While well and truly on the beaten track, Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand still offers an easily accessible and beautiful introduction to Thai island life. Despite many years of mega development – think golf courses and five-star resorts – the sweeping beaches, rugged capes and forested hills remain, as do its laid-back roots.
Our local expert Sarah Etherington, is a Canadian Montessori teacher with three adorable little ones aged seven, five and three. She lives on stunning Samui, where she is completing a Masters degree and homeschooling a group of ten children, while her husband builds teak tree houses. Here she shares her top spots for a vibrant island experience for you and your kids.
What do you love most about Koh Samui as a place to spend time with children?
What I love most about being with my children on Koh Samui is how lovingly they are treated wherever we go. We never go anywhere with the fear that the place/event/restaurant will not be child friendly: we are always welcomed graciously. I also love how all the restaurants we go to are on the beach, and therefore offer a fabulous playground for the kids for after-dinner play, allowing my husband, friends and I to share adult time together: inevitably there will be a lovely Thai woman who wants to braid my daughters’ hair!
Can you let us in on your top spots on Samui to take your little ones?
- Silver Beach, between Chaweng and Lamai. Tiny, calm and BEAUTIFUL bay. Perfect for swimming with young children; snorkeling for older ones; FABULOUS massage and food at Thongtakian Resort. They will also bring out sand toys for the kids (and you can park here too!).
- Na Thian Butterfly Garden south of Lamai. A sweet little butterfly garden: the entrance fee gets you free kayaking and two-for-one cocktails at the fancy resort across the street, so save time! We were pleasantly surprised to find a great playground on the beach at the resort, and spent our afternoon here after the butterfly garden.
- Fisherman’s Village Walking Street Every Friday night, between 5-10pm, Fisherman’s Village at Bophut is closed off to vehicles for this super-fun night market. This ‘Walking Street’ is my favorite on the Island: it has loads of different vendors, amazing food, and is a great place for souvenirs. We pick up our food at the market and head over to Le Cabana – a little bar on the beachfront where they welcome you, even with market food. We sit with our kids on the colourful bean bag chairs in the sand, order a drink, and eat delicious market food while watching the surf. There are loads of games for the kids- jenga, backgammon, etc. if they tire of running around the beach!
- Water Park At Fisherman’s Village, in front of Starfish and Coffee restaurant: an inflatable jungle gym in the ocean. Life jackets provided. It’s a funky and yummy restaurant too.
- Paradise Park Farm A BEAUTIFUL farm high in the jungle. Amazing display of tropical birds (children can feed some of them), lizards, monkeys and farm animals. What we love is walking the grounds: you can explore for hours, and the views are extraordinary. Entrance fee includes use of the infinity pool, again with beautiful views. Restaurant is also good and not too overpriced, considering the location.
- Bang Por Beach for exploring and kite flying. Buy a roadside kite for 70 baht and fly it on this beautiful long and often windy beach. The beach is mostly local and not busy – probably our favourite on the island. Excellent snorkeling and shell collecting.
- Fishing trip to Koh Tan by long-tail boat. For only around 1000 baht, hire a traditional long-tail boat and go out to Koh Tan– an uninhabited island off the coast of the southern part of Samui. Use traditional fishing lines and learn local tips. Picnic on the island. Very untouristy/uncrowded compared to trips to Angthong Marine Park, equally as beautiful and much more authentic-feeling. You can also do the snorkeling trip if fishing is not your thing.
- Sunset dinner at Intercontinental Hotel in Taling Ngam, watching the fire shows on Saturday nights (a bit of a splurge but worth it).
- Petting and feeding baby elephants up the road behind the Bophut food market (just ask at the market and they can tell you where). Buy bananas at the market to feed them. LOVELY people, elephants are well cared for and they are very sweet with the kids.
- Kids’ yoga at the Yogarden in Fisherman’s village. Amazing place to hang out as well, great yoga, incredible food – a little kids’ play area, beautiful gardens, and they will watch your kids while you do yoga too. If you are looking for some delicious wholefood and great energy…head here.
Where would you recommend visiting friends with children stay?
This is a tough one as there are SO many places to stay, from private villas to resorts….so my advice would be to choose a place dependent on what type of holiday you’re craving. For example, Chaweng beach is crowded with tourists, very busy and has a real party atmosphere: we generally never go there. Lamai is a little quieter than Chaweng and less of a party atmosphere; a good choice if you want some busy-ness, and there are loads of food options if you don’t want to do the Thai local thing. Bang Por (where we live) is more local, and is arguably the most peaceful and longest beach on the island, dotted with mostly single Thai-style homes and some Thai restaurants. It’s VERY QUIET, if this is what you are looking for. The south-west end of the island is also beautiful and very, very quiet – Taling Ngam– but far from everything, so not great with kids.
