YOUR GUIDE TO KOH SAMUI
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Wats & Temples
Wat is the Thai word for temple, and thanks to the continuing strong influence of Buddhist culture these centres of spiritual contemplation are still regarded as sacred all over the country. Young men are advised by their parents to serve a monk's apprenticeship in their local Wat, and many local festivals, as well as births, deaths, marriages and other important events for Thai people take place at their local Wat. Samui has quite a large number of these elegant buildings for such a small island, which gives foreign visitors ample opportunity to enjoy the flamboyant architecture and peaceful surroundings while they learn a little more about the culture.
Wat Phra Yai: this much visited Wat is named after the 17m famous golden Buddha statue that graces the headland separating Ban Plai Laem from Big Buddha Beach. There are some excellent souvenir and craft shops scattered around the car parking area, including a skilled silversmith and Batik painter, as well as cafes and a tattoo artist. During big festivals such as Songkran (Thai New Year in April) and Loi Kratong (the Festival of Light in November), the temple comes alive with foodstalls and concerts.
Wat Plai Laem: this is a newly constructed and very ornate temple just around the corner from the Big Buddha statue. The elaborate entry doors were made from two enormous slabs of Laotian hardwood and are intricately carved with images of the life of the Buddha. Temple artist Jarit Phumdonming spent more than three years adding the fine details to the temple's exteriors and it's certainly a kaleidoscope of colour and design. The tradition of temple art dates back centuries and Wat Plai Laem provides a good example of the influences and styles that are still important in modern Thai religious architecture.
Wat Khunaram: The main tourist interest here is in a famous shrine to the mummified monk, known when alive as Loung Por Daeng. This highly respected monk was preserved for public viewing when he died around 20 years ago and today still sits in a glass case meditating. There is a special gazebo housing the monk and next to his remains you can get your fortune read using ancient numerology sticks.
Wat Sumret: This is a very interesting and ancient temple with an ancient Chinese wooden meeting hall within its walls. It also houses the Secret Hall of the Buddhas, that once boasted a fine and valuable collection of Buddha images from around Thailand. Sadly, thieves have slowly but surely made off with the more valuable statues from the collection and the door to the hall now remains permanently locked to protect what has survived their greed. The caretaker will take you to see the Buddhas, and it's still possible to snap a few good photos of the statues which sit in eerie congregation wearing the trademark orange robes of Thai monks. There is also a small cemetery with a number of stone Chedi marking the remains of ancestors passed, including a few foreign monks and practitioners who dedicated themselves to following a Buddhist path. Wat Sumret is located 200m down a concrete road on the left hand side as you leaveHua Thanon Village .
Wat Laem Sor/Pagoda: a beautiful golden Chedi or pagoda sits on the rocks overlooking the sea in the grounds of Wat Laem Sor. The golden effect is actually an optical illusion caused by hundreds of yellow tiles which have been combined to produce an attractive, ornate structure that is well worth a visit. The Chedi is located on the most remote southern part of the island between the villages of Baan Tale and Baan Pang Ka.
Wat Sila Ngu: This Wat is also believed to house artefacts of the Lord Buddha and is a popular location for festivals. A golden Chedi faces the temple and attracts plenty of people as a place of worship and meditation. The temple is situated on the beach side of the island road about 1 km south of Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks.
Koh Samui is the largest and most developed island in the region, but there are also several other islands close by. The most visited of these are Koh Phangan (home of the famous full-moon party) and Koh Tao, a Mecca for scuba divers. Smaller islands are scattered off the coast of all three of these popular destinations, and it is also possible to visit the impressive Ang Thong National Marine Park archipelago located in the oceans south of Koh Samui. In fact, for those who feel like a bit of island hopping, the choices are vast and varied.
Koh Phangan: this is Koh Samui's sister island located about half an hour north by boat. When Samui began to develop into an international resort destination Koh Phangan took over as the cheaper, quieter alternative. Nowadays it is fast catching up with Samui and has developed its own form of mass backpacker tourism. The monthly full moon party is the biggest example of this with an average of eight thousand young revellers descending on Hoad Rin Beach to dance until dawn. Beyond the party it's still possible to find that desert island feeling on Koh Phangan with swathes of untouched beaches and isolated natural attractions.
