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The best things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand

The Best Things to Do in Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s most popular island destinations. If you’re looking for the best things to do on Koh Samui, you’ll find that this island paradise offers a diverse array of activities.

It’s a great location for anyone seeking a beach vacation, a serene escape into nature, or to embark on a fitness journey. So, whether you prefer the vibrant nightlife of Chaweng Beach or exploring the Thai cuisine and culture, there’s something for you.

These are some of the top things to do on Koh Samui, Thailand.

Check Out My Full Guide to Koh Samui

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Best Things to Do on Koh Samui

1. Visit the Big Buddha

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Visiting the Big Buddha is one of the most popular tourist activities in Koh Samui
Big Buddha

The Big Buddha shrine is one of the most iconic landmarks and popular tourist attractions in Koh Samui. It features a massive 12-meter-high golden Buddha statue. This statue is part of the temple called Wat Phra Yai and sits at the top of a ceremonial staircase, offering sweeping views of the surrounding area. Visitors can explore the temple grounds, watch daily rituals, and browse the small shops selling religious artifacts and souvenirs. It’s a peaceful place to understand more about Buddhist culture and enjoy a moment of reflection.

The Big Buddha is located just outside of the airport on the northern coast of Koh Samui, on a small rocky island connected to the main island by a causeway. While I wouldn’t say this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen, it’s worth the short trip up to see and perhaps grab lunch nearby.

2. Enjoy the Nightlife of Chaweng Beach

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Chaweng Beach is the most famous and longest beach on Koh Samui, offering a perfect blend of beauty and entertainment. The white sandy beach stretches over four miles and is lined with coconut trees, small resorts, restaurants, and beach clubs. It’s an ideal location for swimming in its turquoise waters or partaking in water sports like jet skiing and parasailing. And at night, Chaweng has easily the most active nightlife scene on Koh Samui. Here are the three areas in Chaweng with the best nightlife.

  • Chaweng Beach: While most of the beach bars quiet down after sunset, ARKbar Beach Club becomes one of the area’s best nightlife spots. The crowd is on the younger side, and the music plays well into the early hours of the morning. Elephant Beach Club also has a good crowd when they have parties.
  • Soi Mango: The busiest area after dark can be found not too far away on the road commonly known as Soi mango, named after the popular open-air nightclub called The Green Mango that is on it. There are also other nightclubs here such as Sound Club, some adult themed places, as well as many quieter bars. Henry Africa’s Bar is another one of the most popular bars on this street.
  • Soi Reggae: This area consists of mostly beer bars with pool tables and girls trying to have you buy them drinks. Reggae Pub is one of the last bars on the strip, and is known for live music.

There are many hotels in Chaweng. The most luxurious might be the Anantara Lawana Koh Samui, with a top restaurant and pool in the area, but is about a 10-minute drive from the busy area. COSI Samui Chaweng Beach offers an inexpensive option that is also great for digital nomads right beside the Central Samui shopping mall. Al’s Resort is one of my favorite budget options and is right on the beach.

3. Stay in Lamai Beach

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Rock Bar is a popular bar on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui
Rock Bar

Lamai Beach is the second-largest resort area on the island after Chaweng but is considerably quieter. The beach features soft white sand and clear waters, ideal for swimming and sunbathing. You can take a towel and sit anywhere, or you can go to any of the bars that offer chairs to customers. The busiest area on the beach during the daytime is between Third Day Beach Club and Red Elephant Beach Club. The hotels along the beach also have chairs for their guests.

The southern part of Lamai Beach also offers attractions like the quirky Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks (see below), several spa retreats, a cooking school, and the quirky Jamaican-themed Rock Bar. 

At night, Lamai’s nightlife is lively but less intense than Chaweng, with plenty of dining and entertainment options that retain a more laid-back vibe. The busiest areas at night include the bars around the Lamai Boxing Stadium and then just a couple blocks south on the streets near Billabong Bar.

