07 Feb How to spend a week in Koh Samui
[mkdf_dropcaps type=”normal” color=”” background_color=””]T[/mkdf_dropcaps]he Island of Koh Samui is a tropical gem located in the warm blue waters off the country’s south-eastern seaboard. It is the Kingdom’s second largest island after Phuket. Relatively unknown for years, this sun lover’s paradise has now attained international standards of service and accommodation. Fortunately, it has also earned a reputation for retaining its friendly image as well as natural environment.
Easy to reach from Bangkok, Phuket or overseas, Koh Samui is literally covered with coconut trees and bougainvillea, which in turn are surrounded by white sandy shores and stunning turquoise seas. Whether you’re looking for remote beaches, great shopping, delicious dining or an exciting nightlife, you’ll find it on Koh Samui!
Located on the east coast, Chaweng is the largest and most action-packed beach on the island. It is well-protected by a coral reef and small islands, with shallow blue waters. Chaweng is undoubtedly the most popular and established area of Samui in terms of accommodation, dining and activities. You’ll find budget, first class and deluxe accommodation, all within easy reach of shops, restaurants, bars, tour operators and a very active nightlife.
South of Chaweng, Lamai Beach offers very nice budget and first class accommodation. Also providing an attractive nightlife, it’s a smaller, more intimate town. Here you’ll find a number of must-visit spa retreats, where the relatively inexpensive pampering will alleviate the stress and fatigue that have accumulated since your last vacation. Afterwards, relax or take a stroll on Lamai’s peaceful sands.
Bophut and Mae Nam
Found on the north coast, the beaches of Bophut and Mae Name are much quieter and more relaxing places to unwind. Accommodation tends to be more expensive as the resorts offer more privacy due to the area’s limited access. By car, the beaches are about 10 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from Chaweng, making them excellent getaways from the crowds for a romantic holiday.
West and South Coasts
The beaches on these coasts are the most remote on the island, making them attractive destinations for those wanting peace and quiet. In the south, a nostalgic Thai village can be found on Thong Krut Bay, while the secluded beach at Bang Kao Bay is a great choice for solitude seekers. On the west coast, a visit to a small town on Nathon Bay is in order for travelers desiring a glimpse of local life, while sunset lovers won’t want to miss Lipa Noi Beach. Talin Ngam is a narrow but beautiful beach that boasts a world-class resort with unbelievable views.
We travel to see and learn something new and different.
Can the sea be any clearer?
Koh Samui and Koh Tao offer great diving opportunities and the area is a popular dive training center for the South East Asia region. Several reefs are located off the island’s shores, with two of the most popular sites for advanced divers being Sail Rock and Angthong National Marine Park off the northern end of Samui. Plenty of fun for first-timers, accredited training can be undertaken with dive shops located in Chaweng, Lamai and Nathon for quite reasonable prices.
The bays of Samui contain many interesting coral reefs abounding with tropical fish and other creatures. Equipment can be rented from dive shops around the island or from your hotel.
A dream for kayaking…
Samui’s shoreline and nearby islands harbour a wealth of marine, animal and plant life. For a close and leisurely look, there is no better option than to spend a few hours or a day in a sea kayak. Half-day, day and overnight guided trips are available through agencies in the Chaweng area. Kayaks can also be rented at the more popular beaches. Two companies can take you to the most scenic locations: Blue Star Kayaking and Sea Canoe.
Inland, Koh Samui features some scenic waterfalls that afford the leisurely hiker a pleasant few hours of exploration. Hin Lat Falls can be found south of Nathon. After arriving at the entrance to the falls, a 30-minute hike will take you to the top. Na Muang Falls is further south again, about a 2-Km walk from the marked turn-off.
Thai Cooking Lessons
Learn how to prepare some famous Thai specialties, such as tom yam soup or red curry with chicken. More and more restaurants are now revealing the secrets behind their dishes during 2-hour lessons in fully-equipped, modern kitchens. Prices are around 900 Baht including lunch for two persons. Fruit and vegetable carving lessons are also quite popular. These will often include instructional booklets and carving tools in 6-hour courses for about 3000 Baht.
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
If you don’t mind the violence, a Thai boxing match is worth attending for the pure spectacle and the wild musical accompaniment, the ceremonial beginning of each match, and the frenzied betting around the stadium. The training of a Thai boxer, particularly the relationship between the boxer and teacher, is highly ritualized. As the boxers enter the ring, they perform a special pre-fight dance known as the “ram muay”. During the dance, they wear a headband given by their trainer. It is a sacred talisman earned after years of dedication to the art. The dance starts with “wai khru” — each boxer kneeling and bowing three times, which is a show of respect to his teacher. With the ceremonies complete, the fight begins.
