The best things to do in Koh Samui include varied and interesting highlights that range from splendid natural features to manmade attractions. Beyond the gorgeous beaches where you can spend a day out under the tropical sun, there are attractive waterfalls and more to explore. There's nothing to stop you from having a blast on Samui.

    You can discover anything from mummified monks to the famous "Grandma and Grandpa" rocks, known locally as Hin Ta and Hin Yai. For those interested in religious imagery and architecture, the Big Buddha will impress – especially at sunset. Nature lovers can visit Ang Thong National Marine Park on a day trip. It's a great place to get away from it all in the splendid tropical islands it hosts. Check out all the must-see and must-do attractions in Koh Samui below.

    What are the best things to do in Koh Samui?

    Ang Thong National Marine Park is a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. The islands feature towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, fertile mangroves, waterfalls, and hidden coves and lakes to explore.

    Within sight of Koh Samui, Ang Thong National Marine Park is a protected area covering more than 100 sq km of land and sea. It's home to a rich variety of exotic wildlife and sea creatures. Snorkeling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, and simply relaxing are the main activities to enjoy at Ang Thong.

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    Location: Ang Thong, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84140, Thailand

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    The Big Buddha on the northern coast of Koh Samui is one of Thailand's famous shrines and probably Samui's most well-known landmark. The 12-metre-tall golden Buddha statue can be seen from several kilometers away. The Buddha figure sits in the Mara posture, depicting a time during Buddha’s journey to enlightenment where he successfully subdued temptations and dangers thrust at him. The pose is a symbol of steadfastness, purity and enlightenment.

    Inside the surrounding temple are many different shrines and other smaller Buddhas. There's also a small market selling a wide range of lucky charms and other souvenirs, alongside numerous food stalls.

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    Location: Route 4171, Bophut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

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    Fisherman’s Village in Samui is a historical part of Bophut, with rustic-style buildings housing boutique stores, trendy restaurants and a small selection of hotels lining the narrow Beach Road. Every Friday, the whole area becomes the site of the Fisherman’s Village Walking Street market, attracting huge numbers of shoppers from across the island for the impressive variety of wares and the lively atmosphere.

    This old part of Bophut Beach takes its name from the fact that it was once home to a thriving fishing community. The fishermen have moved on and the main pier has collapsed, but the old wooden shophouses remain, with a warren of narrow alleys running between many of them, giving the village a charming old look and feel.

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    Location: Bophut Beach Road, Bophut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320, Thailand

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    The Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks are some fascinating rock formations at the southern end of Lamai Beach on Koh Samui. They've been a source of giggles and wonder on the island since they were discovered by the locals many years ago. Known as Grandpa (Ta) and Grandma (Yai), the rocks look, respectively, like male and female genitalia.

    A signboard near the rocks tells of the legend of an old couple by the name of Ta Kreng (Grandpa Kreng) and Yai Riem (Grandma Riem) who lived with their son in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. The views from the rocks and the area around them are spectacular, stretching across the sea to nearby islands.

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    Location: 126/92 Moo 3, Lamai, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84310, Thailand

    Open: Sunday–Friday from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, Saturday from 8 am to 7 pm

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    The Na Muang Waterfalls are among Samui's most picturesque waterfalls, though it's technically 2 consecutive falls. Its name refers to the massive purple rocks at the waterfalls. Rocks and tree roots form a natural staircase that leads to the base of Na Muang 1. A large natural pool sits under the waterfall. A 10-minute walk further up the mountain leads to Samui's most beautiful waterfall, Na Muang 2.

    The best time to visit is in the wetter months of September through November, when the waterfalls are in their full-flowing glory. Na Muang is a popular place for families to relax and swim. Many Samui tours include a refreshing stop at the Na Muang Waterfalls on their itinerary.

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    Location: 37/1 Thawi Rat Phakdi Rd, Na Mueang, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84140, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm

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    Secret Buddha Garden is a tranquil, sculpture-filled garden hidden high up in the hills in Koh Samui's interior. Thanks to its altitude, the unique site offers majestic views and an unusual collection of statues amid lush jungle surrounds. The gardens are a creation of an old Samui fruit farmer, Nim Thongsuk, who began erecting several statues and temples around his family's verdant land in 1976.

