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Perfect sand – Another typical Koh Samui scene. All that's missing is the obscenely large cocktail.
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Seafood heaven – Despite ongoing development in Koh Samui, there's one constant -- fresh, top-notch seafood is served everywhere on the island.
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Sanctuaries – The Gulf of Thailand island is a popular among tourists visiting wellness sanctuaries, such as Kamalaya (pictured).
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Samahita Retreat – Brush up on your pranayama breathing technique? Contemplate philosophy? In the rural south of the island, Samahita Retreat is a place to do both.
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Easy days – It's not all about the beaches in Koh Samui. But a lot of it is.
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Mummified monk – The mummified body of Dang Piyasilo, or "Luong Pordaeng," has been on display at Wat Khunaram since the Buddhist monk died in 1973 at the age of 79.
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Koh Phangan – Samui's neighboring isle of Koh Phangan is famous for its Full Moon parties, and rustic Sanctuary Thailand spa and resort.
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Eclectic cafes – Cafes on southern Thai islands have perfected a hippiefied-beachcomber, ramshackle style, exhibited here by Think cafe in Lipa.
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Island hopping from Samui – Ang Thong National Marine Park is a collection of uninhabited islands. Not counting wildlife. It's an easy day trip from Samui.
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CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN)Gazing on the developing island of today: Five-star hotels. Upmarket dining scene. Plentiful shopping.
It's hard to believe that up until the 1970s, no paved roads existed on Koh Samui. It was only in 1989 that the island's airport was built.
While the isle's built-up northern and eastern coasts increasingly cater to the tourists, in the south and west locals still stick to the simple life, and traditions that brought backpackers on rickety fishing boats from the mainland to this island paradise in the first place.
A best of Koh Samui beachfront feast for locals and visitors, this restaurant is a well-kept secret among lovers of fresh local seafood.
The vast menu includes interesting southern delicacies like gaeng som, a popular local sour curry, as well as a full list of Thai favorites.
The red snapper with chili and mango salad is a treat, as are tiger prawns in tamarind sauce, if available.
Everything goes well with coconut juice straight from the tree.
Diners needn't worry about stuffing their face -- they can always work off the calories by going for a post-meal paddle in the restaurant's kayaks, offered free of charge.
Krua Chao Baan, 438/18 Moo.1 Maret Nr Silangu Temple, Ko Samui 84310 Thailand; +66 (0) 7741 8589
Think cafe has a prime sunset-viewing position.
It's hard to miss this funky little cafe.
Not just because of its location -- in the middle of the west coast, a few kilometers south of Koh Samui's capital of Nathon -- but because it's made from recycled shipping containers, refitted and daubed in bold yellow, red, blue and orange.
The fence of colorfully painted old tires is also an attention getter.
Like many establishments in the southern Thai islands, Think has adopted a hippie-beachcomber, ramshackle decor.
The collection of chairs and tables set in the sand at its covered entrance is the best place to watch the sunset with a drink in hand.
You come here for the Woo view toward Koh Phang An.
In the battle of scenic places from which to watch the sunset, Woo sets the bar high.
There's the infinity pool, with sunken, circular loungers, book-ended by a large white "W," which reflects in the water.
The amazing views northward look toward Koh Phang An -- particularly stunning as dusk falls and the lights come on.
A DJ is on hand nightly from 6-11 p.m.
Drinks promotions include Thursday's "Mo-Hee-Toe Madness" -- free flow of 10 signature cocktails for a small price (about $36) supplies lubricant for the evening.
W Retreat Koh Samui, 4/1 Moo 1 Tambol Maenam Surat Thani, Mae Nam, Ko Samui 84330 Thailand; +66 (0) 7791 5999
Nikki Beach Samui is part of the legendary global network of beach clubs founded in Miami in 1997, with branches in St. Tropez, Marrakech, Ibiza, Bali and -- until it closed in the summer of 2015 -- Phuket.