What Thai foods (and drinks) are your children’s favourites?
- Mango sticky rice
- Thai chicken fried rice
- Kao Tom: rice soup with veggies (you can also add chicken)
- Noodle soups
- Massaman curry- with no chillies!
- Pad Thai noodles with chicken
- Mango shakes…and any other kind of fresh fruit shakes
Could you recommend your top places to eat with little ones on the island?
Every place we have eaten here is child friendly so it’s difficult to narrow it down, but here are some of our favourites.
- Le Cabanon in Fisherman’s Village: Great food, beanbag chairs on the beach, and the staff love our kids.
- Krua Bang Por A local Thai restaurant on the beach. Great food (get the crab!); super friendly staff. Kids play on the beach before and after dinner (this is pretty much par for the course here).
- Mickey Mickey’s in Bang Por. GREAT for kids: on the beach with a full playground, beanbag chairs and great child-friendly and Thai food. Homemade cakes as well!
- Freedom Beach Bar A funky little reggae bar/restaurant at the southern tip of Bang Por Beach. Good food, great sunsets, and a huge swing on the beach for the kids. Fun rocks to explore in too. There’s often live music, and fire shows every Saturday (and the place next door also has great food).
- Ninja Crepes in Chaweng or Lamai. A REAL local Thai place with AMAZING food. There are usually line-ups, so go early. The best Pad Thai on Koh Samui.
- For a break from Thai food, the best pizza in Bang Por is at Celli’s, and in Bophut is at Pizza Hug: both Italian-owned and authentically delicious.
- Greek food at FI in Bophut. Fantastic buffet on Friday nights.
- The best coffee on the island is at Four Monkeys coffee bar in Bang Por: great shakes and ice cream for the kids, and local coffee. Right on the beach, and they also sell beans! Don’t go if you want an early morning coffee, though, as they don’t open until 11-ish.
- Night Markets are another of our favorite spots to eat with the kids: the Mae Nam night market and the Bophut ones are great, as is, of course, the food at the weekly Samui pedestrian ‘walking streets’ at Fisherman’s Village (on Friday evenings) and Mae Nam (on Thursday evenings).
- YoGarden, for yummmmmy wholefood/salads/raw food…and amazing shakes too.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found about life with children on Koh Samui?
It’s very, very, very easy. Our children are so happy.
What would you recommend travellers to Samui to bring – and leave behind at home – when travelling here with children?
Sunscreen is EXPENSIVE here, so bring it from home, and likewise good mosquito repellent. We also brought probiotics for us and the kids: highly recommend if you want to eat at the markets and local restaurants- which you must do!!! Otherwise, you really don’t need much. Leave your stroller at home- there’s no real place to walk with one here!
What’s the best (and funnest) way to get around the island with children? And the best way to get there and away?
- Flying here and away is definitely the easiest, but the most fun is taking the train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, the bus to from Surat Thani to Don Sak, and then ferry to Nathon in Samui.
- Getting around the island is very easy and fun on ‘song-tows’ – covered pick up trucks.
What would you suggest families avoid on Samui ? What are the perils or pitfalls of travel here?
- Pitfall: it’s difficult to walk places on the street, especially with a stroller.
- Avoid: the trip to Angthong Marine Park if it’s high season (Dec- April) You will be a sardine on the boat and snorkeling with hundreds of others in the water. Go instead to Koh Tan (see above)!
- Avoid: the Crocodile Farm. The monkeys are caged and aggro – my 3 year old was scratched badly when feeding one of them a banana.
- Perils: No real perils at all! It’s so safe here. Bartering can be uncomfortable for some people, but it’s easy to get used to.
If you were to ask your children to name their favourite things about Koh Samui, what would they be?
- Lucas (7): Fishing and flying kites on the beach. Collecting shells.
- Hailey (5): Swimming in the ocean and seeing elephants from the backs of pick-up trucks.
- Scarlet (3): Playing on the beach every day and eating mango for breakfast.
And finally, you have a lovely babysitter for the evening. What does your perfect date-night consist of on Koh Samui?
There are SO many romantic places to eat on the beach in Koh Samui! We love Relax in Bang Por- sunset dinner and drinks on the point; the Peace Resort has a lovely romantic candlelit beach BBQ on Sundays as well. The Intercontinental hotel is a fave for sunset drinks; then drinks and dinner right on the beach anywhere, and maybe a reggae bar (see the Freedom Beach Bar above) afterwards for some dancing.