Koh Tan: is just off the south western coast of Koh Samui near Thong Krut fishing village, and is a tiny island treasure known for it's coral and marine life. The inshore reef here is home to several fascinating and endangered species including the giant clam, fan corals and a wide variety of fish species. The island can be reached by fishing boat, and as well as snorkelling on the reef there are also some interesting caves to explore. Koh Tan is famous in local folklore because there are no dogs on the island. Apparently, any dog that has been taken to live there has quickly gone insane, but fortunately people seem not to befall that same fate.
Koh Matsum: is next to Koh Tan and also an interesting spot for a day trip with a long sandy beach. Local Thai holidaymakers favour this island as a place for a picnic, and there are often groups of students camping on the beach or singing songs around the campfire. There is also a pearl farm here and it may be possible to have a look around with prior permission.
Ang Thong (or 'Golden Basin') Marine National Park is made up of 40 islands lying northwest of Koh Samui, featuring limestone massifs, tropical rainforests and beaches, Particular features are Mae Koh (a beautiful beach) and Thale Nai (an emerald saltwater lake), both on Koh Mae Koh and Koh Sam Sao, which has a coral reef and a hugh rock arch as well as a hill providing good views of the surrounding islands. The area is the major spawning ground of the short-bodied mackerel, a popular fish in Thailand. There is also good snorkelling (the main attraction), swimming and walking. It is also possible to hire accommodation on Koh Wat Talap, where the film 'The Beach' was made. Five guest houses are available at the National Park's Headquarters: sleeping 10-12 people each, but tents are also available for rent. Tours go daily from Nathon Pier, and it is possible to leave the tour, stay on Koh Wua Talap and rejoin it several days later.
Koh Nangyuan: is also part of the marine park, but situated a little further away from Samui near Koh Tao. This fabulous white sand beach sits alone out at sea and is connected to two small offshore inlets. With just one dive resort in operation here it's a beautiful secluded spot for a day trip to go swimming, snorkelling and even picnicking.
The waters around Koh Samui are warm, clear and full of interesting sea life. This makes the area ideal for diving and snorkelling trips, and in recent years the small islands scattered in the sea around Koh Tao have become increasingly popular with underwater adventurers from all over the world. There are several Dive School(s) based on Samui and below is a list of the sites they regularly visit on dive expeditions:
Sail Rock: probably the most famous dive site in the region. Sail Rock is a 40m pinnacle that rises 15m above the surface of the sea. The rock plays host to literally thousands of fish as well as other vibrant marine species such as Sea Anemones, and during certain seasons it may even be possible to spot White sharks and Manta Rays in the vicinity. There is also a spectacular 'chimney' rock formation that is big enough to swim through from 18m to 6m where the light entering the tunnel makes for some impressive underwater views. Sail rock is located 45km from Koh Samui and half way between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Chumphon Pinnacles: another impressive location situated 11km northwest of Koh Tao. The one large, and several smaller rocky outcroppings attract Pink Anemone fish, Batfish, and large shoals of larger fish like Barracuda and Jacks. The main pinnacle starts 14m below the surface and drops to a depth of 36m. It may also be possible to see large Grouper at Chumhpon pinnacles as well as other pelagic species like the Sharks and Rays that seasonally visit Sail Rock.
Southwest Pinnacles: as the name suggests, this series of steep, rocky towers that start at 30m and rise to 5m are situated in the open sea to the South West of Koh Tao. Sea life here includes spectacular Leopard Sharks resting in the sandy seabed, plus more shoals of Barracuda and the occasional Blue Spotted Ray, as well as a host of smaller but equally fascinating marine species.
Shark Island: so named due to populations of Reef and Leopard Sharks that frequent the deeper waters around a small island. This is another very popular site situated very close to Koh Tao with a gentle slope down to 25m making it excellent for novice divers and divers in training. The colourful coral gardens and large numbers of reef fish such as Angel and Banner fish make this an enjoyable multi-level dive. Keep an eye out for resident Hawksbill Turtles.
Green Rock: situated to the north of Koh Nangyuan, near Koh Tao the large boulder formations of Green Rock have created a series of spectacular swim throughs that provide a haven for a range of fabulous creatures like the white-eyed Moray eel, the blue spotted ray and some lively but aggressive Pink Tigerfish that hide in the sand. Closer to the surface brightly coloured Parrot fish feed from the rock and you may also spot a Hawksbill turtle as it glides gracefully by.
