It was May, and I was still without a job. Almost three months had passed since my last trip to Bali, and that meant only one thing – my tourist visa was about to expire, so the only thing that needed to be done was plan a short vacation outside Malaysia. I chose Koh Samui in Thailand, where my friend lives, as the destination for my trip.
It’s so easy to look up a “guide to..” or “top things to do..” for Koh Samui, so I thought I would share with you what I discovered during my visit. And yes, I WILL be mentioning the architecture as even though I knew it would be beautiful, seeing it in person was, well, incredible!
Getting to Koh Samui
I decided to buy a bus ticket to travel as cheaply as possible. A 15-hour journey awaited me, but the ticket only cost me 90 RM ($25); that’s a good deal! The trip was without problems, and I slept most of it anyway. Upon arrival, I wondered how to get to Mae Nam. Everywhere I read advised me not to get a taxi here – because of the local mafia, it is the most expensive way to move around the island. I stood on the main road for a moment, looking for something that resembled a bus stop, and at that moment, a songthaew (see photo) offered me a ride to Mae Nam for 80 Baht.
Koh Samui is not a small island, and if you want to explore it, the best (and cheapest) way is to rent a scooter or motorbike. I rented a small scooter which was a mistake, as I found out later. If you want to explore the hills of Koh Samui, make sure you hire something more powerful. I had to push my mini-scooter a few times. You must come to terms with the locals not following any driving code. Although I have a driver’s license for bikes and haven’t driven for about ten years, I still enjoyed it and had almost no problems. Just always wear a helmet and try to drive safely.
You can get a map of the island in most hotels and ask the locals for hidden places they recommend you visit. Then the next thing on the list is to forget the map and just get lost. Indeed, it is one of the best ways to discover the hidden treasures of Koh Samui.
1. Big Buddha
The first place I visited in Koh Samui was Big Buddha, which is close to the airport. Big Buddha is a giant! A twelve-meter-tall Buddha, which majestically sits and looks out across the landscape, is visible from afar. When you climb a few dozen steps, the views across the bay towards Ko Som and Ko Pha-Ngan are spectacular, making the walk up the steep staircase worthwhile.
The stairs are guarded on each side by brightly painted and mosaic-clad Nagas (Thai mythical sea serpents that protected the Buddha while he slept). Once you’re at the top, you’re right at the base of the Buddha statue. You can light a candle yourself, look at the surroundings or enjoy the sea breeze while you gaze over the bay. There’s a walkway around the statue’s base, which is hung with ornate prayer bells. You can grasp the wooden log and softly ring the bells. Buddhism believers focus only on presence. Therefore they ring the bells to bring attention from the future worries and fears from the past to the present. Remember to kneel and face your feet away from Buddha when praying here. Also, try never to turn your back on the Buddha. The monks consider it very rude.
Before you leave this temple complex, you can wander around small shops of jewellery, clothing and accessories, and souvenirs. You can also try out your Thai bargaining skills. The vendors more or less expect you to do so, and the friendlier you are with them, the better price you’ll get.
2. Wat Plai Laem
Just along the road, a bit further northeast, is Wat Plai Laem, my favourite place to visit. This temple complex is famous for its own huge Chinese “fat” Laughing Buddha statue, which makes”me “mile whenever I look at it, and the 20-metre tall statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, with her nine sets of arms, each representing a sector of Buddhism.
This place is so picturesque that I had to come here twice. Once during the day, when it was so hot that I was the only one there. The second time, I went during the sunset. Some fantastic photos were created during this time because the sunrays still lit the statues, but everything else was already dark.
3. Secret Buddha Garden
Once upon a time, a humble farmer imagined mythical beings when he looked at the rocks and hillsides of a small valley, and he started carving the stones into the figures he saw. Today his valley, usually known as either Magic Garden, Secret Buddha Garden or Heaven’s Garden, is a poignant testimony to the almost miraculous drive that dreamHeaven’sovoke. Much of what you see in the garden comes from the rich tapestry of Thai mythology, which originates in India.
