The three sides of Koh Samui

Tranquil temples, turquoise beaches and hidden waterfalls

As the second largest island in Thailand, Koh Samui has more to offer than a Bangkok night market. Palm-fringed coasts boast powder-white sands free from footprints. Hiking paths lead to cascading waterfalls, and Buddhist statues tower over the landscape. The island’s diversity (unsurprisingly) draws in plenty of visitors. But thanks to its size, there are still some lesser-trodden paths waiting to be discovered.

Life’s a beach

Whether you prefer a bustling beach or an empty stretch of sand, there’ll be something for you on this island. For a truly tranquil experience, some of Koh Samui’s best hotels have private beaches. Tongsai Grand Villas is the perfect place to drop off the map and unwind. And thanks to the no watersports rule, you won’t have your swim interrupted by noisy jet skis.

For seafood restaurants to cross oceans for, head to Bang Po beach in the North. Towards the Baan Tai end, you’ll find fishermen in longtail boats reeling in the catch of the day. To feast on their fish, dine out at Krua Bang Po. Propped up by bamboo beams, this authentic Thai restaurant serves fresh fish and classic dishes right on the sand.

Fishing Boat on a Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

If you’d prefer a livelier spot, Bophut Beach blends quintessential island living with a bustling village feel. Beyond the remains of the old pier, anchored sailboats glitter on the horizon, stretching out to Koh Pha Ngan. While you’re here, be sure to explore the Fisherman’s Village. This former hub for local fishing has transformed into a cluster of boutique shops, art galleries and exotic eateries.

Sadly, the surf in Samui is non-existent. But active travellers will be pleased to know that most of the island’s beaches offer a range of activities. From kayaks to paddle boards, you won’t be short of ways to get out on the water. And the ocean is the best place to savour that consistently stunning backdrop.

Chasing waterfalls

Though Koh Samui is known for its beaches, its beauty doesn’t stop at the sea. The island is threaded with spectacular waterfalls, but with so much choice, it can be hard to know where to go. Two of the most picturesque spots are the Na Muang waterfalls. The first one you come to has some great natural diving platforms. The second is slightly further upstream, and is smaller and more tranquil than the first.

Hin Lad Waterfall, Koh Samui, Thailand

However, both of these places can become crowded at peak times and weekends. If you’re a keen hiker, make the journey to Hin Lad waterfall on the other side of the island. After a 40-minute trek through the thick jungle, you’ll come to a peaceful pool, a tumbling waterfall and views well worth the climb. Here, you’ll discover that venturing off the beaten path really does pay off.

Top tip: For a jungle adventure without the effort, take a tour on a jeep. Seek out hidden villages, out-of-the-way waterfalls and have lunch in a remote mountain restaurant.

Glittering temples and secret retreats

A trip to Hin Lad waterfall wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its temple. Tranquil gardens, Buddha sculptures, and meditation areas really give this place an air of calm. After a day of hiking and swimming, it’s a truly idyllic way to unwind.

The Secret Buddha Garden, Koh Samui, Thailand

If you want to make the most of the sunshine, there are plenty of outdoor temples to explore. The Secret Buddha Garden was built by an elderly fruit farmer in 1976. Its lush jungle surrounds cool the otherwise humid air. Unusual, often eerie statues crop up at every turn. And the sound of small flowing waterfalls leads the way, while wildlife rustles through the thick foliage.

Wat Plai Laem Temple, Koh Samui, Thailand

If you’d rather stay close to the coast foryour culture fix, there are plenty of striking temples to choose from. Be sure to save space on your camera before visiting extraordinary Wat Plai Laem. Towering over a lake, the 18-armed statue of Guanyin greets you. Venture further into the temple, and be met by a kaleidoscope of colour. Find the giant laughing Buddha statue, marvel at the intricately-painted ubosot (ceremonial hall), and discover Koh Samui’s rich Chinese heritage.

Top tip: Most of Samui’s temples are active places of worship, so make sure your legs and shoulders are covered if you want to go in.