What to see and do on Samui
Many visitors to the island of Koh Samui like nothing more than to spend the duration of their trip lounging around on the islands beautiful beaches, topping up their tan and generally taking it easy.
Koh Samui has changed rapidly over the last twenty years or so and it is now one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations for foreign visitors. Part of Samui’s popularity is down to the islands selection of fine beaches that each offer visitors to the island a slightly different beachside experience.
Generally speaking, Koh Samui has six main beaches that make up the most popular destinations for tourists. Chaweng and Lamai are probably the islands most popular destinations. Located on the east coast, this tends to be where the vast majority of the action is.
However, if you are looking to get away from the crowds then there are plenty of small, secluded beaches and bays that can are dotted all around the coast of the island, all of which you will find information about on this site.
The best way of finding many of Samui’ quieter of more secluded beaches is to hire a car, motorcycle or bicycle and go off exploring this beautiful island for yourself.
Even though the island can boast some of the finest beaches Thailand has to offer, there is still plenty to see and do on Koh Samui that will keep even the most active or restless of tourists busy.
Having said that, don’t for one minute think that Koh Samui is all about activities and adventure, because it isn’t. There are still plenty of things to see, do and experience that are not high energy activities or pursuits.
The amount of different things to do on the island is endless and you will certainly have no problem in wondering how you will spend your days on this tropical island paradise.
Whether you want to spend your days relaxing at one of the islands many health or spa centres, take in some Traditional Thai culture, go sightseeing around many of the islands Buddhist statues and temples or participate in some of the islands many sporting and adventure activities, then your opportunities for things to see and do on the island are endless.
As it the options when it comes to accommodation as Koh Samui has everything from luxury spas and resorts to cheap beachside bungalows.
Make sure to also check out the following articles for more tips on what to see and do on Samui:
Viewpoints on Koh Samui
Throughout the island of Koh Samui there are plenty of opportunities to get away from the beach and the tourists and get a glimpse of the natural beauty of the surrounding area and beyond.
The very nature of the layout and geography of the island means that you do not have to travel all that far from the beach or the popular destinations of Chaweng or Lamai to get to higher ground in order to witness great views of the nearby ocean and horizon.
This is because right, slap bang in the centre of the island is a large mountain and whilst the perimeter of the island is full of fairly flat beaches and low lying ground, the closer to the mountain you get, obviously, the higher the ground becomes.
Whilst the actual height of the mountain is often disputed from one authoritative body to another; whoever you happen to believe, the height is often reported to be anywhere between 350 and 650 metres above sea level and this is more than large enough for anyone to experience great views of the island.
The main costal road that acts as the islands ring road can become quite steep in places so there are plenty of take to some snaps of the surrounding areas stunning natural scenery. Having said that, some people could be forgiven for thinking that once they have seen one view of the horizon and the sea, they have seen them all. And to be perfectly honest, to a certain extent, this is somewhat true.
With regards to many of the viewpoints which are along Samui’s coastal roads, they offer not all that much more than views of the sea and the sky, which can quickly become just one large blue panoramic view and not much more.
Even for some of the islands prestigious beach resorts that offer spectacular views of the island from magnificent beach side locations, only offer views of sea, that you can see just about everywhere else on the island. And taking photos of these types of views can be good but you don’t want to be in a position where every single one of your holiday photos of Koh Samui looks exactly the same.
Don’t think for one minute that this page is all but writing off the viewpoints of Samui, because it isn’t. However, we are saying that if you are a little bit selective about which viewpoints you choose to visit and make a bit of extra effort, there are certain parts of the island where the views perfectly capture the complete natural beauty of the island and the surrounding area.
Views where the foreground dramatically falls away, where Samui’s neighbouring tiny islands come into view, along with the impressive turquoise ocean and the popular destinations of Chaweng and Lamai that are visible in all their glory in the background will certainly make for some truly magnificent photographs.
You might want to take some snaps looking down from the mountain of the islands many coconut palms and also of the islands east coast where the water has many small and unusual islands that seems to appear out of nowhere; all of which is quite stunning. It is exactly these sorts of views that you want to witness as you visit the islands viewpoints.