The brand identity is glamor and indulgence,
Starched white umbrellas shelter wealthy patrons sipping on champagne while they listen to DJ beats.
Immaculately dressed guests, often head-to-toe in white linen, start to arrive around noon and occupy the plush daybeds until late.
Nikki Beach Hotel Pool, 96/3 MOO 2 LIPA NOI, Ko Samui Thailand; +66 (0) 7791 4500
This beachfront resort has been selling Samui as a center of the wellness universe for more than 20 years.
Now with two locations -- the other is in the hills overlooking Lamai Beach -- the two decades since it opened have seen it attract people from all around the world for intriguing treatments that include hypnotherapy, Hawaiian healing and astrology.
The vibe is relaxed, with a convivial atmosphere that encourages guests to share their experiences and bond in a beautiful setting.
A shuttle runs regularly between the two locations.
Chaweng Beach gets a lot of criticism for crowds, but it's still a pretty darn nice strip of sand.
Picking which strip of Samui sand to plop down on depends on whether you're looking for white sands with no crowds or want to lay in front of a beach bar run by dudes who never seem to tire of listening to Bob Marley.
For action, the busiest strip of sand in town is Chaweng Beach.
It has the most concentrated accommodations and best nightlife.
Though crowded, it's a nice beach with white sand and turquoise waters.
Sunrise on Lamai.
Second on the popularity scale is Lamai Beach.
Not as busy as Chaweng, but with plenty of hotel options and a lovely beach, it's an alternative for traveling families who want to be in the thick of the action but without the wild nights.
Other good options include Choeng Mon, Bophut, Lipa Noi and Maenam.
If views of neighboring Ang Thong National Park are preferable to fine sand, there's Taling Ngam, which sits in a remote corner of Koh Samui. Keep in mind, this one is really far from the action.
Nantra Chaweng Beach, Chaweng Beach Road, Chaweng, Bophut, Ko Samui Thailand;
Lamai Beach, Ko Samui Thailand;
Choeng Mon Beach, Ko Samui 84310 Thailand;
Bophut's Fisherman's Village, Ko Samui Thailand;
Maenam Beach, Moo 1, Mae Nam, Ko Samui Thailand;
It'll take a few tries before you look this good kiteboarding.
Learning kiteboarding skills takes energy and commitment.
But vacationers can still nurse a hangover and give it a go.
Koh Samui is one of several Thailand beach destinations that attracts fans of the sport, thanks to the island's optimal wind conditions.
For lessons, there's the Samui branch of Kiteboarding Asia.
Kite Boarding Asia - Koh Samui, 310/15 Chonwithi Road, Ang Thong, Ko Samui 84140 Thailand; +66 (0)81 591 4592
Ang Thong Marine Park is reachable on a day trip, and deserted enough to offer unspoiled Crusoe charm.
"The Beach" may have been filmed elsewhere, but it was this 42-island archipelago that provided the inspiration -- a truly stunning spot to snorkel, dive, lie on the beach or kayak.
One of the park's islands, Maekoh, has its own emerald inland lake.
Most hotels and Koh Samui travel agencies offer a variety of Ang Thong tours.
Angthong National Marine Park, Gulf of Thailand, Ko Samui 84360 Thailand;
Best dive spots close to Samui are off the southwest coast around Koh Taen.
Because Samui is essentially a sand island, the water just offshore can be murky.
In other words, the island's dive options suck.
But there are inspiring snorkeling and dive trips that leave Samui daily for nearby islands like Koh Phangan and Koh Tao and Ang Thong Marine Park.
For snorkelers, the waters around the much-photographed islets at Koh Nang Yuan, off Koh Tao, are often fishbowl clear.
Sail Rock is a popular world-class dive site halfway between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, one of the few places in the world where you can dive with whale sharks.
Sightings generally are present between March and August.
Koh Tao itself has more than 30 dive sites and considerably more schools and operators.
