23/04/2024

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15 Pros and Cons of Living in Koh Samui

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15 Pros and Cons of Living in Koh Samui

For two and a half glorious years, I had the pleasure of living on the gorgeous island of Koh Samui, Thailand. To this day, I consider it my favorite place I’ve ever been to on earth (so far). There are so many pros to living on Koh Samui, but, of course, there are some challenges as well.

Some of the pros might seem obvious, but when spending time in a foreign country, it’s important not to be blinded by the magical appeal. The cons of living in Koh Samui should always be considered, especially if you plan on staying there long-term.

15 Pros and Cons of Living in Koh Samui

Koh Samui

After spending a substantial amount of time in Koh Samui, I have a lot of personal experience with life on the island. My list below comes from that personal experience, speaking and befriending other expats, and creating relationships with the locals.

Thailand, overall, is an incredible and unique country – in my opinion, there truly is no other place like it. Here’s my list of pros and cons of living in Koh Samui:

What (Where) is Koh Samui?

Koh Samui beach

Known for its postcard-perfect beaches, laid-back vibes, posh resorts, and vibrant culture, Koh Samui is known to be a haven for backpackers, digital nomads, and tourists alike. It is also very popular amongst expats, especially from Europe, the UK, Australia, and Russia.

Located off the eastern coast of Thailand in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui is accessible by airport, ferry, and private boat services. The island is fairly small and can easily be driven around via the loop road, which is about 32 miles long.

Pros of Living in Koh Samui

Koh Samui has been one of my favorite, if not my most favorite, places I’ve ever lived. These are the pros of living in Koh Samui.

1. It’s Absolutely Stunning

Koh Samui waterfall

One of the biggest pros of living in Koh Samui is that it’s breathtakingly beautiful. It’s like the locations you see in movies and tropical screensavers. I even have the view from my bungalow tattooed on my arm – I loved it so much, I wanted to see it forever!

The island has white sand beaches, lush rainforest, and super clear turquoise waters – perfect for anyone who loves nature. But aside from the beach, inland, you’ll find sprawling coconut groves, lots of waterfalls, and hiking trails.

No matter where you are on the island, you’ll just be in awe of all of the natural beauty.

2. Insanely Cheap Cost of Living

Accommodation thailand

One of the main reasons a lot of expats head to Thailand, including Koh Samui, is the extremely affordable cost of living. Compared to most Western countries, Thailand’s housing, food, and healthcare costs are very low.

When I was living there, I had a one-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow with an incredible view, and paid $350/month, which is about average for a budget apartment. Mid-range apartments cost around $600-$800/month.

Food is also extremely cheap. I could go down to the night market and have a delicious meal for less than $3. Buying food from fresh markets is also very cheap compared to grocery store prices.

3. Thai People are Incredibly Nice

thai locals friendly welcoming

Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles,” and the locals truly deliver. They are super friendly, welcoming, and incredibly warm. Despite usually having a language barrier, communication and connection still seems to come easily and feels genuine.

In some countries, there are stereotypes of the locals being rude or having disdain for foreign visitors and expats. Thailand is definitely not one of those countries. No matter where you go, you’ll see smiling faces.

I found this to be a huge pro of living in Koh Samui because I always felt welcome on the island. I also quickly made friends with some of the sweetest Thai ladies who ran a pop-up bar in the town of Lamai.

4. It has Something for Everyone

beach club

What I absolutely loved about living in Koh Samui was the fact that it really had something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing environment or one full of adventure, you’ll find it on the island. You can find everything from budget-friendly to posh and extravagant – there are plenty of things to do here.

The largest city on the island is called Chaweng, where you can find nightclubs, beach clubs, restaurants, and shopping. If you head south, the smaller town of Lamai has more backpacker vibes, while offering a smaller yet still vibrant nightlife.

I lived on the western side of the island in the locals’ town of Nathon; it’s also where most people arrive when coming via ferry. It’s quiet, it has a small town center, and it’s about 45 minutes from Chaweng. You’ll also find gorgeous resorts scattered throughout the island.

5. Easy Access to Other Countries

airplane window

Depending on the type of visa you have when entering the country, you might have to leave Thailand every few months to renew it. Thankfully, Koh Samui has easy access to other countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

The Koh Samui airport is located on the north side of the island and is one of the cutest airports I’ve ever been to. Flights can be more expensive from here versus taking a ferry to the mainland and flying out from Surat Thani, but it’s super convenient.

The most budget-friendly option is to take a ferry, then a shuttle, to the Surat Thani airport. From there, you can fly out to your destination or take a short flight up to Bangkok, where you can catch a flight to almost anywhere your heart desires.

6. The Food is Absolutely Delicious

thai street food night market

A major benefit of living in Koh Samui is all of the delicious food. You can find inexpensive mouthwatering food at night markets, as well as Michelin-star restaurants with world-renowned chefs. Even the fussiest of eaters are sure to fall in love with the cusine here.

The night market food was always my favorite during my stay. It was local cuisine, cooked with traditional ingredients and techniques, super tasty, and always affordable. Plus, walking around the markets was always a fun sensory experience.

When you want something a little more elevated, there are plenty of other restaurants and cuisines to be found. Italian and British restaurants seem to be popular options, but you can find everything from Indian, Greek, burger spots, and fine dining.

