Koh Samui is one of the most exclusive destinations in Thailand – and while some activities are a bit on the pricey side, there are heaps of cheap and free things to keep the whole family entertained.
Whether you want to sunbathe on secret beaches, ride an elephant through the jungle or visit some of the world’s most famous temples, here’s a list of activities that barely cost a thing…
- Fun and entertainment
- Day trips and tours
- Sporting activities
- Food and drink
- Rest and relaxation
Get a massage on the beach
Located on Samui’s northeastern coast, Chaweng is the most popular resort town on the island. The beach is usually packed with sun seekers but it’s a fun place to hang out and you’ll find everything you need just a stone’s throw from your beach towel. Vendors patrol the sand selling cheap souvenirs, plus ice creams, cold drinks and snacks. They also offer other services such as hair braiding, pedicures and henna tattoos. You can also get a relaxing massage at one of the many massage salas. Although not as rigorously trained as the masseurs in Samui’s spas, these ladies provide a great service for a fraction of the cost. You should expect to pay around 300 baht (US $8) for a traditional Thai massage on the beach.
Check out some kinky rock formations
You don’t have to travel far from Chaweng to Samui’s second-largest resort town, Lamai. Lined for its entire length with luxury villas and swaying coconut palms, this beach lacks the hectic tourist vibe of its lively neighbour. One of Samui’s most famous attractions can be found at the southern end of Lamai Beach. Hin-Ta and Hin-Yai (or Grandfather and Grandmother rocks as they are popularly known) are natural rock formations that bear a cheeky resemblance to the male and female genitalia. The rocks are clearly signposted and are free of charge to visit.
Find a secret beach
For other free things to do, head away from the tourist beaches and you’ll find plenty of small coves and unspoilt bays that are free to use. Samrong Beach and Tongson Bay are situated on Samui’s northernmost tip, lying side by side on a small cape between Choeng Mon and Big Buddha beaches. These 2 coves (3 if you count the naturist beach nearby) both boast crystal clear waters and power-white sand. Very few tourists know that these beaches exist, so you can enjoy a quiet escape from the bustle of nearby Chaweng.
Kayak around the coast
One of the best ways to explore Samui’s idyllic bays and coves is by kayak. A great spot for kayaking is around the coastline at Maenam which has calm seas and clear waters. If you fancy more of an adventure you can go on a kayaking tour around the Angthong Marine Park. You’ll have to take a boat ride over, but once you’re there you can kayak around dreamy beaches, blue lagoons and ancient caves. Some villas in Koh Samui (like this one) come complete with complimentary water sports equipment including kayaks, paddle boards and more.
Fun and entertainment
Party at a beach bar
Samui’s beach parties are known as being some of the best in Thailand so attending one should definitely be on your to-do list. You’ll find a wealth of clubs, BBQs and parties on the beach, especially in the busy tourist resorts. The Ark Bar is located right on the beach in Chaweng and describes itself as the best one-stop party destination on the island. It features 3 swimming pools, 2 restaurants, a beach club and numerous bars. DJs, live music, fire shows and pool parties are all part of the daily programme. Entrance is free.
Get free entry to a ladyboy cabaret
Ladyboy cabarets may not be everyone’s cup of tea but in Koh Samui they are a popular part of the tourist scene. Ladyboys (or Katoey as they are known locally) are world famous and have played a prominent role in Thailand’s entertainment industry for decades. You can enjoy a colourful evening out at a ladyboy cabaret which usually involves lip-synced songs, elaborate costumes and choreographed dancing. Starz Cabaret in Chaweng offers free entry for everyone and the drinks are reasonably priced.
Visit the nightlife strip
Some of the best nightlife on the island can be found at the popular Soi Green Mango strip in Chaweng town. You’ll find dozens of late-night venues here including sports bars, cocktail lounges and go-go dance bars. The highlight of the street is the Green Mango Club which is the most famous and iconic nightclub on the island. Entrance to the club is free and drinks are reasonably priced.
Stock up on souvenirs
Every Friday from around 5pm the Fisherman’s Village in Bophut comes alive with its famous walking street. It sees the Beach Road and the surrounding streets packed with market stalls selling a diverse range of wares at super-low prices. You can pick up cheap clothing, jewelery, handbags, sunglasses and souvenirs. You’ll also find an amazing range of street food and traditional Thai delicacies. Fun street performances including Muay Thai demos, beatboxing and Thai dancing take place in front of the town’s old pier until around 11pm.
Shop at a night market
In addition to Fisherman’s Village, you can shop for bargains at the Chaweng Night Market which runs every evening right next to Chaweng Lake. If you like shopping for bargains you can get your fix of retail therapy then refuel on delicious but inexpensive food. You’ll find restaurants, bars, pubs and nightclubs around Chaweng Lake. The area also hosts at least 3 parties a month.
