Best of Koh Samui – What to do – Our 25 treasured attractions
I am going to spell out our well kept secrets on lodging, eateries and activities on our ever favourite island.
We have been at least four times to the island and stayed a few months, exploring the paradise from head to toe.
So here are the tips and tricks that made it a paradise for us.
25 COOL THINGS TO DO ON KOH SAMUI (in random order)
1. Rent a motorbike. If you can.
Because if you are stuck at your hotel, you are missing out on all the non touristy fun the island has to offer.
There are more reasons to have your two wheeler on the island:
We hate to be ripped off by taxis. There are NO metered taxis on the island despite what their signs say. Make sure you agree on the price before you get in.
We do not want to be stuck with shared taxi pick ups going the same boring route, up and down Chaweng – Lamai for 50 Baht per person a ride (that is if the location you get off is near otherwise it is more).
We don’t like to cling to a stranger’s back for a ride either. Although these motorbike taxis are the cheaper alternative to cabs and shared trucks.
Motorbike rentals are cheap, don’t require a driver’s licence. (Or maybe they do, but this is not reinforced in any obvious way – we each have one though!)
You will be able to access all the cheap restaurants, markets and shopping areas, just like local Thais!
Without a motorbike transport can be tricky on Koh Samui.
We always rented one motor bike (fits a couple comfortably) for our whole stay straight away. It is a lot cheaper, when renting for a longer period of time. A longer rental puts you in a better position to haggle. Friendly bargaining is key on Koh Samui.
We liked this rental, opposite our hotel, Silver Beach Resort. Run by a lady owner and her cute watch dogs.
For the rental (helmets included) we paid about 150 Baht per day. The rental shops will usually keep your passports until you return the bike.
Take photos of the bike to make sure all damages have been documented before you ride off.
Buy clear and super light (bike) glasses to protect your eyes from insects bumping into your eyes at high speed. It is rather pleasant not to have the wind against the eyes when driving. We buy those plastic glasses at Koh Samui’s Tesco Lotus shopping centre for around 100 Baht but most 7Eleven convenience stores on the island will sell them, too.
Needles to say, wear a helmet to protect the most valuable part of your body. Even if locals don’t. They are after all more experienced (or so goes the excuse).
The night riders. My cousin learned to ride the bike in a day. He’s a smart kid. No one’s counting scratches.
Sometimes, it may feel good to wear a shirt underneath that
rotten rented helmet. I am searching for a more elegant alternative but for now…
Filling up gas. Can be done conventionally at a regular gas station or more conveniently at any home shop, hut or barrack that has a stand with bottles filled with bright yellow, red or green liquid.
40 Baht per bottle is the common price.
This is not a liquor shop but the local way to fill up your two wheeler on the road.
Run by astounding young shop owners at times.
They will fill up your tank with no spills.
The roads on Koh Samui are dandy. When you stay on the main highways.
Once off the beaten track, be prepared to encounter various road conditions.
But don’t worry, if the road is not safe to pass, there will be barriers (lying around somewhere).
Some roads are better than others.
Away from the coast, riding closer or through Koh Samui’s friendly jungle you might encounter challenges. I know when to get off before falling off, Tomek knows how to tackle roads off the beaten track.
Sometimes we got a standing ovation from locals.
To embark upon Koh Samui’s great outback, we made sure to pick the lightest bike available. It can get slippery and a small machine is easier to navigate (or to pick up).
Don’t worry, if your bike breaks down or you catch a flat tyre. There will always be someone who knows someone who happens to have a workshop in their backyard.
The centre of the island is hilly and steep but it is the greatest fun to find a little treasure at the end of the journey.
It is also a lot of fun to see the backside of tourist party hangout Chaweng and Lamai.
Or stumble upon a temple.
The reward is tourist free land.
After the romantic sunset, it gets pitch dark. This is when Tomek rises to be my superhero, always getting us home safely. Whereas I am his much appreciated back and chest warmer. Win win.
I think we look hilarious.
Apart from quick dawn breaks, Koh Samui is known for short but sudden rain showers.
This is when protection may come in handy. Plastic raincoats can be picked up at any convenience store for around 30 Baht. They come in trendy colours and cuts. One size fits all.
Here are my other impressions on public transport on Koh Samui.
Moving on to number 2 to 25. What else to do on Koh Samui…
2. Do a ‘safari’ tour.
To see some of the outback without renting a motorbike. Every tiny travel shop or hotel will be able to organise this trip for you.
3. Drive down to two temples with the creepiest monks you have ever seen.
At Wat Kiriwongkaram and Wat Kunaram you will see the benefits of living a monk’s life.
Those Wats give an interesting insight to monks in Thailand.
