooter.
Alternatively, you can catch songtaew (tuk-tuk). It looks like a red truck. They go around the islands but, they’re trying to be expensive. Especially if you want to go to an opposite side of the island. Every time you need to negotiate the price and usually driver can ask 3 times more than it actually costs.
The island itself is not really walkable. You can actually go by the side of a road and traffic are not that hectic as let’s say in Bali, but still going by bike is better, but make sure that you’re confident to drive on Thai roads.
There are several nuances. Don’t try to mimic locals. Often they behave weird and can turn on your lane without lights or even making sure that it’s free. But that’s actually ok. Since most of them didn’t learn driving and do it from their understanding and experience. Sometimes they drive like crazy. Especially teenagers. They usually don’t use helmets and go like 60 km/h or more where everyone else goes 40 km/h.
To avoid any accidents try to go with a comfortable speed for you. So you can notice everything that is important. Wear helmet just for any case. Keep left if someone behind you is going faster. It’s also useful in places with many turns and narrow road. Since often Thai people can overtake even on turns.
In general, it’s not really a crazy traffic on Koh Samui, but this kind of tips can make you calmer. I’m talking from my experience.
Using scooters is a good idea. It’s the cheapest way to explore anything not only on the island but many places in Southeast Asia. And it’s really easy to learn driving it. Also, you can be very limited if you plan using only taxis or even if you hire a private driver. It’s a bit safer to rent a car, but difficult to drive it on narrow Asian roads.
We liked Koh Samui because of its level of development. It has several shopping malls. Not huge once’s but you can find there almost everything you need, even go to the cinema.
One other good thing about this island is that you can find different beaches on it. Maenam long beach with yellow sand and deep water, Crystal Bay with white sand, rocks and turquoise water, Chaweng long beach with lots of bars, pools, parties, some secluded and almost empty beaches on the south of the island. You can find a little bit diverse nature in different parts of the island.