Bargaining (haggling) is common in street markets and some small shops. Prices in 7-Elevens, mini marts and department stores are fixed.
Keep your haggling relaxed and non-confrontational, which will give the shopkeeper more face and allow more leeway. Let the seller start by offering a lower price, then try to nudge it lower, but only haggle if you are planning to buy if you get the right price.
Dangers & Annoyances
The repetitive scream of ambulances racing up and down the island's roads is a sure sign the road accident fatality rate on Ko Samui is high. This is largely due to the significant number of (inexperienced) tourists who rent motorcycles and scooters only to find out that the winding roads, sudden tropical rains, frenzied traffic and sand on the roads can be lethal.
Look out for glass on less-visited beaches – it's incomprehensible how much broken glass (from discarded beer and soda bottles, in the main) can just lie on the sands. Parts of the beach in Na Thon have a lot of broken glass on them, but you'll also find potentially dangerous shards on lengths of sand such as the sandbar leading to Ko Ma in the northwest of the island. Some of the glass is round in reflection of how long it has been smoothed by the waves, but other glass is very sharp. Tread carefully and keep a look out at all times.
The seas of Samui can be rough, even for strong swimmers and drownings do occur, especially in Chaweng and Lamai, which experience strong currents and rip tides. Hotels will usually post warnings of swimming hazards and conditions on a beach board or warning flags. If you are caught in a rip tide (a strong surface current heading seaward), it is advised not to fight it and rapidly tire, but instead to swim parallel to the shore to exit the current or float along with it until it dissipates in deeper water and you are deposited.
Beach vendors are registered with the government and should all be wearing a numbered jacket. No peddler should cause an incessant disturbance – seek assistance if this occurs.
Dogs are everywhere on the island – they breed like rabbits and may bite. The Samui Dog & Cat Rescue Centre has the job of looking after and neutering/spaying stray dogs and controlling rabies (largely under control, but check with a health professional if bitten), and they have their work cut out for them. You may find menacing dogs at temples or sitting around the beaches in packs; exercise caution and don't stroke them.
Tourist Police Useful for contacting either for advice or if you are arrested.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Thailand Country Code||66|
|Tourist Police||077 430018|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering and leaving Ko Samui is generally very straightforward and is not overly bureaucratic, especially considering the huge volume of tourist traffic that passes through.
Citizens of 62 countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the USA can stay in Thailand for 30 days without a visa. If you plan to stay more than 30 days, you will need to apply for a 60-day visa. See the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfa.go.th) for more information.
The new Immigration Office is located south of Rte 4169 in Mae Nam. Officials here tend to issue the minimum rather than maximum visa extensions. It's better located and bigger than the former offices in Na Thon, but you may still be denied an extension for no particular reason.
Don't overlook the option to join a three-month to one-year Thai language course with a school on the island, which would qualify you for a student visa to cover the length of the course.
Thai people are generally very understanding and hospitable, but there are some important taboos and social conventions you need to understand.
- Monarchy Never disrespect the royal family with disparaging remarks and always treat objects carrying the royal symbols and portraits with respect. Stand when the national and king's anthems are played.
- Temples Wear clothing that reaches to your knees and elbows. Remove your shoes when entering a temple hall. Sit with your feet tucked behind you to avoid pointing the bottom of your feet at images of Buddha. Women should never touch a monk or a monk's belongings; step out of the way of monks on footpaths and don't sit next to them on public transport.
- Modesty At the beach, avoid public nudity and topless sunbathing. Wear a cover-up to and from the beach.
- Saving Face Never get into an argument with a Thai. It is better to smile through any conflict.
Thai culture is pretty tolerant of male and female homosexuality and a generally relaxed attitude to gays and lesbians prevails. From a legal point of view, same-sex sexual activity is legal. Public displays of affection – whether heterosexual or homosexual – are frowned upon. Although Samui doesn’t have the high-profile gay scene that you’ll find in Bangkok or Phuket, Pride Bar in Chaweng is a popular gay hang out. For more gay-friendly listings visit Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com).
Wi-fi is widespread at effectively all accommodation choices, restaurants and bars. You may have to pay for wi-fi access at some high-end hotels, but it is generally provided free at most midrange and budget places.
The Thai police tend to leave foreigners alone, but the laws regarding drugs can be rigidly enforced and the penalties for possession of drugs can be severe.
If arrested for any offence, the police will allow you to make one phone call. If arrested, being confrontational will make things worse for you.
Make sure you carry a copy of your passport or ID as the police can ask to see it. While you will see many drivers not wearing one, a helmet is required by law if you are driving a motorbike or scooter.
