Koh Samui is Thailand’s largest island, lying in the Gulf of Thailand off the Eastern coast. Koh Samui is well-known for tropical beaches, mountainous rainforests and luxury resorts. Budget travellers and backpackers will also find plenty of hostels and beach bungalows if 5-star isn’t your style.
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The main attraction of Koh Samui are the palm-fringed beaches, and there are plenty to choose from. Samui’s longest and busiest beach is Cha Weng Beach, along the island’s east coast. This is the party beach on the island, with DJ’s blasting music and vendors along the beach selling trinkets. There’s plenty of shopping and eating options and when the sun goes down, the nightlife heats up. Cha Weng beach is also where you’ll find the Ladyboy Cabaret shows, if that floats your boat. For a slightly older, calmer crowd, you may want to check out Bo Phut beach. Once a traditional fishing village, Bo Phut is now the site of resorts, restaurants and watersports. Bo Phut is also where you will find many boat tours to Ang Thong National Marine Park.
Ang Thong National Marine Park
Ang Thong National Marine Park encompasses 42 islands within a couple hours boat ride from Koh Samui. Towering limestone cliffs hide sandy beaches, caves, lagoons and waterfalls. Several tour operators are available to make the day trip from Koh Samui, with most tours including snorkeling rental, lunch, park admission and hotel transfers. As with most things in Thailand, there are options to fit every budget, from a 50-passenger ferry to a private luxury yacht. One popular destination within Ang Thong is Emerald Lake, an inland saltwater lagoon, made famous by the Leo DiCaprio movie “The Beach.” For the uber-adventurous traveler, tents and bungalows can be rented at the National Park Headquarters on Wua Talap Island.
Koh Pha Ngan
Known for full moon parties, Koh Phangan is about 20 minutes from Koh Samui via speedboat. It makes for a nice day trip, although full moon partiers will want to spend the night on Koh Phangan, and there are plenty of accommodations available. Much like the Ang Thong tours, you can book a day tour to Koh Pha Ngan that includes snorkeling or kayaking plus lunch.
Just under 2 hours from Koh Samui is the small island of Koh Tao. Best known for underwater marine life, Koh Tao is a hub for dive trips and has a lively expat scene, despite it’s small size. Koh Tao is also a breeding ground for green and hawksbill turtles, so if your timing is right, you may see turtles on a dive or snorkel trip.
Back on Koh Samui, there are plenty of watersport adventures to be had. Scuba diving, snorkeling and kite-surfing are all popular activities for tourists. Kiteboarding is a fusion of paragliding and surfing, and there are several kiteboarding schools on Koh Samui ready to give you a lesson. As you might expect, kiteboarding is dependent on the wind, and November through February are the best times to try kiteboarding. You will also have plenty of opportunities for snorkeling or scuba diving throughout the island.
Na Muang Waterfall
Taking a break from Koh Samui’s beaches, Na Muang actually has two waterfalls (Na Muang 1 and Na Muang 2) both of which have large pools for swimming after your 30 minute hike to reach the falls. Entry to the park with the falls is free, but you can also hire a guided tour of the waterfalls and nearby Na Muang Safari Park. Other waterfalls on the island include Hin Lad waterfall and Wang Sao Thong.
The most famous temple of Koh Samui is the Big Buddha temple, Wat Phra Yai, which actually sits on a small island off the northeast coast of Koh Samui. Koh Samui’s Big Buddha is 12 meters tall and is a shiny gold color, often the first landmark visitors to the island see from their airplanes. Not far from the Big Buddha is Wat Plai Laem, a colorful temple built in the Thai Chinese style. Here you’ll see two giant statues, one is the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, with 18 arms and the other is the fat smiling Chinese buddha. The temple is surrounded by a pond, providing stunning photo opportunities.
Secret Buddha Garden
The Secret Buddha Garden is actually the creation of a fruit farmer who began collecting and erecting statues and temples in the mid-1970’s. Hidden away in the hills and jungles of Koh Samui, the Secret Buddha Garden is best visited as part of a tour as the road is not much more than a dirt track, and best attempted with 4WD. There are many jungle safari tours or ATV tours that include a stop at the Secret Buddha Garden.
Yes, this is exactly as it sounds – mummified monks on display. The best known mummified monk on Koh Samui is at Wat Khunaram. The monk, Phra Khru Samathakittikhun, died in 1973 and is remarkably well-preserved in a glass case, wearing sunglasses and his orange robe, and is in a seated meditation position. According to some legends, the monks who appear mummified are not actually dead, but in a trance-like meditative state known as tukdam. While not a typical tourist attraction, this is certainly an interesting destination for those interested in Buddhism.
Koh Samui Snake Farm
On a lighter note, Koh Samui snake farm is another island attraction when you tire of endless beaches. Here you can get a close-up look at many of Thailand’s most exotic reptiles. The Koh Samui snake farm has daily shows where snake charmers interact with deadly snakes such as the king cobra and giant python. A visit to the Koh Samui snake farm is not for the feint of heart. It is also home to some world record holders, such as the Centipedes King and the Scorpion Queen.
If you have a rainy day, or perhaps aren’t up for snorkeling or diving, the Samui Aquarium houses a huge array of marine life, including sharks, turtles and tropical fish. The aquarium is paired with a tiger zoo, where you can visit tigers and play with cubs. There are ethical considerations to tigers in captivity, so you should definitely do your research before visiting to decide if the tiger zoo is something you want to support.
Mentioned briefly above with Bophut Beach, Fisherman’s Village is a historic shopping area in Bophut. Rustic, fishing-village-style buildings now house restaurants and shops, as well as a few hotels. On Fridays, the street closes down for the Fisherman’s Village walking market and the normally tranquil shopping area buzzes with activity. In addition to shopping for any kind of clothing, trinkets and souvenirs, there’s also a huge variety of Thai street food to sample. Be sure to visit on a Friday to get the full Fisherman’s Village experience!
In addition to the Friday market at Fisherman’s Village, there are many other night markets to visit on Koh Samui. The Chaweng night market is much smaller and is mostly food stalls, with a few clothing and souvenir stalls. Chaweng also has a “walking street” full of souvenirs, clothing and cosmetics, although the shops are closed on Fridays and Saturdays. The Lamai Night Plaza is a more traditional Thai night market, with knockoff clothes, pirated DVDs and other kitschy souvenirs. Night markets abound in Thailand, so you’ll undoubtedly run across a few while you’re out and about.
Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is a popular spectator sport in Thailand. It starts with a ritual dance by the fighters, before launching into the boxing match. Watching a Mauy Thai match makes for a fun night out, and there are plenty of opportunities to see this sport on Koh Samui. If you’d rather participate than watch, there are also several training camps on the island.
Koh Samui Nightlife
Koh Samui is known for some of the best nightlife in Thailand. From full moon parties to everyday discos, there is something for everyone in the Koh Samui nightlife scene. As many beaches are the site of the clubs and beer bars, you can carry on right from your day on the beach, well into the wee hours of the morning.