Best Things to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha)

The Best 15 Things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui is an island in the spectacularly beautiful Gulf of Thailand. It is a common stop for tourists en route to the neighboring islands of Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao as Koh Samui has its own international airport. And while it’s easy to fly into Koh Samui and then quickly catch a ferry to another island, we would argue that there are plenty of reasons to stay for a few days.

And while lounging on the beach with an ice-cold cocktail may be your main priority during your trip to Koh Samui, there are quite a few other adventures to be had on the island. Check out our list of the 15 top things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand!

The Best 15 Things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand

1. Party on Chaweng Beach

Best Things to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Chaweng Beach

If you’re looking to experience Thailand’s famous party scene during your trip to Thailand, then look no further than Chaweng Beach! Located on the eastern side of the island, Chaweng Beach is a popular place to stay if you want to be in the heart of the action.

Filled with hotels and beach bars, it’s the perfect place to day drink in the sun while meeting some new friends from around the world. Koh Samui is one of the most beautiful places in Thailand and many people consider Chaweng Beach to be the best beach on the island.

Chaweg Beach is also the place to be in the evenings. After dark, the beach clubs turn into nightclubs and the popular fire dancers start their entertaining shows. Spending a night partying on Chaweng Beach is definitely one of the best things to do on Koh Samui.

2. Lounge on Lamai Beach

What to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Lamai Beach at Sunrise

After Chaweng Beach, Lamai Beach is the second most popular area to stay on the island of Koh Samui. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, shops, and bars, but it tends to be more peaceful and less of a party scene.

Even if you don’t stay on Lamai Beach, you can generally snag a free lounge chair as long as you agree to purchase a drink or meal. The water is quite calm and inviting here so you’ll love having a swim or enjoying one of the many water activities available for a small fee. And with so many amenities in close proximity, you’ll want to stay on Lamai Beach all day!

3. Visit the Big Buddha

The giant golden Buddha, known as Wat Phra Yai, that sits at the top of a steep staircase is one of the most recognizable landmarks on Koh Samui Island. It sits on the northeastern corner of the island, on its own little island right near the airport. You may even catch a glimpse of it on the drive from the airport to your hotel.

The Buddha statue was built in 1972 and stands almost 40 feet high. You can either rent a motorbike or visit the Big Buddha on your own. You can also book a Koh Samui Island Tour and be chauffeured around in an air-conditioned car to all of the highlights of the island!

As with most Buddhist structures in Thailand, you’ll need to remove your shoes at the bottom of the staircase except during the hours of 10 am and 4 pm when the tiles are much too hot for bare feet. It’s worth arriving early to avoid the crowds!

Book a Koh Samui Island Tour

4. Wander Around the Wat Plai Laem Complex

What to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Wat Plai Laem

Wat Plai Laem is right near the Big Buddha on the northeastern end of the island, near the airport. It is a beautiful, peaceful lake filled with impressive temples and a stop that you absolutely must make during your trip to Koh Samui!

The Wat Plai Laem temple is centrally located on the lake with the Statue of the Goddess Guanyin on one side and the Statue of the Chinese Laughing Buddha on the other. You’ll love wandering around this area, snapping photos of the impressive monuments, and enjoying the shade around the lake.

The complex is also generally included on island tours but is also very easy to get to on a motorbike if you are so inclined. Unfortunately, the lighting in the early morning is not ideal for photos, but it is the best time to visit as you’ll probably have the place all to yourself!

5. Admire the View from Wat Khao Hua Jook

Top Things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand: Wat Khao Hua Jook

Another great place to visit on Koh Samui, Wat Khao Hua Jook is on the opposite end of the airport from the Big Buddha and is only about a 15-minute motorbike away. It’s an easy stop if you are touring the island on your own. However, this temple is not generally included in the standard island tours. It’s not nearly as crowded as some of the other sites around Koh Samui.

Wat Khao Hua Jook is a simple pagoda located high on a hill overlooking the island of Koh Samui. You’ll have an uphill drive to get to the base of the stairs where you will have to climb the rest of the way by foot.

