The 22 Best Things to Do in Koh Samui (2020 Guide)

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The ultimate list of all the best things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand.

Planning a trip through the many islands of Thailand can seem overwhelming.

There are over a thousand Thai islands and they all have something different to offer.

The big developed islands have lots of accessible tourist attractions, and the small uninhabited islands have raw, untouched natural beauty.

To make your trip-planning easier, visit the bigger islands that have a diverse range of landscapes and activities and explore them thoroughly.

One of the most rewarding islands to visit is Koh Samui, the second largest island in Thailand after Phuket (click the link to read our detailed itinerary posts).

Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui is a huge island covered in forest and fringed with pristine beaches.

Koh Samui has had a reputation for being quite ritzy and expensive.

There are lots of luxury resorts, fancy hotels and vacation packages that appeal to the wealthy, but recently the more local, affordable side of Koh Samui is beginning to surface.

Backpacker hostels, street markets, cheap tours and a long list of attractions are starting to pull more young budget travellers to Koh Samui.

The Best Things to Do in Koh Sumai

The classic touristy Thai culture, with its Buddhist temples, Muay Thai boxing matches, and Ladyboy cabarets, is affordable enough that backpackers are able to travel Koh Samui without spending a fortune.

Soft white sand, sparkling turquoise water, and towering coconut palms make Koh Samui look like a postcard, and now the island is more affordable and accessible than ever.

There are plenty of things to do in Koh Samui on a budget, and plenty of nice hotels and restaurants to suit those with more money to spend.

The island’s natural beauty will amaze anyone, and there is so much Koh Samui sightseeing to do to fill a schedule of a few days or even a few weeks.

So here is a list of the best things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand.

1) Book a Tour to Ang Thong National Marine Park

This is easily one of the best things to do in Koh Samui, and in the whole Gulf of Thailand.

Ang Thong National Marine Park is an archipelago of 42 islands, each one rugged and unique.

Throughout the park you can find limestone cliffs, rocky caves, thick jungle, lakes and rivers, waterfalls, coral reefs, lagoons, hiking trails and sandy beaches, all connected by the vibrant blue ocean.

Highlights in the park include the Emerald Lake, or “Thale Nai”, a green saltwater lake in the midst of the jungle, Koh Sam Sao, an island with amazing snorkelling, and Koh Mae, an island with a steep hike that leads to a scenic viewpoint.

Luckily, Ang Thong is well protected as a national park, so exotic wildlife can thrive and human development never oversteps its boundaries.

Only tour boats that are approved by the government are allowed to enter, so travellers cannot access the park without booking a tour.

But there are lots of reputable tour companies offering affordable and super fun tours around the archipelago that include snorkelling, kayaking, and relaxing.

BONUS – Interested in booking a tour online? Use the coupon code “NMDSKLK” on Klook when checking out and you’ll get $5 off your first booking!

Ang Thong National Marine Park Thailand
Some of the many rock formations at Ang Thong National Marine Park

2) See a Mummified Monk

Wat Khunaram is a Buddhist temple in Koh Samui famous for its mummified monk.

This sight isn’t for the faint-hearted, as it is literally a dead body on display in a glass case. But it is quite fascinating for those who are interested.

Buddhist monk, Luang Pho Daeng, died in 1973 and his body is now a source of wonder for local Thais and Buddhists in the area.

He died while sitting in a meditative position and his corpse is in surprisingly good shape for someone who died over forty years ago.

Be sure to follow proper dress code when visiting any temples in Thailand (no shoulders or knees showing).

  • Location: Na Mueang, Ko Samui District, Surat Thani 84140
  • Hours: 7 am to 5 pm, open every day
  • Cost: Free

READ MORE: This post tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about travelling to Thailand!

3) Visit the Big Buddha

The Big Buddha should definitely have a place on any list of things to see in Koh Samui.

Formally known as Wat Phra Yai, this Buddhist temple complex is located on a small island off of Koh Samui’s northeastern coast.

The massive golden Buddha sitting at the top of the temple stairs is 12 meters tall and was built in 1972.

If you’re flying into Koh Samui you can sometimes see the giant Buddha from the airplane.

The temple grounds also host a small market with souvenirs, interesting clothes and religious ornaments on sale.

  • Location: Big Buddha Beach, off Route 4171, Bophut
  • Hours: Open all day, every day
  • Cost: Free
Big Buddha, things to do in Koh Samui
Looking up at Koh Samui’s Big Buddha

4) Indulge in a Thai Massage

Thai massage is an ancient healing practise that is revered all around Thailand.

