Koh Samui is the perfect island retreat for anyone wanting a mix of beautiful beaches, waterfalls, Buddhist temples, and modern amenities when visiting Thailand. In a nutshell, Koh Samui has it all! There are plenty of things to do in Koh Samui to fulfill every traveler’s needs.
Situated on the Eastern side of the Thai mainland in the Gulf of Thailand, Samui Island is the second-largest island in the Thai Kingdom (Phuket being the biggest). Koh Samui and Phuket have been compared countless times in an attempt to debate which island is the best, but to me, it is really impossible to choose a clear winner.
Regardless, you should visit both islands when traveling to Thailand, in fact, it’s a great idea to go island hopping to see as many as you can. Nothing can really compare to the beautiful beaches of the country.
Things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand
This Koh Samui article was originally written by Albert Niekerk,(some pictures provided by him) it has been updated by Dave and Deb combining our experiences, updated tours, and information for 2021.
See the Big Buddha Temple
One of the top things to do in Koh Samui is to visit Wat Phra Yai temple to see the 12 meter high (39 foot high) Big Buddha. It was built in 1972 and has endured at one of Koh Samui’s top attractions. Even though it isn’t technically located on Koh Samui, it is Koh Samui’s most famous landmark. The Big Buddha Temple is located on Koh Faan and connected to Koh Samui by a long causeway. Plus it is usually the first thing people put on their list to see as it can be seen by air upon arrival. This is a popular spot to celebrate Loy Krathong and Songkran Festivals.
This half-day bike tour lets you discover Koh Samui’s most famous sights including the Big Buddha, the Bang Rak Market, and the Choeng Mon Beach as you learn about the island’s culture and history from a local guide.
Beach Life at Chaweng Beach
Koh Samui is blessed with white sandy beaches. Chaweng Beach is Koh Samui’s most popular beach and with good reason. It is one very large stretch of white sand with shady palm trees. In fact, it is so large it is broken into four parts, North, Central, South, and Little. (Chaweng Noi). If you want to be in the heart of the action, this is the place to stay.
Do some snorkeling and sea kayaking or rent a paddleboard and do some stand-up paddleboarding in the calm waters. When the sun goes down, the nightlife begins on Chaweng Beach at its beach bars. Head out to the Green Mango strip for some bar hopping.
Kings Island Resort is a highly rated place to stay on Chaweng Beach. There is no swimming pool but it is located directly on the beach. The Hyatt Regency is one of the most luxurious properties on the beach with a private swimming pool at a mid-range price.
Visit Grandpa and Grandma Rocks at Lamai Beach
Koh Samui may be famous for its white sandy beaches, but the rocky beaches are definitely a sight to remember. Lamai Beach is quieter than Chaweng Beach and tends to attract a more laid-back crowd. It is at Lamai Beach that you will find the famous Koh Samui attractions of Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks.
Hin Ta and Hin Yai (Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks) are some of the more unique things to see on Koh Samui. The male and female genitalia-shaped rocks have been a top draw since our first visit to Koh Samui way back in 2003.
Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks
Legend has it that an old man and woman set sail to a neighboring island to ask for the hand of a daughter of a man named Ta Monglai. When their boat capsized, they drowned and turned into these rocks to prove their true intentions to the family. It is a unique thing to see and it is also a beach on Koh Samui that offers some higher-end accommodation
Day Trip to Koh Phangan
We mentioned island-hopping above and we mean it. Thailand was made for island hopping. From Koh Samui, you can easily visit Koh Phangan and Koh Tao on a boat trip. Koh Phangan is popular enough to spend some time on, but if you simply want to visit for a day, this Full day Tour takes you to see all the highlights of Koh Phangan.
The island is just a 30 minute boat ride from Koh Samui where you will land at Thong Sala pier. You will then explore the Chinese Temple, Koh Mah beach for snorkeling in its crystal-clear waters followed by traditional Thai lunch. Then it is time to visit the scenic viewpoint of Koh Raham before heading back by speedboat to your hotel in Koh Samui.
