The Thai island of Ko Samui is rich in affordable luxury from local owners.

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Though European and Asian vacationers have known about the Thai island of Ko Samui for decades, U.S. visitors are still catching on to the glam locale.

This developed — yet still totally gorgeous — island is known as a one of the best vacation destinations in Thailand. You can find plenty of stateside comforts (W Hotels, 7-11, Starbucks), but if you know where to go, you can have a truly authentic experience on one of the most exciting islands in the country.

Here’s a guide for a great stay on Ko Samui that exclusively supports independent Thai small businesses.

Where to stay: Nora Beach Resort & Spa

There’s no shortage of beautiful chain luxury hotels on Ko Samui, but they are often cookie-cutter replicas of their stateside counterparts. Nora Beach Resort & Spa is not one of those hotels. The Thai-owned luxury resort is like living in the jungle, but with running water and air conditioning.

The villas are your best bet when booking your stay, some which come equipped with outdoor showers and private pools. And with bungalow prices starting at $117 a night, you can make Thai luxury a reality on a more modest budget.

Opt of one of the villas at Nora Beach Resort & Spa on Ko Samui. (Courtesy of Nora Beach Resort & Spa)
Opt of one of the villas at Nora Beach Resort & Spa on Ko Samui. (Courtesy of Nora Beach Resort & Spa)

What to eat: Famous Mit Samui Restaurant

The Famous Mit Samui Restaurant is a must-eat when on Ko Samui. This large, open-air restaurant is known for its fresh fish and authentic Thai cooking. Kept in a holding tank on the premises and taken out as they are ordered, many of the fish are caught earlier that day — the definition of ocean-to-table eating.

Be sure to order the Pla Nueng Ma Nao (steamed fish with lime and chili sauce) and Tum Yum Goong (a sweet-and-sour Thai Chili seafood soup), two delicious, traditional Thai dishes. And with an average bill of about $40 for a party of four, there’s no reason not to try it all.

What to see: Samui Renong Coconut Factory and Museum

Third-generation coconut farmer Nuttapul Soralamb opened his family’s 100-year-old farm to the public to educate and excite locals and tourists about the favorite export of Ko Samui. If you visit Samui Renong Coconut Factory and Museum on a weekday, you can see employees shucking coconut skins and fermenting coconut oil, or you can get involved yourself — the factory offers daily cooking classes that teach students how to cook with the meat, milk and fermented oil of the coconut. With more than 2,000 coconuts picked and processed a day, you’ll be sure to see something incredible (and delicious) on your visit.

Get an open-air massage at Spa Eranda, one of the island’s first luxury spas. (Courtesy of Spa Eranda)
Get an open-air massage at Spa Eranda, one of the island’s first luxury spas. (Courtesy of Spa Eranda)

Where to relax: Spa Eranda

One of the first luxury spas on the Island, Spa Eranda is the place to go if you want comfort and relaxation in one of the most beautiful properties on the island. Owned and operated by Thai natives, this spot exceeds expectations.

The spa specializes in using essential oils inspired by native plants in its treatments. Whether you get an open-air massage that overlooks the island or one in an air-conditioned private room, you’ll leave Spa Eranda feeling totally blissed out.

Final tip

There are many ways to get around Ko Samui. You can charter a bus, take taxis or rent a car. However, the mode of transportation locals prefer is a moped. If you are looking for an authentic Samui experience, rent one for a day and hit all the beaches that you haven’t yet visited. Make sure to pack extra gasoline (you can buy it wherever you rent your wheels), as it’s not unusual for tourists to run out of fuel on a day-trip and have to hike down a mountain to get home.