    The statues depict several animals, deities and humans in various poses, including one of Khun Nim himself, sitting on a rock in a relaxed position. The garden has a waterfall and stream flowing through, all shaded by thick foliage. With the steep and bumpy road, getting up here is a challenge best undertaken in a 4WD vehicle.

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    Location: Na Mueang, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84140, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

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    Cabarets in Samui might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for fans, Chaweng Beach has plenty to choose from. Samui cabarets are typically live dance shows performed by elegant transgender artists. Thai society is generally more open to gender identity than many other cultures, and its katoey – the "3rd sex" – have played a prominent role in the nation's entertainment industry for generations.

    In Chaweng and Lamai, you can enjoy a sparkling evening out with this fun form of entertainment. Most of the cabarets in Chaweng are located next to each other, which makes for interesting competition before the show.

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    Buddha footprints

    • History

    Samui's Buddha footprints may be a bit hard to find, but it's well worth putting in the extra effort to get to the site. Located on a hilltop shrine near the Butterfly Garden, they are in fact 4 footprints, engraved one on top of each other. The engraved footprints are an important religious symbol, said to reflect Buddha's mortal presence among the living.

    The journey to find the site may be hard due to the overgrowth. And after you negotiate the 163 steps to the top, you are rewarded with one of the most spectacular views on the island.

    Location: Route 4170, Na Mueang, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84140, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

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    Hua Thanon

    Hua Thanon is a fishing village just south of the Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks. It is home to a large proportion of Samui's Muslim population. It still retains a quaint, old-Samui feel, with rickety teakwood houses lining the road, as well as some decent seafood restaurants and ethnic clothing and jewelry boutiques.

    While you may not see too many long-tail boats setting off to cast nets these days, it's worth checking out the teak houses put to modern usage, with automobiles often parked in the front rooms.

    Location: Maret, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84310, Thailand

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    Lamai Overlap Stone

    The Lamai overlap stone is a set of impressively balanced boulders that are a challenge to get up to but offer spectacular views. The sights alone are worthwhile for the adventurous traveler. The steep, rough, dirt-track road leading to the viewpoint should only be attempted on a dirt bike or with a 4WD, and the last stretch may have to be walked, depending on conditions.

    Alternately, getting to the unique site is a hard 20-minute climb on foot, but there is a refreshment stall at the top and it's an exhilarating experience. Look for the signs on the right-hand side of the beltway 1 km south of Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks in Lamai Beach.

    Location: 438/35 Moo 1, Maret, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84310, Thailand

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    Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is Thailand's beloved national sport, and is taken very seriously throughout the country. Koh Samui is no exception. Although Thai boxing is regarded as the world's most dangerous martial art, it's surprisingly graceful to watch.

    Chaweng has 2 Thai boxing stadiums, which hold regular Muay Thai bouts, some of which feature foreign as well as Thai fighters. Chaweng stadium is the biggest on Samui and hosts all the major fights on the island. Fights are usually held twice a week on Monday and Friday nights but, during peak season, an additional Sunday night fight is often held. Fights start at 9 pm and the evening normally lasts around 3 hours, with as many as 10 smaller bouts before the main fight. If you only want to catch the main event, then drop in for an hour around 10 pm or 10.30 pm.

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    Pink Elephant Samui Water Park

    Pink Elephant Samui Water Park is a spacious and modern waterpark near Maenam. The attraction features a range of high-quality rides and facilities, promising a fun and safe day for the whole family. The waterpark has an isolated feel, being set 1,500 meters from the Samui beltway, in a palm grove in the already relatively quiet Maenam area of Koh Samui.

    Geared mostly toward young children and their parents, there are a few high-speed slides for the adventurous ones and a Jacuzzi area for those who want to chill out and relax.

    Location: 28/41 Moo 1, Maenam Soi 1, Maenam, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84330, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)77 423 548

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    Silver Beach in the beautiful little Thong Takhian Bay is located just off the main road as you come down the hill into north Lamai from Chaweng. There are 3 resorts on the beach, so it can get crowded in the high season but is well worth a visit for the stunning scenery. It boasts crystal-blue waters and white sand, bordered by craggy limestone rock formations and verdant hills: the archetypal Thai beach.

    The water is shallow at low tide and there is only one area good for bathing, to the left of the bay. But once you have waded out, the water is wonderful and there are some fish around the rocks and reef for snorkelers to follow. You can get a reasonable meal and cold beverages from any of the 3 resorts' beachfront restaurants, and one has a pool for diners and guests.

