As backpackers on a budget, we are always looking for free things to do, especially on our own. We are all about DIY travel and opt to go without a tour guide/group whenever we can to save money and avoid tourist traps/big crowds. We spent four nights on the touristy island of Koh Samui in December of 2017 without booking a tour or spending a ton of money and we had a wonderful time!
Below we’ve listed 10 fun free things to do (in bold) broken down into 4 categories (because we go “4” the globe)! 😉
When you think of Thai islands, the first thing that likely comes to mind is the beautiful beaches! There are so many to explore, we stayed on right on Lamai Beach at Samui Beach Resort (we highly recommend this budget-friendly and beautiful resort – get $20 off on Booking.com). Lamai Beach is very long and lined with beachfront hotels and restaurants.
Our favorite beach on the island was Mae Nam Beach, where we found a gorgeous palm tree over the water! We were able to find a completely empty section of the beach, aside from one other man who ventured over to fish (he didn’t have much luck). Farther down the beach is the famous W hotel, which has its own private beach (we were west of it).
We ate lunch in Mae Nam at the beachfront hotel/restaurant Treehouse Silent Beach, which was delicious and budget-friendly for Koh Samui considering its waterfront location (we found most other beachfront locations to have inflated prices).
We also loved the gorgeous little Silver Beach. It is in a small cove, lined with giant stones (more on stones in Koh Samui later) and lush green hills.
Tip: If you’re looking for sun on Silver Beach, visit in the morning and if you want shade, we recommend visiting in the late afternoon (when the photo above was taken) so the sun will be behind the beach.
Choeng Mon Beach is worthy of a trip, and when the tide is low you can walk out across a sandbar to a little island (or swim there when the tide is high).
Of all the waterfalls on Koh Samui, we thought Na Muang Waterfalls looked the most appealing and they did not disappoint. The waterfalls are free to enter, so do not fall for any locals who may try to charge you (that would be a scam!). You do not need a guide to access the falls and the trails are easy enough to navigate on your own.
Na Muang waterfalls branch into two separate waterfalls from the top and each side is equally stunning. If you are using the offline maps app Maps.me, the waterfalls we visited were labeled “Namuang Waterfall 3” and the climb up was labeled “Extra view.”
Tip: When you hike up to the top (which we definitely recommend because the view is remarkable), make sure you do not hike back down the same way you came. That way you will ensure that you witness both waterfalls.
We were grateful we made the steep hike to the top of the waterfall (although it wasn’t very long), as the view took our breath away! We could see all the way to the water and the sun was starting to sink in the distance.
Thailand is known for its magnificent temples and the island of Koh Samui is no exception. All of the temples we visited were free to enter!
Wat Plai Laem was our favorite temple in Koh Samui. Wat Plai Laem is built over a lake with three separate structures connected to land by bridges. The main temple is flanked by a Buddha statue on one side and the 18 armed Guanyin statue on the other side. The lake is full of fish (fish food is sold outside of the temple) and pigeons flock to the area (as evidenced above).
Big Buddha is a short drive from Wat Plai Laem and has a beautiful location on the water. We found it be more touristy than Wat Plai Laem (and tourists are more concentrated as there is only one main attraction).
Tip: Make sure to have your shoulders cover to visit Big Buddha (as well as Wat Plai Laem). It is respectful and recommended to cover your shoulders at all temples in Thailand, but some are more monitored than others (making it a strict requirement). I got yelled at by a monk when I spread my arms (which exposed my body too much for his liking) for the photo at Big Buddha above. Oops! My intention was not to be scandalous or break the rules and it was an accident. I kept my arms down from that point forward.
From the top of the platform where the 12 meter (nearly 40 feet) tall gold Buddha sits, there is a beautiful view of the surrounding sea.
Wat Ratchathammaram (also known as Wat Sila Ngu) is a red temple, which makes it unique from the other multi-colored temples on the island. The temple grounds house a gold temple and a beautiful staircase lined with snake statues for railings that lead to the sea.
