Statement of truthiness: I’ve never had a Koh Samui wedding, nor have I attended one. I have 14 years’ Koh Samui insight, but I’m not a wedding planner. I don’t know any wedding planners. I wish you well, but it matters little to me if you choose a villa or resort wedding. In short – I’m impartial and honest as can be (the only thing I’m selling is The Koh Samui Guide – filled with more impartial honesty).
Koh Samui wedding? What to know
#1 piece of truthiness no one else will tell you
The weather: I say this on almost every page of this site: Koh Samui is a tropical island and it might rain. Repeat that out loud until you accept the givens of this climate: “it might rain”. When’s the best time to have a wedding on Koh Samui? See a month-by-month look at the island’s climate, as well as gauge the sunniest months of the year. But guess what! Should the worst happen, unlike the rain you’re used to, the sun comes back quite quickly – all menace forgotten. As you narrow your venue selection, ask about their wet weather back-up plans. Wedding insurance? Apparently there is such a thing!
#2 piece of truthiness
Private beach wedding? By law, there are NO private beaches on Koh Samui (or in Thailand). There are “harder to reach” beaches, and “not on tourist map” beaches – but don’t take the word “private” as gospel. ‘Private villa weddings’ and ‘private wedding venues’ don’t (and legally can’t) mean no one else has access to the beach. While the ceremony site will be roped off, often with staff at the perimeter, if other people are around they will watch your beach wedding (I have!). They might even video it. Discuss with your fiancé-person whether this will bother you, or if you’ll only have eyes for each other. Resort brochures use canny photo-cropping, so bring your own scrutiny as you choose a venue. (The more honest resorts’ marketing uses ‘intimate’ rather than ‘private’).
Never pay upfront. While a deposit is standard practice, the balance is paid after the wedding (or after you’ve received the service, i.e. photos). Suggestions (or insistence) to do otherwise should raise red flags – so make sure payment schedule is amongst your first questions with any wedding supplier.
How and where to start your planning
So, you want a Koh Samui wedding. Getting married? Congrats! With easy access to every Asian hub, and a convenient half-way point between Europe and Australia/NZ, Koh Samui makes an ideal wedding location for couples with family all over or more than one home. And have I mentioned it’s rather pretty?
Planning a Koh Samui wedding from far away? What’s the maximum number of TripAdvisor tabs you’ve had open at one time? I’ve heard manic things about wedding planning for the same city – let alone an island, country or continent you’ve maybe not even been to (or perhaps not as an inquisitive bride- or groom-to-be). Overwhelmed? That’s not why you chose beach casual!
Where to start your planning?
Even the smallest, simplest wedding will soon have spreadsheets involved – so how can you minimise your time and stress? First, pick the venue. Then, for the many decisions that follow: keep it simple. Koh Samui makes a perfect wedding backdrop without trying.
Oh, you want a legal marriage? A good detail to remember! It may be easier to legally get married in your own country & leave the fun part for Koh Samui. Here’s the difference:
Two ways to get married in Thailand
How to legally get married in Thailand
To complete the legalities in Thailand, you’ll need to spend 3-5 days in Bangkok (with errands centered around your country’s embassy). There’s a checklist of steps and you’ll need to do a bit of running around, or choose an agency/liaison to speed things up (as quickly as half a day in Bangkok). You’ll need your street smarts in hiring this help, as scams aren’t unknown. Rely on your Samui wedding planner’s help and advice to complete this step – it’s part of their service and they’ll be able to simplify exactly what you need to do.
Or – legal stuff at home, celebrate in Thailand
Many couples choose to complete the ‘boring bit’ at home and head straight to Thailand to celebrate – perhaps with a token (non-legal) ceremony on the beach. Check with whoever will become your local wedding contact – whether through an agency or at a hotel: what documents do you need to bring from home? These will include things like birth certificates and documents relating to any previous marriages, if applicable.
Advice for getting married in Thailand
Everything (EV-erything) I know: wedding planning for Koh Samui – As for the lovey-drinky-beachy-pretty-fun part of the proceedings, I have tons of detail for planning your Koh Samui wedding. Seriously, it’s every last scrap of detail I know.
Everything else I know: The Koh Samui Guide – For any and every detail about Koh Samui outside of wedding planning, you’ll want this little beauty.
Even more help: The Knot Guide to Destination Weddings is your general game-plan, check-list reference, with high praise from other couples who married in far-flung destinations.
Not too tricky, right? Congratulations!
Choosing a Koh Samui wedding venue
While The Koh Samui Guide navigates Samui beaches and accommodation from a holiday-maker’s point of view, I’ve reassessed what I know about the island’s private villas and popular resorts with weddings in mind.