Some of the most accessible and popular viewpoints that can be found on the whole island are located on the main coastal road between Chaweng and Lamai. One particular favourite viewpoint and one where you can take some really good photos is known as Beverly Hills Viewpoint and offers great views of Chaweng Beach.
Another popular spot in which to take some great shots of Chaweng is from the Samui Bayview which is located on the islands coastal ring road. Both of these view points are definitely worth visiting.
Other spectacular viewpoints can be found on the islands mountain. If you are prepared to take your search for the perfect view and photograph to the next level then you will certainly need the help of a 4×4 vehicle or an organised tour in order to negotiate the islands main mountain ‘road’. Whilst it can be a little bit of an effort getting up to the mountain viewpoint, the views are certainly worth it.
Approaching the mountain from the north coast is probably the most difficult and it makes for nothing short of a 45 degree climb, which is challenging by anyone’s standards. Therefore, it can be a much better option to begin the climb from the mountains other side as the roads between Lipa Noi and Nathon are much easier to drive on.
If you do decide to hire a 4×4 vehicle it is highly recommended to also hire the services of a qualified driver who is specially trained and will have much experience in negotiating the tricky mountain roads of Koh Samui. Vehicles of this kind can be hired from a number of outlets in Chaweng and Lamai.
Possibly the best viewpoint on the whole of the island is called Yaod Khao and is located at the very highest point of the island. From here the views of Koh Samui are truly breathtaking and it seems as if the whole island is at your feet.
When you get to the top of the mountain, apart from the spectacular views, you will also find a couple of family owned restaurants, which also double up as guesthouses and can provide you with basic accommodation for a night. Staying overnight on the mountain can be a great experience, particularly if you are up there to witness the amazing views just as the sun is setting. Wonderful stuff!
The geography of Koh Samui means that its highlands have some splendid waterfalls and nature reserves that are well worth you taking the time out to explore.
Now, whilst these waterfalls might not be as dramatic or breathtaking or even anywhere on the same spectacular scale as what you might find in other countries around the world or in other parts of Thailand, Samui’s waterfalls do still have a lot of charm and natural beauty in their own right and can help to provide a much needed break from the built up areas of Chaweng and Lamai.
There are four main waterfalls that are worth visiting on the island, although it is important to bear in mind that during the month of April and May, when Koh Samui’s season is at its driest, they might seem a little disappointing. However, during the rest of the year they can be nothing but delightful.
Na Muang 1 Waterfall
It is fair to say that Na Muang 1 waterfall is probably the most well known of all Koh Samui’s beautiful waterfalls. Its popularity is largely down to the fact that it is easy to get to and that it has a very picturesque pool at the bottom, which provides people with the opportunity to have a cooling and refreshing swim. Close to the waterfall you will also find a selection wooden huts that sell a range traditional Thai food, drinks and other snacks.
At nearly 18 metres high the waterfall is formed from natural rock formations that create a very scenic, yet steep stairway that runs down to the waterfalls base. Amongst the rocks that are at the base of the fall lives a 4 foot long, semi tame giant monitor lizard, known as Pi Yai. It is believed that Pi Yai has lived within close proximity of the waterfall for many years and some locals even claim that the lizard could be more than 60 years old, although nobody knows for sure.
Due to the waterfall’s increased popularity with tourists Pi Yai has become quite accustomed to visitors to his waterfall and can often be seen peeping out of bushes or rocks in order to take a look at what is going on outside of his home. His presence can often cause a slight panic and alarm amongst people that visit the waterfall, but there is really no to be worries as Pi Yai is neither unpredictable nor dangerous and will merely have popped out just to say hello!
Na Muang 1 is located just off the islands main ring road, at route 4169 between the towns of Hua Thanon and Nathon which are located in the Southwest of the island.
Na Muang 2 Waterfall
The waterfall known as Na Muang 2 is approximately a 10 minute walk from Na Muang 1. Whilst it might not be as popular as the first waterfall on this site and even though it does not has a pool for swimming or bathing, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful waterfall on the island.