Find bargains at the mall
Chaweng is home to an impressive selection of boutiques and malls including the sprawling Central Festival Samui. Located close to the beach this trendy complex features a central open-air atrium as well as beautifully landscaped gardens complete with benches and a kids’ playground. There are countless shops and restaurants, and while some are more expensive, there are still plenty of bargains to be found.
See Samui’s most famous landmark
Sitting majestically on a small island off Samui’s northeastern corner is the huge Big Buddha Temple. Known locally as Wat Phra Yai, the 12-meter-high attraction was built in 1972 and is one of the island’s most famous landmarks. Around the base of the statue is a courtyard area where vendors sell clothing and souvenirs. There are also food stalls and restaurants where you can relax and refuel. Admission is free, but donations towards the temple’s upkeep are appreciated.
Hike around a waterfall
Found inland just southeast of Nathon Bay are the picturesque Na Muang Waterfalls. Set amid lush jungle surroundings, the falls are easily accessible just off the main ring road from Nathon. The car park is clearly signposted, and once you’re there the falls are just a 100-meter walk along a natural path of rocks and tree roots. Access to the waterfalls is free and there are several stalls along the way selling snacks and souvenirs. You can easily spend an entire day hiking, exploring and swimming.
Feed fish at a temple
Featuring a striking 18-arm image of an ancient goddess, the Wat Plai Laem temple is one of Samui’s most colorful and impressive sights. A showcase of the island’s strong Chinese heritage, the temple’s intricate designs were created by one of Thailand’s most famous artists. Other standout features include a huge laughing Buddha statue, beautifully carved teak doors and an elaborate ceremonial hall set on a lake that’s teeming with fish. Entrance to the temple is free, but visitors who make a donation are given a bag of food to feed the fish.
Explore secret gardens
Hidden away in Samui’s lush jungle interior are the amazing Secret Buddha Gardens. The creation of renowned Samui fruit farmer, Khun Nim, the gardens feature hundreds of statues depicting a number of humans and deities in various poses. Khun began erecting the statues in 1976 around his family’s verdant land and he continued to work on them until his death in 1990. Secret Buddha Garden is located at the top of the Tar Nim Waterfall to the northwest of Lamai Beach. Entry is 80 baht per person (around $2.50 US dollars).
See a mummified monk
The mummified body of Koh Samui’s most famous monk is kept in a glass casket on full display at the Wat Khunaram temple in the south of Koh Samui. The monk, Luong Pordaeng, died in 1973 in a seated meditative position and his body still shows little sign of decay. For some visitors, having a dead man in full view might be a shocking sight, but for local people, the life and death of the monk is seen as an inspiration. As with many temples in Thailand, entry is free and donations are welcome to support the venue’s upkeep.
Day trips and tours
Snorkel at a marine park
Famous for its appearance in Alex Garland’s novel ‘The Beach’, Ang Thong National Marine Park is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Asia. Just a short boat trip from Koh Samui, this archipelago of 42 islands features towering mountains, white-sand beaches, gushing waterfalls and hidden coves. Snorkeling is one of the popular activities to enjoy here. You can also go hiking, sea kayaking and diving. The entry fee is 300 baht ($9) for adults and 150 baht ($4.50) for children under 12.
Scuba dive at Koh Tao
Okay, so it’s not exactly in Koh Samui, but the island of Koh Tao (Turtle Island) is near enough to reach fairly easily. It lives up to its name as being one of the best scuba diving destinations in Thailand. Its crystal clear waters are home to vibrant coral reefs where you can spot a wide range of marine life including tropical fish and turtles. The island is located 55 km to the north of Koh Samui and is a popular destination in its own right. It has white-sand beaches and handful of resorts and amenities catering to every taste and budget.
Go on an elephant ride
Namuang Safari Park in Surat Thani runs a fantastic choice of great value excursions. One of its best-selling tours is the full Day Eco Adventure which begins with an elephant ride around Samui’s jungle interior. It’s followed by an elephant show and an up-close opportunity to feed the elephants by hand. A jeep ride then takes you up into the mountains to various standpoints where you can enjoy panoramic views.
Quad bike through the jungle
Samui’s jungle-clad mountains provide the perfect backdrop for an off-road adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned driver or a total beginner, you can drive your own all-terrain quad bike and navigate along jungle trails, across rivers, past coconut gives and along the beach. This is a great way to give yourself an exciting break from the beach. It costs around $66 for a 2-hour tour including training and equipment.
The tropically landscaped grounds at the Samui Butterfly Garden are home to hundreds of colorful butterflies, as well as moths and bees. Located on Samui’s south coast, the gardens are well worth a visit for nature lovers. Bring along your swimsuit and you can take to the waters at Nation Beach after your visit. The cost of entry to the gardens is 300 baht per adult which includes a free bottle of water from the cafe.