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    Location: Silver Beach, Maret, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84310, Thailand

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    Wat Lamai and Cultural Hall

    • History

    The Lamai temple is the social epicenter for the local Thai community. Alongside weddings, funerals and religious festivals, it plays host to some lively temple fairs throughout the year with concerts, fairground games, food and even an outdoor movie theater. The temple fairs last for over a week and, if you're in Lamai when one is being held, it's certainly worth checking out.

    The musty, dusty Cultural Hall inside the temple complex houses a quaint and unique collection of artifacts from Samui's past, ranging from brass and earthenware vessels and cooking implements to wooden agricultural tools, armadillo skins, dried pufferfish, swords, muskets, ancient bicycles, and a 2,000-year-old metal ceremonial drum unearthed in Lamai village. The fact that there are no explanatory notes in English means that you have to use your imagination to compose mental images of Samui's bygone days.

    Location: 64/12-15, Maret, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84310, Thailand

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    Scuba diving in Koh Samui

    Diving in Koh Samui is among the top reasons to visit this tropical wonderland, with clear blue and warm waters together with amazing marine life. It's no surprise that the area is an extremely popular destination for both experienced divers and those wanting to take up the sport.

    Short accredited dive courses are readily available and prices are very reasonable compared to most countries. There's a wide range of dive shops offering all levels of instruction and, if you look around, it's not difficult to find courses conducted in the language of your choice.

    Samui cooking classes let you learn how to prepare some of the most popular Thai dishes through cheerful courses. You will learn about the importance of the balance of flavors in Thai cuisine and how to use the most important ingredients.

    From appetiser to main course to dessert, you’ll cook a Thai meal and then enjoy eating it. A fun and insightful cooking class in Samui lets you have a lot of fun and gain valuable skills. Get ready to impress your friends and family once you get back home!

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    Soccer Golf is an original and increasingly popular game created in Thailand at Samui Soccer Golf. The idea is simple enough: it's a hybrid of soccer and golf in which players try to steer a soccer into the 18 holes in as few strokes as possible – using their feet of course.

    You and your group can play the game for at least 1 hour. At the same time, you can enjoy a refreshing tropical garden walk around a beautiful coconut plantation that forms the 18-hole course near Choengmon Beach.

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    Location: 63/240, Moo 5, Bophut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6.30 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)77 426 600

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    Samui Frisbee Golf

    Samui Disc Golf (aka Samui Frisbee Golf) is an extremely popular venue for the whole family. The facility is 1.2 km south of the Samui beltway in Maenam. The origins of Disc Golf (aka Frolf or Frisbee Golf) date back to the beginning of the 20th century, but this fun activity only started to be recognized in the ‘60s before becoming hip, leading to the doubling of Disc Golf courses in the world since the turn of the millennium.

    Samui Frisbee Golf’s 9-hole course is set in a fruit orchard, offering an agreeably shaded area to play. This leisure activity offers Samui visitors a half-day of fun at affordable rates. Samui Disc Golf also organizes professional tournaments and private events for groups.

    Location: 62/5 Moo 3, Maenam, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84330, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)98 670 3315

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    Santiburi Samui Country Club is the most renowned golf course and the only championship course in Koh Samui. Offering 18 holes through the magnificent lush hills, coconut plantations, rock-filled valleys, streams and waterfalls above Maenam in Samui’s northern area, Santiburi has spectacular views over to the Gulf of Thailand and is indeed a world-class golf course.

    The golf course features sumptuous facilities – a clubhouse with a top-notch restaurant, comfortable changing rooms, and a well-stocked pro-shop. All these top features have made Santiburi a top pick among the best golf courses in Thailand.

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    Location: 12/12 Moo 1, Maenam Beach, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84330, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)77 421 700

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    photo by Per Meistrup (CC BY 3.0) modified

    Thong Krut is a fisherman's village in Koh Samui with a peaceful shallow-water bay where you can charter long-tail boats out to neighboring islands. Prices are usually fixed but it doesn’t hurt to bargain with a smile.

    Thong Krut attracts those looking to escape the crowds of central Samui. You have the choice to eat at several large seafood restaurants, all with excellent sea views and fresh catches. The beach is charming at high tide and a stroll along the sandy expanse offers views of neighboring islands, many of which are accessible by boat.

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    Location: Thong Krut Village, Thong Krut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84140, Thailand

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    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveler

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