I like big Buddhas, you know I just can’t lie. Koh Samui has its mega-Buddha on a small island/causeway at the northeast corner of the map. I had ONE day on Samui before my tragic spill on the mo-to’ bi’ and Preamtip flew down from Bangkok (BKK) for it and we did a circle tour of the island. Locals begin the day by taking their buffalo for a swim. (This was just down the beach from the Imperial Samui where we were staying.)
The first attraction was a temple called Wat Khunaram. An otherwise forgetable temple complex is a must-see thanks to Loung Pordaen, who died in the meditative position, and is so preserved. Natural mummification apparently and over 20 years. Believers of course find it a miracle. I know mummies need to have their eyes covered but a pair of shades somehow lacks the solemnity that a dead holy man should convey. Kinda cool, kinda creepy.
Every culture has its “Hey, doesn’t that look like some dude’s willie?” place and Koh Samui is no exception. At one of the island’s most scenic little spots, Hin Ta and Hin Yai (Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks), you can have a giggle and take in a nice view of the sea. I was going to say Find the Phallus, but the picture is pretty small and in this case size and resolution surely matter.
Namuang Waterfall is the tallest and during the height of “summer” (March-April) you may find that the waterfalls are more like waterdrips. But this little number still had a decent amount of water. Workers at an elephant trekking camp at the top will tell you to ride an elephant there and that it is quite a hike. Truth is it might be ten minutes walking to the view of the falls. However, another 15 minutes of strenuous hiking up a rock, sand and tree root trail will take you to a wonderful little swimming hole with very cool water and a place to feel the weight of the falls on your now sunbaked head. Locals camp out (or perhaps even live) at the bottom and will entice you to follow them to the top. They expect a tip when it’s over. It may seem like an annoyance but honestly they know the path well and will show you a few things you might not notice if you explore alone. We were short on small bills and gave the guy 200 baht (about $6.50) and he seemed pleased about it. (Hint: you can park at the elephant camp, but there is also a road that goes closer still and should be safe to leave a motorbike if there are people around that day)
Certainly there is no shortage of fine restaurants at the many resorts on the island, but a local seaside gem just north of Nathon (Na Thon, Nathorn) is The Big Jiew. This concrete slab and pavilion eatery with a huge papier-mache shark is the place for homecooked-style fresh seafood. The prawns approach small lobster size and you can see them and doomed fish in tanks along the road outside. We had shrimp with fried garlic (they fry the skins of the cloves as well, interesting and good), fried shark, and some delicious tom yam soup spicy enough to make one’s forehead sweat and nose run. Prices were MUCH cheaper than the resort equivalent. This is a long haul from the popular Chaweng Beach area on the opposite side of the island, but worth the trip.
The nightlife on Samui is shopping and bars much like Phuket and Pattaya. An expensive bar with a great nightview is Q Bar overlooking Chaweng Beach. Evening cocktails or late-night disco. The beaches on the island are ok. Some are a bit rocky or shallow. Jetskis are in abundance But for snorkeling and diving, you generally get taken to nearby Koh Tao (Turtle Island). In fact, I highly recommend a backpacker or very quite simple resort stay there if you are looking to get certified to dive. I was there last year and will post a page about that on my website and a short video soon.
The airport in Samui (USM) was great. Open air (but with a few places to duck into some a/c) and lots of free drinks and snacks and even internet kiosks at the gates. Bangkok Airways used to have a hold on the island, but Thai Airlines has recently started service. BA is expensive generally but both airlines offer occasional deals on their websites.