We spent a wonderful 2 weeks on Koh Samui. This was our first trip to Thailand, and our first real vacation with our daughter who is 18 months old. We wanted a laid back vacation, don't like to spend too much money but certainly didn't deny ourselves an enjoyable time.
We flew from Bangkok to Surat Thani since it is a lot cheaper than flying directly to Samui. We took the bus/ferry from the airport. We were staying at a private villa, so the owner picked us up from the pier. There are two ferry piers on Samui - one in Nathon and the other in Lipa Noi. The villa owner asked us if possible to take a ferry to Lipa Noi because it is closer to the villa. Seatran Ferry goes to Nathon, and Raja Ferry goes to Lipa Noi. At the airport, they only sell tickets to the Seatran Ferry, but we just bought tickets for just the bus, and when we got to Donsak pier we bought the ferry tickets. From the airport to Samui took about three hours. Our arrival journey was pretty painless, which unfortunately I can't say about our return trip (more about that later).
We wanted to have a place that wasn't just one big room (ie, hotel room or bungalow). Our toddler goes to bed at 8pm, so that means lights off and no noise wherever she is sleeping. Renting two hotel rooms in any place that is decent gets expensive quickly, so we looked into renting a private villa instead. My husband found the place we stayed at online (on a vacation rental by owner website). It was on the southeast side of the island, close to the aquarium/zoo and butterfly garden. We loved the house itself - four bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms, full kitchen, big screen TV with cable, free wifi, and a private pool. The location was okay - the closest beach isn't very nice, so we had to travel to Lamai, Silver Beach, or Chaweng if we wanted to swim in the ocean - but if you are looking for peace and quiet (and have a car or scooter to get around) than this would probably be a good location for you. The house is not right on the beach (it's about half a mile from the nearest beach), but because of this the price is much, much cheaper than some of the others I have seen online. The owner and his staff were friendly and helpful. PM me if you want the info for this place.
Renting a car is very expensive on Samui, and neither of us know how to ride a scooter/motorcycle (and didn't think it was wise to learn with our toddler sandwiched between us). Our villa's owner found a place in Lamai that rents mountain bikes (which back home is our preferred mode of transport) so we rented two for the two weeks we were there, for about 100 baht/day. They were brand new Trek mountain bikes and we were happy with them. I can't remember the name of the place, but it is on the north side of Lamai close to Tesco. If you are on the Tesco road, after you pass Tesco the road splits - if you go right at the Y, before you hit the beach road there is a shop on your right next to a bar called Bowi Bar (I think) - that is the shop. We would ride from our place to Lamai Beach or Silver Beach without too much trouble (some rolling hills but not too bad). When we went to Chaweng, we would ride up to the Ring Road in Hua Thanon, lock the bikes up and hop on a songthaew. At night they jack their prices up ridiculously, so we preferred to use our bicycles most of the time.
SOUTH COAST: Near our villa there were a few Thai restaurants that we tried (our villa was near the Centara Villas Samui and people from there would eat there too). We really liked the Fishermen's Outlet and ate there several times. The waitstaff also loved playing with our daughter, which was great for us because we got to eat in peace as they entertained her! Barracuda's nearby was okay, as was Baan Lamom. Simple Life was not bad, but not great either. LAMAI: we had pizza at an Italian pizzeria that was wonderful (the sign says Pizzeria Italiana, Yellow Pub on it). It is on the southern end of the beach road. As of last week, every Wednesday starting at 7pm there is all-you-can-eat pizza for 129 baht. They make whatever pizzas they feel like, and bring them to your table. The owner is Italian and uses imported ingredients. Highly recommended! We also ate at Will Wait in Lamai. The food was good, but since it is near the stream/river that flows into the ocean, there were a lot of mosquitos there. Also, our main reason for going there was because we knew that they have mangoes and sticky rice on their menu - but found out at the end of our meal that they were out! Boo! :( We went to Salathai once and had cashew chicken and sweet and sour shark. My husband really liked it, but I found the cashew chicken too sweet (the taste was too similar to the shark dish). We also ate at Sydney's Fish & Chips inside Tesco - don't let the location fool you. The fish & chips were delicious, and they serve a pretty good hamburger too. We bought Sushi from Tesco's food court which was just okay as sushi goes. We also went to Sabinglae on the Ring Road once. It's very popular with Thais and there were very few foreigners there when we went. The food was good, but a little too spicy for us (we had asked them to not make it spicy). CHAWENG: Went to Sushi 2 one night and had maki and tempura. Very good, prices were reasonable (not cheap, but not terribly expensive). Ambience is lacking, but the fact that it is much cheaper than some of the other sushi restaurants nearby makes up for that. We also went to the Will Wait in Chaweng. Quality of the food is similar to their branch in Lamai, but their breads look fresher, and they actually had mangoes and sticky rice when we went. :)
Unfortunately our way home was not as pleasant as our way there. We went back to the Lipa Noi pier to take the Raja Ferry home, thinking that it didn't really make a difference whether we took Raja or Seatran. There was a table there that we were directed to that sold combo tickets to get from Samui to Surat Thani airport, so we bought them and got on the ferry. When we got to Donsak pier, we got on a bus, assuming that it would take us to the airport. After an hour or so the bus stops and they told us to get off. Then we had to walk to what looked like a restaurant/office, and had to wait half an hour there for a songthaew to pick us up. It comes, but after 5 minutes it stops again, and they tell us to go to some travel agency office, and we had to wait there for 10 minutes for another bus. That bus came, and then half an hour later we were at the airport. I should have known better after learning before that they don't sell tickets to the Raja Ferry from the airport to Samui, that we should have taken Seatran back to the airport. Now we know! The ticket was more expensive (500 baht compared to 300 on Seatran) and added probably an hour to our travel. Irritating but at least we gave ourselves some wiggle room when traveling and didn't miss our flight.
Aside from the return trip we had a great time and would be happy to go to Samui for vacation again!