Though the massage isn’t as relaxing as traditional massages, it is supposed to rejuvenate the body and feel amazing afterwards.

Trained Thai masseuses bend and twist your body into odd positions during a massage, and this gets the blood flowing and soothes as well as strengthens your muscles.

There are plenty of spas all over Koh Samui, so check them out if you feel like treating yourself.

5) Try Stand Up Paddleboarding

With ocean scenery as stunning as Koh Samui, do your best to spend as much time in the water as possible.

For a relaxing and laid-back yet active day in Koh Samui try stand up paddleboarding. (You can book your SUP experience here.)

Paddleboards are heavy and sturdy, so they are easy to balance on even if it’s your first time.

This is a great way to soak in the views and spend quality time with the ocean, and it is a family-friendly activity as well.

Try paddling at sunrise or sunset to beat the heat and see the sky’s natural colours dancing above the water.

BONUS – Interested in booking a tour online? Use the coupon code “NMDSKLK” on Klook when checking out and you’ll get $5 off your first booking!

6) Laze Away on one of Koh Samui’s Beautiful Beaches

You simply can’t visit Koh Samui without visiting a few of the island’s picturesque beaches.

Chaweng Beach is the most popular place on the island, with tons of Koh Samui attractions and nightlife surrounding the beach.

So if you’re wondering what to do in Koh Samui, hit Chaweng Beach first, then figure the rest out from there.

Lamai Beach is the second most popular beach, and but it is less crowded and much more relaxing than Chaweng.

Coral Cove Beach is lovely for snorkelling and is hidden in a small bay behind a hotel.

Choeng Mon Beach is located on the north of the island near the Big Buddha, and there are lots of nice hotels and beach bars up here.

Lipa Noi Beach is the most kid-friendly of Koh Samui’s beaches, as it has shallow, clear water and barely any coral or rocks.

Pretty much every beach here has velvety white sand and coconut palm trees providing shade, and the water is clear and refreshing everywhere too.

So pick any beach on Koh Samui and you’ll feel like you’re in paradise.

Chaweng Beach things to do in Koh Samui Thailand
The busy shores of Chaweng Beach

7) Explore the Secret Buddha Garden

The Secret Buddha Garden is one of the most interesting Koh Samui attractions.

Back in 1976, a local farmer named Nim Thongsuk began creating the garden by setting up statues around his land.

Years later, the statues of Buddhas, other deities, animals and random creatures have taken over and the lush jungle gardens provide a nice background to all the artwork.

Spend an hour strolling through the peaceful green forest and admiring all the interesting statues; there is a sense of mystery here that is intriguing.

Some adventure tours around Koh Samui stop here as part of their itinerary, though you can also drive on your own.

  • Location: Off Route 4169 at Baan Saket, Thanon Dhupatemiya, Na Mueang, Koh Samui
  • Hours: 10 am to 5 pm, open every day
  • Cost: 80 Baht

READ MORE: Don’t miss out on all the best things to do in Ao Nang when you are in southern Thaiand!

8) Taste Local Food at the Chaweng Night Market

For some of the best street food in Koh Samui, head to the Chaweng Night Market.

This is one of the busiest areas on the island, so the market is full of things to see and is packed every night with locals and tourists alike.

Sample flavorful local snacks for insanely cheap prices, or even get a full meal for less than 2 USD.

The market is mostly comprised of food, but you can also find some clothes, jewellery, and other classic souvenirs on sale as well.

  • Location: 14/102 Moo 2, Chaweng Beach Road, Chaweng, Koh Samui, Suratthani 84320
  • Hours: 5 pm to 11 pm, open every day

READ MORE: Plan your trip to Thailand with our comprehensive Thailand Travel Guide.

9) Visit Wat Plai Laem

Another one of the best Koh Samui attractions is Wat Plai Laem, a Buddhist temple on the northeast coast of the island.

The temple is famous for its statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.

Bathed in white and sporting 18 arms, the Guanyin statue towers over the temple grounds and the surrounding lake.

Wat Plai Laem is close to the Big Buddha, so you can easily stop by both during your Koh Samui sightseeing.

  • Location: Road 4171, accessible via 4169 Highway Ring Road
  • Hours: 6 am to 6 pm, open every day
  • Cost: Free, Donations welcome
Wat Plai Laem, things to do in Koh Samui
The 18-armed Guanyin statue at Wat Plai Laem

10) Hike to a Hilltop Temple

For a bit of exercise and panoramic views, visit Koh Samui’s hilltop temple known as Khao Hua Jook Chedi.

