Koh Samui, living costs on Thailands boutique island

By Rachel Jones

Life on Samui is relatively cheap, and excellent value

Koh Samui is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand. Tourists arrive in their droves to soak up the sun and lounge around on the beach. However, many could be in for a surprise if they are expecting Thailand’s low prices and cheap products.

Samui is one of the most expensive places in Thailand, with prices mirroring those of any European resort town. Food, accommodation and entertainment are often double what they are in other tourist destinations in Thailand such as Chiang Mai. For this reason, anyone looking to travel to Samui will need to be somewhat flush.

Where you stay on the island will largely determine how much you spend because your accommodation costs will be the largest part of your budget. Chaweng Beach is the main beach and also the most expensive. There is a wide range of accommodation here ranging from cheap rooms off the beach road to exclusive five-star resorts.

Lamai is the next busiest beach but is not as expensive as Chaweng; it is possible to find cheaper beachfront accommodation here. Bophut Beach is on the northern coast of Samui and while it has retained much of its traditional character, five-star resorts are the norm. The three other quieter beaches include Big Buddha, Mae Nam and Choeng Mon. These beaches are where you will find the cheapest guest houses and hotels, but they are also away from the main towns and nightlife.

If you are staying permanently then you won’t need to wake up on the beach every day and will find much better value in the hills set back from the waterfront, where US$1o00 a month would secure you a trendy modest sized villa, or you could buy one from $100,000.

If you are on a limited budget, it is recommended that you stay on a quieter beach and make the odd trip to Chaweng. Cheap rooms and bungalows start from around 500 baht per night. There is no limit to how much you can spend because some of the most expensive resorts in Thailand can be found here - costing thousands of baht for just one night. A typical beachfront bungalow on Chaweng Beach will cost in the region of 3,000 baht per night and up.

There’s some luxurious but affordable seaview villas

When it comes to eating out there is a broad spectrum. If you want something cheap and cheerful you can eat for a couple of hundred baht. However, one of the joys of being on holiday is sampling new food and splashing out. There are some excellent restaurants across the island. It is hard to budget food costs as the choice is so wide, but if you estimate about 1,000 baht per person per day, this will include lunch and dinner (not drinks). At the other end of the scale skint backpackers make do with a simple Thai noodle shop, where eating as the locals do costs less than 50 baht.

Some restaurants charge 1,000 baht a head so if you will be eating in upmarket establishments more often than not, you should probably double your eating budget. Likewise, if food is not very important to you, you can eat for half that amount if you visit local eateries, street side stalls and cheap backpacker type venues.

Nightlife on Samui is fun and lively, and people often continue partying until the early hours. Again, your drinks budget will depend on your preferences. If you like a nice bottle of wine with dinner before having an early night, your bar and entertainment bill will be far less than if you like to party hard. However, if you are a night owl, you can add at least 1,000 baht every night to your budget.

Drinks are not cheap on Samui, although beer is generally cheaper than it is in your home country. Cocktails (which are very popular) are about 150 baht each, beer is about 90 baht for a small bottle and spirits start at about 100 baht. Your bar bill each night will depend on how much you drink.

Other expenses which need to be considered when you are working out a budget are: money for gifts and souvenirs, any daytrips or tours you will want to go on and travel around the island. It is up to you how much you spend on souvenirs. There are many shops and markets on Samui selling a wide range of beachwear, clothing, accessories, jewellery and DVDs/CDs. They are all far cheaper than you will find in the UK, but be aware that most are fake.

Daytrips such as a day’s diving or snorkelling begin at about 2,500 baht per person. Taxis generally charge 100 baht to go up and down the length of Chaweng Beach (one way only). Journeys to Lamai are usually about 200 baht from Chaweng and 400 baht to Bophut. You will have to factor taxis into the equation if you are staying off the beaten path but still want to enjoy the nightlife.

Once you’ve settled in and no longer want to be at the mercy of tourist-priced food, you can go grocery shopping in Tesco – a British (co) owned chain that is well stocked to provide many of the items for a Western palate. This is when living costs are noticeably cheaper

Samui may be more expensive than other places in Thailand but it is also more exclusive. It is a large beach resort brimming with top-end hotels, gourmet restaurants and trendy cocktail bars. But if you are on a tight budget, it might be worthwhile visiting some of the other cheaper islands in the south instead.

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Koh Samui - Chaweng Palace Hotel