Busy Samui has a host of entertainment apart from the usual beach outings. That includes a number of important temples and Buddhist sites to visit. Wat Phra Yai is home to Samui's primary landmark, the Big Buddha, more than 12m (39 ft.) tall and the most important temple for the local islanders. It is set on Ko Faan, a small islet connected to the shore on the northeast coast by a causeway, with shops and restaurants at the base. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
Two temples in Samui hold bodies of mummified monks, which some may find ghoulishly interesting. The most popular is Wat Khunaram, along the main road (Rte. 4169) as it shoots inland far south of Lamai. Here the mummified body of monk Loung Pordaeng is in the same meditation position, or mudra, as when he died over 20 years ago.
Four engraved imprints of the Lord Buddha's Footprint are held in a shrine near the turnoff to the Butterfly Farm off the 4170 Road near Laem Din. At the southernmost end of Lamai Beach lie Ko Samui's two famous rocks, Hin Ta and Hin Yai, Grandfather and Grandmother Stone, respectively. They have always caused a stir due to their likeness to male and female genitalia (you can guess which is which). The rocks are seen as strong fertility symbols, and local myth has it that these rocks were where a people known as the Mui originated.
Just across Route 4169 from Wat Khunaram is the dirt track leading up to the Na Muang Falls, one of which reveals a large bathing pool (be careful of sharp rocks). You can walk the steamy 5km (3-mile) trek from the coast road to the falls or take the easier route on the back of an elephant (any travel agency in town can arrange this). Once you've finished your picnic, visit the Wang Saotong Waterfall a little farther off-road on the other side of Route 4169. Caution: Due to a fatal accident at a waterfall in 2007, visitors are warned to be aware of the likelihood of sudden landslides here during heavy rain.
Almost every hotel from luxury to mid-range will offer on-site cooking classes, but we recommend escaping the resort grounds for one of the daily Thai cooking and fruit-carving lessons at Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts (SITCA) (www.sitca.com; tel. 07741-3172). It’s a highly professional operation with friendly, knowledgeable teachers. And a class here is a great way to meet other visitors—especially if your beach plans get rained out. Classes meet daily at 11am and 4pm and cost 1,850B.
Island Organics Thai Cooking Class (www.islandorganicssamui.com; tel. 089731-6814) sources almost all the ingredients needed for class from their organic garden where more than 70 types of herbs, fruits, and vegetables grow. Students not only cook, they pick Thai eggplants for green curry, chilies for spice, and fruits like roseapple for dessert. The open-air kitchen has individual cooking stations for hands-on learning and the affable husband and wife duo that run the class keep things personal and informative. Learn to make four dishes for 2,200B. Classes available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Like many places in Thailand, the spa scene has really taken off on Samui. All the big, international five-star resorts, such as Anantara, offer top-range (and top-priced) treatments by well-trained staff. But there are also some reasonably priced haunts too, including a number of good day spas for those wanting a serious and dedicated wellness retreat. Whether as an escape from the kids on a rainy day or as part of a larger health-focused mission, Samui has all the services you'll need.
Ban Sabai, on Big Buddha Beach (tel. 07724-5175; www.ban-sabai.com), has a wide range of therapies that take place in one of two teak Thai houses or in a sala at the beach side. Personal attention is the hallmark in this little Garden of Eden. Two houses are available for booking as part of a package or simply as a relaxing accommodation. Treatments start around 2,600B.
The highly respected day spa Tamarind Springs (tel. 07723-0571; www.tamarindsprings.com) is set on a palm-clad hillside just above the beach at Lamai and is a rare place that truly takes you back to nature. The natural herbal steam room sandwiched between huge, smooth boulders is awesome; after a few minutes, you'll savor slipping into the outdoor plunge pool. Book well in advance.
Absolute Sanctuary (www.absolutesanctuary.com; tel. 07760-1190) couples detox programs and nutrition consultations with spa treatments, yoga, and Pilates. The programs take place at the retreat’s Moroccan-inspired compound on the beach. A three-day signature detox package starts at 44,900B.
Traditional massage is available at any number of storefronts in Chaweng and along the beach. Expect to pay between 200B and 400B per hour for services; it's much the same as the average spa, but without the pomp, ceremony, or incense.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.