Koh Samui villa weddings: pros and cons
PRO – Privacy: There are villas all over Samui, some of which can accommodate more people than I have Facebook friends. Some are tucked on or above very remote beaches – ones you could consider “basically” private. At these, unlike a resort wedding, you can definitely minimise your chance of an unknown crowd. If you head off the beach and into the hills, your wedding is guaranteed to be all your own; you get a great view and no passersby.
PRO – Family time: Booking a villa for a period of time before and after the wedding, and sharing the space with close friends and family, will mean more natural, quality time together than searching everyone down separate hotel rooms. (“What time did we say we were meeting for breakfast? Have you seen Sarah?”)
PRO – Small weddings: Buried in the small-print for many villa rentals are their event fees. Many villas use a standard clause, whereby there’s no extra event fee for guests up to 150% of the villa’s normal occupancy. So, a house that sleeps twelve would accommodate a wedding for eighteen guests without fees incurred. Make sure this is the case before you set your heart on a specific spot, but – broadly – renting a villa makes great sense for a small wedding. You’ll avoid paying for the privilege of being there, leaving more of your budget for services and supplies you actually use.
PRO – Pool party: If you’d like the reception to become an all-night dance party that ends with everyone jumping in the pool, you should definitely book a villa. (Though consider your safety angle if children will be present – will you book full-time/certified child care? With due notice, reputable villa rental agencies can provide such staff though do check as to their First Aid/lifeguarding skills).
PRO + CON – Proximity: Villas’ lack of proximity (walking distance to restaurants/general amenities) is a nice perk when you want “desert island”, but less so when you want dessert. A resort will have more on-site and adjacent options to entertainment your guests.
CON – Logistics: While a hotel has a supply chain and long experience with Murphy’s Law, a villa and its staff will be much smaller, with fewer resources to call on should a Plan B be required. A good question to ask – does the villa have a generator? Power cuts aren’t unheard of on Koh Samui. Which bathrooms will be most convenient for guests? Pay real attention to a wet-weather back-up plan for a Koh Samui villa wedding.
CON – Accessibility: While accessible villas might exist on Samui (or might soon, as options increase each year), assume that most aren’t. If you’ll have elderly guests or guests in wheelchairs, resorts might be preferable. In many villas expect steep stairs or slopes, and slippery tiled surfaces. Many villas are built in Thai style, with lots of small buildings connected with walkways.
Koh Samui resort weddings: pros and cons
PRO – Price range: While villa rates tend to increase with size (see above – small weddings), they can rightly put a premium on their privacy. However, there’s a greater price range in Samui’s resort offerings and you’ll find options at three, four and five-star levels.
PRO – Goodies: Together with your wedding package, you might receive goodies that include free hotel night/s, a choice of Thai or Western ceremony, flowers (bouquets and men’s boutonnières), dinner, wedding cake and champagne.
PRO – Staff wedding planners: Resorts offering wedding packages all employ at least one (if not a team of) English-speaking wedding coordinators. Use them. They’ve got the hotel chefs in their back pockets and are your direct line to the GM/Food and Beverage Manager.
PRO + CON – Formulaic: Is this a pro, a con or a bit of both? Many resorts offer wedding packages – with limits on how much you can diverge from the script. The pro? They’ve done it before and will get it just right. The con? Perhaps harder to match exactly what you’ve had in your mind’s eye.
CON – Rules: Many resorts (true of Zazen amongst others) will allow you to book only a proportion of available guest rooms – so, unlike a villa, it can’t be “all yours”. Noise regulations kick in at certain hours to ensure everyone else gets a good night’s sleep.
Koh Samui wedding resorts
I’ve never been married in any of these resorts – let alone all of them. Nor have I received any incentive to mention those that follow (they have no idea I exist). However, I’m an eager creature and like to know what’s what on Koh Samui. My thoughts:
Tongsai Bay: I love the Tongsai Bay. It makes me giggle. When has a front-desk staff of a top-notch hotel made you laugh? That’s their deal – happy excellence. But I love their eco resort aspects more than anything, really. The food is fantastic and the beach is accessible to non-guests only by a very determined kayak journey from Choeng Mon Beach. If I was getting married, this would be a definite front-runner.
The Four Seasons, Banyan Tree and The Conrad: As above, they’ve all got “private as can be” beaches where you need only shoot the evil eye to fellow guests. (Though with a Four Seasons-sized wedding budget you could probably afford to have them “taken care of”. Just kidding. Don’t kill people. It’s not nice).
