One thing that Koh Samui has over other tourist destinations is that there is plenty of variety when it comes to things to do. Not only does it have a number of great beaches but the island also has an interesting history and is rich in historical and religious buildings, temples and shrines.
If you want nothing more than to lie on a beach when you visit Koh Samui, then that is fine and the island will be more than able to meet your needs. However, if you want to explore the island in order to experience at first hand many of its incredible sights, historical attractions and natural beauty then Koh Samui has it all.
From magnificent sweeping mountains and jungle to 12ft high statues of Buddha or from rock formations that resemble human genitalia to crocodile farms and beautiful temples, you will not struggle to find some interesting, intriguing and beautiful sights on this popular island.
Even the most ardent of beach goers will agree that Koh Samui has much more to offer than its array of fine beaches.
Temples and Shrines
Thailand is famous for its vast array of beautiful temples, shrines and religious buildings that are present throughout the country. From the smallest village to the very heart of Bangkok and just about everywhere in between, Buddhist temples and shrines are an important part of Thai culture.
Not only do they provide a place where people can go and worship or take part in a religious ceremony, they are also an integral part of the community and can often be used to hold local council meetings and other social events or gatherings.
Like many places in Thailand, Koh Samui is blessed with a number of temples, shrines and religious statues that you really should go and visit during your stay on the island. A visit to a Buddhist temple can provide a great insight into Thai culture and local life on Koh Samui.
Not only can they provide a great opportunity for sightseeing, temples and shrines can also look great in your holiday snaps and will no doubt be a real point of interest for when you show your friends or upload them onto your favourite social networking site. They can also provide a welcome break from the beach and provide you with the opportunity to go and explore the island.
If you do visit a temple or some other building of religious importance you need to make sure that you dress appropriately and be respectful at all times.
If you go inside any temple you will need to take off your shoes and in some cases you might need to cover your knees and shoulders, this is particularly true for women. You should also avoid raising you voice or doing anything that disrupt the quiet, calm and meditative atmosphere that is present inside the temple. Some temples or religious and historical buildings do not permit the use of cameras so if you are unsure about taking a photograph always try to look around for a sign that tells you if it is ok or alternatively, ask someone that as something to do with the temple or building.
Even if you think you have seen your fair share of temples during your stay in Thailand or whilst you have been visiting Koh Samui, fear not because the island still has plenty of other sites that could be of real interest and which are definitely worth visiting if you are looking for a change from the beach.
Wat Phra Yai Temple – Big Buddha Statue
Probably the number one tourist attraction on the island is the famous temple known as Wat Phra Yai. It is here where you will find the islands famous Big Buddha Statue. Popular with tourists who come to marvel at this magnificent structure, the sheer size and beauty of the Big Buddha is well worth a trip to the island alone. Standing a staggering 12 metres tall, the statue is visible from quite a distance away and it can even be spotted from the air for those to travel to the island by airplane.
The Big Buddha statue certainly makes for an excellent photo opportunity and if you happen to visit the temple around sunset you will be able to take some pretty incredible shots. The upper platform of the statue is also an impressive part of the structure as it is lined with large prayer bells that help to add to the structures overall beauty. Inside the entrance to the temple is where you will be able to find Koh Samui’s only fully automated and mechanical donation machine.
Around the base of the Big Buddha statue you will find a number of small souvenir shops that sell a wide range of traditional Thai goods and crafts. There are also a couple of Thai style restaurants, a tattoo artist, a Batik painter and a specialist silversmith.
During Songkran (Thai New Year) and other important festivals such as Loi Kratong (The Festival of Light) the temple and the area around the Big Buddha statue plays host to a number things including food stalls, musical performances, concerts and even beauty competitions. It is during these large festivals that the temple and Big Buddha statue really come alive.
The Wat Phra Yai temple and Big Buddha statue is located in the Northeast of the island and is just off the main road, Route 4171. The local area can be relatively quiet, although it is fairly close to the airport. Whilst Koh Samui airport is far from the busiest airport in the world, people staying within close proximity of the Big Buddha statue could experience a little disruption from the aircraft overhead.
Wat Plai Laem
Located not far from the Big Buddha statue is another one of Koh Samui’s magnificent temples, which is known as Wat Plai Laem. Outside the temple there is an impressive statue of the 18 armed Goddess Shiva. This statue and the nearby temple were designed by one of Thailand’s most famous and well renowned artists called Jarit Phumdonming. It took him well over 3 years to complete the design in its entirety.