4. Play a round of unique sport activities on Koh Samui.
I got introduced to soccer golf here, which is the happy marriage of a golf field and a soccer ball. Alternatively, dare to roll down a hill inside a huge plastic water ball.
5. Look out for Koh Samui’s Magic Garden.
The life’s work of a Thai hobby sculptor, you can enter a world of statues and carvings, set in a spellbound valley by a stream.
6. Try to enter the the Butterfly Garden without letting one out!
birds butterflies and bees. This is where I found the most amazing skeleton of an insect.
Most species are alive at the Garden.
7. Go for the ultimate temperature shock and freeze your toes off at Koh Samui’s Ice Bar.
Drown your sorrows in a melting ice cup and smile.
Inspect sculptures of ice.
Have a tuk tuk ride.
Or penis. The smallest sculpture at the Bar.
8. See the multi-armed (as in many body parts) Statue at Koh Samui’s most colourful temple complex.
Wait, how many arms? There is lots to count at Wat Plai Laem.
9. Explore some obscene rocks at Hin Ta and Hin Yai.
The grand mother and grand father rock, carved solely by the forces of nature.
Act prudishly or invade a rocky lady’s privates.
Also, don’t miss out on the slightly hidden viewing platform on top of a massive rock.
No leaning, no sitting. Refers to the fence.
We enjoyed the view, too.
10. Meet Koh Samui’s golden Big Buddha and take some surreal pictures with the strangest statues.
The ride along the ocean, in order to get to Wat Phra Yai, is a memorable one. Best time to come is shortly before the amazing sunset. Don’t miss out on the fortune telling machines at the temple.
11. For superbly climate controlled distractions, go to Tesco Lotus.
Tesco Lotus is the shopping centre and popular hangout with locals. It features the huge Tesco supermarket, some fashion, electronic and smartphone stores, a pharmacy, a hair salon, a food court and a cinema.
All movies are in English with Thai subtitles. (Read the unknowingly hilarious movie reviews written by Thai cinema staff in English.) Don’t forget to apply mosquito barrier and join us, the Mosquito Mob Squad. Mosquitoes go to the movies for dinner.
After shopping for beach equipment at Tesco’s, reward yourself with a decent doughnut. Dunkin Donuts has made it to the island.
So has Mister Donut. And because we are in Asia, they sell sushi doughnuts on Koh Samui. Huh?
Why am I even talking about doughnuts with all the delicious Thai food around. Well, Tesco Lotus is kinda fun. Promise. Now let’s move on.
12. Get a haircut!
At the best hairdresser on the island.
This links to number 11. Because the hair master just happens to work on Koh Samui, with his kingdom at Tesco Lotus. Hair professionals, they move their scissor skilfully to create trendy hair wonders.
It is fun to go just for their special cutting routine. Cut, then wash, massage, style and take a picture for the portfolio.
For around 300 Baht you can get a hair make over.
The king of the salon is somewhat a celebrity on Koh Samui and sits here at the counter with a picture of grand father rock.
The hairstyle. I said prodigy. Tomek said fire starter. With the styling products removed, it looked even better.
13. Give your body what it deserves, a Thai Body Massage.
Thais are known to be gurus of relaxation.
With a full body massage, your head to your toes and feet are massaged back to front. Depending on your guru, pleasant or painful strokes that include kneading, pulling, wringing, hacking and gliding are used on various parts of the body.
I am generally scared and go for the ultra soft treatment. Don’t want to feel like a minced hamburger.
Massage parlours on Koh Samui vary greatly in quality. We found this one to suit our needs (hygienic, quiet, mostly soft on the client with positive massage drowsiness.). Sarunya Spa in Chaweng.
Their foot massage was the best and about 450 Baht.
14. See how many Spirit Houses you can spot.
These Buddhist shrines come in various sizes and colours and are located next to homes and shops.
Decorated with flowers, ribbons, garlands, fruit offerings and incense sticks, they make for a pretty sight.
They will great you on your journey. Don’t be surprised to hear locals honking for merit when passing one.
Hence the peculiar spirit-house-ban?
15. Beach Hopping on Koh Samui.
Search the island for that perfect strip of sand, the bluest lagoon and crystal clearest water. We did.
This one (at Bophut) was allright for a pause but the sand strip ended about where Tomek is taking the picture.
This one was picture perfect but too remote. Don’t even remember where it was exactly.
Same here. Leam Sor Beach.
This one was a youngsters playground.
Our choice for sunbathing, swimming, relaxing in a peaceful environment while still getting decent food and drinks, is Silver Beach. Still somewhat a secret, with only a few unobtrusive hotels, a beautiful lagoon, far away from crowded and loud Chaweng or Lamai beach.
16. Waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls.
There are two pretty ones I would recommend visiting: Na Muang 1 & 2.
