Koh Samui is an incredible holiday destination, big enough to have a huge range of great hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping and nightlife, but small enough to have that tropical paradise, picture-postcard feel with swathes of untouched natural beauty and some stunning beaches.
The most built-up and arguably most exciting part of the island is Chaweng which is home to a beautiful, 7km white sand beach with crystal clear waters and a dizzying array of world-class restaurants to choose from. Of course, if you are looking for something a little more relaxing, Choeng Mon beach is only 10 minutes away and much quieter, but close enough so that you can still enjoy everything that Chaweng has to offer.
Unsurprisingly, an island of this size has a vast range of things to see and do, easily enough to keep you busy during a two-week vacation whether you’re planning a family holiday, a romantic getaway or even just backpacking. There’s so much to do on the island that you’ll probably find it hard to make a decision, so let’s take a look at our ultimate list of things to do in Koh Samui.
Discover the Best Beaches
If you want to spend a few days on the beach, there are few better places on the planet than Samui, you’re spoilt for choice with the more developed area of Chaweng and its popular but often busy beach, to Lamai, which is less developed than Chaweng but still has all the amenities you could need. Choeng Mon beach is only ten minutes north of Chaweng, but is very different, much quieter and more relaxing, without so many touts and the whine of jet-skis. The best beach for you will depend on what you intend to do and whether you prefer somewhere busier and more happening or somewhere more secluded and private, you’ll be able to find it on Samui.
If water sports are what you’re after, you’ll find that Chaweng and Lamai beach will be your best choices as these two are the busiest beaches on Samui. Bophut beach, north-west of Chaweng, is several kilometres long, fairly quiet and Bophut village is home to the charming Fisherman’s Village, a more laid-back and quaint place with little Chinese-style wooden shophouses and a great night market, an excellent place to pick up some handicrafts or souvenirs to take back home with you, and a completely different feel to the more developed areas. Another great idea is to hire a small motorbike for around 300 baht ($10) early in the morning and spend the day driving around the island, visiting all of the beaches, it’s easily doable in one day and a lot of fun.
Visit the Amazing Temples
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been to Thailand that Samui is dotted with dozens of temples, but there are a handful of standout ones that are well worth a visit. The most well-known temple and an attraction that should be on every visitor’s itinerary is the popular Big Buddha Temple, which was built on a small island just off the northeastern corner of Samui in 1972. About a ten minute drive from Chaweng Beach, the 12 metre high golden Buddha is visible for miles around, and is probably the islands most well-known landmark and can be seen from the plane as you come in to land at the airport.
Wat Plai Laem is just a stone’s throw from the Big Buddha and features a remarkable, 18-armed image of Guanyin, an important figure in Chinese Buddhism, indeed Ko Samui has a history of links to Chinese heritage. The temple is surrounded by a beautiful lake packed full of fish which seem to have a never-ending appetite for the bags of fish food that are sold in the temple. In addition to these two stunning temples, there is also a secret Buddha garden, hidden high in the jungle-covered hills, as well as a waterfall temple, known as Wat Namtok Hin Lad, which has several amazing sights including many golden chedis, a walkway across the river and a small waterfall. And of course, there are dozens of smaller temples located around the island.
Visit Angthong National Marine Park
Angthong National Marine Park is a stunningly beautiful and fascinating archipelago of more than 40 small islands, each one covered with lush tropical vegetation and home to a vast array of flora and fauna. You can book a ticket for a tour of the park, which will usually include visits to caves, snorkelling, a beach visit or two, kayaking, a Thai meal as well as drinks and insurance. There are a few bungalows and campsites if you would like to spend a night or two in the serene and natural surroundings, but don’t expect much in the way of amenities.
There are a couple of places within the park selling alcoholic drinks, but they are very basic and couldn’t even be called bars, but rather somewhere to sit and buy a cold beer from a hut with a small fridge. Although, most people come here to get away from it all and experience nature, not sit in a bar.
Be warned that as with the majority of national parks in Thailand, there is an entrance fee that usually won’t be included in the cost of your tour, unless of course it is specifically mentioned. Current fees are 300 baht ($9.50) for foreign adults, 150 baht ($4.75) for foreign children and 40 baht ($1.25) for Thais.
Tours & Activities Recommendation: On the island of Koh Samui you’ll find travel agents and tour companies absolutely everywhere! whether you are staying in Chaweng, Lamai or even the quieter parts of the island like Maenam, Bophut and Choeng Mon. However if you want to plan ahead, you can conveniently book online with Get Your Guide and Viator. Both companies offer excellent customer service and have excellent customer reviews. Another reason to booking online is you can look at customer reviews and experiences before you make your booking! Get Your Guide and Viator have a good cancellation/refund policy, in case your travel arrangements happen to change.
