Heading west from Bophut towards Nathon on the island’s ring road, Maenam appears to be an uninspiring potpourri of bleak concrete shophouses, scruffy bars and mostly mediocre restaurants, interspersed with the occasional top notch resort and excellent dining option. Extending for several kilometres, many travellers pass through without realising they are just a couple of hundred metres from another beautiful beach running parallel to this concrete jungle.
Maybe that’s why Maenam beach is never crowded: you’ll probably see no more than a handful of other people in the vicinity – yet, as evening approaches, you will be treated to a spectacular sunset from if you are at one of the best vantage points towards the eastern end of the beach. Magnificent views of Koh Phangan complete this wonderful holiday picture.
Maenam still has a reputation as Samui’s backpacker resort as there are plenty of ramshackle bungalow resorts on or near the beach, offering budget accommodation and cheap food. Development has been fairly slow and often sympathetically hidden among the coconut palms lining the golden sand of the beach. Views across the sparkling turquoise waters to Koh Phangan, the proximity of that island and its monthly mega-rave – the Full Moon Party – the low cost of the resort and its relatively natural feel, all combine to lure the younger traveller on a shoestring budget.
But this is Koh Samui, and so the above hardly tells the complete story…
As part of the island’s gradual move into upscale territory, boutique resorts and spa options are springing up along the shoreline, and are displacing the charming but dated budget accommodation. The oldest, the Santiburi resort hotel is an exception to the norm of discreet development on this beach: it stands out, about mid-way on the shore, as if proudly giving the finger to Maenam’s unspoilt natural beauty! It does offer a wonderfully elegant dining experience in the Sala restaurant, with a menu based on Royal Thai cuisine, and the concierge service arranges numerous water sport options for visitors – this typifies the trade off that comes with such development.
Other new resorts offer similar facilities for those who shun the more Bohemian offerings to be found in this area. The Pansea Napasai Beach Resort and Villas offers genuinely five star accommodation and service, with fabulous Thai artisan works for decoration, lavish cotton weaves, colourful silks and other fabrics, combined with Teak and tropical hardwoods, to produce an authentic Asian environment for guests. The Lai Thai restaurant serves gourmet meals in the cool sea breeze, and spa treatments and body scrubs are on offer at the resort’s retreat for visitors wishing to be pampered…
The Health Oasis Resort at the opposite end of the beach offers an altogether different experience: fasting programmes and new age treatments for tourists of a more puritanical nature! You pay your money and take your choice.
The Paradise Beach Resort boasts poolside dining at a restaurant with a great reputation on the island: Roma’s serves excellent Italian food and is great spot to savour a cocktail as the sun puts on its spectacular daily disappearing act!
Away from the beach you will find John’s Garden, possibly the most romantic dining option in Maenam. The place has a rustic feel, with ‘formal’ dining tables alongside reclining loungers, traditional teak salas and traditional Ayuddhya style buildings. The tropical gardens are beautiful, with everything from cashew nut trees to orchids blossoming around the restaurant. Easy to find too – head from the main road by turning into the well signposted temple gate, at the eastern end of Maenam.
The temple itself, nearby Wat Na Pralarn, is another amazing photographic opportunity (see Big Buddha and Plai Laem temples too), especially as the light softens towards sunset. The trees overhanging the beach offer a shady spot for a selection of traditional food stalls – and this is where you’ll find most of the locals: Thai’s do love their food, and it is always a good sign if there are plenty of Samui residents, happily smiling while eating in a restaurant!
Lomprayah Pier is adjacent and offers fast transport to Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao. An area to be avoided on Full Moon Party days! (See the Bangrak beach section for more on this.)
Another option away from the beach is the one relatively trendy bar on the ring road: The Lazy Coconut. With occasional live music and regular DJ spots, large screen TVs, pool, darts, regular barbeques, plus uncomplicated pub grub and drinks served in pretty ‘cool’ surroundings, this bar appeals to the whole spectrum of Maenam’s tourists.
For some sporting activity – or just a quiet drink while you watch others sweat – head up to Santiburi Golf Course, located in the hills behind Maenam. It offers spectacular views across the bay to Koh Phangan, as well as a world renowned golf complex with facilities to match. The restaurant in the clubhouse overlooks the course and has breathtaking views – with its open frontage and consequent cool breezes, even non-golfers will enjoy a drink here.
Though not great for shopping, with its soulless strip mall, Maenam does offer a few interesting shops specialising in teak furniture and hand crafted Thai artefacts. Worth a look if you are in the market for furniture as they’ll willingly organise shipping for larger items.
Is Maenam right for you?
This resort suits budget travellers and the well-heeled alike: another relaxed northern beach with picturesque views, marvellous sunsets and enough dining variety to satisfy most travellers. Maenam is about 10 or 20 minutes from Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village and around 30 to 40 minutes from Chaweng’s throbbing heart.
The hills behind Maenam are very popular for guests requiring a cooler location away from the beach. These holiday rental homes offer the full spectrum of facilitates – often combined with amazing views. Check the local listings to find the perfect Koh Samui rental property most suitable for you.