Koh Tao to explore peaceful hidden beaches, underwater sanctuaries filled with sea creatures, and all-night parties. Koh Tao is one of the best spots for snorkelling and diving in Thailand. Koh Tao is often referred to as Turtle Island for both its shape and the green and hawksbill turtles that inhabit the beautiful island. It is also one of the best places in Thailand to take your PADI certification. Read more at Beautiful Beaches in Thailand to Spark Your Wanderlust
One of the best things to do in Koh Samui is to get in the water and go snorkeling. Each island in Thailand offers its own unique quirks and customs but I must say, the thing that stood out the most to me about Koh Samui was the incredible snorkeling and scuba environments it had to offer.
This private long tail boat tour has you boarding one of Thailand’s famous longtail boats to Koh Taen, known for its marine life and coral reef. Plus you will get to visit Koh Madsum (Pig Island) to see the resident pigs that live there. We did this in the Bahamas and it is so much fun to see the pigs running in the sand to say hello. Other things you see are, White Rock Cave Island, Red Ant Island, and Matkhong Island
The neighboring island of Koh Tao is known for its scuba diving, but Samui is also an excellent diving destination. There are many places offering scuba diving courses on the island at affordable prices. Plus the warm, clear, and inviting waters make it an ideal spot to become certified.
Courses are run right off Chaweng, Coral Cove, and other beaches with shore diving easy to access. Ang Thong National Marine Park is also considered a great diving destination.
Check out the Night Markets
One of our favorite things to do in Thailand is to go shopping and sample their many small food stalls. Chiang Mai is famous for its night markets, but in Koh Samui, they have fabulous night markets that rotate locations each evening. Pick up your Thai souvenirs, sample great street food, and get lost in the energy and excitement of bartering with the vendors.
Best night markets in Koh Samui
Fisherman’s Village Walking Street at Bophut on Fridays. Lamai Night Plaza Night Market in Lamai Centre – Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Chewang Night Market in Bophut- Monday to Thursday and Saturday.
Swim in the Namuang Waterfalls
Namuang Waterfall is probably one of the top attractions located in central Koh Samui. Located inland from Nathon Bay, it is easily accessible by tuk tuk. Once you reach the parking lot, Na Muang 1 is just a short walk from the parking lot. Venture up another 100 meters to see Na Muang 1.
I must admit, I was very skeptical about visiting Na Muang because it is a very touristy place. But I was told when I get there I should climb up next to the waterfall as far as I could, “to see secret very beautiful waters”.
Tourists were crowding at the base of the falls, just like I expected. I dodged them and found a tiny almost overgrown footpath on the side of the falls leading up the mountain. As I climbed and climbed the steep little path I reached quite a few smaller but undisturbed waterfalls, each with its own little pools.
I climbed even higher and eventually reached the top. This was what I wanted to see, a totally unspoiled waterfall with lush jungle growing on either side, I discovered the “secret very beautiful waters”.
The view I had of the island was unbelievable and I couldn’t see or hear any tourists. It was heaven! I spent almost the whole day taking pictures, swimming, and eating the odd coconut that came floating down the stream.
I fell in love with my newfound paradise. Two other Canadian guys also stumbled upon my secret place but I was glad to have someone around who appreciated it as much as I did.
Mummified Monk – Wat Khunaram
One of the strangest things to see on Koh Samui is the Mummified monk. Located at Wat Khunaram, the mummified remains of monk Luong Pordaeng are on display. The buddhist monk died in 1973 in a seated meditative position. Before his death, he asked that his body be put on display should it not decompose. And now today, it is revered as an inspiration to follow a life of Buddhism.
One of the more unique things you can do is to attend a Monk Chat and meditation session at Dipabhavan Meditation Center, which is open to anyone.
