Samui Island, or Koh Samui, is an idyllic destination, everything you could want in a tropical paradise. You realize this as you arrive, skimming over the shimmering blue-green Gulf of Thailand. Islands, covered in dense green jungle, rise tall above the sea. Puffy white clouds seem about to kiss the mountain tops.
Even the airport is different, looking like a tropical resort. Thatched roofs and wood and rattan walls blend in with its coconut-plantation surroundings. It just might be the most beautiful airport in the world.
Koh Samui is famed for its palm tree-edged beaches. These are the beaches you find on the cover of magazines, some with blinding white sand, others a jumble of wave worn boulders. Warm, clear jade-green waters pulse with colorful marine life. Stunning vistas, waterfalls, and a secret Buddha garden await in the mountains. Tropical flowers, in every color of the rainbow, perfume the air and delight the eye.
Natural and Spiritual Wonders
In addition to natural wonders, Koh Samui is also home to spectacular Buddhist temples. Perhaps the best known is Wat Phra Yai, Big Buddha Temple. You, no doubt, noticed this on your flight in. Who could miss the 12 meter tall statue of Buddha, perched serenely on a hill overlooking the stunning aquamarine waters surrounding the tiny islet of Koh Faan?
The temple complex is majestic, dazzling, serene, and perhaps a bit amusing, all at once. Every available surface is drenched in gold and bedecked with ornate mirrored tiles the color of precious jewels. Each gable features painted sculptures depicting deities and demons, mythical creatures, or scenes from the life of Buddha.
Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. – Buddha
The roofs are graced with golden finials called chofa, “tassel of air.” Resembling the elegant curve of a waterfowl’s neck, chofa also represent the garuda – mythical “man-eagles,” guardians of sacred structures.
The naga or snake is another iconic motif, a symbol of comfort and security. According to Buddhist scriptures, a naga protected and sheltered the Buddha as he meditated. Naga decorate the edges of temple roofs and the hand rails of stairs. Here, the long stairway leading up to the towering golden Buddha is flanked by two sinuous emerald naga. The view is worth the climb. A sense of reverence and serenity will touch you.
The Big Buddha sits in the mara posture, left palm up, and right hand facing down, fingers hanging over the knee. The pose symbolizes Buddha’s overcoming temptations, and steadfastness, purity and enlightenment.
Peaceful Buddhist Culture
Behind Buddha is a huge Dharma Wheel, borne by the Royal Barge Suphannahong, the Golden Swan. The mythical swan, hong, holds crystalline bell, suspended from a string. Many believe that when the lotus-leaf bell clapper moves in the breeze, prayers are lifted to heaven. Here, high above the sea, there is almost always a breeze.
A symbol of Buddhism, the Dharma Wheel, represents the Buddha’s teachings. The 12 spokes denote the 12 links of Dependent Origination, the chain of causes. The links form a circle, with no beginning and no end. Everything affects everything else. Nothing, no one, exists independently. As Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Buddhist monk put it, “the world is woven of interconnected threads.”
Encircling the Buddha is a walkway, hung with ornate bronze prayer bells. Take a wooden striker and softly ring a bell. The gentle ring serves to focus attention, away from future worries or past concerns. Pay attention to this moment, to now, it says. And here on Koh Samui, it would be a shame not to focus on the beauty and the wonder that is all around you.
Savoring the Beauty of Life
Feel the soft powdery sand between your toes. Relax into the caress of the ocean wave. Luxuriate as the warm breeze plays like a lover’s breath over your body. Smell the salt and the sea and the frangipane. Delight in the company of the Thai people, smiling and serene. Feel the warmth of friends sharing a meal, a laugh, a dance. Meditate sitting quietly on the sand, or on a boulder, at sunrise, as the world comes awake. And perhaps, at the end of a happy day, share a sunset.
There is something magical about sunsets on Koh Samui. Perhaps you will find yourself on a beautiful beach overlooking a bay studded with boats, mountains rising on the far shore to frame the scene. It is the “golden hour,” when the light is soft and warm. The sky is the color of amber, and the sea is, too. Were it not for the mountains, sea and sky might seem as one. The endless circle of life goes on, captured in this moment.