Thailand’s second largest island, the ever-popular Ko Samui, lies 35km off Surat Thani and about 700 km south of Bangkok.
Its many sheltered bays have offered sailors a sanctuary from the region’s tropical storms for centuries and it is believed that the name comes from the word saboey, which means safe haven in Chinese. Until 1940 there were no roads or vehicles on Ko Samui and people moved about on foot or hugged the coastline in their boats.
Things have changed though, and today there’s quite a bit of traffic with taxis and shuttles, motorbikes and bicycles carrying locals and happy tourists between the white beaches, coconut groves and dense, mountainous rainforests.
The landmark 12m-tall golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yai is one of the island’s primary attractions, together with the beautiful Wat Plai Laem temple with the 18-arm image of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, a photogenic highlight.
Found perfectly set in the tranquil Gulf of Thailand, and only an hour’s flight from Bangkok, most visitors to the island are content spending their days lazing on the beach, soaking up the sun and cooling off in the turquoise warm waters. For the activity enthusiast though, there are plenty of things to fill the day, from excellent scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, paragliding and ocean kayaking.
One of Ko Samui’s most appealing features is the loop road that makes a 50km circuit around the island, giving easy access to the excellent beaches in the north, east and west. It runs through sleepy fisherman villages, coconut tree plantations and past impressive waterfalls, allowing ample of opportunities to stop and take a swim, get something to drink or even indulge in a traditional Thai foot massage as you go.
Ko Samui is a postcard perfect quintessential Thailand and should be on everybody’s travel wish list.
These are some of the reasons why you should visit
The number one sightseeing attraction on Ko Samui is likely Wat Phra Yai, where the famous 15m tall smiling golden Buddha statue is found.
As is the case in many parts of Thailand, the wat is an integral part of Thai life and as well as being the place for religious ceremonies and worship, these ornate places also act as venues for social events and concerts. At Wat Samret, Hua Thanon, between the temple and the school is a building that houses over 80 different Buddha figures. Its off the usual tourist trail and you may need to find the key holder and ask him to let you in.
Nathon is Samui’s official town where offices, banks and the main ferry pier is located. Shopping is less expensive here than in the more touristy beach front areas. The wet market sells fresh fruit, vegetables and fish seafood as well as Thai spices and cooking ingredients.
The Magic Garden is located high in the hills above Baan Saket in the southwest of Samui up a road that leads through a military zone. In this small valley, a 77-year-old Buddhist devotee, Khun Nim Thong-suk, began creating figures from his dreams and was still working on the garden when he died at the age of 91. The statues are a sight to behold, as are the views from this elevated position.
Ko Samui has several waterfalls, the two Na Muang waterfalls are probably the islands most stunning. The name Na Muang means purple in Thai and refers to the massive purple rocks that create the waterfalls. Rocks and tree roots form a natural staircase that leads to the base and there is a large natural swimming pool under the waterfall to enjoy.
The Muslim fishing village of Hua Thanon retains a quaint, old-Samui feel with teakwood houses lining the road as well as a handful of good seafood restaurants. The fishermen in the village still build their boats by hands, painting them and repairing the nets under palms trees.
Enjoy coffee at a side street cafe and time walking around the local markets. For excellent shopping, the Bophut Fisherman’s Village is the spot with its excellent restaurants, upmarket boutiques and colourful night market. You’ll even catch a glimpse of local street art if you’re looking. One of the best spots for sundowners is the Jungle Club, set high on a hill overlooking the bay.
A day trip to the Angthong National Marine Park for some sailing between the 42 uninhabited islands makes for a perfect day out and will leave you sun kissed and appreciative of the warm waters and rich sea life of this tropical paradise. There are wonderful waters sports, snorkeling and scuba diving on offer, with Ang Thong Marine Park, Sail Rock and Koh Tao Island worthy of time.
Written By Dawn Jorgensen