4. Eat at a Night Market

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Visiting the night markets on Koh Samui are one of must do activities. You can find night markets in Chaweng, Lamai, Fisherman's Village, and Nathon.
Lamai Night Market

Night markets are a quintessential part of the cultural and social landscape in Thailand and so visiting one is a must do in Koh Samui. They are places that blend shopping, entertainment, and most importantly (in my opinion) stalls that sell a variety of local foods. These markets are popular among both locals and tourists, though the location can dictate which customer group they skew towards.

If you are wondering where to eat on Koh Samui, try one of these popular night markets.

  • Lamai Night Market: You can find stalls that sell juices, skewers and seafood, plus several Thai restaurants. The bar at the end has live music. Location
  • Lamai Night Plaza: This is located beside the boxing stadium and beer bars. Location
  • Chaweng Night Market: This is across from the Central Samui Shopping mall. Location
  • Fisherman’s Village Night Market: Held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. Location
  • Si Khao Night Market: Because of the location further from Chaweng Beach, this night market maintains a slightly more local vibe than those above. Location
  • Nathon Night Food Market: This is near the ferries on the west side of the island. It is easily the most local night market on Koh Samui, as this side of the island has few tourists. Location

5. Go on a Fitness Retreat

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Lamai Fitness Retreat is a great program if you want to lose weight, build strength, or improve overall fitness. Koh Samui is a popular place to focus on fitness.
After a Swim Class at Lamai Fitness Retreat

When you visit Koh Samui, it won’t take you long to realize that fitness is big on the island. You will see many gyms, Muay Thai gyms, and people running on the streets. And something that people come here specifically for are fitness retreats, which is exactly what brought me to Koh Samui.

The various fitness retreats offer a structured program that includes various classes, physical activities, wellness education, and healthy eating plans. Here are some key elements you might find at a fitness retreat on Koh Samui:

  • Structured Fitness Programs: These fitness retreats offer a daily schedule of activities designed to improve cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, and overall fitness. They generally include yoga, strength training, HIIT sessions (High-Intensity Interval Training), boxing or Muay Thai, running, and guided hikes.
  • Wellness and Spa Treatments: To complement the physical activities, many fitness retreats offer wellness and spa services such as massages, ice baths, detox treatments, meditation sessions, and other therapies that promote relaxation and recovery.
  • Accommodations: Because these retreats are offered as complete packages, they usually offer housing included in the price. While they are typically off-site, they may be private villas or boutique hotels that are very close by. You can also choose to book your own hotel, but I suggest you stay at the designated housing if you are looking for
  • Community and Group Activities: Most people come to these retreats alone and may find the community aspect of fitness retreats beneficial. Group activities and shared goals create a supportive environment, helping participants stay motivated throughout their stay. Once you get to know the others on the retreat, you will find that many of them are returning, and some may even know each other from previous visits.
  • Nutritional Guidance & Meal Plans: Some retreats may offer nutritional guidance and will offer meal plans that focus on clean, healthy eating. While the retreat I was on offered a meal plan, I opted to not do it. While I often ordered breakfast, lunch, and fruit smoothies at the on-site cafe, I preferred to explore the island and eat out in the evenings. But some people whose primary goal was to maximize their exercise or weight loss efforts did do the meal plan.

My top choices for best fitness retreats on Koh Samui are the following:

Lamai Fitness Retreat

This is my top choice for a Samui fitness retreat. The complex features both a gym and the Evolution Muay Thai & Boxing facility. Morning activities include a hike or run, Muay Thai, boxing, open water swimming, high intensity training, and yoga.

There are after-lunch group hikes followed afternoon strength training sessions. The program also includes Friday access to LUUMA, a luxurious spa with an outdoor pool, saunas, as well as hot and cold plunge pools.

Many of the people I met on this retreat had been here before, and several even knew each other from previous times. Plus, the staff is very friendly and makes it feel like you are a family for at least a week. If you join this retreat, renting a scooter is optional, as it is located right behind the hotel accommodations and downtown is about a 15-minute walk. Ages ranged from 20s into the 50’s when I was there and included people of all fitness levels. Some flew in specifically for the retreat while others were digital nomads staying on the island for longer. I lost about 8 pounds in two weeks here.