If you are looking for something truly unique, keep an eye out for Overlap Stone, a large stone that that rests precariously on top of a large boulder
Have a Traditional Thai Massage
Really, no matter where you are in Thailand a traditional Thai Massage should be on your list. And Koh Samui is no exception. I love getting a Thai massage on the beach and this is one of the must do things in Koh Samui. Don’t worry about finding one, they will be walking the beach in search of tourists to soothe their aching bodies.
But you can also walk along the streets to find massage palours or book a fancier massage at one of the higher end hotels. But do yourself a favour, get a massage as much as possible in Thailand. They are so affordable, it is nice to get pampered like royalty on a regular basis.
If you want to take your wellness holiday to another level, make sure to stay at the Absolute Sanctuary. This wellness fitness resort is nestled on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. Located within a lush forest setting, Absolute Sanctuary takes a holistic approach seeking to to address individual wellness goals such as a detox holiday, pamper me holiday, weight management or reducing stress. Indulge in yoga or Pilates as you enjoy a meaningful holiday that will bring peace to your mind and body.
Go for a Hike
Koh Samui has some great hiking and if the beach life becomes a little tedious (I mean, how could it ever really though?) or you want to stretch your legs, head out to some of the trails for a hike.
Hike to the Secret Buddha Garden to see Buddha sculptures set in a rainforest, hike the Nathon Mountain Trail Ridge, or head up to the Maenam Viewpoint for great views of Nathon and the beautiful tropical island scene.
Secret Buddha Garden
Speaking of Secret Buddha Garden, is a very interesting place to visit. Created in 1976 by a local durian farmer, there are several different depicting different Buddha folklore. You can hike to Secret Buddha Garden or take a 4X4 Jeep Tour. Check out tour options here.
Ang Thong National Marine Park
A must-do day trip from Koh Samui is to head out to the Ang Thong National Marine Park. Like so many places in Southern Thailand, Ang Thong was featured in the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio. Ang Thong National Park is an archipelago of 42 islands with the towering limestone mountains that Thailand is famous for. You can swim in lagoons, relax on pristine beaches and spy sea turtles in its crystal clear waters. Both Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are part of the Ang Thong National Marine Park.. For the ultimate in luxury, book an overnight cruise on a junk boat to experience the islands in private.
Chill out after Dark
After you’ve soaked up some rays all day long, head out to the beach to enjoy dinner and drinks on a matt on the beach. Each night, the lanterns are lit and the lounge chairs come out as you eat on the beach harem style laying down chillaxing with a Chang or Singha Beer.
Go to an Elephant Sanctuary
Elephants have long suffered in Thailand, but thanks to sanctuaries converting from elephant tours to ethical elephant sanctuaries, you can visit retired tourism elephants and help support their well being.
Take a 40 minute drive through the island of Koh Samui to a sanctuary where you will learn about the rescued elephants, feed them and help bath them in mud. These elephants have been rescued and these sanctuaries are an important part in letting them live out their days in relative peace. While they can never go back in the wild, it is a much better life than having tourists ride on their backs. Find out more about the elephant sanctuary tour here.
Take a Thai Cooking Class
One of the best ways to immerse in a culture is through food. Thai food is our favorite and we eat it at home all the time! Visit a local market and learn to cook Thai cuisine. as you learn to prepare meals that you can bring home with you. It’s a fun and interactive way to spend an evening. Book a cooking class details here.
Wat Plai Laem
Another cool temple to see in Koh Samui is Wat Plai Laem. This Buddhist temple showcases Koh Samui’s Chinese heritage with a giant Guanyin statue dominating the temple grounds. Even though this is a Buddhist temple, it is actually dedicated to the Chinese Goddess Guanyin who is believed to be the Goddess of unconditional love
Chaweng Beach is Koh Samui’s most popular beach and with good reason. It is one very large stretch of white sand. In fact, it is so large it is broken into four parts, North, Central, South and Little. (Chaweng Noi). If you want to be in the heart of the action, this is the place to stay. A very unique thing to keep an eye out for is when you make a donation, you will receive a bag of fish food so you can feed the resident fish in the pond.
