Koh Samui with Kids – Top Ten Tips for a hassle free stay in Paradise
Our trip to Thailand has been in the planning for over a year. We love Thailand and we’ve taken Bilbo before. We knew Koh Samui with Kids would be a fun experience. And we were not disappointed despite 4 days of rain, a VERY long journey and mosquito’s. The point of this blog is to show you how accessible long haul can be. Exotic locations can be a fantastic learning experience for you and your family and they don’t have to be expensive.
We traveled in a party of 8, 6 adults and our boys (Bilbo – 4 and Harrison – 18 months)
I’ve pulled together my top ten tips for a hassle free stay in paradise come rain or shine.
1. Getting there
One of the reasons we chose Thailand for Christmas was because we’d found a good deal with Singapore Airlines to Koh Samui. We’ve been to Koh Lak before so Koh Samui with Kids seemed like a great idea. This was likely to be our last long haul flight with H before we’d have to pay for him. When you fly long haul with an under 2 there are some amazing perks (another blog on this topic coming soon)
You can’t fly directly to Koh Samui. There are options to fly via Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur etc. We opted for Singapore because the deal was with Singapore airlines. Our flight deal included an 18 hour lay over at Singapore on the return leg. Not everyone’s idea of fun, but for us it was an opportunity to break up the journey, catch up with some friends and see what had changed since our last visit in 2012.
Flights from Singapore to Koh Samui are just under 2 hrs. We flew with Silk Air who are a brilliant airline. We had issues between Singapore and Koh Samui and despite the challenges we were well looked after.
Pushchairs in Asia still go into the hold but as soon as you get off the flight someone will bring it up to you if you ask. This is a life saver when you have transfers in bigger airports. We also had 5hrs at Singapore before our Koh Samui flight so the pushchair was welcome. Just remember it won’t be waiting for you at Heathrow when you come home, you will need to collect it from the luggage carousel.
2. Arrange transfers
You may be a seasoned travel and you may LOVE independent travel. But arriving in the middle of a rain storm after 30+hours of travel due to delays with two smalls and luggage you do not need the added stress of trying to organise a taxi. We arranged our transfer with our hotel.
It is worth noting that to find your pick up you do need to walk some way out of departures to the left and meander around the walk way to where the taxi, minibuses and smiling faces are waiting to greet you.
3. Jet Lag
Koh Samui is +7hrs we (finally) arrived early evening. Whilst we were exhausted it actually worked out well for the kids. My advice for overcoming jet lag:
- Drink lots of water
- Get the kids eating meals on the location you’re heading to
- As tired as they may be try and do an activity when you arrive, a walk, a swim they’ve been stuck in a cabin for hours some fresh air will do wonders for helping them sleep
- Follow your bedtime routine as much as possible to give the kids a sense of normality
- Bring comforters or things your children need to sleep with you
We dropped our bags off and decided to get our bearings. I always like to figure out quickly, where we can get essentials (water and beer). We were also on the hunt for a cocktail and some food.
4. Where to stay?
Koh Samui is a pretty large and busy Island. It has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. This means there are a variety of options available for accommodation. In 2015 we visited Koh Lak for our honeymoon. We stayed on a resort and we did not enjoy it. I like to be in the hustle and bustle, I want to be able to get a beer or cocktail without having to pay tax and a service charge.
We were also travelling with my mum, so I was really keen to get somewhere with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Bilbo shares with my mum but we didn’t want the second room to be an adjoining hotel room or a bedroom/lounge.
I trawled Airbnb. There are some AMAZING properties on Koh Samui with breathtaking views. I had visions of living in a movie set style villa overlooking turquoise seas. My daydream was sharply popped when I realised that the practicalities of being in the hills with a small family were not ideal.
- I did not want to hire a car for the 2 weeks we were there
- I hated the restrictions the resort gave us but we could walk out
- Walking hills and dark roads were a no no with two small children
- I didn’t want to rely on taxis to get about
- I did not want to cook more than I had to
For the reasons above Airbnb was out.
Chaweng has the best stretch of beach.
The South end in particular. However it is also the busiest area on the Island. I’ve been to Koh Samui before and even 10 years ago it was crazy busy. The streets are narrow, the curbs are high and the traffic is heavy – not a good recipe for navigating a pushchair and a pre-schooler. We visited for an afternoon and evening, we enjoyed the visit but we were glad to get back to the peace of Bophut.
I’ve never stayed in Lamai, i’ve driven through it a couple of times. Lamai has some great beaches. Our plans had originally included a boat ride out to the National Park so Being in the North of the island was more appealing which ruled Lamai out.