The Tourist Police can be of great help in any situation regarding the law.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
Most ATMs will charge a 220B foreign transaction fee on top of your bank's currency conversion fees, no matter how much you withdraw. Before your trip, shop around for a bank that has free international ATM usage and may reimburse you any fees incurred by using other banks' ATMs. Otherwise plan ahead and withdraw larger amounts of cash, but have a money-belt.
The basic unit of Thai currency is the baht (B). Notes come in denominations of 20B, 50B, 100B, 500B and 1000B, while coins come in 1B, 2B, 5B and 10B and occasionally 25 satang or 50 satang. Go to7-Eleven stores or hotels to break 1000B notes.
Changing money isn’t a problem on the east and north coasts, and in Na Thon. Multiple banks and foreign-exchange booths offer daily services and ATMs are widespread. In Chaweng, every other shop is a money exchange, with the 'best rate'.
Credit and debit cards can be used in most shops and at most hotels and restaurants. Notify your bank and credit-card provider before your trip so they are aware you will be in Thailand. You should not have to pay credit-card fees as you do on Ko Tao.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com
Tipping is not generally expected, though it is certainly appreciated. Check, however, if a 10% service charge has been added to your bill, which is often the case at smart eateries and hotel restaurants.
Banks 9.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday
Bars & Clubs Many open till 2am, though the military periodically forces them to shut at 1am
Restaurants Typically 9am or 10am to 11pm or midnight, but can vary
Government Offices 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Some also close for lunch
Shops Typically 9am to 10pm, but can vary
In several parts of the island there are privately run post-office branches charging a small commission. You can almost always leave your stamped mail with your accommodation.
Lunar holidays change each year; check out the website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT; www.tatnews.org).
New Year’s Day 1 January
Magha Puja Lunar holiday in February or March
Chakri Day 6 April
Songkran 13 to 15 April
Coronation Day 5 May
Visakha Puja Lunar holiday in May
Asalha Puja Lunar holiday in July
Khao Phansa Lunar holiday in July
King's Birthday 28 July
Queen’s Birthday 12 August
Chulalongkorn Day 23 October
Constitution Day 10 December
Smoking in bars and restaurants has been banned since 2008. Smoking has also been banned on several beaches in Ko Samui.
Thailand's country code is 66. All Thai numbers begin with an '0' (which is omitted if calling from overseas). If the '0' is followed by a '6', '8' or '9', you are calling a mobile phone.
Thailand is on the GSM network. Providers include AIS, DTAC and True Move.
The easiest option is to buy a mobile (cell) phone equipped with a local SIM card. You can buy prepaid SIM cards from 7-Elevens; the market is competitive, so you should be able to buy a SIM card for as little as 49B, but expect to pay much more for data. Ensure your phone in unlocked before travelling.
In many smaller bars and restaurants, the toilet system is not equipped to deal with toilet paper, in which case a bin or basket is provided for the purpose. Many toilets also come with a small spray hose, as in Malaysia, which serves as a kind of flexible bidet.
There is no official tourist office on the island. Tourist information is largely provided by hotels and travel agents.
Siam Map Company (www.siammap.com) Puts out quarterly booklets including a Spa Guide, Dining Guide and an annual directory, which lists thousands of companies and hotels on the island. Its Samui Guide Map is fantastic, free and easily found throughout the island.
Travel with Children
Thai people love small foreign children, so they can attract attention. With so much swimming, snorkelling and beach activity, young children will have a whale of a time on Ko Samui. The beaches along the north coast are a big hit with kids and toddlers, while the action around Hat Chaweng is more for teens. Other activities, such as ziplining, trekking and kayaking will also appeal to older children. Remember to keep your kids well hydrated – the sun can get very fierce. To help your holiday run smoothly, grab a copy of Lonely Planet's Travel with Children, which contains useful advice on how to cope with kids on the road.
- Baby formula and nappies (diapers) are available at 7-elevens.
- As the pavements aren't so good and there can be a lot of people, avoid big strollers and aim for an umbrella-style, lightweight version.
- Most restaurants should have child-friendly menus that avoid chilli.
- Cots are only available at certain midrange and up hotels, so check at the time of your booking.
- Some Western restaurants will have high-chairs, but don't expect to find them in many Thai restaurants.
The infrastructure in Samui is rather basic, such that few areas and businesses are accessible beyond the more expensive hotels. Movement around Samui can be difficult in a wheelchair: footpaths are limited, crowded and rarely have kerb cutaways.
Accessible Travel Online Resources
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.