Buddhism is central to Thai culture, and witnessing the devotion in action can be inspiring for even the most secular visitors. Get a closer look at Wat Phra Yai, the Big Buddha Temple built in 1972, that soars nearly 40-feet above the sea and is visible from the airplane window as you land in Samui. As with all temples in Thailand, shoes are removed at the entrance, so plan to arrive around 10 a.m. to avoid doing a fire dance for the locals as you tiptoe over hot concrete. Climb the steps to glimpse this gilded Buddha glistening in the sun, and observe the peaceful tradition of merit-making—the offering of fruit, flowers, drinks, or burning incense—from this mountainside temple. At the courtyard below, cool off with a scoop of creamy pina colada ice cream or guava sorbet (all sorbets are sugar-free) at Leonardo Ice Cream, home of Samui’s best homemade frozen treats. Bypass the vendors selling amulets and hand made soaps, and hit up the Blue Vanilla outpost—curry powder packets and coconut candies make for easy-to-pack souvenirs.
Hire a car for the hour-long trip to the Big Buddha Temple. Leonardo Ice Cream and Blue Vanilla are both at the base of the temple.
WAT PHRA YAI (BIG BUDDHA TEMPLE): On Route 4171 near the airport; no website or phone number
LEONARDO ICE CREAM: At the base of the Big Buddha;+66-928-477-385; www.facebook.com/leonardoicecreambigbuddha
BLUE VANILLA: At the base of the Big Buddha; +66-894-744-671; facebook.com/BlueVanillaSamui