Wat Plai Laem
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Koh Samui is one of the most popular Thai islands, yet it sometimes gets a bad wrap, particularly amongst backpackers who claim it to be too ‘touristy’ or ‘westernised’. Yes, Koh Samui is a popular tourist destination, but there’s a reason for that! There are some gorgeous viewpoints and scenery on the island - combine that with the wide range of great restaurants, cafes and nightlife and you can see why Koh Samui attracts so many visitors to its shores.
Koh Samui is a great place to travel for couples, groups and families alike, with something for everyone. Check out my full guide to visiting Koh Samui for all the information on how to get to Koh Samui as well as the best places to stay and eat on the island! If you already know all that stuff and just want to know what things you shouldn't miss out on when visiting Koh Samui, then this post is for you!
15 Great things to do on Koh Samui
I'd recommend spending 5 days on Koh Samui, this will give you enough time to explore everything on my top 15 things to see and do on this lively Thai island!
Check out 12GO - my go-to booking system for all transport bookings in Southeast Asia to book your journey to Koh Samui:
1. Visit Wat Plai Laem
Located in the north of Bophut, this peaceful temple is a must visit when on Koh Samui! Wat Plai Laem is a colourful and unique Thai-Chinese inspired temple built on a small lake. The main temple building takes centre stage on the lake, with two smaller islands at either side of it. On one of the islands is a statue of the 18-armed goddess Guanyin and on the other island is a large statue of the laughing Buddha. There’s lots of large coy carp and turtles swimming in the lake surrounding the temples which you can feed with the fish food available for purchase in the temple grounds.
There are many temples to visit in Thailand and you may have already seen a fair few of them, especially if you have already visited Chiang Mai, or Bangkok, however I would really recommend seeing this one. The fact that it is floating on the lake makes it quite unique and interesting, plus there's no entrance fee, making it one of the best free things to do on Koh Samui! I’d highly recommend coming to Wat Plai Laem and combining it with a trip to the nearby ‘Big Buddha’.
The Laughing Buddha and statue of goddess Guanyin sit on their own island at Wat Plai Laem
2. See the Big Buddha
If you’re spending a bit of time travelling around Thailand, you’ll notice that each place has its own ‘Big Buddha’ including the famous ‘Big White Buddha’ in Phuket and also the ‘Big Buddha’ in Pai. Even so, it is still worth visiting Koh Samui’s Big Buddha, especially for the sweeping coastal views you get from the terrace. The temple is very much a tourist attraction with the whole area at the base of the Big Buddha occupied by market stalls, shops and cafes. Personally I didn't mind so much, as I didn't feel that any of the stall owners here were pushy and it was nice to have a browse after visiting the temple. There’s no fee to enter the temple and as always when visiting temples in Asia, you need to take off your shoes and dress appropriately.
Tip: The ground can get very hot, so if you remember, it might be handy to pack some socks to put on your feet after you’ve removed your shoes!
Koh Samui's Big Buddha
3. Visit Fisherman’s village
This area of Bophut is where you will find more upscale restaurants, cocktail bars and luxury hotel resorts. If you’re visiting Koh Samui on a budget, make sure you time your trip to Fisherman’s Village with a Monday, Wednesday or Friday night when the night market is on to grab yourself some tasty, local street food. Fisherman's village is a popular place to spend the night in Bophut, but it's also great during the day. Stroll down the main street, relax on the beach or enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes.
4. Watch the sunset from Bophut beach
Is there anything better than spending your evening on a Thai beach watching a sunset? It was definitely one of my favourite things about travelling in Thailand - Thai sunsets are something else! One of the most popular spots in Bophut for watching the sunset is Coco Tams cocktail bar. Head there for around 5.30pm to grab a bean bag and a cocktail as the sun sets. Stay a while longer to see the fire show too. The prices for food and drinks here are rather expensive, so be prepared to pay more than usual. If you’re on a budget, you can still enjoy watching the sunset - simply bring your own drinks and sit just a bit further down the beach!
5. Spend the afternoon at Lamai viewpoint and cafe
The Lamai viewpoint is one of the best (and most accessible) places on Koh Samui for a great view! Entrance is 50 THB (£1.20) to walk the 15-20 minutes uphill, or you can pay 100 THB (£2.30) to take the short hill train. There is free parking at the entrance, which is just tucked away down a side street, off the main road through Lamai. If you want to skip the walk back down, you can also zip line down for 800 THB (£19) for an adrenaline rush!
We had a lovely afternoon relaxing on the loungers at Lamai Viewpoint cafe
6. See Grandfather and Grandmother rocks (Hin Ta Hin Yai)
If you’ve been to Thailand before, you might have noticed that they seem to have a strange obsession with comparing rock formations to genitalia! Honestly, the number of tours that I went on where a guide pointed out a 'penis' shaped rock, giggling as he waited for my reaction! The Grandfather and Grandmother rocks are one of those sights, and are so called as they apparently resemble male and female private parts. To be honest, I couldn’t really see it, not in an obvious way anyway! But regardless of that fact, the rocks serve as a nice observation deck to view the coastline in both directions. On the road towards the rocks, there are several shops and a couple of drinks stalls so you can hang around for a while here.