Visit the Waterfalls
Samui has a few stunning waterfalls which you can visit to enjoy a dip in the water, whilst experiencing some of the island’s lush tropical rainforest and a vast variety of exotic wildlife that live in the jungle. The clear and cool waters are very inviting on a hot day and a great way to relax and cool down. There are around a dozen waterfalls on the island, of which around 2-3 are quite spectacular and worth visiting. Na Mueang Waterfall is probably the most popular and well-known and is around 20km from Chaweng Beach, about 35 minutes by motorcycle. Hin Lad waterfall is a bit less impressive but has a large pool for swimming, and is on the western side of the island, about 30km from Chaweng Beach.
It’s easy enough to visit the waterfalls with a rented motorcycle, as no matter where you are staying on the island you’ll have access to at least a couple of waterfalls within a 15-20 minutes drive. Just remember to take a towel, bottled water, sunscreen, and take great care when walking on wet rocks around the lagoon. You can also arrange a taxi to take you, and the driver will wait in his vehicle whilst you enjoy the waterfall. Be warned that some of the smaller waterfalls can be reduced to a trickle or even dry up completely during the dry season, to avoid disappointment just ask at your hotel before you set off and they should be able to advise you.
Go Jungle Trekking
Visiting Thailand without going jungle trekking at least once is a mistake, getting into the jungle and seeing the beautiful, untouched rainforest is an amazing experience and should be on everyone’s itinerary. Although Samui is a fairly well-developed island, there are still vast regions that are untouched and unexplored and are fascinating to see. There are several operators on the island offering jungle trekking packages, which are a great way to meet people, get some exercise and get close to nature in a tropical paradise. If you’re interested in going trekking, make sure that you bring a decent pair of hiking boots or trainers, you can buy them in Thailand but there are many counterfeits, unfortunately.
As well as hiking through the island’s jungle, you can also visit an elephant sanctuary, go quad-bike trekking, off-road motorcycle trekking and even jungle mountain biking if you’re feeling energetic. As well as the islands vast range of tropical flora and fauna, you’ll be taken to a range of interesting sites such as waterfalls, stunning viewpoints, temples and maybe even the secret Buddha garden. As a rough guide, you can expect a 4-hour guided jungle trek to cost around $50 (1560 baht), with an English-speaking guide, bottled water and lunch usually included.
Go Scuba Diving
Thailand is well-known as a fantastic place to learn to scuba dive, with very reasonable prices, plus beautifully clear waters with a stunning array of brightly coloured marine life and coral formations. There are many excellent, highly reputable dive shops around the island, offering all kinds of packages such as multiple day packages including food and accommodation, PADI certification and even single dives.
If it’s your first time diving, you’ll be very well taken care of, and many of the dive shops can offer tuition in several languages, although English is unsurprisingly the most common. For first-timers, you should budget around 4000 baht ($128) for a day-long tour, which includes all your tuition, use of equipment, food drinks, insurance and two dives. If you are already a certified diver, you can expect to pay around 15-20% less.
You’ll find several dive shops in Chaweng, although some highly recommended operators include Silent Divers, Discovery Dive Centre and The Life Aquatic. Diving in Thailand is incredible, you can expect to see vast shoals of brightly coloured fish, turtles, stingrays, eels, barracudas and huge coral formations, you might even be lucky enough to see some of Thailand’s shark species, including whale sharks, reef sharks and leopard sharks. Samui Diving Resort in Bophut offers comprehensive packages including both accommodation and scuba diving, and is a stone’s throw from the beach.
Go on a 4WD Jungle Safari Tour
Ko Samui is teeming with thousands of tropical species which live in amongst the island’s lush tropical vegetation and a great way to see them is on a 4WD jungle safari. A seven-hour safari tour in a jeep, including trips to see the grandfather and grandmother rocks, Na Mueang waterfalls and the secret Buddha garden will set you back 1790 baht ($57) but includes lunch, drinks, insurance and all entrance fees. It’s a great way to see the lush jungle environment of the island, especially if you are not feeling energetic enough for several hours of hiking.
You can customise your trip and can add in extra trips, such as visiting a water slide and zip line or a particular temple. If there’s somewhere else you’d want to go during the trip, you just need to ask the driver. The drivers speak English and it’s a great experience that gets rave reviews online. For more information about the safari or to make an online booking, click here.
Accommodation Recommendation: There are literally thousands of excellent places to stay in Koh Samui, from budget hostels, guest houses, beachfront bungalows, mid range hotels and high end resorts. Always book online before you go, we recommend both Agoda.com and Booking.com. Each offer free cancellation, just in case your travel arrangements change and have excellent customer service. Be sure to checkout customer reviews and experiences of other people before you go ahead and make your booking!