Rent a Scooter – But Be Careful
The island of Koh Samui offers a lot of touristy sights to explore. The best (and cheapest) way to see everything is by renting your own scooter. I understand that this is a daunting idea to most newcomers to Southeast Asia, but it only takes a couple of minutes for you to get the hang of it and feel like a hardcore biker.
Make sure that you wear a helmet at all times and drive safely. Sadly, many tourists die on the roads of Thailand every year, so be extremely careful. Dave and I had an accident in Koh Samui and burnt our legs very badly, so be sure that you know how to ride a motorcycle before renting one.
Invest in an island map and ask a local to indicate all the must-see locations. Naturally the next thing to do is to completely ignore the map and just get lost! This is the best way to find hidden gems. A Motorcycle Adventure, the Journey Begins
Fisherman’s Village in Bophut
Even if you don’t make it to Fishermen’s Village night market, it is a great walking street during the day. Once a thriving fishing village, Fisherman’s Village has now turned into It is filled with cafés and eateries. You can do some shopping and Bophut Beach is located right there as well.
The main section of Fisherman’s Village is Bophut Beach Road which lines the beach. Go into one of the shops or cafés and head out back for beautiful beach views.
Take a Koh Samui Jeep Tour
A fun way to see all the Koh Samui highlights is to take a jeep tour. See the secret lookout offering gorgeous views of the Gulf of Thailand, visit the waterfalls and the Buddha Garden. For a unique tour of Koh Samui, this is a great idea. Check out this top-rated jeep tour on Ko Samui and this day trip to Koh Phangan.
Lady Boy Cabaret Show
Like the days of La Cage Au Folles here in the 1990s of North America, the Lady Boy Cabaret Shows have become one of the very best things to do in Koh Samui at night. This energetic performance involves lip-synching, dancing, and elaborate costumes.
How to Get to Koh Samui
Koh Samui is located in the Surat Thani province 35 km off the coast of Surat Thani on the Gulf of Thailand. The town of Surat Thani is the main jumping-off point for the islands on the Gulf of Thailand.
Neighboring islands are Ko Pha ngan, Ko Tao, and Ko Nang Yuan which can all be reached by longtail boat or ferry.
There are flights available from Phuket to Koh Samui as well as Bangkok to Koh Samui making it an easy destination to visit during your Thailand travels. If you are coming from other islands in the south of Thailand, you will have to make your way to Surat Thani. There are also flights from Bangkok to Surat Thani.
From Surat Thani, you will cat the ferry to Koh Samui from the main Surat Thani ferry port at Don Sak
Where to Stay on Koh Samui
Koh Samui is known for its luxury resorts but there are also places that are more affordable. We offer up three choices from Luxury to mid-range and affordable.
Four Seasons Resort – Expensive but worth the splurge. you can never go wrong with the Four Seasons brand if you are in search of a luxury stay.Kings Island Resort is a highly rated place to stay on Chaweng Beach. There is no swimming pool but it is located directly on the beach. The Hyatt Regency is one of the more luxurious resorts on the beach with a private swimming pool at an affordable price for mid-range travelers. For other hotels on Koh Samui, check out TripAdvisor for reviews.
Koh Samui has a lot more to offer other than waterfalls and coral reefs but these were the things that stood out the most to me. It is a beautiful island with breathtaking lush jungle and amazing beaches with shady palm trees, maybe I should leave Phuket and move here. Koh Samui will definitely see me again in the near future.
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Albert van Niekerk is a South African copywriter, blogger and travel writer. I lived in Thailand for a while and traveled through Southeast Asia looking for adventure. Follow me on Twitter @AlbertNiekerk or visit my blog at Here to Stray.com