I’ve blogged a lot about our time on Koh Samui from the Muay Thai training side of things, however of course we also spent plenty of time out exploring, eating and playing on this beautiful island.
Among some travellers Koh Samui has a poor reputation of being super-touristy and not worth the visit. Early on in our stay I asked one of the ladies in our Muay Thai class who lives on the island for some ideas of less-touristy things to see and do. This was much better than a guidebook, and she kindly gave me a long list of what to do on Koh Samui, which we spent the next four weeks trying to fulfil - many of her suggestions made it onto my favourites list!
After spending an entire month on this beautiful island, I can assure you that it is entirely possible to escape tourist-laden Chaweng Beach and discover many nooks and crannies that will have you feeling relaxed and happy in no time! You just have to know where to go and what to do.
Here's my top ten favourite things to do on Koh Samui!
1. Hire a scooter and drive around the island
Hiring a scooter is the easiest way to escape the chaos of Chaweng, and driving around the perimeter of the whole island only takes a couple of hours without stopping. While you’re at it, make sure you also drive through the middle of the island for a completely different aspect. The road Maenam Soi 1 will take you from Maenam right through to Lamai. You'll suddenly find yourself amongst lush, untouched greenery, complete with snakes crossing the road!
We rented from Ohm Cycles Samui and rented our Scoopy-i 125cc automatic for 30,000 baht/30 days - of course if you're renting shorter term you can expect to pay a higher daily rental rate. Please, always wear a helmet, drive carefully and be aware - we saw an awful fatal accident in the time we were there, and unfortunately this is a regular occurrence.
2. Kalasea Cafe
Easily our favourite eating spot on the island, Kalasea is pretty much as far away as you can get from busy Chaweng, being halfway around the island. Fill up on mouth-watering food (salads! fresh spring rolls!) and delicious drinks (mint soda! oreo shake!) followed by a swing over the sea - Kalasea is the kind of places you can stay for hours. We did just that so many times!
From Chaweng, drive through Maenam and just before you reach Nathon there are a cluster of beachfront cafes on your right - Kalasea is the ones that is painted white with a thatched roof.
3. Boat Temple
I'm letting you in on a bit of a secret here, shhh! Near Laem Sor Pagoda, which is also a beautiful spot, is a small temple that barely any tourists seem to know about. It is called the Boat Temple because it is in the shape of a boat, inside a man-made pond. You step onboard the boat to look inside the temple, which is rather unique!
Follow your map to Laem Sor Pagoda, once you get there hang a left and drive along for another minute or so, eventually you should see the temple up on the hill on your left. There is a smaller, model version of it in a building near the pagoda - don't get mixed up thinking that is it like we did the first time! We had to visit again in order to find the actual temple itself, oops. As always, be sure to dress respectfully when you visit a temple - that means covered shoulders and covered knees.
4. Wat Plai Laem Temple
Visit on a sunny day and you will be taken aback by the colour and vibrancy of the 18-armed Guanyin statue and a very happy giant Buddha. This is a stunning complex to wander around for an hour or so and take in the ornate details of the temples in a peaceful setting.
5. Go to the movies
For those of you on holiday trying to escape normality, perhaps this isn't the suggestion for you, but after a few months on the road we loved being able to go to the movies in English! We really enjoy going to the movies at home, so it was a treat to be able to go a few times while we were on Koh Samui.
The Major Cineplex Lotus Samui is in the big Tescos shopping centre in Chaweng. It is just like going to the movies at home except for two things: 1. It is way cheaper (180 baht for a ticket, about NZ$7), and 2. Before the movie starts you have to stand in honour of the King for a couple of minutes while a musical clip plays. Its a unique experience!
6. Visit the dog shelter
We spent an afternoon visiting the animals at Samui Dog and Cat Rescue Centre. Based in Ban Taling Ngam in the southwest of the island, this foundation was set up by a German and Dutch team in 1999 to provide medical treatment, food, shelter and sterilisation for street dogs and cats, along with providing education for Koh Samui people on how to care for their animals. It is a great foundation and keeps going by way of donations and the help of volunteers.
I am dog-obsessed so spending an afternoon there giving the animals some love, along with a bit of dirty work like scooping up some poop, is much appreciated by the dogs and humans alike! My only regret is that I didn't make it back more often. They love helpful visitors, be sure to check out their website here for more information and to donate.
7. Chill out at Silver Beach
Escape busy Chaweng beach by visiting some of the other beaches dotted around the island. Our pick of the bunch that we visited time and time again is Silver Beach. Located between Chaweng and Lamai, its a small beach that you enter through a restaurant (marked Silver Beach Resort). Grab a bite to eat and a smoothie at the restaurant before laxing out on the beach for the rest of the day. Every time we went there it was never very busy and there was always plenty of space to relax in the sunshine.
8. Take a Muay Thai class
You're in Thailand, and what better place to learn the eight-limbed martial art of Muay Thai than in the heat and humidity of the Thai islands, right? Seriously though, Muay Thai is an integral part of Thai culture, and just a couple of hours of training will not only give you an amazing workout, but also a greater understanding of Thailands #1 sport!
We loved training at Superpro Samui, you can stay onsite and training is included as part of your accommodation, however you can also visit for a one-off class. Check out their website for more details. Read my post about the gear and essentials you'll need to be prepared for your training session!
9. Lamai Boxing
Now that you have completed your Muay Thai class and have a better understanding of the sport, hop on your scooter and head to Lamai on a Saturday night to see some fighters in action! The kickboxing at Lamai is in a boxing ring surrounded by bars, so unlike the two stadiums in Chaweng that are extortionately expensive (more than 1,000 baht!), watching the Muay Thai in Lamai will only set you back the cost of an overpriced drink (100 baht or so), and provide hours of entertainment. It starts around 9.30pm and goes through until about midnight, depending on how many rounds the fights last for!
10. Secret Buddha Garden
Hidden high up in the hills behind Baan Saket, the Secret Buddha Garden is a jungly oasis built by a local durian fruit farmer after he retired back in the 1970's. Its essentially a lush, green garden with waterfalls, statues and figures of Buddhist folklore that make you feel as though you have entered some kind of mythical land! We visited on a drizzly day and were the only ones there at the time - it felt quite eerie and magical. The two of us drove up on one scooter, and while this is certianly manageable be aware that there are quite a few steep sections of road where the person on the back might have to quickly jump off so the scooter has enough power to reach the top!
Bonus Activity: Cheeseburger Cheeseburger!
I feel almost guilty admitting this one, but while we were on Koh Samui a new eatery opened up, and as we are travelling long-term we have no qualms about indulging in some delicious western food! And Cheeseburger Cheeseburger, at the entrance to the Bophut Fisherman's Village, hits the spot BIG TIME. It's what I ate for lunch on my 25th birthday and it was soooo good. In fact, the vanilla milkshake was the best I've had in my life - I'd go all the way back to Koh Samui even if just for a Cheeseburger Cheeseburger milkshake - its THAT good! On the pricey side (as in, similar to what you would pay at home) but you are promised the #1 cheeseburger on Samui, so totally worth the splurge.
There you have it, my favourite activities in Koh Samui. Enjoy your trip!
Have you visited Koh Samui or any of the Thai Islands? What was your favourite thing you did there?