The same splendor that has made Koh Samui world famous is not confined to the shores of the main island. Set sail, or diesel engine, and explore the stunning islands orbiting Koh Samui.
There are few things as quintessentially Thai as a long tail boat. These wooden vessels are sea worthy and you’ll hear them coming long before you see them. With a semi truck engine connected to a long shaft (hence the name) and capped with a propeller, these boats zip through Thailand’s waterways at impressive speed (though still slower than modern speedboats). Whenever possible, we ride a long tail.
Most long tails will have life jackets onboard. Many have a covered section to escape the sun while the bow is open seating. There are built-in benches up both sides and some boats include a soft little something to sit on. Almost every boat will have roll-down plastic sheeting along the sides in case the waves get splashy or the skies get rainy. We’ve never felt unsafe in these timber tubs.
With assistance from the manager at The Headland Villa 3, where we were staying, we booked a long tail tour of Koh Samui’s 5 Islands, Koh Taen, and Koh Mad Sum (sometimes also written as Ko Mat Sum or Koh Madsum). You may see adverts for a 7 Islands tour and this includes the 5 Islands plus Koh Tean and Koh Mad Sum.
Tour operators, hotel reception, and even boat owners can you help make your plans. Don’t be afraid to ask around and to ask for a discount. We paid 3000 Baht for a 5 hour trip. Our boat met us at a private beach which was a short walk from where we were staying. By the time we returned, the tide had come in and so the boat pulled up to a set of stairs that led from the beach (now underwater) to our villa. It was as close to door-to-door service you could get while staying in a room not directly on the ocean. Those long tails really can get almost anywhere.
TIP: when booking a boat excursion (long tail or speedboat), be sure to ask what is included (drinking water, snorkel gear, a cooler to keep your own food). Each boat varies.
FIVE ISLANDS BOAT TOUR
Koh Talu, Koh Din, Koh Chet Mun, Koh Mae Tap, and Koh Malaeng Pong are visible from Koh Samui’s southwestern coast, but you’ve got to be up close to appreciate these little islands. In Thai, this grouping of Islands is often called “Koh Si Koh Ha” (literally meaning “4 Islands, 5 Islands”) as one of the islands is behind the others and is hard to spot from shore. It’s like playing peek-a-boo with islands!
With no beaches, you won’t be landing on any of the 5 Islands. Their vertical cliff faces rise from the water and are adorned with shocks of green plants and trees. For being so small, they’re impressively tall and what seemed tiny from the shoreline will have you craning your neck upwards to appreciate how the waves have reshaped the rocks below and how the ones above remain defiantly jagged.
Despite Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s lyrical claims that Michelle Pfeiffer is “white gold”, here this term refers to the birds nests perched on these islands. You’ll see buildings strapped to the sides of these islands in ways that will have you feeling both impressed and terrified for the occupants. These islands are home to Swifts. These birds build their nests on the rock faces. When collected, these nests are used for Birds Nest Soup – a high-end delicacy in Asia (we’re looking at you, Hong Kong). Depending on the restaurant, a kilo of birds nest soup ranges from $30 to $10,000 USD. You can see why those who live here call these nests white gold!
KOH TEAN FOR SNORKELING
Once home to it’s own tourism industry, Koh Tean now sits in the shadow of Samui. People do live here and there are hotel options, but the rocky beaches don’t draw crowds like their nearby powdery cousins. These rocks make great homes for sea life and so most boats will anchor just off shore, haul a ladder over the side, toss bread crumbs overboard (be sure to talk to your driver if they have any or if you need to bring), and you’ll be set for a world-class fish display. Most boats don’t spend much time here, but the choice is entirely yours.
KOH MAD SUM (PIG ISLAND)
Just a few cranks of the turn shaft away, your long tail boat will be landing on the beach (quite literally) on Koh Mad Sum. Already home to some of the softest and whitest sand, this island was made even more famous when a group of pigs swam over from Koh Tean (so the story goes).
There is a restaurant, bathrooms, and places to sit, eat, and relax. There are accommodation options on the island too (if you’re wanting some piggy time without the crowds). You can also rent kayaks for 300 Baht and get your arm workout in some of the clearest waters around.
KOH SAMUI HAS SO MUCH TO OFFER. CHECK OUT WHERE, HOW, AND WHAT TO ADVENTURE.
Then of course, there are the pigs! During the heat of the day, most of these sandy swines shelter in the shade of the trees. From time to time, one will overheat and head to the water to cool down. You’ll know when this happens, not because of a sizzling sound or the smell of bacon, but rather the surge of tourists who will clamour over one another to get a piggy picture or swine selfie. You can buy food to lure the pigs to the water, but none of them seem lacking for snacks. It’s a novel experience, but for us, the real gem was the beach. It’s everything you want a tropical beach to be. With swings, sand, a cabana, and drinks – we could have spent a lot more time right there.
OTHER OPTIONS TO REACH KOH TEAN AND KOH MAD SUM
If you’re wanting to snorkel or spend time with those tropical piglets, but want to skip the 5 Islands, then make your way down to the seaside enclave of Thong Krut. This fisherman village is easily accessible off the 4170 ring road. Here you can negotiate with a boat owner directly to ferry you to and from these nearby islands. The crossing will take 15-20 minutes.