7. It’s Great for Digital Nomads

digital nomad

While I was living in Koh Samui, I was still working online as a digital nomad. In fact, many expats who aren’t retirees are digital nomads, and there’s a fantastic community of online workers.

I typically always had fast WiFi in my bungalow apartment. Occasionally it would go down due to a storm, but if ever this happened, I just took a ride into town and was always able to find a cafe or coworking space that still had a connection.

Some great spots to work are Khan Space, Organic Coworking Club, and Desk and Chair.

8. The Weather is Tropical

sun lotion tropical climate

A huge perk to living in Koh Samui is its warm, tropical weather. Throughout the entire year, you can expect temperatures with highs in the mid-80s °F and lows in the mid-70s °F. For me, it doesn’t get more perfect than that.

May is usually the hottest month, with December and January being the coolest. This means year-round access to beaches and suntans. It’s important to keep in mind that since it is a tropical climate, it also comes with a rainy and stormy season (more on this below).

9. The Culture is Palpable

Thailand culture Buddhist religion

Another thing I loved about living in Thailand was how strong the Thai culture is. Whether it’s their religion (most Thai people are Buddhist), their clothing, their food, or their celebrations, the Thai culture can be felt to your core.

At night markets, you’ll find traditional dancing and singing, and there always seems to be a festival of some sort going on. My favorite festivals are the Songkran festival, which is basically a 3-day-long water fight, and the Loy Krathong festival, where people send thousands of lanterns into the sky.

The Thai people also have a lot of respect for their Buddhist religion and the monks that belong to the temple. You’ll often find monks walking the streets and receiving flowers, food, and gifts from the local people.

10. It’s Easy to Make Friends

digital nomad community friends

Thanks to Koh Samui’s thriving expat and traveling scenes, it’s incredibly easy to make new friends when you’re out and about. People from all over the world flock to this island, which already means you have something in common!

Nearly every time I went out, I would strike up a conversation with a fellow nomad. I now have friends who live all over the world that I still catch up with regularly.

Even though many of the locals don’t speak English, unless you’re in more of the heavily-touristed areas, most of the expats do. Thanks to English being such a universal language, it’s easy to communicate during your stay.

Cons of Living in Koh Samui

Despite my love for Koh Samui, it, of course, comes with its downfalls. These are some of the challenges and disadvantages of living in Koh Samui.

1. It’s a Small Island

Koh Samui

Before considering a move to Koh Samui, you’ll want to keep in mind that it’s quite a small island. Island life is amazing until it isn’t – it’s easy to feel “stuck” or out of options for things to do and places to go.

It takes a while to get “bored” of Koh Samui because there’s so much to see, but it can happen. That’s why I always made it a point to get off the island every couple of months. Whether that was to the neighboring island of Koh Phangan, up to Bangkok, or another country, it helped to get off the island and into a new environment every now and again.

2. The Weather can be Intense

tropical storm

During the wet months of September through November, the weather can get pretty intense with rain and storms. Even though it’s still warm out, there can be days on end when the rain doesn’t stop.

When I knew a storm was going to be coming through, I would always stock up on food and water because I knew I wouldn’t want to drive around or be outside for a few days. We’re talking downpours and strong, sideways wind.

Another downside is that Koh Samui can often fall in the path of dangerous typhoons. I fled up to Bangkok for a week when a typhoon came through because I couldn’t risk being without internet.

3. Roads can be Dangerous

fastening helmet road safety thailand

Even though it’s a small island with only one major ring road, the driving conditions in Koh Samui can be a bit sketchy. Nearly every expat can tell you a story about being in a motorbike crash – including myself.

Sadly, there are nearly 3,000 accidents, involving mostly motorcycles, every single year. There tends to be a higher number of accidents during major celebrations and festivals.

There’s a mixture of scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, songthaews, and other motor vehicles on the roads, many of which tend to disregard speeding and other driving laws. Always keep your eyes open, and always wear a helmet. Also, try and avoid driving at night or in inclement weather.

4. Staying Long-Term can be Difficult

Thai baht

The type of visa you obtain before arriving in Koh Samui will determine how long you can stay on the island and in the country. Many younger (under 50) travelers simply arrive on a tourist visa that allows you 90 days of entry. After that, you’ll need to leave the country before you can come back. Some people leave for a day (although it’s frowned upon), while others use it as a two or 3-week vacation in a neighboring country.

Many older expats use a retirement visa, allowing them long-term or permanent stays. This usually just requires a set amount of money set up in a Thai bank account.

You can now also purchase a long-term visa that allows you to live in Thailand for up to ten years. The catch is that you’ll need to prove that you made over $80,000 USD for the two years prior to applying.

5. It Feels a Little Westernized

Westernised restaurants

Despite the vibrant Thai culture, one of the cons of living in Koh Samui is that it definitely feels a bit Westernized in the bigger cities of Chaweng, Mae Nam, and Bophut. You’ll see chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King – there’s even a Hooter’s!?

I realize that tourism brings in a ton of money to the economy of Koh Samui, but it’s somewhat disappointing to see so many Western names and businesses make such a statement on the island. I’m sure it provides a sense of “home” for some people, but I found it a little annoying. For those of you in need of the occasional creature comfort, this may actually be a pro for you!

Is Living in Koh Samui Worth It?

Overall, living in Koh Samui is a truly magical and life-changing experience. Despite the cons, the pros of living in Koh Samui far outweigh them. If you ever get the chance to spend time on this beautiful island, I highly recommend it.

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