Along the beach in Lamai on Koh Samui island, Thailand

Samui Chillin’

A friend recently recalled his days on Koh Samui in the 1970s, reminiscing about the empty beaches and only the handful of bungalows, no electricity, not to mention the hardships of getting to the magical isle prior to modern tourism. While those days won’t be found in almost any way, shape, or form anymore, other than the occasional power outage leaving you with no current, you can surprisingly still find a good number of excellent chill-out spots to get away from it all, enjoy the sand and sea, not to mention having a romantic dinner or drink in what is still one of Thailand’s most beautiful spots… if you choose wisely. Here are a few favorites scattered around the island. These places are also excellent resorts, but even if you’re not staying, it’s worth dropping in for a sunset drink or romantic meal

Romantic restaurant over the sea, Koh Samui, Thailand

Photo Credit: Dave Stamboulis

Akyra Chura

While Chaweng is Samui’s most popular and most overdeveloped beach, you can get away from the majority of the crowds at its northern end, where Akyra Chura has a chilled-out beachfront location, with a pool set right overlooking the beach. Best of all, the Akyra Kitchen and Club set up caravanserai-style tables out on the beach, where you can start off with drinks to the arrival of the blue hues at dusk, and then move on to romantic candlelit dinners looking out at the fishing boat lights and night sky. The restaurant even does set course dinners featuring fresh seafood, like giant lobsters, served with elegant wine pairings. It’s so subdued, you not only will forget you are in Chaweng, but you might forget what year it is as well.

Beluga Boutique

Down south in Lamai, most tourists make a beeline for Hin Ta Hin Yai, the famed “Grandfather / Grandmother Rocks,” where several immense boulders are noted for their resemblance to human genitalia and have become an obligatory tourist attraction. What most visitors never see lies around the corner, where the tiny Beluga Boutique has set up shop sandwiched between the giant rocks and a private cove that marks the southern tip of Lamai beach. You’ll have it almost to yourself down here, and the resort resembles a Mediterranean whitewashed villa with bright pink furnishings. Not only is it one of Samui’s most charming places to vacation, but in the evening, the restaurant puts a table up on top of one of the giant rock outcrops right over the sea, with a candle lantern-lit path leading the way up to it. It’s hopelessly romantic, completely unique, and one of Samui’s best spots to be spoiled and escape the hordes.

RockPool Restaurant

Not only has the chef, Lucas Leonardi Varin, worked in a handful of Michelin-starred establishments around the world, but you can enjoy his fabulous culinary presentations in one of Samui’s most dramatic settings. The RockPool is located in the prestigious Kanda Residences, set in a secluded spot outside of Choeng Mon, on the northeast coast. The restaurant sits over rock pools that turn the sea here into foam and froth, and stormy nights can be particularly exciting, as it feels like a really wild escape. With tapas, imported oysters, wagyu beef, and Sunday brunch buffets topping the menu, this is one of the island’s best eat and retreat’s.

Sleeping on the beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

Photo Credit: Dave Stamboulis

Escape Beach

The name here tells the whole story. This is northern Samui’s best getaway, other than perhaps the W, which happens to be right next door and charges a zillion times the price. Come check out the Castaway Restaurant & Bar here, which sits right next to the gorgeous almost-infinity-edge pool, with sweeping views of the entire Mae Nam Bay, as well as the sunset. The restaurant and resort is tucked into a cove that lies at the end of a dead-end road that involves a very steep climb over a headland, so it really does live up to its moniker. They are so laidback here, they no longer even have a website, just a Facebook page!

Stunning sea view and tropical paradise, Koh Samui, Thailand

Photo Credit: Dave Stamboulis

Air Bar

If you really want to get away from it all and relive a bit of the real old days in Samui, you’ll have to drive all the way across the island, to the somewhat remote southwest coast, where a few fine resorts sit overlooking pristine beaches that you can have all to yourself at times. The Intercontinental Taling Ngam occupies a remarkable position up on top of a cliff, and its aptly-named Air Bar features one of the most stunning Samui panoramas to be found, gazing out directly at the setting sun, the Gulf of Thailand, and at the gorgeous turquoise-colored water below. Umbrella-covered tables make it one of the island’s most optimal chill-out spots, and it really is far enough away from the crowds to make you want to settle in for a long while.

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His photos, represented by Alamy and Getty Images, have appeared in publications around the world. He is the author of Odysseus’ Last Stand, which received the Silver Medal for Travel Book of the Year in 2006 from the Society of American Travel Writers. In addition to working as the updating writer for Fodor’s Guidebook to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, he is the "Bangkok expert" for USA Today's 10Best website, and a regular contributor for publications throughout Southeast Asia such as Silver Kris (Singapore Airlines), Asian Geographic, International Traveller (Australia), Virgin Voyeur, Tiger Tales (Tiger Air), Bangkok 101, Look East, Tropical Magazine, Get Lost (Australia), Sawasdee Thai Air, and Bangkok Post among others.