If you can see a budgeted trip only as a spreadsheet of missed opportunities, expand your gaze. Budget trips, in fact, provide equal if not more chances to explore a place closely and know its culture microscopically. Koh Samui is a world-famous backpackers' haven with its inexpensive opportunities of entertainment and tranquil holiday beaches. Every luxury here has a cheap counterpart that doesn't compromise on quality and service. There is so much to do and see in Koh Samui on a budget that you won't miss the glitzy resorts for even one moment. So go ahead and plan that Thailand holiday you have been waiting for, and have the time of your life in Koh Samui.
The Na Muang Waterfalls are among the most popular attractions in Koh Samui, and one major reason for the heavy footfall it sees is that it is absolutely free of cost. Two waterfalls collectively form the Na Muang Waterfalls, with the first one being larger and more famous, and the second one located higher uphill, secluded but equally beautiful. The first waterfall cascades through gigantic boulders and tropical jungles and streams into a large pool. The entire scene looks surreal, and you can admire it by perching yourself on a rock nearby or plunging into the pool for a swim. There are lovely picnic spots in and around the waterfall, complete with Thai food stalls, where you can enjoy a day of leisure.
Location: Na Mueang, Ko Samui District, Surat Thani
The Big Buddha is an important and prominent landmark in Koh Samui, along with being a major pilgrimage attraction for locals. All of 12 metres in height, the Big Buddha is made of a striking golden colour, which makes it visible even from an airplane. Built in 1972, it is located inside the Wat Phra Yai temple, which stands upon an island called Koh Farn, not far from Koh Samui. Visitors can climb up to the viewing pavilion to get a view of the golden Buddha up close, and also get a good panoramic shot of the surrounding islands and scenic beauty of Koh Samui. The temple compound has a meditation centre, where you can pause for some peace away from tourist crowds.
The Lad Koh Viewpoint is the best viewpoint in Koh Samui, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the seaside. The appealing atmosphere of the place is also popular with romantic couples and youngsters, who enjoy coming here to soak in the infinite vistas of Koh Samui's tropical beauty on a breezy afternoon. The viewpoint is best enjoyed during sunrise and sunset.
Location: Bo Put, Ko Samui District, Surat Thani
What to Do in Koh Samui on a Budget
1. Night Markets
Night markets are a trademark feature of every city in Thailand, and Koh Samui is no stranger to the trend. It plays host to several lively night markets which seek to bring every aspect of the country's culture together, right from food, budget shopping, vibrant performances, and Thai hospitality. Fisherman's Village and Elephant Walk Koh Samui in Bophut are focal points for walking streets which have preserved this culture with their popular weekly markets that sell everything you can imagine, and offer great opportunities for tasting authentic Thai street eats. You can even head to Chaweng Night Market and Chaweng Walking Street if you are looking for a variety of local dining and drinking options at very cheap prices. The Lamai Night Plaza is also a fun place to take an evening stroll and enjoy the colourful and quirky goods the place has to offer.
Location: Bophut, Chaweng, Lamai
Beaches are unquestionably the most relaxing holiday destinations and Koh Samui is well-known for its abundance of beaches, each more distinct than the last. There is a beach to suit every mood, and you can visit any one any time because they won't cost you a penny. Chaweng Beach is the city's busiest and most famous beach, lively with tourists indulging in water sports and the various bars that line the coast. Lamai, Choeng Mon and Silver Beaches are ones that are relatively quieter, marked by huge boulders which complement the undisturbed natural beauty of the vegetation on the beach. Samrong, Bang Po and Taling Ngam Beaches are secluded and not visited by many, which only adds to their scenic appeal, making them the most peaceful and picturesque places on the island.
Ananas Samui Hostel is a favourite among the backpackers' community around the world. Located conveniently close to the spectacular Laem Set Beach, this hostel is furnished with modern amenities to give even the budget traveller a premium experience. The place has an outdoor pool, a bar and restaurant, and even offers free wi-fi to all its customers. Rooms are clean, spacious and comfortable, and are available on single or sharing basis. They are equipped with air conditioners, lockers, towels, hair dryers and laundry services. What's more, the property itself is surrounded with lush greenery and has attractions like Samui Butterfly Garden, Samui Aquarium and Na Muang Waterfalls located close by.
