Samui isn’t a destination that comes to mind when one thinks of cultural activities, but the island does offer a variety of attractions and activities that offer vacationers an insight into the intriguing culture of the Thais. And our list of must-do activities is a good way to start:
Explore Samui’s bustling night markets
Bustling with crowds and brimming with energy, a visit to one of Samui’s famed night markets is not to be missed. At each and every night market you’ll find the usual suspects: ubiquitous ‘I love Thailand’ tees, handicrafts, “designer” handbags and fashion accessories.
Even if you’re not looking to buy any souvenirs, exploring the maze of stalls is quite an experience in itself. Don’t be in any hurry to leave – not without making a stop by at the myriad food stalls to sample an assortment of Thai street food fare.
Join in a Thai cooking class
Cuisine and culture – you can’t have one without the other, and joining in a cooking class is one of the best ways to gain an insight into a foreign culture. Culinary classes are aplenty in Samui, with places like Ying’s Thai Cooking Home and Pai Cooking Class offering an inviting, home-style ambience for a truly local experience.
The Thai Experience gives a twist to the typical dine-in experience; meals are enjoyed in a finely appointed dining hall, with travellers, expat guides and locals joining in at your dinner table. This is a fun-filled dinner party that comes complete with fascinating conversations, home-crafted cocktails and three-course meals that showcase the best of Thai cuisine.
Set sight on the renowned temples of Samui
Colourful, ornate and wonderfully preserved, the mystical temples of Samui are as much travel attractions, as they are sites of worship. The renowned Big Buddha Temple, with its gold and glittering Buddha statue promises an unforgettable sight.
Other sites that come with our recommendations include the Laem Sor Pagoda, a golden structure set along the rocky coasts of Bang Kao, as well as Wat Sila Ngu, with an exterior featuring intricate carvings and a striking red hue.
Discover Samui’s history through a museum visit
While Samui doesn’t have a reputation for being a cultural hub, there are a couple of museums that are worth a visit. The Wat Lamai Temple Folklore Museum is one such attraction; set within the grounds of the famous Wat Lamai Temple, the museums give visitors an insight into the history of Samui and Thai culture with its collection of Buddhist artefacts, brass statues, stone carvings and earthenware pots.
The Dusit Dhewa, or Samui Cultural Center and Fine Arts of Southeast Asia, is quite a hidden gem. This little-known attraction boasts an imposing entrance, a vast garden filled with myriad stone statues, a pavilion displaying a variety of dance costumes and accessories and a small building housing a collection of artwork.
Enjoy a traditional Thai dance and dining experience
A meal at the Spirit House Village is an unordinary experience that should be on the itinerary of any culture buff. It ticks off all the right boxes for soaking in the fascinating culture of the Thais: traditional architecture, artwork, food, music and dance.
Celebrate Thai festivals like a local
Local festivals are fascinating affairs that offer an intriguing insight into the culture of the Thais. Being dunked with a bucket of ice-cold water may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but for those who enjoy shooting a water gun at random passer-bys, Songkran, a celebration of the lunar new year in Thailand, is a festival not to be missed.
Enjoy the picturesque sight of twinking miniature boats floating out across the lake during Loy Krathong, savour a local treat, krayasat, during Sart Festival or catch a buffalo fight during the Buffalo Fighting Festival.
Go zen at a meditation retreat
Meditation sessions are conducted on a daily basis during meditation retreats, along with yoga sessions, spiritual sessions and break times. Dipabhavan Meditation Center, Kamalaya Koh Samui and Vikasa Yoga offer a variety of retreat programs, typically lasting between three days to a week.
Individuals join in retreats for all kinds of reasons; some to pursue a deeper level of spirituality and gain a peace of mind, others to overcome personal problems and difficulties. It may be contradictory, but some retreat participants actually arrive straight from a night of revelry at the full moon parties!
Sweat it out at a Muay Thai camp
A stay at a Muay Thai camp will float the boat of any determined fitness enthusiast keen on learning new martial arts techniques and developing a rigorous exercise regime. After all, there’s no better place to train for the sport other than the land of its origin!
Training facilities are provided along with accommodation. Expect to embark on intensive routines designed for sculpting the right muscles, getting rid of body fat and strengthening both the body and mind.
Famous fighters often frequent these camps, providing opportunities for participants to rub shoulders and spar with the professionals. If all of this sounds grueling, it probably is – the good news is, you’ll end this vacation with an improved level of fitness, knowledge of well-thought out fitness routines and a spankin’ hot bod.
Catch a ladyboy cabaret show
The Thai society is more open-minded towards ladyboys than most other cultures, and the katoey (‘third sex’) play a significant role in the country’s entertainment industry. Lip synching performances to popular songs, over-the-top costumes, and vibrant makeup are part and parcel of glitzy ladyboy cabaret shows.
Travellers in Chaweng will have plenty of options for catching a cabaret show; most are located near the Centara Grand Beach Resort. Popular shows, like the Moulin Rouge Cabaret and Starz Cabaret, draw a sizable crowd and may require booking a table in advance.
Get wild at a full moon party
It’s vacation time, so unleash that inner party animal! You’ll have a good choice of options to party hard on the island. After all, Koh Phangan is known for its full moon parties – rowdy, fun-filled beachside affairs falling once a month on the full moon night of the lunar calendar.
Entertainment options are endless – those who prefer to keep a safe distance from the chaos may sip their drinks in a quiet bar, while others may clamber up the dancing platforms to show off their grooviest moves. The brave or inebriated may even try their hand at skipping the fire swing – a rope doused in petrol and swung by two muscular men. If all that partying ain’t enough, try out a new addition to the island’s party scene: half-moon parties.
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