Koh Fit

This program seems to generally have more people. The facility is state of the art with a gym on the first floor, a 2nd floor area for classes, an onsite cafe, and a 20m swimming pool.

You will also a wide range of fitness levels and ages here. But the main differences from Lamai Fitness is that you will see more weightlifting activity and less Muay Thai / Boxing. Other than that, the program is structured very similar. The only potential negative for here is that you will probably want to rent a scooter during your time here, as it is a further walk from accommodations and the downtown areas. But I recommend Koh Fit to anyone looking to embark on a fitness journey.

6. Visit Fisherman’s Village in Bophut

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Fishermans Village is on the northern coast of Koh Samui. Many of the restaurants offer dining on the beach and there is a good night market here.
Fishermans Village

Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village retains a charm that is different from other parts of Koh Samui. The area is particularly famous for its nighttime “Walking Street” that shuts down to traffic each night and is lined with old wooden Chinese shop-houses that have been converted into boutique stores, trendy restaurants, and bars. 

A great night to come is on Friday nights when the night market is held. This allows you to stroll past street food stalls, live music performances, and stands selling everything from clothes to handicraft goods.

The beach itself is very quiet, but many of the restaurants offer a very nice beachside dining atmosphere. One of the most popular spots is Coco Tam’s which holds fire shows on the beach each night. Get there early, because it fills up quickly. While Red Moon is on the other side of the street, away from the beach, the menu blends Thai, French, and Vietnamese cooking and is one of the best restaurants in the area.

If you decide to stay in this area, the Holiday Inn Resort Samui Bophut is surprisingly great and one of the best Holiday Inn’s I have seen. It lies right on the Walking Street, has a giant outdoor pool, and is very popular with families with young children. At a slightly higher price point the Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort is also a great option.

7. Hike the Na Muang Waterfalls

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Na Muang Waterfalls are one of the most scenic hikes you can do in Koh Samui.
Na Muang Waterfalls

Na Muang Waterfalls, known as ‘Purple Waterfalls’ due to the striking color of their rock faces, are accessible via a scenic pathway leading through the jungle. These natural waterfalls cascade into large, picturesque pools that are perfect for swimming. The area is also ideal for picnicking and hiking, offering a cooling retreat from the beach’s heat. If you have the time, this is a great day trip on Koh Samui.

8. Learn Muay Thai

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Taking classes at a Muay Thai gym is a popular activity on Koh Samui.
Dock & Kitty Muay Thai Gym

Embrace the spirit and intensity of Thailand’s national sport by engaging in Muay Thai training in Koh Samui. This martial art, known as “the art of eight limbs,” combines the use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins in a stand-up striking and clinching technique. Koh Samui offers a fantastic opportunity to learn from experienced and passionate instructors in authentic settings, ranging from professional gyms to more intimate training camps scattered around the island.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to understand the basics or an experienced fighter aiming to hone your skills, the island’s Muay Thai schools cater to all levels. Training in a traditional environment, you’ll not only improve your physical fitness and fighting technique but also gain a deeper appreciation of the cultural significance of Muay Thai in Thailand. Sessions often include conditioning workouts, pad work, heavy bag drills, and sparring, all tailored to your fitness level and experience.

Many gyms offer flexible schedules, with options for private or group classes, and even all-inclusive packages that cover accommodation and meals. This immersive experience allows you to live like a local fighter, eating, sleeping, and training in a way that embodies the true Muay Thai lifestyle. If you want to learn Muay Thai during your stay on Koh Samui, check out these gyms.

  • Evolution Samui Muay Thai Retreat: Blends fitness and Muay Thai Located in Lamai
  • Dock & Kitty Muay Thai Gym: Located in Lamai
  • Sing Samui Muay Thai: Located in Chaweng
  • Super 8 Muay Thai Gym: Located in Chaweng
  • Tom Muay Thai: Located near Chaweng

9. Explore Ang Thong National Marine Park

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Visiting Ang Thong is one of the most popular day trips from Koh Samui.
Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park is a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. This protected area is renowned for its natural beauty, encompassing towering limestone mountains, lush jungles, white-sand beaches, waterfalls, and hidden coves. A visit here can include snorkeling among coral reefs, sea kayaking, and hiking up to panoramic viewpoints, especially the view from Koh Mae Ko, which offers a stunning vista of a saltwater lake called the Emerald Lake.