The Chaulty Towers Guest House is a popular budget accommodation in Koh Samui, located only a 10-minute walk away from the famous Lamai Beach. Provided with an outdoor pool, free wi-fi, a bar and an adorable pet dog, the guest house offers optimum comfort at minimal prices. There are many options of rooms to choose from, like twin rooms, family rooms with a balcony, or even a three-bedroom house. The restaurant serves delicious food at budget prices, so you can feast on Thai cuisine without burning a hole in your pocket. The owners are very friendly and considerate to guest preferences, working to make your stay here homely and comfortable.
Location: 149 / 31 Moo 4, Lamai Beach, Maret 84310 Contact: +66 89 727 9768
3. Rich Resort Beachside Hotel
The Rich Resort Beachside Hotel is a beautiful and cozy hotel on Lamai Beach, offering basic amenities at affordable prices. The hotel has modest rooms with pleasing interiors, and are well-equipped with the best services. Additionally, one can find brilliant views of the sunset over the scenic beach every evening. With a swimming pool, Thai massage centre, bar, and restaurant, the hotel ensures that guests have an exquisite experience here, making this hotel great for couples or families in Koh Samui on a budget.
Location: 109/12 M3 Maret Ko Samui Surathani Thailand 84310 Contact: +66 77 424 208
Where to Eat in Koh Samui on a Budget
1. Maenam's BBQ
The Mae Nam Mookata, literally meaning a Thai buffet spot, is known by tourists and visitors as Maenam's BBQ. It is a small, albeit fantastic restaurant that is popular for serving the most delectable Thai cuisine in all of Koh Samui. It is essentially an all-you-can-eat restaurant, with a varied buffet of meat, seafood, vegetables and soups. But the best part is that you get to cook all this yourself, with guidance from the restaurant staff. You will be provided with a basket that you can fill to your heart's content with the ingredients and foods you would like to eat, to take back to your table. A mini barbecue will be available at your table, where you can cook your meal as you like. Although the restaurant has a simple layout with plastic chairs in the open, it is swarming with locals who are looking to have comfort food at nominal prices. That the restaurant has been around for 13 years, is proof enough of its brilliance.
Location: Next to the Family Mart Soi 7, Baan Mae Nam, Mae Nam 84330 +66 63 080 5547 Contact: +66 63 080 5547
2. DARA Kitchen
DARA Kitchen is a budget restaurant that specialises in Asian cuisines, especially Thai food. It is a small place with a no-frills atmosphere, that is perfect for a casual outing with friends or family. Customer favourite dishes here are dim sums, deep fried steamed buns, tom yum, green curry with rice, and fruit smoothies, which are priced similarly to street food rates. This is also a great option for people who want to try vegetarian Thai dishes without spending a bomb at fancier restaurants. The friendly staff and quick customer service is especially notable here. Although the menu is not very large, each item on it is authentic and tasty, and has customers returning every day for more.
Location: 105 M 6 Maret, Next to Wat Lamai, 84310 Contact: +66 94 626 2694
3. Sa Bieng Lae Restaurant
When in Koh Samui, the Sa Bieng Lae Restaurant is not to be missed. It is an amazing Thai restaurant on the Lamai Beach, that has become an iconic establishment of sorts. The place has a great vibe, with a rustic setting, casual atmosphere and the waves of the sea gushing nearby. Marked by a large neon sign at the entrance, the walkway inside is lined with live seafood shops which supply fresh products to the restaurant. Sa Bieng Lae is known for the quality Thai meats and seafood it serves at low prices, and you'll always find locals dining here, which is the mark of good restaurants anywhere. The quantity per plate is huge, and value for money. The staff is lively and welcoming, and their service is very efficient. Do note that there are multiple restaurants called Sa Bieng Lae in Bophut and Chaweng, but this one in Lamai Beach remains the best and original one.
If you think about it, it is the cheapest places in any country that are local favourites and true representatives of their traditions. There is no paucity of things to keep you occupied while in Koh Samui, and most of these incur minimal costs or none at all. So don't hesitate to plan your trip to Koh Samui on a budget!