Off beach activities on Ko Samui

Off beach activities on Ko Samui

Peel yourself off that deckchair

More on Ko Samui

If you’ve topped up your tan and had your fill of sand and surf, consider what there is to do away from the beaches of Ko Samui. Here are a few suggestions.

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While Samui has a number of courses, the two best known are in the northern reaches of the island. Santiburi Golf Course offers an 18-hole championship course set in the hills behind Mae Nam beach. The fairways and greens are set in 23 acres of coconut groves, with views over the bay and to the neighbouring islands as spectacular as the landscape. Multi-day resort+golf packages start at an eye-watering 68,500 baht. For a more back to earth pricing and vibe, the nine-hole Bophut Hills Golf Club is set behind Bophut Beach, welcomes all skill levels and offers daily packages of just 1,550 baht – with no dress code!

Fancy a round of golf? : Rosanne Turner.
Fancy a round of golf? Photo: Rosanne Turner

If you prefer gold without a club, then Samui football golf may be what you're after. Basically, the regular golf rules apply, but you won’t find all the fuss and pomp that often accompanies a golf country club. There’s no dress code here – some get dressed up in golf gear, and others play in shorts and flip flops, or even barefoot. Instead of using clubs, a football is kicked from hole to hole. Balls are provided, so no kit is required. At 750 baht per adult, and 350 baht per child (with a free softdrink included) for 18 holes, this is not an economical outing for a family of four. However, a second round on the same day is discounted to half price for those wanting a rematch. The course is midway between Choeng Mon and Chaweng and they can arrange transfers (for a fee) if you don't have your own transport.

If you enjoy a good game of tennis and can brave the tropical heat, Ko Samui offers several places to play tennis, many of which are floodlit, enabling you to play in the evening when it’s cooler. Aside from some of the larger hotels and resorts, a good option is the Samui Tennis Club which is located just off the Ghost Road (the road that joins Bang Rak to Chaweng). Courts are 250 baht per hour (350 baht for doubles), coaching is available for 800 baht per hour (including court hire) and rackets and balls can be hired as well.

Badminton is a popular way to stay fit with expats and locals alike on the island. The 99 Sports Club, part of the Samui 99 Hotel, down the Monkey Theatre Road near where it joins the Ghost Road (roughly between Bophut and Chaweng), has 12 courts to rent, at 200 baht per hour per court. It’s open from 06:00 to 21:00. It also has a swimming pool, foosball, pool (snooker), karaoke and a fitness centre.

If you feel like improving your kitchen skills and want to get a taste of genuine local cuisine, a cooking class is a great way to pass some time on Samui. Many of the hotels and resorts offer in-house cooking classes, but few do it quite as well as the island’s longstanding cookery school, the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts. They offer half-day classes for 1,850 baht per person, twice a day Monday to Saturday with a rotating selection of 12 different menus and of course you get to eat what you cooked afterwards. Longer 6- and 12-day courses are also available.

For families staying in a hotel that doesn't have a swimming pool, but are looking for a fun half- or full-day out with the kids, Coco Splash Waterpark could be worth a look. It sits back off Lamai Beach and offers seven slides, four pools, mini-golf, an inflatable castle and other distractions to make sure the kids are exhausted by the end of the day. Admission is 200 baht, but adults only need to pay if they decide to use the slides and pools.

Lovely scenery in the interior. : Stuart McDonald.
Lovely scenery in the interior. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Samui’s interior is as beautiful as its beaches, and a little-travelled road constructed in 2010 joins Mae Nam to Lamai via the interior rather than the ring road. From Lamai, it leaves the ring road near Tamarind Springs, and from Mae Nam, turn left at the bridge opposite My Bar. Drive through the jungle, banana plantations, coconut groves and over hills that offer spectacular views. The small Khun Si waterfall sits about half way along the trip, down a dirt road (just keep following the signs) and you'll need to walk the last 500 metres. The view from the parking area here is terrific. Other more easily reached waterfalls include Na Muang 1, near Ban Thurian in the south of the island, and Hin Lad Waterfall near Nathon. Both are as well sign-posted as they are unexceptional.

Hike to a couple of waterfalls and you may be feeling like a bit of a rub-down and Ko Samui is right at home at delivering fabulous Thai massage and spa treatments. While you can get a decent beach massage for a few hundred baht at any of the massage salas on the popular beaches, if you're looking for something special, two places are at the top of our list. Ban Sabai Big Buddha Retreat and Spa on Bang Rak Beach offers a range of packages, starting at a 30 minute body scrub followed by a 90 minute oil massage for 2,600 baht through to a six hour package for 9,100 baht! Jumping even further upmarket, Tamarind Springs behind Lamai Beach remains one of the top spas on the island, with a steam room to die for and exquisite massages and therapies. You'll pay for it though, with the cheapest package we were offered being a four hour, 5,500 baht treatment. Yes, not cheap, but the setting is just superb and if you're looking for something really special as a splurge, this is it.

Thailand is all about temples, and Samui is no exception, with Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha) and Wat Plai Laem being the most impressive two, both located at Samui’s northeastern corner near Bang Rak. Wat Kunaram temple houses Samui’s most famous mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng, and is located on the 4169 ring road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon. The temple is popular with Thais, and is interesting to visit. Don’t be alarmed by the open display of the monk’s well-preserved body. Dressed in orange robes and wearing sunglasses, he is still sitting in the meditation position that he was placed in when he died more than 20 years ago – he won’t bite. If you’re more interested in Chinese Buddhism, there’s the Chinese temple near the Mae Nam walking street market, or the Guan Yu Shrine in Hua Thanon, opened in 2012.

