Why go to Koh Samui?
With luxury resorts facing a beautiful beach, Koh Samui has a sophisticated feel
Insistent hawkers and large crowds are a drawback for many tourists
A relaxing day spent in idyllic surroundings is enhanced by inexpensive food and beachside massages
Koh Samui Cruise Port Facilities?
The port at Nathon consists of three piers, so be sure to note a landmark at the foot of your pier so you're not watching the day's final tender sail away from the wrong one. Once off the pier, you're in the center of town, with all the basic services you'll need.
There is no cruise terminal at Nathon, but as you exit the pier, the harbor road offers up a Coffee Island that will provide both caffeine and free Wi-Fi fixes. Head to the right along the harbor (Chonwithi Road) for a 7-Eleven (with a mailbox), an internet facility and an ATM; keep going for three blocks and you'll hit a beach -- though it's not the cleanest, due to all the nearby marine traffic.
If you go straight ahead from the center pier, there will be a pharmacy in the first block (left side) and a French bakery and Irish pub where the road deadends. The second street inland from the harbor has old wooden shop houses (the best ones are to the right); peek inside, and you'll see ancestral photos hanging in places of honor. The third street in from the harbor is the main commercial street, Thawi Ratchaphakdi Road, which has multiple banks, a Watson's pharmacy, restaurants, shops and Thai massage spots. There are also shops selling all sorts of Thai products, including clothing, shoes, T-shirts, woven bags and souvenirs. There's even a fascinating storefront featuring temple offerings. Going right on Thawi Ratchaphakdi Road, you'll also find a covered food market, which is most lively in the morning, and the gateway to an interesting little Hainanese temple; both are on the far side of the street.
Good to Know?
If you visit a public beach, you'll be greeted by a parade of hawkers selling food, clothing, crafts and pedicures. Most are friendly, but it can get a bit tedious. If you agree to a pedicure or foot massage from one of the roving suppliers, be absolutely certain that you set the price ahead of time and both parties are clear on the amount. There have been some reports of problems, though we didn't experience any.
Shorts and bare arms aren't considered appropriate at Thai temples, so be sure to dress conservatively, or carry a shawl to throw around your shoulders.
Don't drink the local water; ice cubes, however, are usually safe and made with purified water.
The unlabeled liquor and water bottles you see displayed for sale along the roadside aren't homemade local hooch -- they contain gasoline. It's sold that way by roadside entrepreneurs as a convenience for scooter-riders.
On Foot: All of Nathon town is walkable from the pier, but to see the island's best beaches and other attractions, you'll need transportation.
By Taxi: Taxis, van drivers and tour companies will all be waiting at the pier, clamoring for your business. Prices are negotiable, so be sure to bargain. It's also a good idea to have a short conversation with your potential driver to confirm that you can communicate. Expect to pay around $20 per person for a full car or van to tour Samui's sights for the day; drivers will charge more per person if there are just a couple of you.
By Bus: Songthaews, small open-air trucks with benches, circle the island's ring road. You can flag one and negotiate a fare, which should be 60 baht or less, depending on how far you're going.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money?
While dollars and euros are readily accepted on Koh Samui, ATMs are also plentiful. You'll find bank ATMs within easy walking distance on both of Nathon's main commercial streets, which run parallel to the shore, though there are more choices on Thawi Ratchaphakdi Road. There are additional ATMs throughout the island, located at banks and the ubiquitous 7-Elevens. Credit cards are usually accepted by larger businesses but it's a good idea to ask first. For the best conversion rate, make sure your credit card purchases are charged in baht, not converted to dollars.
Most locals who interact with tourists speak at least some English, and business signs are often in both Thai and English. When locals greet you, they'll hold their hands palm-to-palm, as if praying to you. Just simply return the gesture. If you are a woman, "hello" is "Sah-wah-dee-kaaah!" If you're a man, it's "Sah-wah-dee-krop!" "Thank you" also differs according to the speaker's gender: "Kahp-koon-kaaah" for women and "Kahp-koon-krop" for men.