Take a Thai Cooking Class
If you want to impress your friends and family, you should seriously consider taking one of the many Thai cookery classes available on the island. Ying’s Thai Cooking Class consistently rates as one of the best on the island. Ying only takes on 2-3 students at a time, classes are from 09:30 until 15:30, depending on the dishes you want to learn to cook, and the class costs 2400 baht ($77) per person.
Alternatively, the Pai Cooking School is cheaper and focuses on Thai curries, showing you how to make the pastes from scratch, and also gets rave reviews online from students. As you’d expect from an island of this size, there are around a dozen other options for Thai cookery classes, and none of them seems to ever get a bad review. Some will even include a visit to a local market, showing you how to select the freshest ingredients for your dish.
If scuba diving is a bit too much for you, you can have almost as much fun at a fraction of the cost by going on a snorkelling trip. A popular trip is the Pig Island day trip which includes a visit to an island where you can feed the pigs that live there. Great fun if you’re traveling with children, the trip takes around 6 hours and costs around 2000 baht ($65). The price includes the use of all snorkelling gear, kayaks, drinks, lunch, private beach access and insurance. More information including availability, booking and customer reviews can be found here.
You’ll find a huge range of companies around the island offering shorter, more basic snorkelling trips around the island including trips to the beautiful Angthong National Marine Park from around 900 baht ($29).
Party the Night Away
Ko Samui has an extremely lively and varied nightlife scene, with everything from quiet ex-pat bars, sports bars where you can challenge the locals to a game of pool, plus a very decent selection of booming nightclubs and even some red-light areas where you’ll find beer bars, go-go bars and karaoke joints.
Drinking alcohol is fairly expensive in Thailand and Ko Samui is no exception, with pints of Thai beer going for around 100-200 baht ($3.20-6.40) in most places. Even the quieter locations on the island will have somewhere where you can grab a late-night beer or two, but if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, Chaweng and Lamai are the places to go, with Chaweng being notably more developed with Western-style nightclubs such as the infamous Green Mango, which is always thronged with revellers from around the world.
Go Go-Karting, Skydiving or Wave Riding
EasyKart has several locations around Thailand offering petrol-powered go-kart experiences, and their location on Samui has a beginner track with lower-powered karts and a much bigger track with more powerful karts for adrenaline junkies. Prices start at around 400 baht ($12.75) per race, but you can also buy packages that give a significant discount and include a free t-shirt. In addition to go-karting, they also offer indoor skydiving, and even wave-riding, which is essentially surfing on an artificially produced wave inside a large tank. More information, including prices and contact information, can be found here.
Go on a Fishing Trip
Whether you’re a keen angler or just looking for something new and fun, fishing at TopCats Fishing Resort is a fantastic experience and a great day out. Top Cats offer a range of fishing options, including Full Day Fishing (12 hours) 6000 baht ($192), 1/2 Day Morning Session (8am-2pm) 6 hours 3500 baht ($112), 1/2 Day Predator Session (2pm-8pm) 6 hours 4000 baht ($128) and 4 hour sessions can be arranged in advance 3000 baht ($96). Fishing prices include a 2 rod setup with rod pod (1 predator rod allowed), Century rods, Shimano reels, Delkim alarms, 1 full bait pack including pop ups and boilies, trained fishing guide, shaded fishing salas with power and wifi, electric fan and waitress service. Top cats also provide holiday specials and short stay options where you can stay in their awesome lakeside bungalows.
If you’re into sea fishing and want to try a deep-sea fishing trip, Samui is a great place to give it a try. For around 2000 baht ($64), you can expect a day trip lasting around 7 hours, which will usually include hotel pick-up, the use of all fishing gear and bait, a Thai lunch, drinks, insurance and tuition if you need it.
With the amazing weather, and the stunningly clear water, it’s a great thing to try during your time in Thailand, the crew will know the best fishing spots and the best techniques, so you are almost certain to catch something. Some of the larger boats even have a BBQ on board, so you can cook your fish as soon as you catch it, or you can take your fish with you back to your hotel to have for dinner. It’s great to get out to sea and relax far from the throngs of tourists on the island, and a great photo opportunity, especially if you’re lucky enough to land an impressive specimen.
So there you have it, that’s our top 12 things to do in Koh Samui! We hope this helps you with planning your trip, deciding what to do in Koh Samui and having a trip of a lifetime. To find out more about Koh Samui checkout our travelers guide to Koh Samui for all the latest things to do, places to go, accommodation, transport and getting there as well as up-to-date travel tips and information.