Inside the temples elaborate doorway, you will find hand carved images that depict the life of the Buddha, whilst the inner walls of the temple are finely decorated with other pictures and images of Lord Buddha.
The outside walls of the temple are also beautifully decorated with a range of impressive designs and colours. The tradition of decorating temples in this way dates back centuries and it is interesting to see how this tradition has been maintained in the architecture of this particular religious building.
If you head in the direction of Lamai, down the main coastal road you will come to what is arguably one of the prettiest sightseeing attractions on the island, The Khunaram Temple, or Wat Khunaram.
Decorated in gold, pink and blue it is here where you will find Koh Samui’s famous shrine a mummified monk, known as Lung Padaeng. The monk, who died in 1973, has been well preserved and upon visiting the shrine you will be able to see him meditating behind a glass casing.
Protected from the elements by a specially made gazebo, you can’t help but notice that the mummified form of the monk happens to wearing sunglasses! It is believed that these were placed on the monk shortly after he dived by a fellow monk who was obviously in a somewhat jovial mood at the time. Whether this is true or not, nobody really knows.
However, the sunglasses do help to sum up the fun loving nature and spirit of the Buddhist religion. Just in front of the statue is an area where you can use ancient numerology sticks to help read your fortune.
Located on the opposite of the road, not far from the fishing village at Hua Thanon, on the southern side of the island, fairly close to the Namuang Falls, is where you will find Wat Khunaram.
Laem Sor Pagoda Temple
The Laem Sor Pagoda Temple, otherwise known as The Golden Chedi or The Chedi Pagoda, can be found not far from the fishing village of Ban Laem Sor, which is situated on the Southern coast of island.
At first glance it looks like Laem Sor Pagoda it is made from solid gold. However, upon closer inspection you can see that it is actually covered by millions tiny golden coloured tiles.
The temple is one of Koh Samui’s best places to take photos, as you can sit in front of the temple and have your picture taken, with views of the beautiful ocean in the background.
Alongside the temple you will find a small meditation forest that that has tables and chairs where people can sit down, relax and enjoy the tranquil environment, whilst enjoying views of the surrounding bay and temple.
Kiri Wongkaram Temple
Believe it or not there is actually more than one well preserved Buddhist Monk that is on Koh Samui Island.
Located in the south of the island in Ban Saket, not far from Hua Thanon, just under the two elephant statues, is a mummified monk that has been there since 1996. Although not as old as Loung Pordaeng, it is still worth visiting, just to take a couple of photographs!
Not too long ago the mummified monk, known as Luang Por Rerm Khun Wongkaram was moved to a brand new building that was constructed on the temple site and is much more befitting for a religious edifice of this kind.
The incredible mummification is meant to be due to the result of the monk’s fastidious diet. Even today, the temple authorities claim that the mummy’s hair and nails are continuing to grow all the time. It is also claimed that pieces of Luang Por Rerm Khun Wongkaram nails can be used as charms which will protect the person wearing them from evil spirits.
The vast majority of the Kiri Wongkaram Temple was constructed in 1968, although the mummy’s former resting place was actually constructed in 1957, with the main temple building being completed just over a decade later.
Today, the temple is still used for daily prayer and also for a large number of religious ceremonies.
The Na Phra Lan Temple
One of Koh Samui’s smaller temples, Wat Na Phra Lan is located on the main Samui ring road, in the town of Mae Nam. The temple resting place of the ashes of a onetime famous monk called Than Khura Phutsom. On the last day of the month of May and on the first day of the month of June, people come to Wat Na Phra Lan to pay home age to the ashes of Than Khrua Phutsom.
Although this temple might not be quite a nice to look at as others on the island it can still be worthwhile visiting for those who are looking to experience a bit of Thai religious culture.
The Same Ret Temple
Wat Same Ret is a must see for any temple buffs. This little dusty gem is located just off the island ring road in between Ban Thurian and Ban Hua Thanon.
The temple itself houses an image of Silayuang Buddha that is believed to have originated from either Burma or India and is thought to be nearly two hundred years old. The temple also has an impressive reclining Buddha that is made from Coral, as well as over 50 other images of Buddha that are also stored at the temple.
The Praderm Temple
Wat Praderm might not be high up on the many visitors list of must see temples on Koh Samui. However, this 230 year old temple definitely deserves a closer look.
The temple itself is believed by many people to be Koh Samui’ very first Buddhist temple and it is here that you will find an old wooden library that is used to store sacred Buddhist Scriptures. Located to the west of Hua Thanon, visiting Wat Praderm can be an interesting and enjoyable sightseeing experience.