Surround by breathtaking rock formations, the unspoilt, natural beauty of this 80 metre waterfall is perfect for anyone who is seeking peace, quiet and solitude in a beautiful tropical paradise.
You can reach Na Muang 2 by following the concrete road to the left hand side of Na Maung 1. Follow this road for about ten minutes until you come to the second waterfall. Don’t forget to take your camera and remember to by a drink or two from the snack shops that are located at Na Muang 1. Even though the walk to the second waterfall is relatively short, it is always a good idea to take some water with you, as it can get very hot during the day.
Wang Saotang Waterfall
The Wang Saotang Waterfall is the most recent of Koh Samui’s waterfalls to be opened to the public and although it is a little trickier to get to when compared to the two waterfalls at Na Nuang, the waterfall is certainly quite impressive, as it is the highest waterfall on the island.
It is advisable to visit the Wang Saotang waterfall as part of a day trip because to get to the waterfall involves just over a 1 kilometre trek through the jungle from the main road. The trek itself can be a little tricky at times but if you make sure you take a picnic lunch and plenty of water with you, once you reach the waterfall, you can make the trip worthwhile by spending the afternoon relaxing in this perfectly idyllic setting.
To get to Wang Saotang Waterfall you will need to turn right off the main 4169 ring road at Wat Kunaram, which is located at Ban Tha Po, in between Hua Thanon and Nathon. From here you will then need to drive up and onto the hills for approximately 2 kilometres until you come to the Elephant Trekking at Baan Chang. Just passed this point you will then need to start the 1 kilometre trek to the waterfall.
Hin Lad Waterfall
Koh Samui’s Hin Lad Waterfall is probably the most remote on the island and is certainly the most difficult to get to. The waterfall itself is located 2 kilometres south of the town of Nathon and involves a 2 kilometre hike into the jungle, where strong footwear, preferably proper walking shoes and long trousers or some form of leg protection are definitely recommended.
Should you decide to visit Hin Lad Waterfall you should also take plenty of refreshments, a towel, swimwear and maybe even a change of clothes because after the gruelling jungle hike you will probably want to cool off in the waterfalls refreshing and luscious pools.
The walk to the waterfall is difficult, particularly if it is hot. However, it is stunning and is a great example of the islands varied natural beauty, which doesn’t just include its array of beaches.
In order to get to the starting point of the 2 kilometre trek, you need to take route 4172 from Nathon for about 2 kilometres and from here you will see signs for the point at which you can start your jungle trek.
Koh Samui’s Zoos and Farms
Some people will want nothing more from their stay on Koh Samui than to sit next to the pool or on the beach for the best part of two weeks topping up their tan and just generally taking it easy. However, some people are quite the opposite and they like nothing better than to get out and explore the island in order to see what this tropical paradise has to offer.
Apart from the amazing beaches, incredible religious sites and abundance of sporting activities, Koh Samui also has some excellent options for those that are interested in getting up close and personal with a wide range different exotic wildlife at one of the islands many zoos and farms.
Many of Koh Samui’s zoos and farms are no more than 30 minutes away by car, no matter where you are staying on the island and can be a great place to take kids who might be getting a little bored of walking around temples or searching for island viewpoints.
Amongst the islands zoos and farms include an aquarium, a crocodile farm, a tiger farm and a snake farm. Oh, and don’t forget for the butterfly farm that this fantastic entertainment for all the family.
Koh Samui Snake Farm
The islands famous snake farm is located at Ban Talling, which is in the south west part of Koh Samui.
There are up to 170 different types of snakes that can be found in Thailand and as many as 50 of these are thought to be venomous. Samui itself has very few snakes that are native to the island and during your stay if is highly unlikely that you will see one. However, King and Queen Cobras do live on the island and although they are not aggressive, they could give you a bit of fright if you were to see one.
Therefore, probably the best place to witness the different snakes of Koh Samui is at the snake farm, which is home to King and Queen Cobras, as well as other types of snakes including raccoon snakes, spitting cobras and pythons.