Samui has an active salsa scene (the dancing – not the sauce – with regular events, meet-ups and classes across the island. Salsa Samui runs an up to date Facebook page detailing what is happening where.

Three shots of yum. : Stuart McDonald.
Three shots of yum. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Vaguely salsa related, the Magic Alambic Rum Distillery is set in southern Ko Samui close to the junction of route 4170 and 4173. Stop by and see how they produce their rhum agricole by distilling fresh, fermented cane juice brought in specifically from a farm in Nakhon Si Thammarat on the mainland. The distillery has changed hands from the original owners and while you can still look at the factory and taste some run (for a fee – no free tastings!) a visit to here isn't what it once was. Nevertheless the rum is very good and we especially liked the flavoured syrup.

Every Tuesday and Saturday at 11:00 traditional Thai bird-singing competitions are held on an open field on “Ghost Road” (the road that links Bang Rak and Chaweng). The birds are red-whiskered bulbuls – an endangered species – which the owners should have a permit for (but frequently don't). Kept in attractive bamboo cages which are hung onto hooks suspended on a metal grid, when the singing begins each bird is given 20 seconds to perform. Hung close together, the birdsong is partly a product of territorial behaviour and part seemingly related to how much their owner jumps around waving their arms. Birds are judged on how well they sing, variation of tune and stamina.

For the weekly competitions, expect around 150 birds, but for the main annual one, usually held the beginning of March, numbers climb to 400 or so. Owners pay 200 baht to enter their birds, with trophies and prize money presented at the end. Birds are usually bred in captivity, but occasionally caught in the forest too and a traded bird can cost anywhere from 10,000 baht up to one million baht for a winner. We’re not big fans of birds in cages and there’s no doubt they would be happier in the forest, but if you're looking for a traditional Thai custom off the beach, this is certainly one of them.

To find the location, when coming from Bang Rak, turn into Ghost Road opposite Dae Tong de Samui, between a light blue bank and a 7-eleven. Continue about three kilometres down this road until you get to a four-way stop with another 7-eleven on your right. Keep straight, crossing the four-way stop, and a few hundred metres on, after a bend you’ll see an open field with a metal grid-type structure, and a wooden sala with a few chairs. Or just follow the guys on scooters carrying bird cages.

If you're settling in for a longer stay on Ko Samui then it makes a lot of sense to learn the Thai language while you are at it. Two well regarded Thai language schools on Samui are Mind Your Language Thailand and Thai Language Solutions. Both offer a range of courses from beginner through to advanced and serious students are able to pursue course options that include an education visa.

Also perhaps of interest to those considering a longer stay on Ko Samui, there are animal shelters on Ko Samui which are donation funded and volunteer assisted while doing tremendous work with dogs and cats on the island.

Active on Samui since 1999, Samui Dog and Cat Rescue has volunteers doing the rounds of the temples, feeding strays and treating them. Animals are dewormed, fed, vaccinated, treated for mange, and any other medication required is administered. The Rescue Centre also neuters and spays animals at their clinics. Should you feel like giving back to the island during your visit, contact them to see how you can help, either with your time, or by donations. The centre also helps find homes for the animals, and even assists in relocating animals abroad, should you want to take your new best friend home; there are many happy cases of Samui soi dogs now basking in the lap of luxury in homes abroad.

Elfe’s World is a dog and cat refuge where Elisabeth Feigl takes care of more than 300 dogs, mostly rescued on while being smuggled to Vietnam. Smugglers cram the dogs into cages and transport across the border to Vietnam, where they are slaughtered and sold as cheap meat. Many trucks and boats are intercepted, but once the dogs are rescued, the question as to what to do with these dogs arises. The dogs are taken to Nakhon Phanom quarantine shelter and the Soi Dog Foundation assists the Livestock Department with food, medical supplies and vets. Then independent refuge shelters such as Elfe’s World try to find homes for the dogs, either as pets, or sponsored in their shelters. Elfe tries to find sponsors for the dogs, with initial costs being the medical bill for the dog and the cost of a flight to Samui. Thereafter, sponsorship is 800 baht per month per dog to cover shelter — on land amid a coconut grove on Ko Samui’s south. If you’d like to see more of what Elfe does to help these dogs (which are only a fraction of the bigger problem), visit her facebook page.

99 Sports Club T: (077) 430 164
Ban Sabai Spa Resort 59 Moo 4, Bang Rak Beach. T: (077) 245 175
Bophut Hills Golf Club T: (077) 430 811
Coco Splash Waterpark T: (081) 082 6035 Open daily 10:30-17:30
Elfe’s World
Flying Bird Samui
Magic Alambic Distillery K&S Rum Daily 09:00 - 18:00
Mind Your Language Thailand 142/7 Moo 1, Soi Khao Prah, Bophut. T: (077) 962 088
Salsa Samui
Samui Dog and Cat Rescue T: (077) 413 490
Samui Football Golf T: (089) 771 7498
Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts T: (087) 884 4433
Samui Tennis Club T: (083) 529 1214, or email
Santiburi Samui T: (077) 425 031
Tamarind Springs 205/7 Lamai Beach. T: (098) 963 6449
Thai Language Solutions 1/64 Moo. 6, Bunjamnong Building, Taweerad Phakdee Rd, Bophut. T: (077) 256 115

Reviewed by

Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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