7. Hike Na Mueang waterfall
The hike to the top of the Na Mueang waterfall is one of the best things to do on Koh Samui. I go into a bit more detail on this hike in my blog on my top 10 unmissable hikes in Thailand, if you want to read more about this one. But in a nutshell, this is a 2km moderately challenging uphill hike. The ground is very even, so i'd recommend trainers and it can feel like hard work in the heat, so pack plenty of water. Make sure that you also pack your swimwear so that you can cool off in the natural pool at the top of the waterfall whilst you take in those landscape views. There’s no entrance fee to hike this trail, making it another great free activity to do on Koh Samui!
Taking in the view before going for a dip in the natural pool!
8. Take in the views at Heart shape cafe & viewpoint
This is another popular viewpoint on Koh Samui. Located between Lamai and Chaweng, Heart Shape cafe overlooks Chaweng beach at the point which looks like the top of a ‘heart’, hence the cafe’s name, ‘Heart Shape’. Entrance to the cafe and viewpoint is 50 THB (£1.20) per person and you can buy drinks in the cafe. The prices are slightly higher than elsewhere on the island, but that is to be expected from a place with prime viewpoints like this. The road up to the cafe is very steep and quite treacherous. You can walk up, or call the cafe to arrange a 4x4 taxi to the top.
9. Go to the insta-famous Overlap stone
The Overlap stone is one of the most instagrammed spots on Koh Samui, so if you want to get some great photos, make sure you head there early to avoid the queues of people waiting to get their photo taken. The balancing stone is set on private land and there is an entrance fee of 50 THB (£1.15) per person plus 20 THB (£0.50) for scooter parking. The road up there is also very steep so make sure you are a confident rider, if not, park at the bottom and walk up. The stone does look visually quite impressive, however once you’ve queued to have your photo taken, there’s not a lot else to do here. Personally, other spots on the island offer a better experience, however this is good for getting some great photos if you time your visit right.
10. Run or walk around Chaweng lake
Just off Koh Samui’s main road as it passes by Chaweng is Chaweng lake. Whilst it may not be the most picturesque lake I’ve ever seen, I did enjoy a few early morning walks and runs around the lake as I was staying at the Chaweng Park Place just opposite. There’s also the Chaweng weekend night market at the entrance of the lake, opposite Central Samui which is worth stopping by.
At the top of the hill behind Chaweng lake, you can see the golden pagoda of Wat Khao Hua Jook
11. Go shopping in Central Samui
This large shopping and entertainment complex is where you will find western high street brands as well as western cafes and chain restaurants. There’s a food hall at the entrance of Central, as well as an additional smaller food court inside the supermarket. They have a build your own salad area in here, which I loved, as well as lots of fresh fruit and tasty fresh hot food. There’s a cinema here too and all around the complex are further bars and restaurants.
12. See Wat Khao Hua Jook
Sat overlooking Chaweng lake is Wat Khao Hua Jook. This small Buddhist temple is known for its golden pagoda and great views over Chaweng. You can drive part way up the hill where you will need to pay the entrance fee of 20 THB (£0.50) per person, then it is just a short walk to the pagoda and temple. I wouldn't go out of your way to visit this temple but it's worth a quick stop whilst you are exploring Koh Samui.
13. Visit Chaweng’s beach bars
One of the best things to do on Koh Samui (and in Chaweng) at night is to head to Chaweng beach and sip on cocktails as the sunset sets. Two note-worthy bars are the Elephant beach bar and Lub d, but there are several others along the beach and many of them have happy hours and a good cocktail list. The bars range from chilled lounge vibes to full on party mode, so pick the bar for your mood!
Enjoying drinks at Elephant beach bar, Chaweng
14. Head to Chaweng beach road for the nightlife
Another great place to spend the evening in Chaweng is around Chaweng beach road. There’s many restaurants and bars that line this road and the little side streets. If you’re looking for a full on party, there’s promoters along the street who can point you in the right direction of a great night out. (My clubbing days are behind me now, so I can’t advise on the best spots for that I’m afraid!). But the area in general has a great atmosphere and many of the shops and market stalls are open until late too, which is perfect for some late night shopping at good prices.
15. Take a day trip to Ang Thong Marine Park
Ang Thong Marine Park is a protected archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand and is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. The scenery is just beautiful and it quickly became my second favourite park in Thailand, closely behind the incredible Khao Sok National Park.
The best way to see Ang Thong Marine Park is to take a full day tour from Koh Samui. There are many tours available, depending on your budget, but I chose a mid-range tour with Mr Tu and had a great day out.
During the full day tour, you will get the chance to do some snorkelling, enjoy self guided kayaking and see the incredible Emerald lake at Mae Koh Island. However, the show-stopper of the day is by far the viewpoint at Koh Wua Talap island. After a steep climb 500m uphill, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the Marine Park and will see many of the 42 small islands scattered across the sea. The tour includes a light breakfast, delicious beach-side buffet lunch and soft drinks throughout the day. Make sure you make time on your itinerary to take a trip to Ang Thong Marine Park - it is definitely one of the best things to do on Koh Samui!
Taking in the incredible views at Koh Wua Talap island in Ang Thong Marine Park