The southern part of Thailand, where Ko Samui is situated, is predominantly Muslim. However, the Chao Samui, who were the first residents of the island, were Buddhist. This is why Ko Samui has both Islamic and Buddhist roots, the latter being seen in the many temples, including the Wat Phra Yai or the Big Buddha Temple, scattered all over the island. The culture in Ko Samui is influenced largely by these two religions.
The Big Buddha Temple is the home of the 12-meter tall Buddha statue, which is the most famous tourist attraction in Ko Samui. All group tours and even tourists in independent trips make it a point to visit this temple when they go around the island. Found on the northeastern part of Ko Samui, the temple was built back in 1972 and took two years to complete. The large statue of the temple can be seen from several kilometers away. If going to or leaving the island by plane, the structure can be spotted easily from the air.
The Big Buddha Temple lies on an islet in the village of Bangrak, which eventually earned the name Big Buddha Beach. The Bangrak coastline boasts of about 3 kilometers stretch of white sand beach. Although Big Buddha Beach is not as great by Chaweng standards, it is nevertheless a quiet and pleasant place with lovely resorts and restaurants. In the last few years, the area has gone through a lot of development as more accommodations, spas, and other commercial establishments have been set up.
Wat Phra Yai looms over Bangrak background, and the immense structure easily catches the attention of visitors. The large Buddha statue is perched atop a flight of stairs that are decorated on each side with dragons. At the top of the Big Buddha Temple, you will find large prayer bells. The view from the top is in itself a sight to behold, giving you breathtaking views of the island. On very hot days, people visiting the temple are allowed to keep their footwear on, making the climb a lot more comfortable.
Unlike other Buddhist temples in Ko Samui, Wat Phra Yai has a more modern look and feel to it. Because of this some people tend to forget its importance to the locals. Although it has become the most popular tourist attraction in the island, tourists visiting the temple should not forget that it is an important religious place for local devotees and should give it the respect they give to any other religious temple.
During Buddhist festivals, the Big Buddha Temple comes alive with activity as people flock to it to celebrate. Ko Samui festivals are among the most colorful in Thailand, that’s why you should try to plan your trip during one of the many festivals in the island.
There are a number of restaurants and stores around Wat Phra Yai for tourists and locals alike. Shops selling beautiful artwork and silver jewelry are also found near the temple. Likewise, you can buy Ko Samui souvenir items from shops at the base of the temple.