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Whether you get around Samui by foot, elephant, motorcycle or car, you will find a wealth of natural beauty and cosmopolitan luxury. The island is small enough to drive a car around in about an hour. But it is big enough to still discover new things and beautiful places even if you stay for weeks. While the most visited areas have roads lined with shops and businesses, much of the island remains covered with coconut groves, rice paddies and forest. A sense of adventure and a bit of exploratory effort will be rewarded with everything from sophisticated shops and restaurants to serene hikes, jungle drives and spectacular tropical views.
Chaweng. Chaweng is the longest beach and biggest town on Samui. There are dozens of hotels and bungalows along its fine white sand beach. You can find anything from 5-star luxury to the few budget bungalows that remain from Samui's days as a backpacker's haven. Accommodation prices are higher than elsewhere on Samui but Chaweng remains party central and has the highest density and widest selection of clubs, bars and restaurants on the island.
Lamai. Lamai is Samui's second-largest beach and some say its most beautiful. The water is excellent for swimming at the bays southern end and is studding with elegant granite boulders. Nightlife in Lamai Town tends to be of the girly bar variety, although there are a few decent expat watering holes and a couple of decent clubs. There are also some high quality out of town eating, drinking and accommodation options.
Nathon. All government offices and banks are located in Nathon and it is the primary point of connection with the mainland and the other islands. Shopping here is less expensive than in Chaweng or Lamai, and there are lots of interesting knick-knacks for sale. Most shops are on the inland road, which is one-way heading south. However, the ocean road has a number of good restaurants for breakfast or lunch, and the teak shophouse lined middle road gives a decent glimpse into Samui's local world.
Maenam. Accommodation on Maenam's long sedate beach is mainly of the cheap bungalow variety, although there are now several four and five star resorts as well. The number of good restaurants and businesses along its main road is steadily increasing. There are numerous high-quality holiday and residential home developments and a growing community of long-term visitors.
Big Buddha Beach. Its proximity to the airport makes Big Buddha very convenient if you're flying in. The resorts here tend to be well-spaced and laid-back beachside affairs attracting long and short-term guests alike. Prices remain relatively low and they're a great place for a party, as Secret Garden proves with its weekly festival. There are a growing number of fine dining options too.
Bophut. Bophut is easily the most charming village on Samui and is made up of a single strip of old Chinese shophouses, many converted into restaurants, bars, shops and guesthouses. Altogether, a great spot for a romantic beachside dinner. Both the cuisine and the architecture lend a distinctly Mediterranean feel to the village. Popular with the French for the past eight years or so, Bophut is now attracting a growing number of British tourists and bar/restaurant owners.
Hua Thanon. At the 90-degree turn just south of Lamai is the Muslim fishing village of Hua Thanon. There are a few new restaurants on the main road, but the main attraction is the artistry of the local fishermen. Their intricately painted boats dock just offshore from the thriving market. The beach is not good for swimming, but a stroll along it affords a glimpse into the real life of one of Samui's main economic activities.
Lipa Noi. Just south of Nathon is one of the best places to catch the sunset. There are a couple of good bungalows on Lipa Noi and some excellent seafood restaurants. But the real wonder of Lipa Noi is the shallow water. You can wade out for 200m and the water is still no higher than your waist. The velvety feel of the ocean bottom here attracts local children as well as visitors in the late afternoons
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Bangkok Airways Fact File: Did you Know?