Samui is not exactly a cultural desert, but the arts tend to focus on the needs of mass tourism rather than anything more varied or esoteric. Think copies, whether it’s bands playing cover versions or artists faking works by grand masters.
1. Cameron Hansen Gallery
Hansen is an award-winning pro shutterbug who’s travelled the world. Samui showcases his superb photographs, especially his work on temples, monks and unbelievable beaches, in Chaweng’s Apsara Gallery as well as his artist residence up in the hills. Well worth booking a visit.
2. Modern Thai Art Gallery
This Chaweng studio was the first to set up on Koh Samui and deals in original Thai art plus the usual high quality reproductions. Expect lots of Buddha pieces as well as other Thai cultural touchstones. Worldwide shipping available too.
3. Spirit House Village
Set in Chaweng, this one-stop experience is designed to tick all the Thai traditional boxes in one package. There’s trad architecture, food and dance shows. These experiences can be a little Disneyfied, but the place is certainly beautifully designed and offers a quiet Chaweng sanctuary.
4. Chaweng Boxing stadium
Who knows how staged the fights are, but those punches and kicks all look real enough. Thai boxing, or Muay Thai, is steeped in tradition, apparent in the respect rituals the boxers perform – with eerie musical accompaniment – before each match.
5. Tropical Murphy’s
Samui is not the place to hear cutting edge live music. However, if your idea of a grand Saturday night is sinking Guinness in an Irish pub while being entertained by a range of cover bands, then Chaweng’s Tropical Murphy’s offers the perfect craic.
Kids or the young-at-heart will have fun at this Choeng Mon exhibition of optical illusion paintings. Give somebody your camera to snap you seemingly traversing deep canyons, trekking through thick jungle or throwing a right hook at a burly boxer.
7. Thai Cooking Class
That incredible street food you just ate isn’t all that difficult to cook yourself. It’s about fresh ingredients and a careful balance of herbs and spices. Island Organics teaches twelve dishes you’ve probably tried during your stay, using produce grown in their back garden in the hills west of the airport.
8. Lamai Muay Thai Camp
Fancy your chances against a ripped Thai teen who’s been boxing since before he could walk? Or just want a fascinating new way to get fit? Lamai Camp offers group or personal training ranging from the gentle to the brutal, and also has ladies and children’s classes.
9. Major Cineplex
Mostly blockbusters at this Central Festival Thai cinema chain, and all Thai films come with English subtitles. Dress for the chilly theatre and stand for the King’s anthem before the movie. If you’re lucky you might catch one of their occasional foreign film festivals.
10. Paris Follies
The most glamorous ladies you spot on Samui will probably be ladyboys. Paris Follies is where these transgendered troupers strut their spectacular stuff in nightly cabarets. Camp Chaweng fun and fairly family-friendly, with free entry offset by pricey drinks.