Nangyuan Pinnacle and Twins: The popular day trip and snorkelling island of Koh Nangyuan also offers good diving opportunities with three dive sites located in its immediate vicinity. Nangyuan pinnacle is a short swim from the main island and starts a metre below the surface, and the Twins are just off the west coast of Koh Nangyuan and consist of two rock formations from 6m down to 18m. Both sites are frequented by large numbers of tropical reef fish. You can see Clown Fish, Pink Anemone fish and back and white Sergeant Major fish at these sites, and also look out for some large Grouper and colourful Wrasse at the Twins site.
White Rock: is another popular dive site from Koh Tao as it is only 22m deep and therefore good both for beginners and night dives. There are some beautiful Angel, Parrot and Butterfly fish at this site, but watch out for some angry Titan Trigger fish that will dart out to defend their nest if you get too close. At night you can see colourful shellfish, including lobster, as well as some sleeping Parrotfish and less docile Barracuda that follow the divers' lights to feed.
All dive centres offer tuition from a basic one-day introduction to scuba diving on through the Basic Open Water course to full Dive Master courses. All courses are PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) approved.
Anybody wishing to dive with one of the schools here must bring their qualification card and log book with them. BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) qualifications are accepted.
ADVENTURE AND OTHER ACTIVITIES
ATV Tours and Go-Karts: If it's "quad" biking that you want then the ATV tour is the one for you. Part of the circuit leads you through a long stretch of mud that goes down to the Pagoda at Leam Sor, a place of worship located on the beautiful stretch of beach overlooking Koh Tan, and on to rubber plantations. But if quad biking is a little too adventurous for you, then you can always try your hand at Go-Karting for beginners and advanced riders, located just off the ring road, west of Bophut village.
Bungy: An adrenaline-pumping thrill-seekers' sport, Bungy jumping is not for the faint at heart. The bungy platform hovers high in Chaweng near the Reggae Pub.
Canopy Adventure: For those who prefer recreation to lazy days there are several challenging and unusual forms of recreation available on Samui. For the more intrepid the Canopy Adventure at Secret Falls will give you the adrenalin rush of a lifetime. The adventure doesn't require any previous experience or great athletic ability to enjoy. Previous customers have ranged from age 7 to 85 years. All you need is enough strength equivalent to a firm handshake. No climbing is involved and it only takes a short walk past the waterfall up to the training area and the first platform. Experienced instructors teach you how to glide along the six separate cables, covering 500 meters to seven treetop platforms. When the tour is over, you can take a dip in the refreshing lagoon or a shower under the waterfalls.
Crocodile Farm: Samui Crocodile Farm is near the airport. Over an area of 7,000 square metres 100 animals of various kinds can be found including Siam Crocodiles, Saltwater Crocodiles, snakes, monkeys and lizards.
Football Golf: For 'golf' with a difference, try something new and venture to Samui Football Golf in the Choeng Mon beach area, just 10 minutes north of Chaweng. Owner Tom built the first course in Asia and the sport is becoming increasingly popular among the island's visitors. It takes about 10 minutes to complete the course, but remember to aim the football at the metal posts, not in between them!
Golfing: If you fancy a round of golf on an 18 hole championship course, then the Santiburi Country Club course is for you. Set into the hillside, this golf course meets international standards and attracts golf enthusiasts from all over the world.
Kayaking: The Angthong islands between Samui and the mainland offer the best paddling expedition in the gulf. It is a sanctuary for marine life as well as land animals and birds. Kayaking trips are available and offered daily by tour companies.
Namuang Safari Park: Elephant trekking is just one of the many adventures that await you at the Namuang Safari Park. In addition to the breath-taking scenery, there are daily crocodile, elephant and monkey shows. Stroll around Buddha's Magic Garden, go swimming, walking or just enjoy the Thai buffet provided.
Paintball: Paintball games not only offer the thrill of actual jungle warfare but also provide a chance to see something of the Island's greener interior. The paintball range is located near the Samui International Hospital.
Sailing: From November to May, stronger westerly winds challenge windsurfers, and from December to April, there is a defined northeast wind. Sailing crafts such as yachts and catamarans are widely available to rent. There is also an annual regatta with yachts converging on Koh Samui from many parts of the world.