When the sun goes down, the villages of Chaweng and Lamai have exceptionally vibrant nightlife. Beginning at dusk you can stroll the main strips and choose from hundreds of venues for drinks, dining, and live music. Bophut is more subdued, with a café and bistro scene that is decidedly low key, and preferred for this reason by some. The villages of Maenam and Nathon become very quiet after the shops have closed for the day.
In addition to the hundreds of local landowners and business people who have jumped on the bandwagon, many foreigners who have become smitten with life on Samui, have gone into the night time entertainment business. Whether you appreciate the proliferation of establishments or not, it must be said that a great deal of international creativity and energy (not to mention money!) has gone into some that have opened in recent years. The result is that for such a small and remote island, Samui has an amazingly wide variety of night time entertainment venues. The themes, decors, and standards range from the truly sublime to the truly ridiculous.
If you're staying in Samui's nightlife center, you probably came to party, since after 8:30 pm you can't escape the scene. In-your-face girlie bars are scattered around, with a heavy concentration in Soi Green Mango ("Soi" means "lane" in Thai.) But you can escape them if that's not your scene. If you don't want to be accosted with cries of "Hello welcoooome, come inside please!!" everywhere you go, it helps not to make eye contact with the "greeters." Admittedly however, this can be pretty hard. Some of them are awfully persuasive, not to mention charming.
And it's not that you won't have fun! We don't have any specific recommendations, since "hostess" bars are all pretty much of a muchness. Like at Phuket's Patong Beach, Bangkok's Patpong and Nana Plaza and Pattaya, girls are employed to play counter top games with the customers, pour drinks, and for those who would like to "rent-a-date" for the evening, go out on the town and more. Of course you must pay the "bar fine" that wins them their night off from hostessing duties. This is usually about 200 baht.
Many of these bars are owned by foreign men and their Thai wives or girlfriends who act as "mamasan" (madam). If you find a bar that has an ambience you like, nice staff and maybe a proprieter that you hit it off with, it may well become your evening hangout of choice and this goes for couples as well as singles! They can be great fun, whether you choose to avail yourselves of the extracurricular options or not.
Thirsty sports lovers are not deprived on Samui. Satelllite television has become ubiquitous in recent years, and the first acquisition any barkeep makes after the stereo, is the dish and decoder. International events, movies on DVD, and pretty much all the shows visitors are accustomed to seeing at home, are available everywhere. English football (soccer) is hugely popular in Thailand and bars showing it are easy to find, or hard to escape from, depending on your point of view.
If you're planning a big night out, those familiar with Thailand's long world-famous night time entertainment scene who haven't been here in a couple of years, will be in for an adjustment. The government decided in 2002, that 2:00 am was a reasonable bedtime hour for anyone and everyone. With few exceptions, lights must now go on at 2:00 am sharp and that includes the world class discos that have helped put Samui on the party map of the world.
Oddly however, the earlier closing times haven't changed habits much. The Reggae Pub and The Green Mango still don't start heating up until after midnight, leaving just 2 hours to get your groove on before closing. If you want to keep drinking after that, you can always join the crowd sitting on the steps of the nearest 7-11 convenience store, where you can buy alcohol 24 hours a day.
There are a few places in Chaweng worth noting for warming up. Packed in high season, newly opened Tropical Murphy's on the main road has quickly become popular with people watchers and those with a yen for a draught beer and a meal that reminds them of home.
With more than a little help from many Internet downloads, the proprietor of the Barefoot Bar near the Central Samui Beach Resort has collected and plays a mix of music that is possibly unrivaled in Chaweng. Better still, he serves generously mixed cocktails that make casual passers by into regulars in no time.
Or just walk up and down the strip. You could spend each night of your holiday bar hopping all evening long, and you still wouldn't scratch the surface.
Here's a tip: If you don't want to get ripped off by the drivers of the red public taxis, prepare exact change ahead of time. The price should be 20 baht per person to go anywhere in Chaweng. On the other hand if you wait until closing time you might not have much negotiating power. Price gouging at that hour seems to have been agreed upon by drivers as a group, and you're pretty much at their mercy.
If your interested in watching Thai boxers try to punch and kick the living daylights out of each other in what has been billed as one of the world's most violent sports, there's a proper stadium near the Reggae Pub that has been built for twice weekly events. If you miss the publicity in their print ads, their roving sound truck will soon put you in the loop.
For those who want to be seen, the Full Circle Bar is just a stone's throw from the soi Green Mango. Popular with Thais as well as foreigners, a live rock band does covers nightly and loudly. There's a disco in the back that seems to cater mostly to locals.