Kaw Lae – Buddha’s Footprint
Another religious site that will certainly be of interest to sightseers is the Buddha’s Footprint that is located on the close to the Samui Butterfly Garden, just off route 4170.
Here you will find four footprints of Buddha, each one a little bit smaller than the other, which are contained in one larger footprint. These footprints are said to be over 300 years old and are understood to symbolise the Lord Buddha’s Path to Liberation.
The only way to reach the footprints is to climb the 150 or so steep steps that lead up to the site. The climb can be a little difficult in places and it is advisable that you take some water with, particularly if you intend on visiting the site during the day.
However, once you have managed to complete the climb the views from the top of the site can be pretty incredible and you will definitely want to take plenty of photographs of sweeping mountains that you can see opposite, as well as the nearby ocean.
Although the site of Buddha’s Footprint is not that well signposted, it can be found by travelling along the sloping road, which is approximately two kilometres to the west from the turn off for the Samui Butterfly Garden, which can be found the route 4170.
The Secret Buddha Garden
Even though the Secret Buddha Garden is not a temple, it is still one of the most astonishing and impressive religious and cultural sites that Koh Samui has to offer. Located in the southwest of the island, high up in the hills above the area of Ban Saket, the secret garden is the entire work of a 77 year old Samui farmer and Buddhist devotee, Nim Thongsuk or Uncle Nim as he is known locally.
Uncle Nim statues are certainly a sight to behold and it is said that started to sculpt the figures from images he saw in his dreams, which led him to create the statues in honour of Buddha. He then placed said statues along the nearby river, which flows down from the surrounding mountains.
Today, the statues and secret gardens are cared for and maintained by many of Uncle Nim’s descendents. Recent years has seen the landscaping of a waterfall that helps to make the Secret Buddha Garden seem even more magical.
This impressive cultural attraction is probably the most obscure and one of the most difficult to find on all of Koh Samui. To say that it is hidden away is somewhat of an understatement, as it is actually only accessible by a four wheel drive vehicle. Therefore, it is best to visit the gardens as part of an organised tour, so you can sit back and let the experts drive!
Even though the gardens are well and truly off the beaten track they are still well worth visiting.
Hin Ta and Hin Ya
Whilst not a religious site, the famous Samui tourist attraction of Hin Ta and Hin Ya is certainly one of the most popular and unusual sites on the whole island and acts as an important part of the culture of Koh Samui. So what exactly are Hin Ta and Hin Ya?
Well, Hin Ta and Hin Yai when translated into English, means Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks. However, upon visiting the rocks you will clearly see that Hin Ta and Hin Yai pose a striking resemblance to the male and female genitalia.
The unusual shape of the rocks have meant that many a tale and story has been concocted by locals who try to explain why and how the Hin Ta and Hin Yai look exactly the way they do.
Probably the most famous story behind these astonishingly shaped rocks is actually quite a tragic tale. The story is said to be about an old couple, who were very much in love, called Ta Kreng and Yai Reim. One day they set off by boat to travel across the nearby bay. Unfortunately, a storm made for incredibly difficult sailing conditions and their boat came into difficulties and eventually sank, not far from the island of Samui. Unable to swim, the couple drowned and ever since it is claimed the rocks Hin Ta and Hin Yai have been visible off Koh Samui.
Whether or not this story is true, no one really knows and other locals claim that the formation of the rocks is totally natural, having been formed by nothing more than the elements. As is the Thai way, many locals also claim that the shape and appearance of these rocks shows that nature has a humorous, funny or ‘sanook’ side!
Today, Hin Ta and Hin Yai are as popular as ever and every year many visitors to the island head over to the rocks to pose in front of them in order to have their picture taken in front of these remarkable sights. Some superstitious couples who might be looking to conceive even visit the rocks to experience the ‘positive vibes and good energy’.
Not far from Hin Ta and Hin Yai is a picturesque beach and although it is not that great for swimming, it is a good place to dip your feet in, in order to cool off whilst you marvel at the rocks. Not only does the site of Hin Ta and Hin Yai give you great views of the rocks but also views out to sea and of the other nearby islands of Koh Samui.
Around the rocks there are a number of souvenir stalls and shops that sell a wide range of goods from drinks and snacks to clothes and postcards.
The rocks are located between Hua Thanon and Lamai and there is little doubt that they will more than raise a smile for anyone who visits this truly unique and intriguing sight.