A match consists of five rounds of three minutes each. Accompanying the fight is music stimulated by action in the ring, rising and falling as the boxers battle it out. All surfaces of the body are considered fair targets, and any part of the body except the head may be used to strike an opponent. Common blows include high kicks to the neck, elbow thrusts to the face and head, knee hooks to the ribs, and low crescent kicks to the calf. A contestant may even grasp an opponent’s head between his hands and pull it down to meet an upward knee thrust (ouch!). Punching is considered the weakest of all blows and kicking merely a way to ‘soften up’ one’s opponent; most matches end with a knee or elbow strike.
The origins of this martial art and sport are thought to stretch back to the wars with the Burmese during the 15th century. Thailand’s first famous boxer was ‘Nai Khanom Tom’, who was said to have single-handedly defeated a dozen Burmese fighters in a wager for freedom. A Thai King, Phra Chao Seua (The Tiger King), is said to have been an incognito participant in many boxing matches in the early part of his reign. The sport has changed a lot from the days when boxers would wrap their fists in thick horsehide trimmed with cotton then soak them in glue and broken glass for maximum impact. The many changes initiated to make the sport safer have reduced the high incidence of death and injury. But Thai boxing is still a violent contact sport and considered by many as the ultimate in unarmed combat.
Thai boxing matches are held every Monday and Friday night at the stadium in Chaweng. Occasional matches are held on other days (usually announced by pick-ups with loud speakers). Demonstrations of Muay Thai are held in many of tourist areas but they are mostly for show.
Wat Bophut is located is the north of the Koh Samui, at the intersection between the road coming from chaweng and the coastal road of Bophut. Once you pass the red and gold gate, you’ll find a wide park with many trees providing shade, several wooden houses and the main two temples whose red colour contrast nicely with the tropical blue sky and the many palm trees surrounding the area.
The Elephant Gate
On the road 4170 south from Ban Saket or north coming from Thong Krut, the two giant elephant statues indicate the entrance of the village of Taling Ngam
Wong Karam Temple
Wat Kiri Wongkaram is noted in part for the mummified body of the Buddhist monk Loung Por Ruam, which rests here in a glass case. This venerated monk was prepared for public viewing upon his death 25 years ago, and his body remains in remarkably good condition. Follow road 4170 south from Ban Saket, then turn right between the two giant elephant statues and look for the temple 1 Km farther along on the right.
Wat Khun Aram
The mummified monk Loung Pordaeng
Wat Khun Aram
The body of Samui’s most famous mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng, is on display here in a specially constructed building. After his death more than 20 years ago, he was placed in a meditation position. He still holds that posture and his body shows few signs of decay. Wat Khun Aram is on the 4169 ring road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon.
This old temple is the guardian of the ancient White Marble Buddha, which is believed to be many hundreds of years old. It also harbours within its grounds the Secret Hall of Buddhas. This building houses a fine collection of revered and valuable Buddha images. So valuable are they that the temple has recently suffered a spate of thefts, and so the door now remains locked. A monk will open the hall for you upon request. Wat Sumret is located 200 meters down the second concrete road on the left, west of Hua Thanon on the 4169 ring road.
The Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai
This temple is home to Big Buddha, Samui’s most famous landmark. A majority of visitors at some point during their holiday come to marvel at the sheer size and beauty of this remarkable statue. Visible from several kilometers away, even from the air when approaching or leaving the island, the 12-meter tall golden image stands proudly. It is especially impressive when lit up at night. At the base of the structure, shops and restaurants cater to the needs of devotees and tourists alike. Wat Phra Yai lies in Samui’s northeast, on route 4171 near the airport.
Said to contain a relic of the Lord Buddha, the golden chedi (pagoda) facing the temple entrance is a popular place of worship. Many local travelling shows and even visiting TV stars sometimes use the temple grounds for their performances. Wat Silangu is on the 4169 ring road, 1 Km south of Hin Ta & Hin Yai on the beach side.
The Coral Buddha
Formerly one of Samui’s main attractions, this small, dilapidated statue is now usually visited only by Buddhist devotees. Although it is in a state of disrepair, the Coral Buddha is still revered and is a place of worship for monks from nearby Wat Sumret. The only direction sign is a tatty little roadside board which is easy to miss when driving past. It is on the 4169 ring road, approximately 800 meters west of Hua Thanon, on the right. 50 meters after entering the dust way, pass the car wrecks and look on your left.
Laem Sor Pagoda
This ornately designed chedi sits on the rocks at the water’s edge, on the grounds of Wat Laem Sor. Covered in countless, small yellow tiles, it appears golden even from a distance. It lies in the far south of the island, off the 4170 road between Ban Tale and Ban Pang Ka. Follow the track with a sign that reads “Waikiki Bungalows” to the end.