I had fond memories of Bophut the sleepy Fisherman’s Village and the option to stay at Smile House ticked all the boxes. Big space, two rooms, plus living space. The reviews were good. The location was spot on and we had a choice of two pools and the restaurant overlooked the beach. Everything we could have wanted. (Full review of Smile House COMING SOON)
5. How to get about?
You can get about Koh Samui in a variety of ways:
Our airport transfer was arranged through the hotel, when we took our Thai Cooking Course it was arranged by the cooking school, we also booked a mini bus for our tour through a tourist operator. The benefits of this kind of transport is that it will be a door to door service. It is also worth noting that Bophut is a very narrow quiet road so to get taxi’s and Songthaews you’d have to walk up to the ring road or ask your hotel to arrange a taxi.
I was surprised at how expensive taxi’s were on Koh Samui. 300 Baht from our hotel to the Tesco Lotus for my mum, Bilbo and I seems steep. When a minibus for 9 to Chaweng was 500 Baht. It was a topic I debated with fellow travelers and I think there seemed to be some huge variances on price. It really depends on your negotiation technique and willingness to haggle.
TOP TIP: if you’re not in a metered taxi agree the price before hand.
In 2014 I bombed about the Island on a moped. In 2012 we did the same in Langkawi with only a small incident. Koh Samui is a VERY busy island. Unless you’re very confident in your driving skills I wouldn’t recommend this as a method of travel with kids. The Thais travel with 3 or 4 family members on a bike but they are experienced. The roads are busy, unpredictable and not always in great condition. My advice AVOID!
We didn’t catch one on Koh Samui because we didn’t really need to use one. In Koh Lak it was the only way we got about. They aren’t ideal for travelling with small people although we’ve often thrown the pushchair in the back and popped the break on and it has been an efficient method of travel.
6. What to eat?
If I had to only eat one countries food for the rest of my life I’d pick Thai I LOVE IT! Just because I love it doesn’t mean my kids love it. It can be spicy and all the things I love about it the flavour, colour, freshness and unusual combinations can be scary for a toddler and baby who are already taking a HUGE shift to their routine.
We have a rule on holiday (after some stressful experiences) Don’t stress about food. What this means in practice is the following:
- Offer local cuisine often
- Don’t stress if they decline the local cuisine and ask for a pizza
- If the kids don’t eat anything – don’t stress
- Accept the kids will eat a lot of ice cream and bread
- Praise the kids when they try new foods
- Talk a lot about the foods, why they are yummy and why they might like to try it but don’t stress if they decline
- Take vitamins
- Make sure the kids drink lots and lots of fluids
Bilbo was really interested in the fresh crab, lobster and fish on offer. We kept asking if he’d like to try it. One night he asked to try crab. Now I know my boy he would not have eaten crab when it arrived. I ordered him Shrimp, told him it was crab and devoured it. He didn’t dip it in the chilli sauce but he did enjoy it with some ketchup. You win some you lose some!
7. What to do if it rains?
Koh Samui is a tropical island. This means it rains. There are also rainy seasons to contend with. It was a bit of a risk booking December/January. The typical raining season is Sept – Nov but in recent years there has been a shift to Oct-Dec. We arrived during the tail end of some pretty bad weather. It even impacted being able to land.
It rained for our first 4 days. Here are my tips for dealing with the rain with toddlers:
- It is raining, no amount of checking your phone, weather apps and websites is going to change the fact it is raining. You can see the weather by looking out the door. Don’t tease yourself with hope and embrace the weather.
- Kids don’t mind rain – well mine don’t. They swam in the rain, played in the rain, sat on the beach in the rain and jumped through puddles in the rain.
- It might be raining but it is still warm. Let the kids be kids. Channel Peppa Pig and splash in those puddles and high five the wet foliage.
- The rain brings out interesting wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for frogs. Go on a bug hunt.
- We had a wonderfully massive veranda on our house. We used it to hang out and play when we wanted to take a breather from being soaking wet. Beach toys, plane toys and even devices can really help when cabin fever sets in.
- Find indoor activities to do:
- Tesco Lotus has a kids area with a mini amusement park including karaoke, soft play and a cinema
- Chaweng Shopping Mall has a train and lots of kids areas to play in all undercover
Thailand has VERY strong sun. I’m probably over cautious but I don’t want my gorgeous babies delicate skin experiencing burn. I was burnt badly in Thailand in 2004 it wasn’t pleasant. Even when it is overcast the sun can still get through. We use a combination of Factor 30/50 and the sun suits. Sun cream is one item I wouldn’t buy locally. I always bring it with me. I want the confidence it hasn’t been sat in a supermarket for the last 10 years.
I hate them they love me! And our whole family. Through my research I decided to buy incognito spray, shower gel and moisturiser. I took the mosquito bands we’ve used in Greece (and work miracles) I am not a big fan of wearing long sleeves and trousers – I get too hot. But I do try to keep the boys safe, long shorts, loose clothing etc. And I spray the pushchair every night before we go out and I use a mosquito net over the pushchair. I still got bit!