The 100 Degrees East Dive Team limits the number of divers/snorkelers per trip and heads for less-visited areas or gets to the popular ones early to avoid the crowds.
100 Degrees East Dive Team, 23/5 Moo 4 T Bophut, Ko Samui 84320 Thailand; +66 (0) 7724 5936
Samui claims to have Asia's first cable ride.
Not all the action in Samui takes place on the water.
There's also flying through tropical treetops strapped into a harness while snatching glimpses of the glistening coast below.
The rides at Canopy Adventures, which claims to be Asia's first cable ride, are set in one of Samui's least spoiled patches of forest, near Mae Nam on the northwest coast.
Altogether there are 15 cable rides, with 21 treetop platforms, totaling some 2,000 meters.
A secret waterfall for a cool-off awaits along the way.
Canopy Adventures, Mae Nam, Ko Samui 84320 Thailand; +66 (0) 7741 4150-1
Koh Samui has two mountainside golf country clubs -- Santiburi and the Royal Samui Golf -- with above-par views from the tees.
At Santiburi, carts are mandatory and absolutely necessary. The course takes players up, down and around a wide area, offering fantastic views that challenge you to keep your mind on the game.
Santiburi Beach Resort & Spa, 12/12 Moo 1 Amphure Koh Samui, Surat Thani, Mae Nam, Ko Samui 84330 Thailand;
Royal Samui Golf and Country Club, Ko Samui Thailand; +66 (0)7 745 8449
Magic Buddha Garden
Hidden in the mists of Koh Samui's hillside jungle, the Magic Buddha Garden is a mystical anomaly created by local septuagenarian fruit farmer Nimm Thongsuk.
Along a mountain stream, Uncle Nimm built statues and sculptures that portray various deities and mythical creatures.
It's an oddball, best of Koh Samui attractions that's worth including on an island tour, in addition to the usual Big Buddha and Grandfather/Grandmother (penis/vagina) rock stops.
The final climb up to the garden can be a little steep.
Island Safari Tours, Ko Samui Thailand; +66 (0) 7742 5563
Bangkok Airways operates daily flights between the Thai capital and Koh Samui.
As Samui International Airport is privately owned by Bangkok Airways, the only carriers flying in are the airline itself, plus some flights operated by Thai Airways and Silk Air.
However, international connections are easy via Bangkok.
Bangkok Airways flies direct to more than a dozen destinations throughout the region.
A variety of fast and slow ferries connects mainland Surat Thani with Koh Samui, arriving and departing from piers at Nathon, Lipa Noi, Bang Rak and Mae Nam.
If you're traveling through southern Thailand by car (which makes for a scenic road trip), regular car ferries run every hour from 5 a.m.-7 p.m.
Most hotels provide airport transfers, but for a slightly cheaper option there's an official airport taxi counter, where you pay the fare in advance.
Local cabs aren't metered so, for example, it's usually 400 baht ($11) for a 10-minute ride to Bophut.
It's 100 baht ($3) in a shared mini-bus if you're not on a tight schedule.
If you plan to do more than hang out on the beach, the easiest way to get around the island is by car.
The airport has several rental counters -- Avis, Budget, Hertz, Europcar -- each offering a fleet of sedans, SUVs, minivans and jeeps.
Local companies such as TA Car Rent usually have lower rates than the big brands and flexible drop-off and return locations.
Motorbike rentals are about 150-250 baht ($4-7) per day depending on the bike's condition.
Despite many people driving without them, Thai law requires wearing a helmet.
The island has one of the highest road fatality rates in the country. Legend has it the only activity that's deadlier is sitting under a coconut tree.
A safe way to get around is to flag down a converted red pickup (songthaew), the island's non-scheduled public transportation. Prices range from 30-80 baht per ride for short distances.
For longer distances, the rule of thumb is 100 baht ($3) per beach you want to travel to (for example, 300 baht from Chaweng to Bophut).