Ko Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, lies in the Gulf of Thailand off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus. It’s known for its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves and dense, mountainous rainforest, plus luxury resorts and posh spas. The landmark 12m-tall golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yai Temple is located on a tiny island connected to Ko Samui by a causeway.
The popular beaches of Chaweng and Lamai, on the east coast, have lounge chairs and strolling vendors, while the towns around them are the island’s party centers, packed with pubs, go-go bars and nightclubs. On the north side is the more laid-back village of Bo Phut, which features former Chinese shophouses converted to stylish restaurants, cafes and boutique hotels, as well as a night market selling street food, clothing and souvenirs. Nearby lies tranquil Maenam Beach, while the old capital Nathon lies on the west coast. Day trips to the limestone-cliff islets of Ang Thong Marine National Park offer snorkeling and diving.