A better option than Phuket during the summer months, Ko Samui is the Thai equivalent to a Hawaiian vacation.
Families have been flocking to Phuket along the Andaman coast of Thailand for years. But if your family is headed to Thailand during the summer months - which is monsoon season in Southeast Asia - you’ll likely experience less rain on the gulf side. Here, you’ll find three popular island destinations: Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Samui. (Ko or Koh means “island” in Thai.) Ko Tao, also known as Turtle Island, is the smallest and least developed; it’s a popular snorkeling and dive site. Ko Phan Ngan is larger and home to the famous “full moon parties.” But in my opinion, Ko Samui is the island that’s best suited to a luxury beach vacation for parents and kids.
Where to stay?
You can stay in a cookie-cutter resort hotel room anywhere in the world. But in Ko Samui, I recommend searching out the unusual. At the Imperial Boat House Beach Resort, there are regular rooms, but there also are rice barges that have been beached and converted into hotel suites! The 34 boat suites are spacious with a living area on the top deck and two well-appointed bedrooms plus a luxurious bathroom on the lower level. The barges are closer to the beach and the pools. Upon boarding our “vessel,” my youngest son declared it to be “awesome!” Barge suite rates start at $142/night during low season.
My sons judge any resort on two criteria: size of pool and quality of the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. This hotel delivers on both accounts. They declared the complimentary breakfast buffet with its endless offerings to be the best that they tasted in 72 days on the road! And the pools… again, tops on their list! The pool closest to the beach is enormous with spouting cannons and elephant fountains; the smaller monkey pool is more intimate and nearly always empty.
Imperial Boat House Beach Resort is situated on Choeng Mon, a protected stretch of white sand beach better suited to families than the popular and often-crowded Chaweng Beach. Here the hotel provides sea kayaks, windsurfers, and snorkeling gear for your enjoyment. You can also pay an extra fee to go jet skiing (about $30/half hour). Or you can opt for a little relaxation with a beachfront Thai massage.
KidTripster Tip: If you stay four or more nights, a 1-hour massage is complimentary.
You can also use the hotel’s free shuttle to visit on Chaweng Beach. While it was fun to play on a different beach and sample some other beachfront restaurants, we happily returned to our boat house at the end of the day.
KidTripster Tip: No need to overpack. Instead drop your laundry at the little budget hotel next to the Imperial Boat House Beach Resort. It’s very inexpensive.
Where to eat?
Because of the hearty breakfast buffet, we typically skipped lunch while on Ko Samui. A few vendors serve roasted ears of corn on the beach. That with an umbrella drink seemed to hit the spot!
For dinner, there’s several beachside restaurants including the hotel’s Captain’s Choice which tends to be the most expensive of the bunch. All offer a good selection of international and Thai food but nothing noteworthy. The real highlight of dinner is watching the sun set over this little slice of paradise.
What to do?
We booked two tours for the same day with Tours Koh Samui. One parent and child were scheduled to go snorkeling in Ko Tao. The other parent and child were going snorkeling, sea kayaking, and hiking at Ang Thong National Marine Park. The weather was overcast, and the seas were very choppy. The boat headed to the marine park ended up turning back at the insistence of the passengers. We were given a full refund without any problems. The tour to Ko Tao also let half the passengers off; the other half proceeded on a very long and rough ride. The tour took us to three snorkeling sites; however the second site was just 500-feet from the first site. The snorkeling was alright, comparably to the Caribbean, but it was no Great Barrier Reef. For the money and the time involved, we would have been happier at the hotel beach.
When you need a break from water activities, head to Samui Football Golf. Both my kids enjoy soccer and golf, so this par-3 golf course built to accommodate soccer balls was both novel and fun. Players compete to see who can record their country’s best score, written on the chalk board in the clubhouse. My husband holds the American record… or at least he did for a little while! It’s a little pricey, but admission does include drinks. Cost: Youth: $10; Adult: $21.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to use insect repellent. The mosquitoes are pretty thick here.
Before leaving Ko Samui, take part in a Thai tradition. In the evening on the beach, vendors sell large red paper lanterns. You make a wish and then send the lit lantern into the night sky. It’s supposed to represent your worries floating away. But while vacationing in Ko Samui, it’s easy not to worry at all.
Ko Samui is located in the Surat Thani Province off the eastern coast of Thailand in the Gulf of Thailand. The easiest way to reach the island is by plane; there are several daily flights between Bangkok and Ko Samui. The flight is about one hour.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels the world with her husband and two sons, who insist the breakfast buffet at Imperial Boat House Beach Resort is yet to be equaled.