Upon visiting the snake farm you will also be able to see crocodiles, mongooses and deadly scorpions, all of which are handled by the farms fearless snake handlers.
The Snake Farm has been popular for many years and it has entertained tens of thousands of visitors during this time. The farm even holds a couple of Guinness World Records, which involved long stays with both deadly scorpions and centipedes. The world record holders still work at the zoo and visitors can meet them and find out more information about their respective world records.
Shows at the farm take place at 11am and 2pm and involve snakes, crocodiles and mongoose just to name a few! Spectators are separated from the area where the actual show is performed by a large wall and a moat.
Situated in Taling Ngam, the Samui Snake Farm is open daily.
Koh Samui Crocodile Farms
Visitors to Koh Samui might be surprised to hear that the island can not only boast one but two crocodile farms, which provides the perfect setting to view these magnificent, yet dangerous amphibians.
You shouldn’t worry too much, as you won’t see any crocodiles that are wild on Koh Samui, therefore the crocodile farm is a great way of getting up close and personal with the crocs.
The first of the islands crocodile farms is rather large and it is located about 200 metres from the arrival lounge at the islands airport. Covering close to 8000 square metres, the crocodile farm has much more than just crocodiles and is actually home to over 100 different species, which include alligators, caimans, lizards, snakes and even monkeys!
At this particular farm there are two daily shows which start at 2pm and 4.30pm each day and cost 100Baht for adults and 75Baht for kids.
The second of the islands crocodile farms is located not all that far from the Namuang Waterfall on the west coast of the island. Many people choose to combine a visit to the waterfall and a visit to the crocodile farm into one day trip.
This farm also has a range of different crocodiles and alligators but the farm itself is not as big as the Koh Samui Crocodile Farm, which is located near the airport.
Other than the animals, the star of the show at this particular farm has to be the crocodile handler who gets a little too close for comfort with many of the crocodiles and even goes as far a putting his head inside a crocs mouth! Let’s hope the crocodile brushes his teeth in the morning!
For anyone who wants to visit either of the crocodile farms it can be a good idea to go as part of an organized tour as very often they will be able to take you to and from the crocodile farm to your hotel or other form of accommodation. Tours can be arranged from any of the islands tour operators; just walk up and down the main road in Chaweng or Lamai and you won’t be able to miss them.
Koh Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo
Located in Lamai, on the same site as theSamui Orchard Resort, Koh Samui’s Aquarium and Tiger Zoo offers excellent value for money. This popular two in one tourist attraction has a wide range of different exotic underwater creatures that includes turtles, sharks and hundreds of different coloured tropical fish and other reef inhabiting creatures.
The aquarium is open from 9am to 6pm seven days a week and puts on a selection of aquatic shows where visitors even get the opportunity to swim and play with sea lions.
Right next to the aquarium you will find the Tiger Zoo that is complete with a selection beautiful young leopards and Royal Bengal Tigers. For those who are feeling somewhat adventurous you can even have your picture taken with one of the tigers.
Failing that, you can just marvel at these magnificent creatures and watch them whilst they play with each other or relax in the zoos beautiful natural environment.
The aquarium and zoo also has quite a large selection of tropical birds too, so there is more than enough to keep the whole family entertained.
Koh Samui Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden on Koh Samui houses some of the most incredible and beautiful species of butterfly you are ever likely to see. Whilst, look at butterflies might not be quite as exciting or jaw dropping as handling snakes, looking at crocodiles or having your picture taken with tigers, it is none the less great family entertainment, which can make for some magical photographs.
Many of the species that can be found at the butterfly garden are native to Koh Samui. There are also a large number of colourful butterflies that are from other parts of South East Asia, and there a couple of rare or endangered varieties that are kept at the garden too.
The whole area of the Koh Samui Butterfly Garden is covered by an enormous net that keeps the butterflies in the garden where they can still fly free and enjoy the natural environment just as they would be able to in the wild.