There was also a nice view of the water from Wat Ratchathammaram.
You’re probably thinking, stones…really? But, yes – really. Once you see the size (and shapes…) of these stones, you’ll understand why!
We were surprised to find the Secret Stone was actually that – a secret stone! It is also known as the Overlap Stone. Unlike so many of the other “secret” beaches and lagoons we’ve visited (especially in the Philippines) that are packed with tourists, we were the only two travelers at this secret spot. It is located on someone’s property in front of (or behind?) their home. We did get lost trying to find it, so stay tuned for another blog post for instructions so you don’t get lost too.
While this is technically a free activity, there is a donation box with that asks for a suggested donation of 20 baht (less than $0.64 USD), which we happily donated double, especially since it was on someone’s property and the bridge was well-constructed. The view from the stone was incredible (but a little scary, don’t get too close to the edge – there are no safety railings or nets!). We highly recommend this hidden gem on the touristy island of Koh Samui!
The Grandma and Grandpa Rocks (Hin Yai & Hin Ta) are infamous for their resemblance to female and male genitalia. We couldn’t exactly pick out which rock was the grandma rock, but the grandpa rock wasn’t hard to spot – but it was definitely hard. 😉 Ha ha okay bad joke.
We actually didn’t even realize how striking the resemblance was to the obvious until we saw the postcards on our way back from taking photos. I don’t think I sat in the best spot either for photos (insert red-cheeked emoji here). Needless to say this shot probably won’t be making an appearance on our Instagram (you lucky blog readers!).
While you don’t need to spend a lot of time here, it is something peculiar and unique to see, especially if you are in the area of Lamai Beach. When we visited, there were massive sets of waves (although we think this might only be because it was after a storm) so we enjoyed watching the water crashing against and over the rocks. There are also a lot of cute shops along the road that leads to the Grandma and Grandpa rocks.
Bonus: What free activity NOT to do
We made a stop to “secret wooden tower with a beautiful view,” which we found on the offline maps app Maps.me. This turned out to be a dangerous activity that we do NOT recommend. If you want to hear the full misadventure and why we warn not to visit (no – we are not just being selfish and hiding it from the world, we want to make sure no one gets hurt or worse!), then read our blog on the secret wooden tower you should NOT visit here.
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15 thoughts on “10 fun FREE things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand”
I have never thought about visiting Koh Samui because of how touristy it is. Its so great that you shared these activities and it nice to see that you can visit and still get to experience some beautiful wilderness. Thanks for the tips!!!!
I have never thought about visiting Koh Samui before, because of how well-touristed it is. I always assumed from stories I have read that its hard to get away from touristy areas. But your post really shows that you can still have a wilderness experience there! Thanks for the post.
I am in love with your pictures! I wanna go so bad.
PS: I loved your dad joke, made me laugh so…hard!
I always thought of not visiting Koh Samui because it is expensive when it comes to Thailand. But your post makes me think otherwise. Loved the details you have furbished and each and every picture. The Buddha statue with multiple hands is amusing.
Wow! I love Koh Samui, been there few years ago… but I just realised how many thing and places I missed visiting. I really hope to go back soon. Love your photos too.
Your photos of the temples are incredible! Great tips for travellers on a budget too.
You were lucky to find some more off-the-beaten-path parts of Koh Samui! The beach is always my #1 free activity, so I can imagine spending quite awhile here on the cheap.
Loved your blog…I could not hit the beaches of Thailand on my trip last year.We were in Chiang Mai and Bangkok for over a week.Loved the ‘4’ aspects of Koh Samui.
The photographs are brilliant and the red temple looks spectacular. The sitting Buddha looks more like the ‘Laughing Buddha’ and looks cute 😀
Koh Samui is breath taking. I think it’s one of the nicer islands rather than Koh Phangan where they tourists absolutely swarm the area. Thanks for sharing!
The photo from Mae Nam beach is photo goals. Nice piece with even better photos. Another place added to the bucket list!