TOP 5 TEMPLES TO VISIT IN SAMUI
Many tourists might be surprised to find that Samui is resplendent with immense culture, especially of the religious variety. This tropical island paradise is actually about much more than beaches, bars and brunches. As most islanders are Buddhist, it’s no coincidence that the island is resplendent with many lovely Buddhist ‘wats’ (temples), most of which are open to the public. Also, there is a beautiful pagoda and hillside garden worth exploring too. When you can tear yourself away from your sun lounger, there are many interesting, cultural and historical attractions well worth exploring. In fact, we would go so far as to say a day out exploring some of Samui’s plentiful cultural attractions is a must-do activity for any tourist. So without further ado, let’s us share with you just five of our favourite ones to visit.
Perched on a small rocky outcrop (Koh Faan) off the northeast coast of Koh Samui is the Big Buddha Temple. For over forty years this has been the most prominent and popular attraction on the island, for both locals and tourists alike. Wat Phra Yai is 12-metres-high, brilliant gold and seated in the Mara posture, left-hand palm resting on the lap and right-hand palm facing down. Not surprisingly for such a tall statue, it can be spied for many miles around. Make sure you look out your plane window when landing or departing the island as it is quite often visible. At night-time, the temple is bathed in warm light and makes for a spectacular sight. By day it’s thronging with tourists, of course, along with devoted worshippers who came to pray and leave small offerings (i.e., flowers, fruit, candles, etc.). Besides offering a great glimpse into the world of Thai Buddhism, a visit here also rewards travellers with a lovely view of the surrounding ocean.
If you manage to travel to the northeast corner of Koh Samui make sure you seek out Wat Plan Laem, it’s a must-see attraction of the area. The main event is set in the centre of the temple grounds: a pure white, 18-arm image of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. Her multitude of arms is seen as an illustration of her ability to reach out and provide help around the globe, for this reason, she is considered to be a source of unconditional love by her followers. You will also notice here an abundance of young women, that’s because Guanyin is also renowned as the goddess of fertility, and many ladies come here to pray for help in having a child. Technically speaking this is a new build, but they have utilised centuries-old techniques to create the artwork displayed throughout. Speaking of, make sure you take time to admire all the intricate murals. Also, save ample time to wander around the vast lake that surrounds the temple. It’s teeming with fish (get a bag of fish food by making a temple donation) and provides for a beautiful walking trail.
Just like other temples in Koh Samui, the beautiful Wat Kiri Wongkaram (near Ban Saket in the island’s far south-west) features an impressive and inviting demeanour and is one of our favourites. If you are a budding photographer, you will certainly love this place as it has ample photo opportunities, encompassing its scenic grounds, manicured gardens and beautiful buildings (check out the red, green and yellow roof tiles!). The temple is renowned for two things: amazing artwork and unique architecture, and the mummified remains of monk Loung Por Ruam. Visitors who are not squeamish can view the monk’s body which is kept inside a glass case, sitting in the same position for the past 25 years (wearing a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses). Visitors can learn more about the life of the monk and Buddhism in general thanks to English illustrations in the temple.
Despite being world-famous for its secluded beaches, there is something else of note hiding on the southernmost tip of Koh Samui at the end of Bang Kao Beach… it is a beautiful temple – Wat Leam Sor. Taking pride of place within the grounds is Laem Sor Pagoda, a richly gilded golden Buddhist stupa (Chedi). The Chedi offers an unrivalled photo opportunity with its dramatic backdrop of blue skies and turquoise waters and is well worth a visit. At the entrance to the pagoda are two warrior statues (yak) holding swords, placed there to protect the Buddha who sits just inside the main door. The pagoda is adorned with Buddha statues, and to the side of the Chedi, there is a lovely grassy meditation forest area that is the ideal place for quiet contemplation. Lastly, at the opposite end of the woods to the pagoda is a temple room that is home to a well-preserved longboat full of Buddha images and offerings.
To be sure this place is a little off the beaten track and only suitable for truly intrepid travellers. Tucked away amongst the dense jungle of Koh Samui’s interior (to the northwest of Lamai Beach), this place is a real trek to find, but well worth it. Also known as Magic Garden or Heaven’s Garden, this is the kind of place where one visit just isn’t enough to discover all its secrets. Magic is the word, imagine a garden with secretive statues of all shapes and sizes hidden in amongst the trees, just waiting to be discovered. It’s like the ultimate game of hide and seek! The garden was the brainchild of an eccentric local fruit farmer, Nim Thongsuk, who in the ‘70s starting placing statues around his family’s vast rural estate for fun. Upon his retirement, he took things one step further by assembling a team to help him sculpt original figures –animals, deities and humans – depicting Buddhist folklore and opened up to the public.
Note: One final thing, as many of the temples mentioned above are a sacred place, visitors are advised to dress politely. Be sure to wear shirts or scarves that cover the shoulders, trousers or long shorts, definitely no beachwear or revealing clothing.
We have one last tip for you, and it concerns value-for-money, affordable, great-deal accommodation! Check out the deals from Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort on Lamai Beach, including daily breakfast, Wi-Fi Internet, tea and coffee and welcome drink upon arrival.