There is also an active breeding program that is currently being undertaken at the Butterfly Garden and this results in many caterpillars and cocoons being visible in and amongst the gardens beautiful bushes, trees and other vegetation.
Koh Samui’s Butterfly Garden is located in Lamai, not too far from the Buddha’s Footprint and it would make the perfect day trip to combine a visit to the two attractions.
Open daily from 9am to 6pm, entry to the Butterfly Garden costs 150 Baht for adults and 60 Baht for children that are under 12 years old.
Earlier this year Koh Samui’s Monkey Thearte hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons as a number of international newspapers and travel information websites reported that conditions in which the Theatres monkeys were kept in were described as being ‘disgusting’ and ‘shameful’. They also went onto describe how the monkeys appear to be poorly treated and that they are often chained up as visitors pose to have their picture taken with these cute little simians.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing, whilst not common, can occur in Thailand and throughout South East Asia as sometimes animals which are kept in captivity might not be kept to the same standards as you would normally see back home.
Since the publication of these articles, the claims of which, the owners of the Monkey Theatre categorically deny, the Theatre is said to have cleaned up its act somewhat. Therefore, it is probably best for you to judge for yourself if you want to visit and witness the performance of animals in this kind of environment.
It is important to remember that going back a number of years, and still to this day to a certain extent, monkeys have been an important, working part of the islands coconut industry. In days gone by, the monkeys would be trained to climb the coconut trees in order to fetch the coconuts for its handler.
If you do decide to pay a visit to the Monkey Theatre (and plenty of people do) then you are likely to see an entertaining show of monkeys performing a number of different skills including playing the guitar and slam dunking a basketball. You also get the opportunity to feed them nuts and bananas.
The Monkey Theatre is located just off the main coastal ring road near Bo Phut, not far from the main tourist hot spot of Chaweng.
The monkey performances happen three times per day at 10.30am, 2pm and 4pm.
Ang Thong National Marine Park
The Ang Thong National Marine Park is a group of more than 40 rocky islands that lie approximately 40kms northwest of Koh Samui. The marine park itself covers well over 100 square kilometres and includes an area of truly unspoilt and stunning natural beauty. The incredible islands with their limestone rock formations, underwater caves and caverns and amazing white sandy beaches are said to be the inspiration behind Alex Garland’s famous book The Beach.
Although the book itself is set in the Andaman Coast and the movie was actually filmed on Maya Beach, not far from Phi Phi Island, it is said that Garland took the idea for The Beach (the phenomenon of a hidden lagoon and beach that was home to a secret community of travellers) following a trip around the Ang Thong archipelago.
Even today, it is said that on the odd occasion, free spirited and fearless travellers sometimes set off from Surat Thani on manmade boats or rafts hoping to find the same mythical utopia or tropical island paradise that is describe in the book. It is not until these travellers have to be rescued by local fishermen or even the Thai Navy that the realisation that such a place doesn’t really exist truly hits home!
The name ‘Ang Thon’ roughly translates to mean ‘golden bowl’ in English and it is this name that is given to the parks spectacular emerald lake, which is surrounded by a formation of sheer limestone cliffs, which almost gives the impression of being in a large bowl.
Rather than gold, the colour of the sea water throughout Ang Thong is a rich, pure green and turquoise but the whole majesty of the marine park and the natural surroundings more than merits this perfectly fitting description.
The only inhabited island in the Ang Thong National Marine Park is Ko Paluay and it is on this island where you will find traditional Thai sea-gypsies who still predominately make their living from fishing and whose day to day lives haven’t changed all that much in the last 100 or so years.
Even though there are about 40 recognised islands that make up the Ang Thong Marine Park there are also dozens of other small islands that offer exciting and intriguing opportunities of discovery during your visit to the archipelago.
The main island of the national park is Koh Wua Talap, which is where the marine parks main headquarters and visitors centre is located. This rocky island also features an amazingly beautiful white beach and lovely warm waters, which are perfect for sunbathing and swimming, respectively.
