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Although tiny and compact, Koh Samui packs a big punch. A surprisingly diverse range of activities, attractions, cultural sites and spectacular scenery are packed into the 88-square-mile island off Thailand’s southeastern coast, just an hour’s flight south of Bangkok.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui (“koh” is Thai for island) has become a popular destination for travelers lured by its lush landscape of coconut groves, stretches of white sand, warm turquoise waters, dramatic mountains and rock formations.
The best way to get to the island is via Bangkok Airways, which operates several daily flights between the Thai capital and Koh Samui. However, a more exciting option is to catch a ferry at Donsak Pier near the southern Thai city of Surat Thani, a gateway to nearby islands. It’s an extremely scenic 90-minute boat ride, and once on the island, travelers can easily drive around Koh Samui on a mostly coastal 31-mile ring road.
Along the way, there are ample opportunities to embrace the island’s local culture, scenic beauty, outdoor activities and more. Following are five fun-filled ways to enjoy Koh Samui’s allure.
Adrenaline RushKoh Samui’s optimal wind conditions make the island one of Thailand’s best beach destinations for kiteboarding. Kiteboarding Asia, which has eight locations throughout the country, offers lessons, equipment rentals and excursions for both novices and experts alike.
Clients in search of more adrenaline-pumping activities for the whole family can check out EasyKart and EasyFly, an activity complex that offers go-karting and indoor skydiving. Riders zip around the racetrack on go-karts while taking in panoramic views of Chaweng Lake. EasyFly features a large wind tunnel that blows air upward to simulate skydiving from a plane — no parachute or skydiving skills required.www.kiteboardingasia.comeasykart.net
The Big BuddhaBuilt in 1972 and known as one of the island’s most famous attractions, Wat Phra Yai, (also known as Big Buddha temple), is home to a towering golden Buddha statue that is nearly 40 feet tall.
A long, ornate staircase with a colorful dragon-themed design leads visitors up to the golden Buddha. The majestic temple is actually located on its own tiny island of Koh Faan, accessible via a short connecting road that links the two islands.
Note: Temple visitors should dress appropriately: Wear shirts that cover the shoulders, and avoid skirts or shorts that expose the knees. The temple grounds feature several smaller Buddhas and other ornate statues. Nearby are many souvenir and gift shops, restaurants and vendors selling fresh fruit, flowers and food.
Bound for the BeachThe temptation of sun, surf and sand is hard to resist. For clients who prefer to spend the day relaxing on the water, a popular option is Chaweng Beach. The island’s biggest and busiest strip of sand, Chaweng is ideal for those who want to be in the thick of the action.
For something a little more low-key, head to palm-fringed Lamai Beach to swim, soak up the sun and sip fresh coconut water straight from the source. Vendors stroll the beach selling jewelry, T-shirts, sarongs and snacks. Though not as busy as Chaweng, Lamai has several seafood restaurants, shops, bars, bungalows and resorts. About a mile south of Lamai are the famous rock formations Hin Ta and Hin Yai, or “grandpa and grandma,” that resemble male and female anatomy.
Other good beach options include serene Lipa Noi and the laid-back Maenam, two idyllic spots perfect for taking long strolls at sunset on the soft sand.
Fisherman’s Village Located in Bophut on Koh Samui’s northern coast, the historical Fisherman’s Village is the place to go for shopping, dining, live entertainment and more. This charming, lively area is filled with rustic wooden structures and narrow, winding alleyways. On Friday evenings, Fisherman’s Village hosts a popular street market with dozens of vendors offering food, crafts, souvenirs and more.
Krua Chao BaanThis popular beachside restaurant with a thatched roof has a relaxed, rustic vibe and tempts the taste buds with traditional Thai dishes and fresh seafood plucked from local waters. The extensive menu features fiery southern Thai curries; noodle dishes such as pad Thai; fried or steamed whole fish with fresh herbs and tamarind sauce; tiger prawns; mango salad; and other delicacies. The restaurant is also open in the mornings, so visitors can start their day with a Thai or Western breakfast, along with sweeping views and the sea breeze.