Koh Samui is the largest island in the Gulf of Thailand, and a tropical paradise with amazing white sand beaches, fantastic weather, and a wealth of fascinating attractions, plus great restaurants and nightlife for visitors. It’s the only island in the Gulf of Thailand to have an airport, making it easily accessible from Bangkok for travelers. Not quite as developed and touristy as Phuket, the island is packed with swathes of untouched jungle and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but still has a fantastic range of accommodation options, plus shopping, dining, and nightlife so is a wonderful place to visit. Whether you want to stay in a high-end luxury resort, backpack and stay in a hostel on a shoestring budget, or have an amazing family vacation, Samui has something for everyone. Here are the 5 things you cannot miss if you choose to visit this beautiful island.
Visit the Elephant Sanctuary
Koh Samui elephant sanctuary is home to many beautiful elephants rescued from a life of hard labor and abuse and it’s an incredible experience; if you’re traveling with children it should be at the top of your list. Set in beautiful, natural surroundings the elephants are lovingly cared for by volunteer workers, you’ll get a chance to get close to the elephants, feed them and watch them bathing in the lake, and then sample a delicious vegetarian buffet. Many of the elephants suffered harsh lives working in either logging, construction, or tourist industries and were treated badly so it’s delightful to see them enjoying themselves and being taken good care of. The sanctuary is located in Bophut, a few kilometers from the airport, but they have also opened a second site at Chaweng Noi. It is very popular so you will need to book your visit in advance to avoid disappointment.
Angthong National Marine Park
Located on the eastern side of the island, this stunning, picture-perfect marine park is an archipelago of 42 pristine islands with thick jungle, coconut trees, and gorgeous white sand beaches, as well as waterfalls, caves, and clear, warm azure waters. Teeming with wildlife, the area enjoys protected status as a nature reserve by the Thai government and so it is kept wonderfully clean and natural. One of the islands is even inhabited by several “sea gypsies”, who stay isolated from the rest of the Thai population and live a very traditional lifestyle, hunting, and fishing for themselves. Only a few licensed operators are permitted to access the area so you’ll need to book a trip through one of the many travel agents on the island. The park is stunning and a must-see for all visitors to Samui. If you’re interested in snorkeling, diving, kayaking or fishing trips, these are also available. A full day trip to the park will cost around 1500 baht, and you’ll also need to pay the parking fee of 300 baht on top for a total of 1800 baht ($60), but this should include hotel pick up, refreshments, insurance, and snorkeling/kayaking.
The Big Buddha
Samui’s iconic, huge golden Buddha is the island’s most important and well-known landmark, located on the northern side of the island. The statue itself was built in 1972 and is within the grounds of Wat Phra Yai which is located on a small rocky island connected to Koh Samui by a causeway. The Buddha is huge and can be seen from several kilometers away and is even illuminated to a degree in the evening. The best time to go is early morning when you’ll see many locals making offerings to the Buddha to make merit, and you may even get a chance to hear the monks who reside in the temple buildings chanting. The Buddha is highly revered by the locals, and on national holidays such as Loy Krathong and Songkran, it can get very busy. There are also a few stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs, just make sure to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering any of the buildings to avoid causing offense.
Visit the Fisherman’s Village
The Fisherman’s Village is a great part of Koh Samui, with lots of old, traditional Thai-style buildings and old wooden shophouses giving the area a rustic and charming feel. There are many good-value hotels, as well as some great authentic restaurants (and some more modern, trendy ones) as well as plenty of little boutique-style shops selling all manner of clothes and souvenirs. The area backs onto Bophut beach, with many restaurants having tables and chairs on the beach for a romantic evening meal of super-fresh seafood or even just a few drinks. As well as this, every Friday the village hosts a walking street night market which is bustling, exciting, and one of the best markets on the island. The great beach, shopping, and the laid-back feel of the area mean you can easily while away a full day here, and it’s only around 7km or 15 minutes from Chaweng Beach so easily accessible.
There are several waterfalls on Koh Samui, however, the Namuang Waterfalls are the most impressive and well worth a visit (many tours and day trips include a stop here). Namuang means “purple face” which refers to the purple tinge to the rocks that the water flows over. Located around 30 minutes drive from Chaweng Beach, there are two separate waterfalls called Namuang 1 and Namuang 2, with Namuang 1 being the most impressive with the falls draining into a large lagoon at the bottom. The second set of falls is located around a 25-minute walk up the hill. The waters are very clean and clear and ideal for bathing, and the surrounding jungle is lush and packed with various types of wildlife; you could easily spend a full day hiking around and relaxing by the lagoon. There are also several stalls selling various foods, drinks, and souvenirs, just remember to take a decent pair of shoes if you want to hike to the second set of falls, and do not try to climb on the rocks as they are very slippery when wet.