Ko Samui can be a great destination for families on their round the world trip, but not all choices are good ones.
Ko Samui is one of the most touristy places in Thailand only bowing down to Bangkok. This once backpackers’ heaven on the Gulf of Thailand is now the most developed island with over a million and a half visitors per year. Beside white sand beaches, coral reefs and rain forest, it also offers good local Thai cuisine and some truly unique buddhist temples. But is it authentic? Is it worth to add to your round the world itinerary?
More developed towns like Chewang beach are tourist traps with prices double of what you can get elsewhere including neighbouring much friendlier and quieter Lawai beach.
We came during the monsoon season (usually from September to November) so the high winds brought in cloud cover and wavy seas making it tough to enjoy the islands’ famous beaches.
We were however able to explore the more spiritual side of the island by visiting most of the temples and taking day trips to some of the hidden and less travelled corners of the island.
Here are some of the Ko Samui’s attractions that make Ko Samui a place still worth visiting.
Ko Samui Temples
Wat Plai Laem and Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai)
This holy place with three grand Buddhas is set in a man-made lake. You not only can buy your fortune from an automated fortune-teller machine but also leave a permanent mark by signing your name on tiles which will become part of the temple (we did it too).
Mummified Monk in Wat Khunaram
This monk allegedly predicted his own death and requested that if his body would not decompose after his death, for it to be put on display as a symbol of his faith and path to nirvana. He got his wish, 30 years after his death the monk’s body shows little sign of decay except for his eyes covered by Ray Ban sunglasses.
Laem Sor Pagoda
Located on the southern tip of the island, this holy place is truly unique. Rarely seen on tourist maps, this gem is a must-see.
Beautifully situated by the coast this temple is beautiful. We also drove up the hill next to the pagoda, that is home to a large Buddha statue, that apparently holds Buddha’s actual bone under its foundations. In 1903, a monk buried a fragment of the Buddha’s bone that he brought back from his pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. The statute was constantly hit by lightening and hence susceptible to fires. To cut the risk of damage, Buddha’s bone was relocated elsewhere. Not sure, how much truth is in this story (printed in badly translated English on a sign next to the statute), but it definitely helped to make this place feel extra special.
Natural and made-made wonders
Hin Ta – Hin Yai – natural coastal grandma and grandpa rock formations with a tale behind it, that surprisingly closely resemble human male and female genitals:)
Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village
A charming village that retains the original Thai-Chinese atmosphere even if already packed with many new hotels and guesthouses.
Just drive around
Many tourists rent mopeds or jeeps and we decided to get us a 4WD beast ourselves, the famous Suzuki Jimni. The drives through palm tree plantations and up to the rainforest hills are worth it! From there we enjoyed the views of Hin Lat Falls, places like the Secret Buddha Garden and a breathtaking panorama of the island.
Ko Samui for kids and families
There are a few attractions deemed kids friendly that we decided to explore including Namuang Safari Park known for its elephant trekking and shows as well as Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo. We can not recommend either! We were appalled by the elephant show’s MC who appeared intoxicated, sniffing what appeared to be drugs in front of the audience. We decided to leave the place mid show. Both the safari park and the zoo appeared to us of poor upkeep conditions and questionable animal treatment.
We did however read good reviews about the Angthong Marine National Park, a marine park that is a major draw for families. We felt Niko was still too little for this attraction, but it maybe suitable for older kids.
There are over 250 resorts on the island, so make sure to pick those that are kids friendly, with playgrounds, kids pools and even babysitting services.
Perhaps, it’s good that it wasn’t beach weather during our stay as it forced us to explore the very unique and perhaps the more authentic part of the island. Some parts of the island like Chewang lost its original Thai nature and succumbed to pressures of the demanding tourist, but there is still a part of the island worth exploring!
So, what’s your take on Thailand’s Ko Samui island? Please share your view in the comments section below. Thanks!
Here are some of our photos from our Ko Samui (Thailand) visit: