Busy Samui has a host of entertainment apart from the usual beach outings. Have a look at "Exploring Ko Samui," at the end of this section, for more outdoor activities and happenings.
Many of the sites below can be seen on day trips or combined with jungle tours in jeeps, such as Mr Ung's Magical Safari Tour (tel. 07723-0114; www.ungsafari.com), starting at a reasonable 1,700B (children 1,100B). Join in and enjoy the adventure -- even lunch is taken care of. There are also several companies offering trips with multichoice activities, including quad biking, jungle coaster cable rides, and even mountain biking -- so look around to find the best travel agent for you.
Samui has 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.
You can escape the heat with the kids at Samui's latest attraction, Paradise Park Farm (tel. 07760-1015; http://paradiseparkfarm.net; daily 9am-6pm; adults 300B, children 100B). The cool mountain air of the island's interior will be a welcome relief as you walk through towering natural rocks surrounded by waterfalls, small rivers, canyons, wildlife animals, and exotic birds. Here you can learn about rubber tapping and local flora and fauna. You can then dine in the restaurant, relax in the infinity pool with spectacular views down the valley, or unwind in the spa.
Also well worth a visit is the Magic Statue Garden, if only for the trek deep into the jungle-clad mountains. Built by local farmer Nim Thongsuk in 1976, when he was 77, it is now proudly maintained by his son. The road is challenging, so book with a tour company such as Mr Ung's Magical Safari Tour (tel. 07723-0114; www.ungsafari.com).
The more adventurous can try being Tarzan and swing through the jungle with Canopy Adventures (tel. 07741-4150-1; www.canopyadventuresthailand.com; 1,700B adults, 1,250B children). Or, if you prefer a quicker adrenaline rush, Samui Bungy (tel. 07741-4252) is just next to the Reggae Bar.
If you don't intend to snorkel, but would like to sample some underwater life, Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo (tel. 07742-4017-8; www.samuiorchid.com) is open daily from 9am to 5pm at Samui Orchid Resort, Laem Set Beach, and costs 600B (300B for children).
Most Thai tourist spots have a snake show, and Samui's snake farm is at the far southwest corner of the island, on 4170 Road (tel. 07742-3247; http://samuisnakefarm.com), with daily shows at 11am and 2pm. Tickets cost 250B. Samui Crocodile Farm (tel. 07723-9002) also has reptiles and monkeys. It's open from midday to 5:30pm daily and costs 500B for adults, 250B for children. At the Samui Monkey Theater (tel. 07796-0128-9), just south of Bophut village, on 4169 Road, you can see "working" demonstrations of monkeys collecting coconuts. Show times are at 10:30am, 2pm, and 4pm daily; entrance is 300B for adults, 150B for children.
Watch out also for notices about seasonal buffalo fights, which vary according to Thai holidays. Rather than being bloody affairs, the animals in these competitions don't actually gore each other -- the losing steer simply runs off to fight another day. These rituals are steeped in animist traditions and superstition, with special offerings and prayers made to the buffalo before the matches, and of course a huge amount of betting and boozing accompanying the fights.
For daily Thai cooking and fruit-carving lessons, try Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts (SITCA; tel. 07741-3172; www.sitca.net), which is a professional operation with a friendly cooking school; it's a great way to have fun and meet others -- especially if your beach plans get rained out. After the course, you can invite a guest to dine with you at a group meal. Classes meet daily at 11am and 4pm and cost 1,950B; they accept all major credit cards. Call for more details, or pop into the Institute on the Chaweng Beach strip, across from the Centara Grand Beach Resort.
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 1,200B for an hour's facial massage.
Eranda Herbal Spa, just north of Chaweng, on the road to Choeng Mon (tel. 07742-2666; www.erandaspa.com), is set in tropical gardens with plunge pools, steam rooms, and Jacuzzis on a high perch above Chaweng Bay -- so you get sea views while getting pampered. Choose from an open communal sala or luxury private pavilions with their own steam rooms and Jacuzzis.
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.
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.
Another gem is Natural Wing Health Spa & Resort (tel. 07742-0871; www.naturalwing.com), on Bang Por Beach (near the Four Seasons Resort), a spa resort with rooms from 1,800B and villas for 2,200B; wellness holiday packages are also available. Prices include daily breakfast and detox (cleansing) and slimming programs, in conjunction with acupuncture and a variety of spa treatments. Natural Wing also has a small restaurant offering Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
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.