You’ll have to drive or take a taxi here as there is no public transport running directly to this attraction.

The mountain on which the temple lies is called Chom Daow Mountain, and there is a shimmering gold pagoda as well as statues and Buddhist artworks in the temple complex.

The viewing platform provides a wonderful view over Chaweng Lake, so make sure to bring your camera.

  • Location: Bo Put, Ko Samui District, Surat Thani 84320
  • Hours: 8 am to 5 pm, open every day
  • Cost: Free

11) Cool Down at the Na Muang Waterfalls

These two waterfalls are some of the best natural sights in Koh Samui.

They are located only a five-minute drive away from each other and they are both incredibly picturesque.

Na Muang Waterfall One is super easy to access because you can basically drive right up to the entrance.

And it has a wide natural pool that is perfect for swimming (especially during the rainy season).

Getting to Waterfall Two requires a little climbing, so wear sturdy, waterproof shoes.

The thick jungle provides gorgeous natural scenery, and the view from the top of Waterfall Two is quite famous among backpackers.

  • Location: Off Route 4169, Na Mueang, Ko Samui District, Surat Thani 84140
  • Hours: 9 am to 5:30 pm, open every day
  • Cost: Waterfall One has no entrance fee, Waterfall Two costs 30 Baht. You also have to pay for parking at Waterfall Two, 20 Baht for scooters and 60 Baht for cars.

READ MORE: 21 of the best places to visit in Thailand.

12) See the Mysterious Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks

Of all the things to do in Koh Samui, this is probably the oddest.

Set on a rocky beach on the island’s southeast coast, the Hin Ta and Hin Ya Rocks are famous because they resemble male and female genitalia.

They are also called the Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s Rocks, and there are a few local myths about how the rocks came to be.

Whether you are interested in the stories behind the landmarks or not, the nearby beaches are beautiful so it is worth a stop.

  • Location: just off Route 4169, about 2 km south of Lamai Beach.
  • Hours: Open all day every day
  • Cost: Free
Hin Ta and Hin Ya Rocks things to do in Koh Samui
Views while climbing near the Hin Ta and Hin Ya Rocks

13) Check out the Guan Yu Shrine

Symbolic of the Chinese culture that has spread throughout Thailand, the Guan Yu Shrine is a powerful landmark in Koh Samui.

There is a 16-meter high statue of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War and a symbol of courage, loyalty, and bravery.

You probably won’t find too many other tourists here, so you can enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet while reading about the shrine’s history.

If you want to continue your education about Chinese culture after visiting the statue, there are some local Chinese restaurants out front.

  • Location: 190/1 Moo 1, Tambon Maret, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84310
  • Hours: 8 am to 5 pm, open every day
  • Cost: Free

14) Attend a Ladyboy Cabaret

One of the best things to do in Koh Samui, or anywhere in Thailand, is going to a ladyboy cabaret.

The local Thai ladyboys are men that change their appearance to look like glamorous women, and they often put on amazing performances around the country.

Koh Samui’s best location for watching a dazzling ladyboy performance is the Paris Follies Cabaret in Chaweng.

There are three shows every night here, and different dances and songs from all over the world are incorporated into the sets.

So for a night full of song, dance, and charisma, go to the Paris Follies Cabaret and prepare to be entertained by Koh Samui’s best ladyboys.

  • Location: 166/92 Moo 2, off Chaweng Beach Road
  • Hours: Performances at 8 pm, 9:30 pm and 11 pm, every night.
  • Cost: Free entry, but you are expected to buy a drink at the bar which can be over 200 Baht

READ MORE: Plan for all of the exciting things to do in Phuket!

15) Stroll Through the Fisherman’s Village Walking Street Market

Bophut is an area on the northern coast of Koh Samui known for its local fisherman’s village.

The village is one of the oldest areas of the island, with rustic old buildings and charming local culture.

Every Friday night starting at 5 pm, Bophut Beach Road turns into a lively street market full of souvenirs, artwork, street food, and live music.

Some of the local shops bring their merchandise to the streets while other vendors set up new stalls and street performers put on a show.

  • Location: Bophut Beach Road, Bophut 84320
  • Hours: 5 pm to 11 pm, every Friday
Street market Koh Samui
A local street market in Koh Samui

16) Hike the Elephant Rock

Those looking for active things to do in Koh Samui can head to the Elephant Rock, located between Chaweng and Lamai Beach.

