Getting to know Samui's expat community

what's not to like about Samui?

For many folks the southern Thai island of Koh Samui is almost like heaven. A magical environment with stunning golden beaches, a temperate climate, delicious cuisine and a range of activities and entertainment venues to suit all tastes ensures that many holidaymakers arriving on Samui’s shores never want to leave again.

A wander around the myriad hotels, restaurants and bars in some of the towns on Samui will reveal that plenty of international tourists have indeed never left and are now part of the island’s large expat community. The community is primarily comprised of nationals of European countries, with Britons and Germans very much in evidence. But there also plenty of North Americans, Australians and Indians here.

The Indians tend to be involved with tailor’s shops or restaurants. The Western contingent mostly run bars or eateries or are retired and simply enjoying Samui’s delightful atmosphere and low cost of living. As the island has blossomed in popularity as a holiday destination, its infrastructure has improved accordingly.

There are now lots of eateries serving gastronomy from all over the globe, Western-style shopping centres, cinemas and bowling alleys. While Samui retains its tropical setting, in some areas visitors could be forgiven for thinking that they were back home as the golden arches of McDonalds and the Starbucks logo are among familiar sights on the skyline in the main resorts. 

Most visitors to Samui will run into an expat or three during their holiday. Expats tend to have their favourite watering holes and congregate in the evenings at bars such as the Lazy Coconut at Maenam and the Shamrock Irish Pub at Lamai. The latter is Irish-run and the emphasis here is on quality beverages and food coupled with enjoying the craic (fun).

A few of the Western-style bars on Samui host pub quizzes that expats usually reserve space on their calendars. The Frog and Gecko at Fishermen’s Village holds a well attended pub quiz on Wednesday evenings. On alternate Friday evenings, the Lazy Coconut draws in trivia fans with Sunday roast dinners one of the prizes for winning teams.

There are also a number of expat clubs on Samui that hold regular meetings or arrange functions for charity. These clubs provide a convenient common ground for newcomers to meet expatriates and other long-term foreign residents. Rotary Club Koh Samui, or ROCKS as it is referred to by local residents, was founded in 2003 and is dedicated to humanitarian works and goodwill to all.

ROCKS members meet on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at Lamai’s Buddy Beach Resort from 18:00 to 19:00. The club supports local schools such as Wat Jaeng and has previously staged charity events to raise funds for tsunami aid, wheelchairs and EKG heart monitors. Visiting Rotarians are welcome. ROCKS issues a monthly bulletin which can be downloaded from the club’s website in PDF format. 

Keen tennis players head to Koh Samui Tennis Club to meet likeminded individuals for practice sessions and the occasional competitive match. The club is just two minutes away from Bangrak Beach and boasts two professionally-laid, permeable Flexipave courts. Professionals and amateurs are welcome, as are those just looking for a little light exercise. Coaching and practice walls are available.

A lot of expats volunteer to help at the Dog and Cat Rescue Samui Foundation. The foundation is always on the lookout for animal-lovers to help with the care of the island’s stray canine and feline populations. Golf is another popular pastime when people have free time on their hands. On Samui, the sole venue for golf is the Santiburi Samui Country Club’s championship course. A tastefully designed club house is perfect for the 19th hole and a spot of networking.

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There are several enclaves on Koh Samui where foreign residents tend to gravitate to when renting villas or apartments for long-term stays. In the environs of Maenam Beach, on the north shore of the island, there are quite a few developments with high-end villas that have enticed foreign residents to take out long leases. Shops and market stalls in the vicinity stock groceries and goods used by farang (foreigners).

A number of real estate agents maintain service outlets on Samui and can arrange long-stay villa or condominium rentals as well as the purchase of residential premises. Agents include Asia Property World, Samui Rent House and Kalara.

Apartment buildings where other expats live are primarily in the northeast section of the island that stretches round from Maenam past Big Buddha Beach and Chaweng to Lamai. Due to fairly strict planning laws on Samui, the buildings are not high-rise monoliths like those in Patong or Pattaya. 

International visitors opting for an expat life on Samui usually find that learning Thai helps them to integrate better. The Thai Language School Koh Samui has a branch at Bophut and also on neighbouring Koh Phangan. The school offers 50-hour Thai language courses at three different levels as well as six-month and one-year courses that provide attendees with the necessary documentation to apply for educational visas.

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