A very quiet temple on the central road of Samui. Eventhough many temples look alike, each of them has it’s own personality and history. The monks houses near the temples are often interesting, some of them even with a antique style. The place is usually very peaceful, unless there is a ceremony or a festival and you will always appreciate the shade provided by enormous and very old trees.
10 Km south of Nathon, nature lovers will find Na Muang Falls. This area is accessible from the village of Ban Thurian via an unpaved road.
There are actually two waterfalls, Na Muang, which is 18 meters high and reachable by vehicle; and Na Muang Two, which is about 80 meters high, requiring a 30-minute walk to get to the top. The waterfalls are the most scenic on the island and a great place to have a picnic.
Hin Ta – Hin Yai, Famous rock formation
These unusual formations are known as the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks. The site is a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike because of their close resemblance to male and female genitals. Their formation and shape have been personified into a local tale describing their existence on the island. The story goes that an old couple’s boat wrecked and sunk in the bay, where their bodies washed ashore and created these strange rocks. Whatever their origin though, your pictures will no doubt make for some interesting conversation when shown to friends back home.
Hin Lad Falls
Hin Lat Falls are located 2 Km south of Nathon Town on the east coast’s route 4172. From the main road it is about a 3-Km walk down a jungle path to get to the falls. It’s recommended that you wear tough shoes and leg protection for the walk. Found amidst a tropical rainforest setting, the falls will quickly make you forget the concrete jungle you left behind. There are several cascades which tumble down into a large pool below. At the bottom, the water is cold and indeed very refreshing. If you feel adventurous enough, carry along your swimming togs and cool off after a balmy trek.
Secret Buddha Garden
The secret Buddha garden is hidden in the hills of Samui. You can see several statues, temples and waterfalls, all of which were built by one man over the last 20 years. On your own it’s well worth the trip. But as the only way to get to the temple is by a military road, getting there can be difficult if it is closed. The only other way to get to the garden is by four-wheel-drive, traversing jungle, rivers and mountains. Starting in Lamai at the back of the main temple, the journey takes around 2 hours. It can be a fun outing for the adventure-minded. However, if you are intent on exploring the temple this way, you should be experienced in cross-country or off-road driving; otherwise carry a mobile phone (hopefully with a GPS tracker!) in case you get stuck. Another and perhaps less stressful way of getting to the site, is by joining one of the many jungle tours offered by travel agencies and resorts. Contact a few places to compare prices.
Perched on a hillside in the southeast corner of the island is Na Tian Butterfly Garden. Here you can see some of the most spectacular butterfly species on earth in the garden’s excellent collection. Make sure not to forget your camera! There are other interesting features in the garden, including a bee house which allows visitors to observe the activities of bees, and an insect museum where colorful and strangely shaped insects from Thailand and other countries abound.
Naga Pearl Farm
Discover how pearls are cultured. A 30-minute boat ride from Ban Thong Krut landing will bring you to Koh Matsum and the Naga Pearl Farm. After you learn about pearl culture, you will enjoy eating Thai food and then spend the afternoon on the white sandy beach. Don’t miss the Naga Pearl Shop, located at 81/1 Ban Thong Krut, where many varieties of pearls and pearl products are offered. Pearl shells and special handicrafts are wonderful gifts to bring back home.
A house made of teakwood without any nails can be visited at Ban Thale. This is the oldest house on the island, built approximately 150 years ago. It is constructed of teak planks and features many beautiful woodcarvings.
Best Mountain View Point
A unique view if you feel adventurous… A little further south of Nathon Town on the west coast is the way to “Best Mountain View Point”, culminating at 467 m. It can be somewhat difficult to find the entrance, which is shortly past Wat Chaeng temple, on the left hand side of the main road (route 4169). Look for the sign “Tazan View” (this is not a spelling mistake). If you feel confident in your driving skills, you can try the 6-Km drive to eat a simple but nice lunch on a wooden terrace overlooking Maenam and Bophut Bay. Weather permitting, you may catch a splendid bird’s eye view of Phangan Island. The first five kilometers are nicely paved, but be aware that the last kilometer is rather steep, slippery and dusty (not recommended in case of rain). If you don’t feel like taking a risk but still want to have a look, many travel shops on the beachfront road next to the pier conduct well-organized tours in land rovers with qualified drivers.
One of the stadiums on Samui is in Chaweng, just off the road leading to the Reggae Pub from the main road. The stadium opens every Monday and Friday at 6 pm with matches until 9 pm. Another small stadium is located at the center of Lamai Beach.