Koh Samui is the Thailand from those travel brochures, famed for white sandy beaches lined with palm trees, set between jungle-covered mountains and the crisp blue ocean.
It is a relatively quiet island, and is not a party destination like Phuket, Pattaya or Koh Phi Phi. Gay Koh Samui is more laid back and relaxed, with only a couple of low-key gay bars and some mixed clubs. Koh Samui is a great island to enjoy tropical paradise, amazing beaches, and luxury hotels.
Life on the island is spread around the coastline, with the busiest area surrounding Chaweng beach. This is the largest town on Koh Samui, which spreads up around one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. Chaweng has the largest choice of hotels, nightlife, restaurants, and shops suiting all budgets and tastes. All of the limited Gay Koh Samui attractions are located around Chaweng beach.
In terms of public tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, Thailand is one of the most welcoming countries across Asia. Koh Samui is essentially an island-wide tourist resort, so gay couples should not encounter any issues.
As a whole, Thai people value discretion and non-confrontation, so no one should give you any hassle for being seen together. That said, public displays of affection – both straight and gay – are frowned upon.
Male and female same-sex activity is legal in Thailand however gay marriage is not legal yet. Bangkok Post reports that “…while Thailand is viewed as a tourist haven for same-sex couples, the reality for locals is that the law, and often public sentiment, is not so liberal.” LGBT residents of Thailand and Bangkok are not offered the equal legal protections offered to non-LGBT (straight) people.
Getting an HIV test in Koh Samui is not as easy as in bigger urban hubs like Bangkok and Phuket, but is still quite straightforward. You will have to go to one of the five hospitals on the island, all of which are used to receiving tourists.
Private Bangkok Samui Hospital is considered the best of the lot, although it might be slightly more expensive. The public Samui Hospital in Na Thon is a cheaper option and holds an STD clinic on Thursdays 13:00 – 16:00.
Thailand has one of the highest prevalences of HIV in the Asia and Pacific region, and almost 50% of all new HIV infections are amongst gay or bisexual men, male sex workers, and transgender people. Approximately 9% of men who have sex with men in Thailand have HIV. Koh Samui is not particularly known for HIV incidence, but you should still take care to practice safe sex in all your encounters on the island.
Koh Samui is deceptively large, with plenty of beach towns dotted throughout its coastline. However, most tourists that come to the island stay in Chaweng, where most of the nightlife and entertainment is.
There is no such thing as a non-gorgeous beach on Koh Samui, so your choice of where to stay will depend on how loud and rowdy you want to get.
Chaweng – The main tourist hub of Koh Samui, home to the island’s excellent nightlife, shopping, and activities. Despite being the busiest beach on the island, it remains a stunning one. This is the best place for couples and young travelers looking for fun and excitement. There is a good range of accommodation to suit all budgets, from backpacker hostels to luxury resorts. Head to South Chaweng for a slightly more relaxed atmosphere that is still close enough to the action.
Lamai – Lamai was the original Koh Samui destination before the development of Chaweng, and it remains a lively beach town with great dining, shopping, and nightlife. It is slightly smaller than Chaweng meaning it is quieter and less hectic.
Hat Bang Rak – Hat Bang Rak is more commonly known as Big Buddha Beach, due to a particularly huge golden Buddha statue nearby. It is conveniently close to the airport and ferry port, and popular with budget backpackers and mid-range families alike. There is some nightlife on Big Buddha Beach itself, but it is quiet and family-friendly. Chaweng beach is a 30-minute drive away, you can stay here and venture out to Chaweng at night to get your dose of gay Samui nightlife.
Bo Phut – Known as the Fisherman’s Village, Bo Phut is a charming blend of old traditional Thai architecture and gleaming modern resorts. It is a family-friendly destination, preferred by affluent tourists. There is a great range of restaurant and bar options, but the town is overall pretty quiet at night.
Mae Nam – This town on the north of the island brings together budget-conscious backpackers and luxury resort travelers who are looking for a quiet beach and some downtime. There is a fun, young atmosphere, but the nightlife is essentially non-existent.
Na Thon – Most tourists land on the ferry at Na Thon and then promptly head to the eastern coast for the popular resort towns. However, if you have the time, Na Thon is a lovely slice of genuine Thai life in Koh Samui. Visit on a Saturday evening when the seafront promenade becomes a market street lined with delicious seafood. It is also a good place to spend a night if you have an early ferry in the morning.
Samui International Airport – Koh Samui has its own rather beautiful airport, with flower beds lining the runway and a thatched roof in the luggage hall.
The airport is owned and run by Bangkok Airways, so the airline runs most of the flights. Tickets get booked early and can become pricey. To reach your hotel, you can either hire a private taxi (Airport – Chaweng: 500B) or a shared minivan (Airport – Chaweng: 130B). The minivan will have to wait to fill up before leaving, so go for the taxi if you are in a rush.
Ferry – Ferry services to Don Sak pier on the mainland, Koh Tao, and Koh Pha Ngan abound. For travel to Koh Samui, the cheapest option is to take a bus or train to Surat Thani and take the ferry from Don Sak. Joint tickets are available easily from any hostel or travel agency in Bangkok, especially on Khao San Road.
Taxis – There are plenty of taxis on the island, and most do have a meter, but drivers are reluctant to use it. Instead, most drivers will offer a flat rate for popular destinations: you are looking at 300B-500B to cross the island.
Songthaew – Songthaews, or sorng-taa-ou, are a familiar sight throughout Thailand’s islands. Somewhere between a bus and a tuk-tuk, they are cheaper than a taxi but can be relatively cramped and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, they are beloved by tourists and a good place to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. A fleet of songthaew departs to all the beaches around the island from the pier at Na Thom regularly throughout the day: destinations are marked on the side of the vehicle, and you should expect to pay 80 – 100B to get to Chaweng or Lamai on the opposite side of the island.
Motorbike Rental – Renting a motorbike is a rite of passage of sorts for tourists in Thailand. It is reasonably cheap – about 200B in Koh Samui – and allows for far greater flexibility and independence. However, it is worth noting that Thailand has some infamously dangerous roads and infamously reckless drivers. Accidents are common and rental does not tend to include insurance. Make sure to wear a helmet, for basic safety but also because you may be fined 500B if you don’t. Also, this should go without saying, but do not rent a motorbike if you have never driven one before. Yes, people do it all the time, and yes some rental companies will turn a blind eye, but it is illegal and not a particularly smart move.
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