Big Buddha temple sits majestically on a small rocky island off Koh Samui’s north-eastern corner. Known locally as Wat Phra Yai, its golden, 12-metre seated Buddha statue was built in 1972 and remains one of the island’s most popular attractions. Set on Koh Faan, Big Buddha temple is reached by a causeway that connects it to the main island. The Big Buddha can be seen at a distance of several kilometres and is often the first landmark people see when arriving to Samui by air.
2. Hin Ta and Hin Yai
Hin Ta and Hin Yai, some fascinating rock formations on Koh Samui’s south coast, have been a source of mirth and wonder on the island since they were discovered by the locals many years ago. Art often imitates Nature, but less common is Nature imitating Art, especially the Art of the Ribald. But in Thailand anything is possible and these rocks, known as Grandpa (Ta) and Grandma (Yai), look, respectively, like male and female genitalia. Set on the rocky coastline between Lamai and Hua Thanon, Hin Ta and Hin Yai raise indulgent chuckles or embarrassed titters from those who go to see them. This unusual and titillating sight has, naturally, given rise to a legend explaining how the rocks came into being.
3. Angthong National Marine Park
Ang Thong National Marine Park is a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand with towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, fertile mangroves, waterfalls and hidden coves and lakes to explore. Within sight of Koh Samui, Ang Thong park is a protected area of more than 100 square kilometres of land and sea, and home to a rich variety of exotic wildlife and sea creatures. Snorkelling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, sailing and simply relaxing on one of its idyllic beaches are the main activities to enjoy on Ang Thong.
4. Namuang Waterfall
Na Muang Waterfalls, a majestic set of two cascades on Koh Samui, show that the island’s beauty is not limited to its beaches. Found inland about 12 kilometres south-east of Nathon Bay, the Na Muang falls are reached by taking a walking path from the entrance to the park. The first waterfall, Na Muang 1, flows down into a pretty natural pool that provides a cool escape from the heat. About 30 minutes by foot further uphill is the smaller yet equally inviting Na Muang 2.
5. Mummy Monk at Wat Khunaram
Koh Samui’s Mummified Monk at Wat Khunaram is an unusual sight yet it offers a unique insight into Buddhist and Thai culture. The monk Luong Pordaeng died in 1973 in a seated meditative position, and ever since his body has been on display in an upright glass case at the temple. Remarkably, even more than 30 years on the monk’s body shows little sign of decay. For some visitors, having a dead man in full view might be a shocking sight, but for Thais it is something to reflect upon and revere.
6. Samui Aquarium with Tiger Show
At the Samui Aquarium & Tiger Show, get up close to an array of marine life, colourful birds and exotic wildlife all in one stop. This family-oriented attraction certainly has enough to keep the kids entertained on an afternoon outing. The aquarium features mostly marine life native to the Gulf of Thailand. Its series of large tanks are filled with a range of marine life including nurse sharks, leopard sharks, manta rays, catfish and many kinds of tropical fish, and there is an area where visitors can feed the sea turtles. At the zoo, the main attraction is the Bengal tigers and leopards, which provide some thrilling displays of strength and agility in the daily live shows. There’s also an opportunity to take your photograph with some of them for an extra charge.
7. Ladyboy Cabaret Shows
Ladyboy Cabarets might not be everyone’s cup of tea but on Chaweng Beach you can enjoy a sparkling evening out with this fun form of entertainment. Thai society is generally more open to ladyboys than many other cultures, and its katoey, or the ‘third sex’, have played a prominent role in the nation’s entertainment industry for generations. Thailand’s katoey are world famous, partly because there are so many of them and also because they are so feminine. In fact it can be difficult to tell if the beautiful young lady paying you attention was a lady at birth… as many an unwitting tourist has discovered!
8. Secret Buddha Garden
Secret Buddha Garden is hidden away high in the hills in Koh Samui’s interior, offering majestic views and an unusual collection of statues amid lush jungle surrounds. The gardens are a creation of an old Samui fruit farmer, Nim Thongsuk, who in 1976 began erecting several statues and temples around his family’s verdant land. The statues depict a number of animals, deities and humans in various poses, including one of Khun Nim himself, in a relaxed position sitting on a rock. Khun Nim continued to work developing his garden until his death at the age of 91.
9. Snake Farm
The Snake Farm is a thrilling spectacle where visitors get a rare and up-close look at many of Thailand’s most fearsome reptiles. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, the Samui Snake Farm features daily shows where brave snake wranglers coax the creatures into displaying their amazing fighting moves. A variety of snakes are used in the show, with king cobras and giant pythons being the star attractions.
10. Wat Plai Laem
Wat Plai Laem is a Buddhist temple compound on Samui’s north-east coast of Samui, featuring a striking white 18-arm image of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. Close to the Big Buddha temple, Wat Plai Laem offers visitors a view into Chinese-Thai beliefs as well as some elaborate Buddhist-themed art and architecture. Wat Plai Laem is a living and active temple, where devotees come daily to pay homage to Guanyin and the Buddha, who is also depicted in a number of statues and murals around the temple. This is a relatively new temple but the art techniques used in its creation are centuries-old and based on ancient beliefs. Adding to its feel of tranquillity, the temple is surrounded by a lake, which is teeming with fish. Visitors who make a donation to the temple are given a bag of food to feed the fish.