This massive rock formation is named “Elephant Rock” simply because it looks like a giant boulder the same size as an Asian Elephant.

You can climb the Elephant Rock to get a great aerial view of the surrounding ocean and beaches.

This is a nice outdoorsy activity to do while hanging out near Chaweng or Lamai Beach; just make sure you wear sturdy hiking shoes.

  • Location: Between Chaweng and Lamai Beach, Route 4169
  • Hours: Open all day, every day
  • Cost: Free

17) Watch a Muay Thai Boxing Match

Muay Thai is a major part of Thai culture that travellers should try to experience in Thailand.

Koh Samui’s best place to watch a Muay Thai boxing match is Chaweng Boxing Stadium, which is also the oldest stadium on the island.

Here you can observe the talented local athletes as they engage in combat, the techniques and tricks of which evolved from the ancient fighting methods of the Siamese Empire.

Chaweng Boxing Stadium even has a program where they take youths off the streets and train them to fight Muay Thai in a safe and secure place.

So fighters you may watch during a match can range from young kids to professional adults, male or female.

This boxing stadium stays true to local traditions and still makes the fights engaging and exciting for tourists.

  • Location: 166/16, Moo 2, Chaweng, Tambon Bo Put, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320
  • Hours: Fights every Tuesday and Friday starting at 9 pm
  • Cost: Tickets range from 1,500 to 2,000 Baht

18) Take a Thai Cooking Class

The food is definitely one of the highlights of travelling through Thailand.

Thai food is so full of flavour and fresh ingredients, and every meal feels like an adventure for your taste buds.

The local cuisine differs slightly depending on which region of Thailand you are in.

So if you’re a true foodie you may want to take a few different Thai cooking classes throughout the country.

Koh Samui has lots of cooking schools that offer full-day tours cooking classes, most of which include a tour of the local market followed by guided instructions for making classic dishes.

The food you prepare yourself may be some of the best you eat in Thailand.

So dedicate at least one day in Koh Samui to a fun Thai cooking class.

green curry cooking class Thailand
Thai green curry, a dish you might make during a cooking class

19) Marvel at Laem Sor Pagoda

Another one of Koh Samui’s best landmarks, Laem Sor Pagoda is located on a quiet beach far from the popular tourist areas.

Down in the southwest corner of the island, the Laem Sor Pagoda stands tall as part of the Wat Laem Sor temple complex.

The Pagoda appears to be fully coated in gold, though it is actually tiny yellow tiles that give it that glowing appearance.

Near the pagoda is a small forest with a lake and picnic benches, as well as another Pagoda called Khao Chedi, located atop a hill that offers panoramic views.

So there are a few things to do down in this corner of the island, and this area makes a nice escape from the more crowded, touristy parts of Koh Samui.

  • Location: Off Route 4170, past Bang Kao village on a small beach
  • Hours: Open all day, every day
  • Cost: Free

READ MORE: Plan for the top 10 things to do in Bangkok!

20) Go Diving or Snorkeling

The Gulf of Thailand is known for some of the best snorkelling and diving in Southeast Asia.

The waters are crystal clear and the wildlife is colourful and active.

Koh Samui has a few nice snorkelling spots, but the best locations for snorkelling or diving are next to other nearby islands.

Your best option is to book a day tour through a local tourism company, so they can take you around the best snorkelling spots by speedboat.

Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan are two popular sights for snorkelling or diving, and they can easily be reached by speedboat from Koh Samui.

Experienced certified divers can explore the waters deeply and swim down through coral reefs.

Whereas other travellers can opt for snorkelling, which doesn’t require any certifications and is a bit easier.

Whether scuba diving or snorkelling near the surface, you are sure to spot some exotic fish and sea creatures while exploring the oceans.

BONUS – Interested in booking a tour online? Use the coupon code “NMDSKLK” on Klook when checking out and you’ll get $5 off your first booking!

21) Watch the Sunset from the West Side of the Island

Tropical islands offer some of the most majestic sunsets.

Nothing says makes a vacation memorable like watching the sky change colours as the sun slowly slips behind the horizon, with the waves crashing and the palm trees swaying in the breeze.

Some of the best beaches to go watch the sunset are Lipa Noi Beach, Taling Ngam Beach or Nathon Town Beach.

They are all located on the island’s west coast so they face the setting sun.

This side of the island is also far less touristy than the east side, so you’ll most likely have the beach to yourself except for a few locals.