It’s easy to visit, but because it’s relatively far from the ring road, few visitors include it on their itinerary, so I had the whole garden just for myself.
The garden is located on the hill Khun Nim Peak. Taking the concrete road from Ban Saket, you head straight up into the hills (don’t worry; the road is immaculate – no 4-wheel drive vehicles needed here!). Continue up the road until you come to the garden signs at the top of the hill on the right-hand side. Bring your camera – you’ll need it once you get to the garden. Don’t forget to bring 80 Baht – the price to enter the garden.
4. Temple Teepangkorn
When you are trying to find places to visit, you will not find much information about this place. I noticed it on the map while looking where Secret Buddha Garden is. It is about 4 km far from the garden. When I looked at the map, it seemed there was a regular road.
I was expecting a road similar to the one that leads to the garden. I was wrong. So wrong. It was a rocky road identical to the ones for motocross. Alone on my mini scooter, I scrambled through the jungle. It was a great and crazy adventure! It was so bumpy that my phone and glasses fell out of my scooter. Fortunately, locals who drove in a jeep behind me found it. When I realized I had lost my phone, I started panicking, turned my scooter and drove back to look for it. Along the way, I saw the jeep, which started honking at me. I stopped, and young boys peeked out the window and handed me my phone and glasses! I was so lucky to meet them!
Google showed me that the path to the Buddha takes only 15 minutes, but it took me about half an hour. It was hard, but it was worth it. The view over Lamai was breathtaking. I was about to leave the complex when one old monk told me to visit another building. Inside, I found a museum with the things and tools that locals used for farming, ranching, hunting, etc. On the top floor, the stairs lead outside to the observation tower, from where you have a magnificent view of the Buddha looking at the sea.
Later, I found on the internet that agencies are offering a safari trip there only with jeeps with 4×4. I’m not surprised at all! The road back to Lamai was also very adventurous, and I saw many signs saying “motocross trail” 😀
5. Secret monk and his cave
Also one of the spots you won’t find on the internet. Thanks to the “Geocaching” app, I found it almost like a treasure hunt. I could see only the sign on the map, and the compass showed me the direction and the distance.
The secret monk is hidden somewhere on the coast. There was no path to this place on the map, so I ended up at Four Seasons resort, which was closest to the spot. However, they told me they had never heard of that place, and I could not get there through their grounds.
After a few wrong turns, I found out that I must first go to Beryl Bar. From the bar, a small path led to the cave. After 10 minutes of walking along the rocky coast (I recommend sturdy shoes or trainers), I reached a tunnel that led to the monk’s cave. But you don’t need to go through it. You can just walk around. There was nobody but me, a monk statue gazing at the sea and a cave filled with Buddha statues. You can notice a bed and some dishes in the cave; they even dry their clothes there.
I was a little nervous because I was told the monks lived there, so I waited a bit to see if someone would show up. After returning to Beryl Bar, I was told by the owner that no one lives there anymore, but monks still regularly go there.
Relax is needed too in Koh Samui.
After all my crazy adventurous travels, I planned a relaxing escape for my last three days. I spent one night at the private ‘resort’ Sandalwood Luxury Villas, located on a cliff-top part of Lamai. Sandalwood Luxury Villas has only ten private villas and a breathtaking view of Chaweng beach and a large part of the island. You can read more about it here.
Then I visited Tongsai Bay resort located close to Wat Plei Laem. Tongsai Bay is much bigger than Sandalwood Luxury Villas, yet it is very peaceful, and you can enjoy your private villa. In addition, all the villas have stunning views of the beach and the bay. More about my experience at this resort is here.
My week went fast, and I had to leave this wonderful paradise. I plan to return one day and see other spots I didn’t have time to visit.
Koh Samui is a genuinely fantastic place that I can’t recommend enough. It surprised and amazed me to the max, making a brilliant week away!
Have you been to Koh Samui? Were you amazed by anything there?