The Thai islands are home to important historical, religious and natural landmarks.
Samui’s gleaming golden Big Buddha shrine is an island landmark
Steeped in history and tradition, Thailand is an intriguing destination for visitors keen to immerse themselves in a fascinating culture that’s a world apart from their own.
Whether you visit Phuket or Koh Samui, there’s plenty to see and do when it comes to historical and spiritual sites of interest – from the vividly coloured Chinese Taoist shrines of Phuket Old Town to the phallic natural landmarks adorning Samui’s southern coastline.
Cultural sites of interest are so high in number across each of the Thai islands that it’s worth doing your homework well in advance to prioritise which ones you really want to see whilst on vacation.
To get you started, we’ve rounded up a selection of our favourite attractions.
The sisters of Phuket
Phuket’s Heroines Monument is situated on Thepkasattri Road in Thalang
Of all the inspirational monuments on Phuket, the Heroines Monument – situated on Thalang’s Thepkasattri Road – is one of the most famous. This humble statue of two women honours two local sisters, Lady Chan and Lady Mook, who bravely defended the island from an army of Burmese invaders in 1785. Even though outnumbered by the invaders, the brave sisters’ smart battle strategy helped them lead an army of locals to outwit the Burmese troops. Thai King Rama I bestowed the honorary titles of Thai Thepakasattri and Thai Sri Sunthorn on the brave sisters in recognition of their actions.
Today, the sisters are widely known as Ya Chan and Ya Mook – ‘Ya’ being the Thai word for grandmother. Thai people still lock to the Heroines monument to pay their respects to the sisters. It’s traditional for visitors to leave small offerings at the statue, including marigolds, sticks of incense and gold leaf. According to local custom, students leaving Phuket to pursue higher education will also visit the monument to ask the sisters for good luck. The sisters’ bravery is also commemorated in the festivities of Phuket’s Thao Thepakasattri Thao Sru Sunthorn Festival, which takes place in mid-March.
Phuket’s awe-inspiring Big Buddha sits stop the Nakkerd Hills
Perched atop Phuket’s Nakkerd Hills, the Big Buddha shine is one of the most revered sites on the island. Sitting tall at an impressive height of 45m, the shrine can be seen for miles around. It is well worth a visit for those keen to immerse themselves in Thailand’s deeply spiritual culture and many people visit the shrine to ask for good luck, or to bring hope in difficult times.
Locals know the shrine as the Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha. Built in 2004, the statue is constructed from reinforced concrete finished with a stunning later of Burmese white jade marble that glows brightly when the sun’s beams fall on it. A serene backdrop is decorated with colourful Buddhist flags, and the tinkling of small bells and the soft sound of dharma music enhances the tranquil atmosphere. Thanks to the Buddha statue’s lofty vantage point, visitors who make the journey up to the shrine will also be rewarded with panoramic views of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon and Chalong Bay.
Samui’s famous landmark
Samui’s Big Buddha temple is a revered site for both holiday-makers and locals
Like Phuket’s Big Buddha, Samui’s gleaming golden equivalent is one of the most revered sites on the island. The striking 12-metre statue sits on a small rocky outcrop that is connected to northeast Samui by a causeway. Build In 1972, Samui’s Big Buddha is also one of the most popular spots for visitors to the island and is often one of the first things visitors glimpse as they arrive on Samui by plane.
Seated in the Mara posture, Koh Samui’s Big Buddha depicts a time during the Lord Buddha’s journey to enlightenment where he successfully thwarted the temptations and dangers thrown at him by Mara, a devil-like figure. Essentially, this pose has become a strong symbol of purity and faith on the road to enlightenment.
Visitors will also come across a courtyard at the base of the statue, where a selection of vendors sell amulets, clothing and other religious articles.
The tale of the Hin Ta and Hin Yai rocks is tinged with tragedy
Positioned on Samui’s spectacular southern coastline, the unusual rock formations – known locally as Hin Ta and Hin Yai – have long been a source of wonder. Known amongst Westerners as Grandpa and Grandma, the rocks strangely resemble specific parts of the male and female body, and have therefore become a source of mirth ever since they were discovered! Set on the craggy shore between Lamai and Hua Thanon, the rocks attract plenty of visitors each year – some coming to have a chuckle, and others coming to snap a couple of funny photographs.
However, the legend behind these two rocks has its roots in tragedy. An elderly couple named Ta Kreng and Yai Riem believed it was time for their son to get married. They decided to sail to a nearby province to ask for the hand of a local woman, however, they were shipwrecked and lost their lives. It is believed that Ta Kreng and Yai Riem turned into rocks, which are everlasting monuments of their true intentions to find their son a bride.
The mummified body of Thai monk, Luong Pordaeng, is at Wat Khunaram
In 1973, Thai monk Luong Pordaeng died in a seated meditative position at Koh Samui’s Wat Khunaram – and he’s been there ever since. While the sight of the mummified monk might be a shock to some visitors at the temple, it’s also a fascinating insight into how Buddhists view death. Rather then being scared by the concept of life ending, Buddhists view death as an opportunity to be reborn into a better place. In fact, Thailand’s temples are home to a number of mummified monks, although Luong Pordaeng is the most famous and revered. It is said that before the monk died, he requested that if his body did not decompose then he wanted to be put on display to remind people of the Buddha’s teachings. Remarkably well-preserved, even after 45 years, Luong Pordaeng still serves as an inspiration to Buddhist visitors from around the world.
The tradition of making merit is based on the Buddhist principles of giving to others
If you visit a Buddhist shrine whilst on holiday in Thailand, you’ll see local people at the temple on a daily basis, making offerings of fruit and flowers. Many devotees will also light incense at the base of sacred statues as a sign of respect. Based on religious principles, the tradition of making merit is also something you might observe at a Thai temple. Devotees will put food into monks’ bowls, believing they are gaining merit by giving to others.
If you’ve never visited a Buddhist temple or shrine before, it’s worth reading up on Thai etiquette beforehand to ensure you remain respectful at all times.
- Men should wear long trousers and a shirt that covers the shoulders. Likewise, women should wear long dresses or skirts that cover the knees, and shoulder should also be covered.
- Turn your phone off before entering the temple complex – a ringing phone inside a temple is a sign of great disrespect.
- It is considered disrespectful to take photographs of sacred statues and shrines within the temple.