There is a very modest fee of 20 THB for foreigners to enter (a common complaint you’ll see in reviews). However, the view from the top is absolutely worth it! If you’re lucky, you may see planes taking off from the airport right below.

6. Shop at Fisherman’s Village

Koh Samui, Thailand - Best Things to do: Cocotams Bar at Bophut Beach

Fisherman’s Village is a darling little area located on Bophut Beach Road on the northern edge of the island. It is one of the places you absolutely must visit during a trip to Koh Samui! Here you’ll find the cutest little restaurants with views of the sea and lots of boutique shops. These are just perfect for finding souvenirs to take for friends and family back home.

The best time to visit Fisherman’s Village is on Friday nights from 5 pm until 11 pm when it transforms into a bustling night market. But if your schedule doesn’t allow it, Bophut Beach Road becomes a pedestrian-only street at 5 pm daily and tends to be lively every night of the week.

Be sure to have a drink at Summer by Coco Tam’s during sunset, or stay until after dark for the fire show – it’s one of the best bars on Koh Samui. And if your feet are feeling weary, Cyan Spa offers reasonably priced foot massages in a peaceful room that overlooks the sea!

7. Visit Ang Thong Marine Park

Koh Samui, Thailand - Best Things to do: Ang Thong Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park is not actually located on Koh Samui Island, but it’s easy enough to get to visit via speed boat and is one of the most popular tours on Koh Samui. This archipelago of 42 islands has remained spectacularly pristine and somewhat remote due to the fact that visitation is limited to a few licensed tour operators.

It is full of towering limestone cliffs, white sand beaches, jungles, lakes, and everything in between. It’s an amazing place to spend a day snorkeling and cruising around while enjoying the scenery. While the movie The Beach was actually filmed on Koh Phi Phi Leh, Ang Thong is actually the setting of the camp as described in the original novel (one of our favorite travel books). One visit and you’ll understand why the characters found it to be paradise.

Book a Snorkeling and Kayaking Tour of Ang Thong Marine Park

8. Take a Cooking Class

Best Things to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Thai Cooking Class

You can’t take a trip to Thailand without learning a bit about how to cook your favorite Thai dishes! And if you book a traditional Thai cooking class with a market tour, you can learn all about the ingredients used. This way you can try your hand at cooking once you get home. It’s a fun learning experience for all ages!

Book a Traditional Thai Cooking Class and Market Tour

9. Stroll Through Secret Buddha Garden

Best Things to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Secret Buddha Garden (Magic Garden)

The Secret Buddha Garden (known on Google Maps as the Tarnim and Magic Garden) is located in the hills just north of the Na Muang Waterfalls. This small garden was a labor of love created by a fruit farmer who collected a variety of Buddha statues for his land.

You’ll need to pay an 80 THB fee to enter the garden. It’s a nice place to escape the heat and the crowds for an afternoon. You can wander around, enjoying the statues and the small stream that runs through the garden. Just beware that the ground can be steep, uneven, and slippery in some areas.

It’s certainly worth a stop during your trip to Koh Samui, especially if you are already touring around the area!

10. Marvel at a Mummified Monk

What to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Wat Khunaram (Mummified Monk)

If you visit the temple of Wat Khunaram during your trip, you’ll find one of the most popular tourist attractions on Koh Samui sitting inside – the mummified remains of the monk Luong Pordaeng. He died in 1973 in the same meditative position that he is in now and has remained on display in a glass case at the temple since.

This is both a tourist attraction and a very spiritual place for Thai people so be sure to dress and act respectfully during your visit.

11. Go on a Wild Jungle Safari

If you’re itching for a little excitement during your trip to Koh Samui, then you’ll definitely want to book a wild jungle safari tour!

Not only will you get to see some of the top highlights of the island during this 7-hour tour, but you’ll also get to cruise up the mountains and through the jungles in an ex-army jeep. It’s an exhilarating tour of Koh Samui to get your heart pumping!