10. Take a Thai Cooking Class

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Taking a cooking class at Lamai Thai Cooking School is a popular way to learn about Thai cuisine.
Lamai Thai Cooking School

If you want to learn about authentic Thai cuisine, then a fun way might be to take a cooking class. Most of the cooking classes in Koh Samui are designed to be interactive and hands-on. Sometimes you even start with a trip to a local market where they learn about the ingredients used in Thai cooking.

Some of the cooking classes in Koh Samui to look into are:

11. Explore the Secret Buddha Garden

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The Secret Buddha Garden, also known as Tarnim Magic Garden is a sculpture park in the hills of Koh Samui.
Secret Buddha Garden

The Secret Buddha Garden, also known as Tarnim Magic Garden or Heaven’s Garden, is a hidden gem tucked away in the lush hills of Koh Samui. Created by a local farmer named Nim Thongsuk, who started building the garden in 1976 when he was 77 years old, this enchanting site offers a unique spiritual and artistic experience. Because of the rugged terrain, the best way to get there is on a guided tour. But you can go there yourself if you have a suitable truck. Some hiking is also required at the end.

12. Watch a Muay Thai Fight

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Attending a Muay Thai fight is one of the best things to do in Koh Samui.
Muay Thai fight at the stadium in Chaweng

If you didn’t already know, it won’t take you long walking around Koh Samui to realize that Muay Thai is a big deal here. You’ll see training gyms, billboards, and even trucks driving around with speakers advertising upcoming fights. If you want to experience fights in person, there are two places with quite different atmospheres to do this.

  1. Samui International Muay Thai Stadium: This is a true stadium with bleacher seating. You will need to buy tickets in advance or at the door, and they can get a bit expensive. It is on Soi Reggae, about a 20-minute walk from the main area of Chaweng Beach.
  2. Lamai Boxing Stadium: This is located right in the main downtown area of Lamai and does not require a ticket. You just need to buy beer or other beverages from the surrounding bars.

13. Visit the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks

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Visiting the Grandfather and Grandmother rocks on Lamai Beach are a popular thing to do in Koh Samui.
Grandfather Rock

The Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks, also known as Hin Ta and Hin Yai, are famous natural rock formations located on the south end of Lamai Beach. These rocks have become a popular tourist attraction due to their unusual shapes, which resemble male and female genitalia.

There’s a local legend associated with these rocks that tells the story of an old couple, whose ship was wrecked in the area as they were traveling to a neighboring province to arrange a marriage for their son. It is said that their bodies were transformed into these rocks as a symbol of their intention to become in-laws.

After visiting the rock formations, stop by the popular Jamaican-themed Rock Bar.

14. Walk Around Wat Plai Laem

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Visiting Wat Plai Laem is one of the best things to do in Koh Samui. It is a short walk from Big Buddha.
Wat Plai Laem

Wat Plai Laem is a beautiful and vibrant temple complex located just a 20-minute walk from Big Buddha. It features an impressive 18-arm statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, as well as the statue of the Chinese Laughing Buddha.

The temple reflects both Chinese and Thai influences in its architectural design, making it a striking example of the cultural blend present in the area.

The complex is situated on a lake, which adds to its serene and picturesque setting. Visitors can often see a variety of fish in the lake, and feeding the fish is considered to bring good luck. Wat Plai Laem is a place of active worship, so visitors can witness local religious practices and ceremonies.

15. Visit Koh Tao and Koh Phangan

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Koh Tao is a popular island to visit in Thailand, near Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan
Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Samui is perfectly positioned for exploring nearby islands such as Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. Koh Tao is particularly famous for its excellent scuba diving sites, while Koh Phangan draws crowds for its full moon parties. Both islands offer unique landscapes, from lush jungles to sandy beaches, making them perfect day trips by speedboat or ferry. You can catch the ferry to Koh Pha Ngan from Nathon Town on the west side of the island.

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