If you’re staying at the luxurious oceanfront resort the Kimpton Kitalay Samui during July, it’s the perfect time to visit some of the island’s unique temples. July is a special month in the Buddhist calendar. The anniversary of Buddha’s first sermon is commemorated on July 13, and is called Asalha Puja Day. The following day marks the beginning of the annual three-month Buddhist retreat called Vassa.
It’s the perfect occasion to teach the whole family a little about Buddhism and explore five of the most iconic temples on the island. Make sure your phones and cameras are fully charged because these temples are some of the most unique and beloved sights on Koh Samui and you’ll definitely want to take a few snaps. All the temples we’ll visit are free of charge to enter, but they’ll gratefully accept donations.
Please remember that the temples are holy places, and you should dress appropriately. This means no bare shoulders for men or women. Men should wear long pants and women should wear long pants or a modest skirt. And please remember to remove your shoes before entering the temple structures.
Three of the temples are just a short drive from your Samui oceanfront resort, and two are further down the east coast of the island, about a 30-40-minute scenic drive away. We’ll start the tour with the temple furthest away from your resort.
Guan Yu Shrine
To get to Guan Yu Shrine, just take route 4171 south from the Kimpton Kitalay until it intersects with route 4169, then continue south of Lamai Beach until you see the signs off to the right for Guan Yu Shrine.
Guan Yu Shrine differs from the other temples on our tour in that it’s a Chinese Temple in design and style rather than Thai. It was recently built and only opened in 2016. Still, it’s becoming a must-see for Chinese tourists in Samui, and it’s easy to see why.
The temple is imposing and impressive, with a central 16-meter tall statue of the Chinese deity Guan Yu, a revered Chinese warrior who died around AD 220. The shrine isn’t Buddhist but pays tribute to Guan Yu, who is worshiped by the Chinese for his honesty, integrity, bravery and fraternal loyalty.
Wat Ratchathammaram – The Red Temple
Our next stop is Wat Ratchathammaram. From Guan Yu shrine, head north up the way you came and look for signs off to the right indicating Wat Ratchathammaram.
This red temple is one of the most elegant and beautiful temples on the island. It’s not particularly large or imposing, but its design is ornate and charming, and the grounds surrounding the main temple are so peaceful that you’ll fall in love with the place. It’s less visited than other temples on the island, so you may have the grounds all to yourselves if you’re lucky.
Khao Hua Jook Chedi – Golden Temple
The next stop is Wat Khao Hua Jook Chedi – The Golden Temple. Simply head back north the way you came, and the temple is off route 4171 on the left side, south of the airport.
The golden temple occupies an auspicious location at the top of a hill and has a wide staircase you must ascend to reach the temple. It’s worth it just for the panoramic view of the island and coastline. Exploring the temple grounds and seeing all the sculptures and buildings at the foot of the golden chedi also make it well worth the climb.
Time to Take a Break
The next two stops on our temple tour are right near the Kimpton Kitalay Samui. Just across the peninsula from your resort are both Wat Plai Laem – the Lady Monk Temple, and Wat Phra Yai – the Big Buddha Temple.
This might be a good time to head back to the resort to enjoy an exquisite lunch and take in the sea breeze at the FishHouse Restaurant and Bar. Why not enjoy a quick dip in the swimming pool after lunch? You can save the two remaining temples for later in the afternoon. They’re only 5-10 minutes away.
Wat Plai Laem – the Lady Monk Temple
A temple that will cause your jaw to drop, Wat Plai Laem is one of the most beautiful temples on the island and one that you’ll want to take plenty pictures of. It’s situated on an artificial island custom-made for the temple in the middle of a lake connected to the shore.
The giant Guanyin statue at the end of the pier towers over this breathtaking temple. The artwork and design of the temple were created by one of Thailand’s most renowned artists, Jarit Phumdonming. Be sure to venture into the two long halls flanking Guanyin to see the colorful frescoes and murals. Another feature of the temple is a huge laughing Buddha that looks out over the lake. The temple is a prime example of how Hindu culture and beliefs are often mixed with Thai Buddhism to create unique and beautiful images.
From Wat Plai Laem it’s just a short drive or walk a few blocks to the beach and the final destination on our temple tour.
Wat Phra Yai – the Big Buddha Temple
We end our tour at the island’s star attraction, the Big Buddha Temple. You may have first seen the temple when you landed on Koh Samui, as many planes fly right over it. But to really appreciate it, you need to see it up close.
The temple is one of the newer attractions on the island. It was built in 1972 on a small rocky island connected to the land by a causeway with a road. The 12-meter-tall Buddha statue sits on the top of a hill which you must climb to reach the wide platform at the base of the statue. From this vantage point, you’ll see all along the beaches on Samui and have a view of Koh Phangan to the north.
The temple is a great place to shop for souvenirs of your stay on Koh Samui. There are several stalls selling clothing, silverware, handicrafts and Buddhist amulets. Wander among the colorful buildings, gaze at the artwork and perhaps even have your fortune told. There is also a meditation center in the temple.
After spending time at the Big Buddha temple, it’s just a short drive back to the comfort of your accommodation at Kimpton Kitalay Samui, and an excellent seafood dinner by the beach.