The Melati, near Choeng Mon, has fantastic tropical gardens (acres) and an amazing view of Koh Phangan from the beach (plus separate adults and family pools). It might need a little spruce-up sooner than later, but I keep it very much on my “yes” list.
Zazen is all about boutique and has a very different feel than those above. For a small wedding it’s an absolute prize of a contender – but Bophut beach will not be private.
Anantara Bophut, slightly down Bophut beach from Zazen, has just enjoyed a massive year-long renovation. Again, not private, but plenty of reasons not to care.
Amari, Centara Grand, Poppies and Rocky’s: Across the island in the Chaweng and Lamai area, also well worth a look.
Unique wedding venues on Koh Samui
Want a totally different wedding venue? Maybe, in your heart of hearts, you’re a low-key beach bum and don’t want any fuss or fanciness. Koh Samui can meet you on the route to rustic – but finding a venue will mean a little more work (especially if you’re planning from overseas). Dozens of casual Samui beach restaurants would be ideal, but they don’t have any (English language) web presence, nor staff quite as fluent. If you’ll be on Koh Samui in advance of your wedding, try your luck at venue-hunting around the island’s small, independent beach restaurants and bungalows.
Or perhaps consider The Jungle Club (way up in the hills) or The BBC (near Big Buddha). Prefer something totally different? How about a boat? Junks, yachts, catamarans or large speedboats – all are possible. Get your Google on.
Wedding planning tips for Koh Samui
Wedding planners on Koh Samui
Do you need an English-speaking wedding planner? If you intend to trust your arrangements to an independent/outside planner, try to speak to the contenders by phone before making a selection. Even if it takes a little time-zone adjustment, you’ll have a much better idea of the best personality fit and can settle many questions you have straight away – saving dozens of back-and-forth emails. (A Skype monthly subscription to Thailand might be a good idea). Large resorts have English-speaking planners on staff, as do Koh Samui’s bigger villa rental agencies.
Compare and get reviews and references: If you’re going to unleash OCD on any part of your Samui wedding plans, it’s when choosing the venue and the on-island personnel who’ll be helping you. Make a little comparison chart – which planner/planning company did you like best on first impression? What do their references and online reviews have to say? How quick is their email response time? Don’t rush your judgment – with a wedding date many months away, you can take the time to get this decision right (and remember what I said above about payments up front).
When is best for a Koh Samui wedding?
Climate-wise, not in rainy season: So, if you want to play it safe, cross a series of red Xs through most of October, all of November, and much of December.
High vs not-as-high season? When choosing a date many months hence, take it easy on your guests! Consider their costs, with regards to high and not-so-high season accommodation rates. Many villas and resorts have higher room rents during the northern hemisphere’s peak summer months (June/July/August) and especially over Christmas. (Christmas rates, for example, can be more than double summer rates). These periods book up quickly too.
Far enough in advance: If asking guests to travel, you’ll want to give them sufficient notice – perhaps as much as 12 months, or even more. This way, they’ll be more likely to arrange their trip as their vacation for the year and will have the time to save for it.
Schedule your wedding on Koh Samui
When to schedule your wedding day? Be sure to remember that drowsy beast: jetlag. Allow for ample adjustment time, especially for guests flying from North or South America (as they’ll be the ones falling asleep in the afternoon and evening – during your reception). Ideally, allow 1 day per hour that your timezone changes. (e.g. the UK is 7-8 hours different, you’d want a week to completely adjust).
Time of day
For daytime weddings: Beware bright Samui sunshine. Advise your bridal party and groomsmen whether you’d like them to wear sunglasses or not. While sunglasses can date photos, it’s human cruelty to stick someone in direct sunlight without any for very long. Also consider your guests – will you provide parasols or handheld fans? A note against daytime weddings – the light can be too bright for great photography.
Late afternoon/evening weddings: It’s hard to imagine Thailand’s tropical heat until you’re wearing dressy clothes, melting. As such, many Koh Samui weddings start later in the afternoon (4:30), if not around sunset – it’s just too hot otherwise! While you and your guests will be more comfortable when it’s a bit cooler, you MUST provide mosquito repellant (avoid DEET products as they bleach clothes).
Want a perfect Koh Samui sunset beach wedding? In accordance with the laws of the universe, some parts of the island would seemingly have better sunset views. Yet Koh Samui rather spoils you for choice. Choeng Mon and Chaweng beaches, though both have an easterly curve, offer beautiful light at sunset (if not a glowing ball of sun). To be sure you don’t rule out any treasures for lack of western exposure, ask your short list of venues for sunset photos. As for timing, see a month-by-month list of sunset and dusk times.
What to wear to a Thai beach wedding?