Book a Wild Jungle Safari Tour

12. See a Ladyboy Cabaret Show

Koh Samui, Thailand - Best Things to do: Ladyboy Cabaret Show

Funny enough, one of the things that Thailand is well known for around the world is its stunningly beautiful “ladyboys”. They are fully transitioned or in the process of transitioning to women. And since Thailand remains relatively conservative when it comes to transgendered people working in office-related positions, many of them end up working in the entertainment business.

Ladyboys are often quite beautiful and feminine and have a reputation for confusing male tourists. They can also put on one hell of a cabaret show! Check out Paris Follies or Starz Cabaret for an incredibly entertaining night out on the town.

13. Go on a Quad Bike Safari Tour

If the previous 14 things to do on Koh Samui still haven’t provided you with enough adventurous activities, consider booking a quad bike tour!

Instead of visiting the same old Koh Samui tourist spots, you’ll cruise through the lush jungles of Koh Samui. It’ll be an exciting tour and a great way to experience another side of the island that most tourists never see!

Book a Quad Bike Safari Tour

14. Check out Hin Ta and Hin Yai

What to do on Koh Samui, Thailand: Hin Ta (Grandfather Rock) on Lamai Beach

Full disclosure – I booked an island tour of Koh Samui during one of my trips and this activity was included. But I didn’t love it. I’ve added it to the list because it is known as one of the best things to do on Koh Samui, but in my humble opinion, it is definitely skippable.

Hin Ta and Hin Yai are also known as Grandpa and Grandma rock. Essentially, they are just two rocks on the ocean shore that resemble a penis and a vagina. They’ve been carved naturally and although they have interesting folklore that accompanies them, most people just visit these rocks to pose for awkward photos and make inappropriate jokes.

The tale of the rocks tells the story of an elderly couple that lived with their son and determined that it was time for him to marry. So they set sail to a neighboring province to ask for the hand of a young woman there. But unfortunately, there was a storm that capsized the boat and caused grandma and grandpa to drown. The legend is that they became the rocks as a sign of their intentions to the bride and her parents.

The genitalia rocks are located on the southeastern end of the island and are generally included as a stop on Koh Samui island tours.

15. Swim at the Na Muang Waterfalls

Koh Samui, Thailand - Best Things to do: Na Muang Waterfall

The Na Muang Waterfalls have the potential to be a relaxing oasis in the middle of the jungle in the south-central region of Koh Samui. Unfortunately, they’ve been turned into a bit of a zoo over the years. The waterfalls themselves are quite beautiful, with water cascading over purplish-colored rocks.

Na Muang 1 flows into a little natural pool that is ideal for swimming, and Na Muang 2 is further uphill and accessible by foot. Beware that the rocks get quite slippery. It may be dangerous for tourists that aren’t prepared.

The falls have become overcrowded because they are one of the most popular stops on the Koh Samui island tour. Vendors set up their souvenir shops along the parking lot where elephant rides and various other animal shows are offered. While most of Thailand has moved away from this type of animal cruelty, the vendors at this waterfall are still using it for profit.

As previously mentioned, the Na Muang Waterfalls are a common stop on the Koh Samui island tour. But if you are touring the island by motorbike on your own, this attraction is quite far from the rest. It’s a 45-minute drive from Chaweng Beach or a 20-minute drive from Lamai Beach. So depending on where you’re coming from, it may be worth skipping.

We hope you have a wonderful trip to Koh Samui, Thailand!

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  • Valerie Wheatley

    Val grew up in Portland, Oregon but moved to Oahu on a whim back in 2013. She sold her house and all of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket. Since then she’s taken two around-the-world trips and has visited 60-ish countries while living out of a duffel bag.

    Val started documenting the Wandering Wheatleys travels back in 2013 as a way to update friends and family about her whereabouts and to relay humorous daily interactions. The only readers were her mom and her mother-in-law but that didn’t stop her!

    These days you’ll find Val dreaming up future trips, creating new travel content, managing a team of amazing travel enthusiasts, and chasing around her two adorable but naughty kids.

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