On a similar note, head to any beach on the east side of the island for a spectacular sunrise view!

things to do in Koh Samui beach sunset
Koh Samui has so many prime sunset-viewing spots!

22) Try a Fruit Carving Class

If you’ve ever been to any sort of fancy hotel or restaurant in Thailand, you may have seen incredible art displays made entirely out of fruit.

The art of fruit carving is a traditional Thai skill that originated in the decoration of events for the Thai royal family.

Fruit carving is more accessible these days, but it is still considered a respectable skill.

You can take a fruit carving class at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts, where professionals will teach you how to carve beautiful designs into fruit and vegetables.

This is a very hands-on experience, and you are sure to learn a lot about this traditional form of Thai art.

  • Location: Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts, 46/6 Moo 3, Chaweng Beach, Borphut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320
  • Cost: 2,500 Baht for a full day fruit carving class

Koh Samui Travel Guide

Now that you know what to do in Koh Sumai, we want to help you make your other plans as well by sharing the best accommodations and places to eat in the city.

Accommodations in Koh Samui

After learning the best things to do in Koh Samui, consider where you are going to stay.

Despite the island’s reputation as being a bit expensive and catering only towards luxury travellers, Koh Samui has plenty of budget and mid-range accommodation options as well.

Budget: Timeless Hostel

Stay in Timeless Hostel if you want to save money and stay right in the middle of the action.

Just a short walk from Chaweng Beach and close to all the nightlife and entertainment of the Chaweng neighbourhood, there is plenty to do here and lots of fellow travellers to hang out with.

The hostel has a cozy common room that is great for socializing, and all the usual amenities like free wifi, hot showers, city maps and a travel desk to help you plan your adventures.

It costs only 10 USD per night for a dorm bed and 30 USD per night for a standard private room.

Mid-Range: Promtsuk Buri Hotel

For a feeling of luxury that doesn’t break the bank, Promtsuk Buri Hotel is perfect.

Located only 80 meters away from the small, private Silver Beach, and just 2km away from the gorgeous but peaceful Lamai Beach, this part of the island is quiet yet full of things to do.

Guests rave about the helpful and friendly staff and the clean rooms, so travellers should have all their needs taken care of during their stay.

This three-star hotel offers free breakfast for guests as well as airport transfers and tours available.

There are only 17 rooms here, so it smaller and cozier than your average hotel.

You can get private bungalows for a really good price!

Luxury: Novotel Samui Resort

This resort is located on the northern end of Chaweng Beach, so it is close to all the hustle and bustle but isn’t right in the centre of it.

The grounds are full of gardens, pools, and fountains, and the beach is just a short walk away.

With classy decor and lots of space, the rooms are comfortable and come with either hillside or beachside views.

There is also a spa and massage centre, and a beachfront restaurant where you can dine while watching the sunset in the evening.

Rooms cost between 100 and 200 USD per night, which is still quite cheap for such a high-quality resort.

What to Eat in Koh Samui

There are plenty of places to taste traditional Thai cuisine in Koh Samui.

Here are a few recommendations for some restaurants that have either budget, mid-range or expensive menu prices.

Budget – Noodle Soup and Food

For a super cheap and authentic local meal, visit Noodle Soup and Food in Bophut, the Fisherman’s Village.

This restaurant is very localized, with a short menu written on a chalkboard and simple but delectable noodle and rice dishes.

Mid-Range – The Jungle Club

The Jungle Club is a moderately-priced hilltop restaurant with a stunning view over Chaweng beach.

Eat delicious classic Thai food or international cuisine while relaxing in comfy bean bag chairs atop their classy wooden deck.

Luxury – Height Restaurant

Head out to the Height Restaurant located on a rocky headland on the east of the island, as part of Silavadee Pool Spa Resort.

The fine-dining restaurant is named because it is set up high so you get a lovely view, and there are plenty of nice wines and cocktails to accompany your modern Thai meals.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you book accommodation, tours or buy a product, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us keep creating more free travel content to help people plan their holidays and adventures. We only recommend the best accommodations, tours and products, and regularly review these. Thanks for your support, kind friend!

About the author

Gabby Boucher

After four years of working in hospitality, volunteering abroad and travelling for fun, Gabby has developed a knack for budget travel and admiration for different cultures. Her travels have taken her through the cloud forests of Ecuador, into the villages of eastern Europe, across the islands of Thailand, and to the beaches of New South Wales, Australia, where she is currently living with a working holiday visa. She plans to continue her adventures around the world for as long as possible. Follow her on her blog, and on Instagram.

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