There are also a number of impressive caves that are complete with ancient stalagmites and stalactites, as well as a truly stunning viewpoint that you can reach by completing a 500m trek from the islands beach. The views of the surrounding area from Koh Wua Talap’s viewpoint really are something to behold and from here you will be able to see all the other islands that make up the Ang Thong National Marine Park, as well as the incredible turquoise seas that surround them.
Other than visiting the viewpoint on Koh Wua Talap, there are also a number of other nature trails and walks that are very popular with people who visit other islands in Ang Thong, particularly on Phi Island and Samsao Island. Many of these walks and trails are hugely popular with nature and wildlife lovers who can look forward to seeing different species of birds, many of which are only native to this part of the world.
Snorkelling can also be a wonderful experience here as there are also a large number of tropical fish, coral, squid and turtles that can be found in the waters of the marine park.
Another popular island in the marine park is Koh Mae, which means Mother Island and it is here were you will find the amazing emerald sea water lake that it located right in the centre of the island and is surrounded by limestone rocks and cliffs, which makes for a truly awe inspiring setting. The lake itself is linked to the sea by a number of underwater caves and tunnels that surround many of the islands that can be found throughout the marine park.
To reach the lake you will need to complete a strenuous 40 minute climb but you will be more than rewarded with spectacular views right across the whole of the marine park.
Probably two of the most popular islands in the marine park are Koh Tungku and Koh Wao, both of which are noted for being home to incredibly large shoals of fish. These shoals are so large that they can often reach more than 1000 fish per shoal.
There is also a considerable amount of other wildlife that can be found on Koh Tungku and Koh Wao, including Langur, which are Asian long tail monkeys, white bellied sea eagles, hair nosed otters, ashy drongo, pacific reef egrets, turtles, tortoises, pythons and lizards, just to name a few! The Ang Thong National Marine Park could also be described as somewhat of bird watchers paradise as more than 50 different species of bird has been spotted in the area.
Due to the large amount of islands that make up the Ang Thong National Marine Park, visiting them all in one trip would be virtually impossible. Therefore, it can be a good idea to visit some of the more popular islands that are likely to focus on one of the many tour operators’ itineraries.
As mentioned, particular highlights include the islands of Samsao, Wua Kantang and Thaiphlao. All of which boast some truly spectacular beaches, with pleasantly warm waters and vibrant and expansive coral reefs that are located not too far from the shore, which make perfect snorkelling and swimming conditions.
The marine park is open to visitors almost all year round, except for the months of November and December where the park is closed to allow for natural conservation and also because rough seas, strong winds and harsh weather conditions that can make travelling to and from Ang Thong particularly difficult and sometimes, even treacherous.
Probably the best time to visit the marine park is from early February to mid April and even though the weather can be quite hot at this time, it is when the sea tends to be at its calmest, making for perfect sailing conditions.
Access to the Ang Thong National Marine Park is strictly monitored and controlled by the Thai authorities. However, there are several tour companies that operate from Koh Samui who hold the necessary licences to be able to take people to and from the marine park.
Operators will genuinely cater for independent visitors, as well as those who want to visit Ang Thong as part of an organised snorkelling, kayaking or camping trip.
A regular trip or tour itinerary will normally include the chance to do a bit of snorkelling, as well as the opportunity for people to sunbathe and swim at many of the marine parks stunning beaches.
The majority of tour operators will go to Koh Wua Talap, where you might want to trek up to the islands viewpoint. They will also go to Koh Mae in order to take in a visit of the islands emerald lake. After lunch, those people who want to go on a kayak tour along a designated boat trail will have the opportunity to do so, whilst those who want to take it easy will be able to relax on the beach sunbathing or swimming.
The large tour boats that take people from Samui to Ang Thong National Marine Park depart from Nathon and Bo Phut, with a journey time of around 2 hours. Alternatively, if you want to get to the marine park a little faster, you can take a speedboat with the journey taking around 1 hour.
Another option is to take the high speed catamaran which only takes about 45 minutes. Sailing on the catamaran to the marine park can be done so as part of a day excursion that will include pick up from your hotel at around 7am and returning at about 4.30pm.