I noticed I was being inundated with this question from wedding guests – and here’s the answer (with cultural and climate considerations, plus dress and shoe recommendations). Much the same applies for your attire as bride and groom – silk, cotton and other natural fabrics will keep you cooler than synthetics.
Is there a dress code for weddings in Thailand? No more than would usually be the case. Western weddings are a very different beast to Thai weddings and beach weddings are completely foreign. If you look as nice as you would for a wedding anywhere, you more than meet the dress code. The exception would be if any part of your wedding takes place within a Thai temple, in which case standard temple dress applies: shoulders and knees covered for both sexes (ideally ankles but do your best) and arrive in closed-toe footwear rather than flip-flops (ideally something that slips off rather than takes laces). If headed to a temple, make sure to check your Thai do’s and don’ts.
Can you get a custom-made wedding dress on Koh Samui? There are dozens (if not hundreds) of tailors on Koh Samui. Would I recommend getting your wedding dress made on the island? Absolutely not. This post details my experience at a tailor in Thailand (hopefully the exception). Even if your experience was miles better than my own – why combine ‘high margin for error’ with ‘limited time available’? You don’t need the stress and the cost-saving won’t be significant.
Wedding ceremony and reception
What kind of ceremony? Welcome to choose-your-own-wedding adventure. Whether secular or religious, Western, Chinese or Thai, (or any combination therein), the ceremony you want can be accommodated at virtually any location of your choosing. The only question is where you want to legally get married. To do so in Thailand will require a few days’ running around in Bangkok – details here.
Beach wedding? As I mentioned in part 1, be sure to keep your privacy preferences in mind if you’re planning a Samui beach wedding. Or decide which bridesmaid’s duties involve ushering strangers’ small children out of your photos.
Ready for a long list of crazy words? Fireworks. Fire dancers. Fire lanterns. (I made the last one up because it sounds dramatic, they’re actually the very serene khom loy floating lanterns). The reception will be a baby of your own creation – whether you’re growing the world’s fattest Pinterest board about menu cardstock, or just want the venue to do everything and you’ll show up and grin.
Koh Samui weddings FAQ
Koh Samui wedding suppliers
Wedding flowers on Koh Samui? Go for gold, little beauties. Thailand does flowers properly. Part of the planner or coordinator’s fee is your ease and convenience – should you seek a direct source of flowers in Thailand (e.g. wholesale), you may encounter a language barrier. If you’re after simple elegance, it’s easily accomplished with white frangipani and candles – or go as colourful as you like.
Live bands and music? A few pubs host live music nights with expat musicians, and many resorts employ in-house bands. Traditional Thai instruments are a nice perk of your wedding location. DJs advertise around the island but, while you search for the perfect match, perhaps load up your iPod as a side project (just in case any long-term Thai expat missed ‘Blurred Lines’). On this small island, it’s likely to be a case of “do you know a guy…”.
Wedding hair and makeup? If you’re staying in a resort, they’ll have a hairdresser on site. However, I really recommend bringing your own hair products (and perhaps a few trusted tricks to combat frizz in humidity). If you plan to have your hair cut and/or highlighted in advance, get it done at home. Consider what tropical weather will mean for your makeup as well. All the more reason to keep it simple – a tan and some mascara.
Thailand beach weddings and privacy
I admit it! If you got married last month on Bophut beach, I was among those watching not-very-surreptitiously from the sidelines. (Including those few dozen sunseekers videotaping from their sunbeds). Koh Samui’s beaches make gorgeous, wonderful places to get married but photos don’t include the unwashed masses watching nearby.
No matter the picturesque promise, most Koh Samui weddings (on hotel or resort beaches) will not be private. Beaches are public domain and people are by nature very curious. Random tourist paparazzi might not bother you, but it’s something to consider if privacy matters. What’s the alternative? Check with your wedding coordinator about the beach’s accessibility – some are more remote than others. For guaranteed exclusivity, other options include renting a private venue like a house, large restaurant or even a boat.
What to bring from home?
BYO-champagne: Champagne prices are exorbitant on Samui (US$100/bottle), so if you can tuck one in each of your suitcases (and your parents’, best friends’, etc) – you can import quite the party. Crucially, check the champagne your luggage and don’t bring it as carry-on (even if bought from duty free outside of Thailand). Odds are likely that a horrible man will take it away from you at BKK. For the rest of your trip, refer to my Thai packing list and what you need for Thailand.
How to get to know Koh Samui better than you know your fiancé – it’s all in The Koh Samui Guide.
Photo credit to Albert Palmer via Flickr Creative Commons
chauromano via Flickr Creative Commons
Photo credit to w00kie via Flickr Creative Commons