It’s hard to believe as you drive along the Ring Road in Mae Nam that, just a few hundred metres away, there is one of the prettiest beaches Koh Samui has to offer. Once you’re off the road, it’s an amazingly tranquil spot, fringed the whole way by majestic palms. It’s also here that you can find some of the cheapest accommodation on the island, as well as some upmarket resorts.
The sand, though not picture postcard perfect, is a fine yellow colour, with a turquoise sea stretching away. In the distance you can see Koh Pha Ngan - Samui’s sister island – and, on a clear day, distant Koh Tao. For those who know it, Mae Nam represents a largely unspoilt beach and when you sit on the sands here and look along it in either direction, it’s hard to see the development. Most of it is small collections of bungalows, with the main exception being the impressive Santiburi Resort & Spa halfway along the sands. It is one of Samui’s first luxury hotels and is still going strong.
Mae Nam is not for everyone, though, since it is quite remote from the action at Chaweng. However, that might be a good reason to choose Mae Nam, but if you’d prefer some nightlife, then you’ll find this beach a bit boring. As with the rest of Samui, you can rent bikes and easily get out and about for the day.
Starting from the beach’s west end, an old temple called Wat Na Pralarn makes for some wonderful photos. A great place to see shortly before sundown, the temple has a slightly dilapidated feel to it, and while it could do with some fresh paint in places, it definitely has an evocative quality. Right by the beach, there are some simple food stalls under the shade of trees and the beach here is much favoured by the natives. It is next to the Lomprayah Pier, from where you can take fast boats to Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao.
On the road that leads away from the temple, you will find John’s Garden; probably the most romantic spot in the area for a meal. The garden is beautiful and diners sit out in a wonderfully lush spot. To find the temple, simply turn off the Ring Road when you see the large temple gate, at the far end of Mae Nam.
Mae Nam Beach, unlike Chaweng, is never crowded, and very often you will come across only a handful of people sunbathing. As you walk further along you come to Harry’s Bungalows, which is more upmarket than the name suggests. Some distance later is the Santiburi, which offers a plethora of water sports as well as fine dining.
Halfway along Mae Nam Beach is a public road that comes down to the sea from the Ring Road at the junction with the approach to the temple Wat Pukhao Tong, and here you will find a cluster of shops and diving schools, including the excellent Penguin Divers.
On the beach itself are many places to eat and drink. One that’s favoured by many is the Café Talay, with simple interior, friendly service and great food. Grand Sea Discovery is located at the sea end of the road and runs ferries to Koh Pha Ngan and its east coast on a daily basis.
Towards the end of the bay that cradles Mae Nam Beach, you come to the comfortable, yet affordable, Paradise Beach Resort. Blessed with two swimming pools, and what’s said to be one of the best restaurants on Samui, the Roma, it makes for a great place for a sundowner and one of their justly-renowned Italian dishes.
Every Thursday evening is Mae Nam ‘walking street’; a market that fans out from the pier along the sois. Stalls selling clothes, local snacks, jewellery and odds and ends can be found here, along with some live music.
Mae Nam is also the closest beach to Na Thon, the administrative centre of Samui. It is a typical Thai island town that is far removed from the boutique resorts of the rest of the island, yet is pretty much nondescript. Ferries from the mainland arrive here, although it does have some restaurants and services worth a look.