Why now is the time to visit Koh Samui before The White Lotus crowds descend

The Thai island Koh Samui is about to be hit by the “White Lotus Effect”.

Filming for the third series is currently underway and when the show is finally released in early 2025, the island will become one of the most coveted destinations in the world. So now is the time to book that trip before prices go bananas.

As with the first two series, filmed in Maui, Hawaii, and Taormina in Sicily respectively, much of the show will be filmed in the Four Seasons resort. The Koh Samui outpost of the famously upmarket US brand is a fantastical, tropical haven set on a hillside in the northwest corner of the island – all polished teak, cultivated jungle and a perfect arc of private beach.

But with prices currently starting at £1,000 for one night (and this is before it becomes one of the most famous film locations in the world), you need very deep pockets to stay there.

Shades of blue: a private pool at the Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui

(Fiona McIntosh)

The good news is that there are plenty of other fabulous places to stay on Koh Samui, from family-friendly hotels, to Airbnb villas and some surprisingly swanky youth hostels.

The producers of The White Lotus have made a clever choice. Thailand’s second-largest island is rapidly becoming known as the most upmarket island in the country. Whilst it’s historically been best-known as a launching pad for Full Moon wipeout parties on Koh Pha Ngan, a 40-minute ferry ride away, things have changed.

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Koh Samui’s best restaurants have just been added to the Michelin Guide, it has its own boutique airline Bangkok Airways (which means you don’t have to suffer through that stomach-rolling ferry ride from the mainland), and it has the highest concentration of five-star hotels outside Bangkok.

Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park, shot from the highest point of Mae Island

(Getty)

This was made blindingly clear to me when we were whisked from the airport (which itself looks like an open-air resort hotel) to the Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui for three days of Hollywood-grade glamour. Let’s put this in context for a moment: the last time I was in Koh Samui 30 years ago, I slept on a palm mat in a beach hut. We didn’t have air con, but we did have a bottomless supply of cockroaches.

This time, I stayed in an ultimate pool billa on the 58-acre Ritz-Carlton estate, with panoramic views across the Gulf of Thailand, complete with private plunge pool, a deep bath overlooking the ocean, Diptyque bath and body products and the sort of firm yet marshmallowy king-size bed that luxe American hotel brands seem to nail every time.

The ultimate pool villa at the Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui

(Fiona McIntosh)

The resort has four restaurants (its steak house, Ranch, has made the Michelin Guide), a spa village where my Thai fusion massage was one of the best one-hour experiences of my life, and a surprisingly chill and unstuffy beach bar where you can sip a pina colada from a green coconut before slipping into the infinity pool above the resort’s private, sandy cove.

If you ever get bored of doing absolutely nothing, there is complimentary kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, morning meditation and Muay Thai boxing lessons in an actual ring.

To give you an idea of the value, if you book outside school holiday peak season, prices per room start from £217 a night including an extraordinarily gluttonous breakfast buffet.

Bliss: the infinity pool and beach bar on the Ritz-Carlton’s private cove on Koh Samui

(Fiona McIntosh)

What to do

From the road (and there is only one that circumnavigates the island), Koh Samui looks like a chaotic mash-up of fruit stalls, cafes, massage parlours and scooter rentals. But it’s what lies behind that matters – fabulous restaurants, beaches, resort hotels, markets and beach clubs.

Chaweng Beach: Around 7km, a stretch of white, sandy beach and the main hub on the island. Head here for supercharged fun – bars, nightlife and shopping.

Lamai Beach: A lovely stretch of sand and deeper water (better for water sports) and less hectic than Chaweng but with plenty of small hotels and restaurants, including the chilled Baobab bar and restaurant. A good family option.

Bophut Beach: A three kilometre stretch of sandy beach on the north of the island with views towards Ko Phan Ngan. A great place to while away an afternoon. At 7pm and 9pm, grab a beanbag on the beach and a cocktail at Coco Tam’s for the excellent fire show.

Choengmon Beach: A quieter, smaller and more exclusive series of bays near the run of five star resort hotels. Good for a quieter day.

Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park: Book a boat trip and enjoy unmissable snorkelling at this nearby archipelago of jewel-like islands made famous in Alex Garland’s The Beach.

Fisherman’s Village Market, Koh Samui, Thailand

(Fiona McIntosh)

Markets

There are a number of markets on the island, but if you only do one, make sure it is the Fisherman’s Village Market at Bophut. The walking street, which still features wonky wooden fisherman’s cottages, buzzes with fresh seafood restaurants, food stalls, boutique shops and stalls selling everything from handmade jewellery to knock-off designer handbags and dubious electronics.

Culture

Although not a patch on the boggling Grand Palace in Bangkok, the most impressive Buddhist landmark on the island is the golden Big Buddha, set within the grounds of the Wat Phra Yai temple. Close by, is the temple of Wat Plai Laem where you can pay your respects to Guanyin, the goddess of compassion and mercy who looms above the water with her 18 outstretched arms.

Bangrak Beach with Koh Samui’s Big Buddha in the distance

(Getty/iStock)

Food

The island is rammed with outstanding food options, including exceptional Thai, Chinese and Western restaurants.

Koh Thai Kitchen at the Four Seasons: Exquisite southern dishes, from a deeply fragrant massaman curry, to a red curry with prawns as big as a baby’s arm.

The Ranch at the Ritz Carlton: For when you just need a really amazing steak, wagyu and Angus from Australia, sizzled at your table.

Bang Por Seafood: Locals recommend this simple restaurant on the beach offering some of the most delicious seafood on the island at great prices.

The Jungle Club: Sit back in a bean bag on the deck of this fun restaurant with beautiful views over Chaweng Noi Beach, which serves a Thai and international menu.

Wellness

Koh Samui is building a reputation as a key wellness destination. Drop in for a massage at one of the many roadside parlours (£10 for a one hour full-body massage). For a day spa experience, most of the resort hotels offer a suite of treatments. Baan Sabai on Bohput Beach offers massages and treatments by the sea. Kamalaya is the island’s most famous luxurious wellness retreat renowned for its A-list clients.

Where to stay

Ritz Carlton Koh Samui: A luxurious American brand set in gorgeous gardens above a private cove.

Outrigger: A busy, fun and good value family option with a kids club, situated near the Coco Splash Waterpark.

The Mud: Beachside bungalows, outdoor swimming pool, free wifi and onsite bar from £15 a night. For more youth hostel options, see www.hostelworld.com

Getting there

Fly direct London to Bangkok with Thai Airways (flight time is roughly 11 hours and 30 minutes) or via Doha with British Airways. Bangkok Airways flies from Bangkok to Koh Samui several times a day.

When to go

For the best prices, avoid peak season (Christmas and New Year, as well as European Easter and summer holidays) and aim for the shoulder seasons of May/June and September/October. Rainy season sets in at the end of October and continues throughout November.

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