We were getting bit at night, I realised there were some gaps where they were getting in, we filled them. A tip from a fellow traveler was to find the boots roll on. We were in luck there was a boots at the Tesco Lotus. I bought two and the grey one (with deet for adults) the bites reduced using this. The little suckers were out in force from about 4pm. Quite often at 4 we’d be at the pool or on the beach so fair game to them.
I would also highly recommend taking mosquito repellent on any day trips, we didn’t (school boy error). A walk to the waterfall was pleasant, we were the buffet for them on the walk back down.
Tiger Balm is great if you get bitten but this little pot of heaven (never knew about it in 15 years of travelling in SE Asia) was a life saver. A little dab on the bite, the sting goes, the desire to itch goes and it heals up pretty quick. Sold in most pharmacies and even the 7/11.
10. Day trips
There are lots of day trips on offer around Koh Samui. You can do these as part of an organised trip, or independently. Due to the weather we were a little limited on the number of days we could do activities. We were also playing it by ear with regard to the smalls.
We opted out this time for various reasons but we did one in Koh Lak and thoroughly enjoyed it with Bilbo.
- Our party didn’t have sea legs so 2 adults to 2 under 4’s didn’t seem like a lot of fun.
- The journey is quite long and the feedback from other travelers was that the beaches were pretty grim thanks to the weather bringing in rubbish from the mainland.
- The tours were also quite expensive with little concession for the smalls.
If we were on a slow travel trip I would have included a day trip.
Tour of the Island
Our party consisted of 9 people so a private tour of the island was a good option for us. Everyone wanted to see a bit of Koh Samui and we wanted the freedom (especially with the kids) to take as long or as little time at some of the attractions.
This is pleasant visit, if you go early or late. In the middle of the day it is VERY hot. There are no scams or people trying to get you to part with your money. There is a relaxed atmosphere and some pleasant shops and cafes to explore.
Grandfather and Grandmother Rock
These rocks are worth a look. It is fun to watch the waves crashing against the rocks and take some photos. There is a sandy bay where you can take some time to chill out and watch the world go by. Again there are stalls selling the normal tourist trinkets and snacks. It wasn’t overly priced I was pleasantly surprised.
Everyone in our party wanted to swim in a waterfall. We asked our driver to take us to the best one…BIG MISTAKE. I’ve traveled in Thailand enough times to know there will always be a kick back for the driver. Our driver of course took us to Na Muang Waterfall. My main issue with this waterfall is it is part of the Wildlife Park.
I’d made a very conscious decision to not include the wildlife park in our itinerary as I know how badly treated the animals are. This is where the elephant rides are and you have to walk past this to get to the falls. I wasn’t going to make everyone drive somewhere else so we went with it. You can walk up to the start of the waterfall trek or you can take a ride in a 4×4. We opted for the car. Our driver was an idiot. He was showing off and whilst he probably does the journey multiple times a day and knows the roads like the back of his hand. We had the safety of our children to consider. NOT COOL
The trek up to the waterfall is tricky i’d advise sensible shoes (we had flip flops but crocs or something sturdier would be ideal) We also had the baby carrier which meant Rich took H up on his back so he had his hands free. If you have timid children or you scare easily I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THIS WATERFALL.
The falls themselves are slippy and the current is strong. We had 4 additional adults so we could pass the kids over and have them hold the kids whilst we got in and out.
With all that said we had a lot of fun. The kids thoroughly enjoyed swimming in the falls and we made some great memories with our family.
Check out TripAdvisor for some other Waterfall options.
Monkey Show/Elephant Rides/Wildlife Park
In Koh Lak you will find a lot more natural wildlife, there are a couple of Elephant welfare projects you can visit. Monkey’s are roaming about and we saw many on our trip to Koh Pi Pi.
Sadly on Samui all the animals we encountered are in captivity and it isn’t particularly pleasant. We made a conscious decision not to go and see the Elephants However as above they were at the same place as the waterfall so we did see them we just didn’t include them in our visit.
The monkey show is just as bad, the monkey is chained up and sent up and down a tree to collect coconuts. I was really sad to see this and I want to warn folk ahead of time that unless chained up monkeys floats your boat I would cross it off the tour.
I can’t comment on the Wildlife Park but since we were at the entrance it is clear that if you have any interest in animal welfare this place is not for you.
Thai Cooking Class
I’ve written a whole blog on our Thai Cooking Class experience. Stephanie from Infusion has done the classes with kids so if you’re children are a little older and like cooking this could be a really good option for you to do as a family.
Koh Samui with kids is a fantastic adventure. If you’re new to South East Asia it is a gentle introduction into Asian life. We can’t recomend Bohphut enough for a laid back chilled experience and Smile House was a perfect base. Thai people love children and so you can rest assured you can have a laid back holiday where your children can be themselves and explore all that the Thai experience has to offer.
Other posts about our trip to Koh Samui