Thai arts & culture

The island was probably first inhabited about 15 centuries ago, settled by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and southern China. It appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687, under the name Pulo Cornam.

The name "Samui" is mysterious in itself... Perhaps it is an extension of the name of one of the native trees, Mui. Some people believe that the word "Samui" derives from the Chinese word "saboey", or "safe haven", although there appears to be no credible corroboration of this. Koh is the Thai word for "island". Until the late-20th century, Koh Samui was an isolated self-sufficient community, having little connection with the mainland of Thailand.

The Island was without roads until the early 1970s, and the 15 km journey from one side of the island to the other could involve a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.

Koh Samui's economy now is based primarily on a successful tourist industry, as well as exports of coconut and rubber. Economic growth has brought not only prosperity, but also major changes to the island's environment and culture, a source of conflict between local residents and newcomers from other parts of Thailand and elsewhere.

Arts & Culture


his temple is the home of Koh Samui’s most famous landmark the Big Buddha. Most visitors come to marvel at the sheer size and beauty of this remarkable statue at some point during their holiday. Visible from several kilometers away and even from the air when arriving on or leaving the island, the 12 meter tall golden image stands proud.


The body of Samui's most famous mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng, is on display here in a specially constructed building. When he died more than 20 years ago, he was sitting in a meditation position. He is still in that same position and his body shows few signs of any major decay W at Khunaram is on the 4169 ring road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon.


Wat Plai Laem is located in the north of Samui on road 4171 from Big Buddha to Choeng Mon Beach. The temple is famous for the hundreds of big fish enjoying their live in the lake of the temple and waiting to be fed

(Food for the fish is available at the temple for a small donation of 10 Baht per pack).


In the grounds of Wat Laem Sor, this ornately designed Chedi (Pagoda) sits at the rocky water's edge. Covered in countless small yellow tiles, it appears golden when viewed from a short distance.

It's at the far South of the island off the 4170 road between Ban Tale and Ban Pang Ka. Follow the track with a sign that reads "Waikiki Bungalows", and It's at the end of that.


If you stand anywhere in the region of Chaweng and spend a moment or two gazing around and upwards, you’ll see it. It the big golden spire on top of the hill that overlooks Chaweng. Including all of the surrounding area. Somewhere close to ‘Ice Bar’ (big signs), you’ll see signs for ‘Q Bar’. Head uphill towards this. And it is a hill ! Keep going up and round to the right as you follow the road (no other choice, it’s a circle) and then you’ll finally hit the peak and find yourself outside this little temple.


Wat Hin Lad, located at Nathon on the way to the Hin Lad waterfall, is set in forested gardens. Massive trees with twisted exposed roots, old fruit trees, vines and a myriad of flowers all add to the temple ground’s charm. Hear the waterfall and river in the background while walking on moss-covered paths that lead through the gardens. Signs indicating ‘shoe parking’ ask you to leave your shoes outside as you enter temples to ask a monk for a blessing or prayer.


Buffalo fighting is a popular form of entertainment. Before you get too horrified, this is nothing like the horrendous bull fighting of Spain. In fact, the buffalo seldom get hurt at all. Two males are put into a ring together, and they paw at the ground, bow and show their horns at each other, run and bash heads – their horns point to the back, so no goring takes place, and the winner is the one who stands his ground, the loser running away with his tail between his legs so to speak. The most that happens is that they get a bit of a headache or a bruising. The more aggressive the buffalo, the more the crowd cheers. Tickets go for between 100 - 400 Baht, depending on the stadium.


Samui native, Khun Chart has opened the ‘Samui Cultural Center and Fine Arts of Southeast Asia’ in Lipa Noi on the west side of the island. And though it’s in the early stages of development, it’s already spectacular. His collections are fantastic, as is the house - check out the shower room just for starters. The house is huge and it needs an expert to explain everything. On one wall is a depiction of what looks like a dragon at first glance. But it isn’t, it’s Burmese in design and is often seen in Burmese temples above the large gong many of them have to summon the monks. It’s actually a mix of five sacred animals if you look closely.


You have surely seen them in the traffic. Men precariously steering scooters with one hand, while carrying a covered birdcage in the other hand. Inside the cage is a prized possession – a Red-whiskered Bulbul, used in the traditional bird-singing competitions of southern Thailand.

On Samui, the competitions are held every Tuesday and Saturday at 11:00 am. It is not advertised, there is nothing touristy about it, and if you don’t know where it is, you will not find it. The location for the competition is down what is known locally as the ‘Ghost Road’ – the road that links Bangrak to Chaweng.