Some of the best sound in Chaweng can be heard at Sweet Soul Café which is just across the street from the Green Mango at the end of the soi. The DJ plays a mix of hip hop and dance remixes of old classics, and the equipment is first class. In high season after midnight the dancing crowd spills out into the street and the ambience is second to none.
If you're planning to end the night at the Reggae Pub and you feel like a stroll, the walk from the beach road takes you past dozens of little bars with beckoning hostesses. This world famous disco did a complete renovation last year. While still cavernous with its trademark wood structure, the new décor and the fittings are very sharp indeed.. A live band plays nightly, and when they don't, long-time DJ Sergio pumps up the volume.
In high season, Lamai rivals Chaweng for ambience and choice. Some very stylish bars and bistros have opened, and in addition to long-established "Bauhaus" discotechque, there are now at least one or two others. Of course the obligatory girlie bars are also there in large numbers.
Billabong bar on the main strip near McDonald's has a good sound system, friendly staff and posts the day's televised sporting events on a blackboard.
The Siam Bar and Grill is trying hard to establish themselves as the place to go for live entertainment. An Elvis show, live band, and ladies mud wrestling are among the treats in store for you in their air-conditioned premises. While just down the street at Banana Boat bar you can take in a ladyboy (transsexual) cabaret style stage show.
Keeping the Party Going After Hours
We won't speculate here on how a few establishments manage to stay open after the 2:00 am closing time, nor do we know their names. We hear they are mostly on the beach, and an investigation amongst the locals when you arrive will almost certainly yield the information.
Keeping Out Of Trouble
You got all the good news, now for some words of caution, meant not to put a damper on your holiday plans, but rather in the hope they will go off as beautifully as you hope.
The ambience in Samui's nighttime entertainment areas is as relaxed and freewheeling as you will experience anywhere. The ease with which one gets intoxicated by the excitement is partly due to the island being an exceptionally safe place to let loose and have fun. However be aware that like any tourist destination, we do have our petty criminals and yes - we do have laws. Try not to let your sense of being completely cut-off from the world you know, make you lose your common sense. If you are involved in a serious incident such a drug arrest, robbery, or motor vehicle accident, the downside to being in a land where you are an anonymous stranger, will quickly come crashing down on your head - and hard. Exercise the same caution you would at home, and you are most likely to have a perfect holiday.
Firstly and most important, if you going out drinking for the evening, leave the rented scooter home, and take taxis. While the statistics on the number of tourists seriously injured or killed every year on Samui are not commonly made public, they are shocking. There are a great many people driving bikes and cars while under the influence at night on Samui, and driving them too fast. Again - leave the bike at the hotel.
If you decide to pay a new friend for her (or his) company for the night, needless to say, wear a condom. The vast majority of those on Samui who are these days called "commercial sex workers," do not have criminal intentions of any kind. In fact as a group, they are about as honest as people in other walks of life in Thailand. However there are occasional incidents.
In particular be extremely cautious with men masquerading as women. Walking the streets of Chaweng after 1:00 am can be like a science fiction movie. Transvestites and transsexuals ("real" women sex workers do not do this) maraud the streets on scooters late at night, inviting men unattended by women, to accompany them. If you go, you may be placing yourself in a dangerous situation.
If you choose to take a new friend (sex worker, casual acquaintance or fellow tourist!) back to your hotel, always safeguard your valuables. Finally, women especially, are strongly advised not to accept invitations from a stranger to walk on the beach at night.
Are they available? Yes. If you consider arrest, detainment in jail for several days, a fine of US $2000 or more and then deportment and possible blacklisting ensuring you will never again step foot in Thailand, to be a risk worth taking for the high, then we have just two words for you. Good luck! Many, MANY people have had their vacations ruined and their bank accounts emptied due to drug arrests on Samui. Police here don't need a warrant and they don't need cause to search you - at least in practice. It only takes a routine check in front of the local convenience store to find the joint in your cigarette pack.
The number of children selling flowers in the bars late at night has grown in recent years, as parents have realized how much money can be made by putting their young children to work in this way. Many of these children are very sweet and charming. It's all part of the pitch, and they learn fast. Some will throw their arms around your legs or waist (if they can reach that high.) If your sense of sympathy inclines you to buy from them, please consider before doing so, that the fact they are up way past the hour children their age should be, has more do to with their parents' greed than poverty. In spite of what the children and some barstaff may tell you, in almost all cases, it is NOT necessary for them to be doing this kind of "work" to feed their families, on an island as wealthy as Samui. And you can be pretty sure that a child who is up selling flowers until 1:00 am will probably not be getting up for school the following day in any kind of state conducive to learning. Shockingly, some children are given substances to keep them awake, while others tranquilizers to keep them "under control." The authorities are aware of the problem and occasionally crack down.