Koh Samui 2023, Thailand

The island of Samui in Thailand is one of my favourite places to visit on Earth. It has become the default destination for my birthday celebrations in late June. This is the third time I’ve visited Koh Samui and the island just keeps getting better and better.

The Library Hotel

For this trip, I chose a very special hotel that I’ve been wanting to stay at since 2020. The Library is the godfather of ultra chic and cool hotels, having opened in 2007, long before Instagram even existed. It doesn’t have to try to be cool; it just is, and hopefully always will be. 

I was originally attracted to The Library due to its design. Tirawan Songsawat designed a beautiful hotel around old growth trees. The gorgeous (and still controversial) red tiled pools, minimalist architecture and the concept of taking the time to relax and enjoy reading throughout the property, all come together to make for a very compelling hotel design. 

GFX100S 20mm ISO-200 1/240sec f/8
GFX100S 21.2mm ISO-200 1/420sec f/8
GFX100S 32mm ISO-200 1/120sec f/11

After staying there for four nights, I can say that The Library lived up to expectations. The hotel is semi split into “Pages” and “Secret Chapters”. The Pages are the rooms and suites, while the Secret Chapters are the larger villas. 

Our “Secret Chapter 4” villa was enormous, actually too big for two people. The private green pool contrasted very nicely with the shared red pools, and the design with the private pool in between the two living quarters creates this wonderful indoor/outdoor seamlessness.

GFX100S 32mm ISO-1600 1/7sec f/4
GFX100S 28.6mm ISO-200 1/280sec f/8
11ft wide bed! Made for couples in a long-term relationship! GFX100S 20mm ISO-800 1/15sec f/8

As mentioned, the original attraction was the hotel’s design, but now that I’ve stayed there, it’s actually the location and service that are now my favourite attributes. Being right on Chaweng Beach makes for an excellent central location from which to explore Koh Samui. 

The service was top notch throughout our stay; totally natural, not pretentious, super genuine and kind. I started keeping names of all the great staff, and by day two, I had already accumulated six names; that’s when I decided to stop tracking each person and instead recognize the whole team at The Library as being exceptionally well trained and predictive of what their customers want.

Even though we had our private pool in the villa, the shared red tiled pools were very compelling. Each side has their own red tiled pool. Residents of either side can use either pool. In between the two areas is the excellent “The Page” restaurant where you eat breakfast (excellent selection of high quality a la carte dining) and can hang out during the daily happy hour.

We spent many, many hours lounging on the red beds on the beach and watched the sun slowly set behind us, lighting up the scene in front with golden light. The water and beach were super clean, although the beach did have some jelly fish while we were there which would occasionally zap you in the water; since we already spent so much time in the sea in Koh Tao, we spent most of our water time in the pools.     

GFX100S 35mm ISO-100 1/1100sec f/4

The Library was built before the era of Instagram and so it must be held in that context as a pioneer of great design that also looks good online. However, The Library is so much better than most Instagram worthy hotels; this hotel has depth to its design; for example, the designers kept all the original trees on the property and worked them into the layout. They could have easily replanted new trees, but keeping the originals gives the property that depth and maturity.

GFX100S 23.4mm ISO-200 1/350sec f/8

Going back to the red tiled pool; even today, it courts controversy. People in China joke that it looks like people are swimming in Chongqing Hot Pot. Other cultures find the red to represent blood and worry if swimming in it will bring them bad luck. For me, it just looks awesome and I’m so glad the designers had the courage to stick with the concept. It’s now a signature feature that everyone knows about.

It goes without saying that we really enjoyed our stay at The Library and will definitely stay there again. Next time, I’ll likely book a smaller room without a private pool and focus on using the two shared pools instead.

GFX100S 35mm ISO-100 1/750sec f/8

Fisherman’s Village

On the first night in Koh Samui, we had to stay near the pier in order to take the ferry to Koh Tao. We decided to stay in a funky newer area called Fisherman’s Village. Wow, what a huge change from a few years ago! There are so many new restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. It actually looks like the centre of Koh Samui has shifted from Chaweng Beach to Fisherman’s Village. 

Fisherman’s Village Night Market; GFX100S 32mm ISO-400 1/25sec f/4
Fisherman’s Village Night Market; GFX100S 40.3mm ISO-1600 1/160sec f/4

The nights to visit Fisherman’s Village are when the area hosts the massive night market. Connected to the night market area are all the new restaurants and bars. We went to several that we’d highly recommend. Coco Tam’s was excellent for both food and sophisticated drinks; they also had the amazing fire show. Just a short walk up the street was Two Fishes, a phenomenal Italian restaurant focused on fresh seafood.

Coco Tam’s Fire Show; GFX100S 32mm ISO-100 1/4sec f/4
Coco Tam’s Fire Show; GFX100S 64mm ISO-100 1/4sec f/4

Speaking of the night market, it’s huge, colourful, packed full of people (tourists and locals), has lots of options for small foods, 99 Baht cocktails (some are very good while others are watered down), and the usual local trinkets and fake goods. You can easily spend two nights at the night market and not be bored. 

I’ve been contemplating retiring in Koh Samui in the future and Fisherman’s Village is now one of my top areas to conduct more research for long term living.

GFX100S 52.7mm ISO-320 1/40sec f/8
Chom Dao Beach at Fisherman’s Village; X100V 23mm ISO-200 1/1400sec f/5.6

Pandemic Impact

Sadly, we did notice that Koh Samui has not bounced back in the way that other cities we’ve visited have. There were lots and lots of empty shops along Chaweng Beach Road, the main road in the once bustling beach area. Even the epic traffic along that road has disappeared. 

X100V 23mm ISO-4000 1/40sec f/3.2

When talking to locals, they mentioned that many expats left the island during the pandemic and have not returned, while many moved to newer areas such as Fisherman’s Village, and that while tourism is rebounding, major tourist groups such as the Chinese have yet to return in their typical numbers. 

For the sake of the locals, I hope that the island bounces back. In some ways, I really loved this quieter Koh Samui, but I appreciate that an economy that relies so heavily on tourism has real implications when the people don’t come.  

Fisherman’s Village Night Market; GFX100S 59.6mm ISO-640 1/160sec f/4


Koh Samui has been my destination of choice for my birthday three times and I think it will become a long term tradition to come to this beautiful island every year in June. It’s shoulder season so things are a bit cheaper, however the weather remained beautiful (25-30C with 70-80% humidity) the whole nine days we were there. Things will certainly get much busier in July as the children will be off school and can go explore the world with their parents. 

Chaweng Beach; GFX100S 80mm ISO-100 1/1300sec f/4.5
Chaweng Beach; GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/4400sec f/1.7

Locals did ask that I share with my readers that coming in December is not a good idea; they told me stories about hundreds of tourists they’ve come across that somehow believed all of Thailand is good to visit in December; Bangkok is great in December but Koh Samui is actually wet. If you’re planning a visit, July to October is the ideal time as it’s sunny everyday and not as humid. The worst month is November as it’s monsoon season. 

It’s not a vacation until we’ve made some new fur friends; GFX100S 64mm ISO-100 1/400sec f/4
Chaweng Beach; GFX100S 80mm ISO-100 1/7000sec f/1.7

I hope this post inspires you to visit Koh Samui and especially to stay at The Library! If you want to try an additional adventure, you can always hop on a ferry and check out the amazing and less developed Koh Tao that I wrote about recently.

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