Get up close to tigers and leopards
You can get up close to tigers, leopards and other exotic animals at the Samui Aquarium and Tiger Show. Located in Hua Thanon, this family friendly attraction has enough to keep everyone entertained for an all-day outing. There’s an aquarium filled with sharks, sting rays and many other tropical fish, as well as an area where visitors can feed sea turtles. In the zoo, animal trainers put on daily tiger, bird and sea lion shows. There’s also an opportunity to have your photo taken with them for an extra charge. Entrance is $23 for adults and children under 1 meter tall go for free.
Go kite surfing
You can fly over Samui’s gorgeous waters and jump to heights of more than 50 feet if the conditions are right. All you need for kite surfing are a steady breeze and and a steerable kite and then you’re good to go. It costs around $100 for a whole day of kite surfing with instruction and equipment rental included. One of the best kite surfing spots is Maenam Beach on the north coast. Our villas there act as the perfect base.
Tee off at a top golf course
If golf is your thing, you’ll love the championship course at Samui’s scenic Santiburi Golf Club. Stretching along the northern coastline, the club boasts its own unique character with spectacular views from each of its 18 holes. Other club amenities include a restaurant, a bar, a pro shop and equipment rentals. On Wednesdays you get 50% off the green fee.
Play football golf
If you’re looking for high-energy fun, a game of football golf will keep the whole family entertained for hours. The idea is a hybrid of football and golf, where players steer a football into the 18 holes in as few kicks as possible – using their feet! You can choose between easy and challenging routes, and each hole is designed with plenty of fun surprises. Samui Football Golf is located on Beach Road around 10 minutes north from Chaweng. It’s open daily and offers walk-in games for $23 per adult and $10 for kids.
Spend a day go-karting
Whether you’re a total beginner or a seasoned thrill seeker, go-karting is a great way to spend a day on vacation. Samui Go-Kart offers courses to suit all skill levels, plus a range of go-karts including double karts that let adults to drive alongside their child. The asphalt track is fully outdoors and features tight turns and tyre boundaries in case you misjudge a corner. The track is located next to Bophut Beach and is easily accessible from the region’s resorts and villas.
Cruise around on a jet ski
If you feel the need for speed then renting a jet ski is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. This adrenaline-pumping water sport is popular with locals and visitors alike and is great way to see Samui from another perspective. Once you get the hang of it it’s easy and you can do all kinds of fancy moves while you’re cruising around. You can rent a jet ski at Lamai Beach for around $65 for half an hour. You can easily fit two riders on one vehicle so it’s cheap at half the cost.
Food and drink
Sample the street food
There are a raft of fantastic venues in Koh Samui where you can dine on popular Thai dishes at cheap prices. Although restaurants prices tend to be higher in the main tourist towns, it’s still possible to find affordable places where the locals like to eat. The cheapest eats can be found at street food stalls at the night markets in Chaweng, Lamai and Bophut. There are an amazing array of different dishes to sample and you’ll only pay a few dollars for a decent amount of food.
Enjoy beach eats
If you get get peckish while you’re on the beach, it’s easy to flag down a food vendor and grab a seaside snack. These touts offer everything from BBQ chicken and fried fish, to ice cream, papaya salad and sticky rice. As with other street food, this is one of the cheapest ways to dine.
Try the best noodle soup in town
You can try the ‘best noodle soup in town’ at the Noodle Soup & Food restaurant in Bophut. Although the venue looks like a basic shack, the food is very good and you’ll see a number of food awards on display inside. Most of the menu is written on chalkboards entirely in Thai, but the few scraps of English text reveal that the hearty chicken noodle soup costs around 50 baht. At the time of writing, that’s just over $1.
Rest and relaxation
Enjoy a sundowner on the west coast
Enjoying a relaxing drink at one of Samui’s west coast venues is a great way to discover this peaceful side of the island. Places like Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi are not as famous as Chaweng and Lamai, however they boast a great choice of laid-back bars. Top sundowner spots include the Air Bar at the Intercontinental Samui Baan, Nikki Beach in Lipa Noi and the Think & Retro Cafe located right on the beach towards the southern end of Lipa Noi. All of these venues are great spots to enjoy sunset drinks at fair rates.
Get a great-value manicure
Koh Samui has always attracted those in search of rest and relaxation, and while some spas are notoriously expensive, there are plenty of affordable salons offering professional treatments. The My Friend salon on Chaweng Beach Road offer a great range of treatments for budget prices. D’s Spa just off the main strip also offers great-value massages, manicures and pedicures.
Channel your inner yogi
Whether you already love yoga, or you just want to try it on vacation, you’ll find plenty of yoga options in Koh Samui. There are some excellent drop-in classes at the myriad health spas and resorts. But if you’d prefer not to pay the hiked up prices, simply find a peaceful corner on the beach, unroll your mat and do some DIY yoga on your own.
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Other useful resources
If you’re thinking of booking a Koh Samui vacation and you need advice on where to stay then contact us today. Additionally, our dedicated concierge team can arrange any added extras you need such as great value car hire and attraction tickets.
You can see all of our Koh Samui villas here.