The natural beauty of Koh Samui is truly undeniable. From idyllic stretches of white sandy beaches pretty much all the way around the island to the forested mountains of the interior, to the incredible limestone and granite rock formations; and finally the blues and greens of the crystal clear sea.
In addition to all of this however, there are many other attractions to keep you occupied during your stay.
The ring road circling the whole island ensures that most of the attractions are easy to find. Therefore any organised guided tours usually include the majority of the most famous attractions in one day. You may, however prefer to get a map and explore the island for yourself; taking time to enjoy the attractions you like the most and controlling the pace of the day. You may also find lesser known attractions that are equally as impressive.
If you visit a temple, please dress appropriately and be sure to remove your shoes before entering. When sitting or kneeling, be careful not to point your foot directly at the Buddha or worshipers, and always take care to keep your feet tucked away when in the presence of monks. Also keep your head at a level below theirs.
The vast majority of the Thai population consider themselves Buddhists. While the devoutness of their practice varies, just as it does with other world religions, the temple remains a cultural focal point for every village. While many of the more high profile ‘Wats’ in the country have become tourist attractions, remarkably the presence of foreign visitors does not seem to distract or disturb those residents who come to pray.
The most popular temple attraction on Koh Samui is the gold covered Big Buddha statue which can be seen from miles away. The temple is actually located on the tiny island of Koh Faan and is connected by a short causeway from Big Buddha beach. Here you’ll find restaurants and several interesting shops offering a variety of arts, crafts and souvenirs.
This is an incredible collection of temple buildings that, although not completely finished, is still well worth a visit. At present it isn’t included on the organised tours and yet it’s only a very short distance away from the Big Buddha temple. You’ll find a mixture of structures floating on huge man-made lotus leaves as part of this complex, including some in intricate and unusual designs.
It also boasts a huge man made lake teeming with fish which you can feed. Certainly, there’s no other temple on the island quite like this.
Laem Sor Pagoda
Around the southern-most point of the island is Laem Sor Pagoda, a rarely visited sight on what could be one of the most beautiful spots on Samui.This golden pagoda sits majestically on an isolated beach and was restored just a few years ago with glazed tiles. Next to the chedi is a small ‘meditation forest’ of trees with places to sit and even a few tables. Surrounding the forest on two sides is a man-made lagoon with some mangrove trees planted along the ocean side.
On a sunny day the pagoda seems to light up from within and the journey to this part of the island is worth it just to see a stretch of tropical beach totally free from bars, restaurants or hotels. On Buddhist holy days, monks and lay people will come fill the forest and grounds in a festival atmosphere. The rest of the time, its a quiet and beautiful spot for a picnic.
This extraordinary art gallery lies high in the mountains that rise from the forested interior of the island and is the inspiration and creation of Nim Thongsuk, the son of four Samui generations. He decided, at the age of 77, to create a little piece of heaven on earth in the hope that many of the increasing number of tourists would appreciate, not only his vision, but the beauty of the island’s hilltop forests. Some of the creations are immediately apparent; others are either so small or so immense, you might miss them as you concentrate on keeping your footing. So be prepared to take your time to view everything and it’s worth wearing a sturdy pair of shoes.
Hin Ta Hin Yai
Viewing these astonishing creations, even scientific purists would be tempted to believe that nature too, can be as whimsical as the most eccentric artist. Also known as “Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks”; these rock formations share a perch overlooking the sea and have been entirely formed by the elements to accurately and extraordinarily resemble male and female genitalia. An interesting market fills the entrance road leading to the rocks offering a variety of arts, crafts and souvenirs.
Wat Sumret near the south side of the island is a very old temple housing an ancient white marble Buddha believed to be hundreds of years old. Also inside is a valuable collection of Buddha images. A monk will unlock the door for you on request.
As there are no sign posts leading the way, finding this attraction actually becomes part of the adventure! Take the 4170 and about 2 km west of the turnoff for the Butterfly Garden, go up the concrete slope on the left. Housed in a hilltop shrine, four footprints have been engraved one atop another. There are 163 steps to climb in all, but the view up there of the surrounding treetops and valleys make the trek well worth it.
There’s nothing quite as refreshing or exhilarating as plunging into a waterfall set in the midst of a hot tropical jungle. This is possible at a number of the waterfalls on Samui. However, some of the pathways leading to the falls can be steep and slippy so choice of footwear is again important. The easiest reached, and one of the most spectacular, is the waterfall at Namuang 1. The volume of water at all of the falls will vary, depending on the time of year and also on recent rainfall. The last few months of the year are usually the wettest, while the months of March through September are usually fairly dry.
Monks are held in great reverence in Thailand, and on Samui there are two mummified monks that each have their own interesting history. Their preserved bodies can be seen in at Wat Kiri Wongkaram and Wat Khunaram.
Thai boxing is the national sport in Thailand and is recognized as being one of the toughest forms of martial arts in the world. You can watch professional Muay Thai at the Chaweng Stadium on Tuesdays and Fridays and also at the Lamai stadium on Wednesday and Saturdays. The band that play throughout and the hyperactive audience can often be as entertaining as the fight itself.
In addition to providing various activities on Samui, animals also form the subject of many attractions. Just looking at the wildlife as you drive around can be entertaining enough for some. For others the following attractions may prove interesting too:
Located opposite the Central Samui Village in Laem Set, the Butterfly Garden is built into a scenic hillside, covered with netting. Vividly colored tropical butterflies can be seen along a winding foot path and the panoramic views from the top are spectacular too.
Just around the corner from the Butterfly Garden at Laem Set beach, this attraction features live specimens of local marine life in a darkened tunnel filled with tanks. On display at the zoo are five playful Bengal tigers and a collection of tropical birds including parrots, eagles and love birds. This attraction now also boasts a truly once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with South American sea-lions who have been trained in human rescue services.
Snakes do exist on Samui. However coming face to face with one is quite rare so a visit here will help educate you about the species; their characteristics and behaviour. It will also inform you of which ones pose the biggest danger.
Again this is an attraction that may help educate you about these incredible creatures left over from prehistoric times. There’s also a show that is definitely one to watch rather than participate in.
Set on 20 acres of mountainside land this attraction features waterfalls, rivers, canyons, beautiful gardens, stunning views and towering rock formations. Not to mention the wild life: ponies; deer; hundreds of species of birds; emus and pygmy goats are all living here. Add all of this to an infinity pool, a spa and a restaurant and you have a day out with something to please everyone.
Many people would be put off by the thought of this. But if you delve a little deeper you’ll see that this is a widely loved spectacle that still takes place at selected venues around the island. And it’s not as barbaric as you may think. Unlike the bullfights in Spain this spectacle pits two male buffaloes against each other. And this is not a fight to the death scenario. It actually amounts to show of dominance where the bulls partake in a form of head-wrestling until one turns and runs away, leaving the more dominant one as the winner.