Na Muang Number 1 is easily accessible, located between Hua Thanon and Nathon. There is a large pool at the base of the waterfall. It was a bit trashy all around, which is why I prefer Number 2.
Na Muang Number 1. Great job of Tomek cutting all the litter out of the shot.
Na Muang Number 2. Is more fun.
You climb up a natural staircase made of rocks and roots, as well as bamboo walkways to reach Na Muang 2.
About 10 minutes further ahead. Almost there.
But we decided to make it all the way to the top of the mountain. You can watch Thais having a refreshing soak at the base of this waterfall. Or pretend to be a waterfall.
17. Find Valentine’s Stone.
Koh Samui has this place dedicated to love. Located by Sivatara Waterfalls, it is marked by a huge heart shaped rock and the four letter keyword.
18. Search for the best Viewpoints.
Because there are many. Some signs will promise viewpoints but turn out to be restaurant traps with a view.
Some may take more of an effort than others to get too.
Good viewpoints are…
Khao Noi viewing terrace. No fee.
Mountain Grand View. The viewpoint is owned by Seaview Restaurant and they take 20 Baht. The highlight is the infinity pool. You can use it for 100 Baht per person.
PTs living on the edge.
Suk Valan Viewpoint is also 20 Baht. If you come late in the day, there might not be anyone to take an entrance fee.
There was this old wooden platform with no barrier. The viewpoint extends into a shaded concrete terrace (with barrier).
I don’t particularly like this place because big birds are being held in cages that really belong in the jungle. I regret that I didn’t have more guts to free them as no one was there. The place is creepy strange, with a totally misplaced old sewing machine at the terrace and amateur glass containers with real bugs and scorpions, dying of mistreatment.
But the view… I like.
Driving around the island, sometimes made us stumble upon a neat spot from where we had a great view. For free.
On our way to Khuangsi Waterfall.
For the coolest viewpoint, see the next point.
19. Watch plane-take-offs and landings at your feet from the temple.
At Wat Khao Hua Juk. This temple gives the best views over the whole island of Koh Samui. And the airport.
One of Tomek’s favourite places, although he won’t admit it, but I can see the spark in his eyes when watching those aircrafts approach.
Despite the airport, it is a very peaceful place.
A superb panorama over adjacent islands (like Koh Phangan and Koh Tao) and Big Buddha is the other asset. The sunset is gorgeous from up here.
I love the big golden stupa, in the centre, surrounded by these smaller ones.
So does Tomek.
The whole temple is lovely.
20. Make a wish with a Sky Lantern.
Hot air balloons made of rice paper can be bought for around 20-50 Baht (depends how touristy the shop is) at Chaweng’s and Lamai’s souvenir shops.
To avoid burning down the island, try to find a spot away from the jungle and crowded places.
The beach is a probably the most beautiful location.
21. Watch a Cabaret Show.
The entrance is free but drinks are around 350-400 Baht. The family friendly versions are on first, later in the evening things get more saucy.
Famous Thai ladyboys lure the crowds at Chaweng, giving out flyers before their show.
22. Visit Koh Samui’s Muslim Community.
Masjid Nurul Ihsan, the mosque, women in headscarves and halal market stands are probably the most surprising sight on Koh Samui. In the Muslim fishing village of Hua Thanon.
23. See the Golden Khao Chedi.
Sometimes also called Laem Sor Pagoda, as it is located on a hill in Laem Sor.
The adjacent temple was a stark contrast. I wonder if it has been painted over.
24. Visit your Chinese Zodiac Animal.
Located at the island’s highest mountain peak is a standing Big Buddha, surrounded by animals of the Chinese zodiac.
This temple is so secret, I couldn’t figure out its name. Located in the very centre of the island (to be exact).
My animal is the horse, hence I am “diligent, friendly, sophisticated, talented, clever”. But really, I love rabbits. Now what.
25. Don’t Do Anything Stupid. Here is what not to do on Koh Samui.
Monkey circus, crocodile performances, dolphin shows, elephant riding, tiger cuddling and other activities that wild animals definitely do not enjoy. Do you?
Being pulled by the head. So funny.
Getting up and down for a souvenir photo hundred times a day before being chained away again. Super fun for the elephant and makes such a nice picture.
‘Photo with Tiger’. The coolest photo to show off your courage to friends and family. Sedated, chained to a pole, you can touch the tiger, like thousands other hands during the day or put him on your lap or whatever you like. Awesome.
Read up on how these animals are ‘trained’ for the shows, before you attend one.
Stories behind the shows.
Good travel agents will not offer trips with animal performances.
I am not convinced these fish are granted an appropriate life, either.
That’s about it!
Thanks for reading. Kob Kun and Wai to you!
You hungry? Next up is where to eat on Koh Samui!