Whether you fancy visiting one of Phuket’s bustling markets or eating at a beachside seafood shack in Koh Samui, Thailand’s islands offer plenty of ways to sample a taste of local life.
While many travellers make their way to Thai islands like Phuket and Koh Samui in search of shimmering white sand beaches and swaying palm trees, they are always delighted to find that these island hotspots still retain an authentic sense of Thai character.
Although tourism is extremely important for the economy of both islands, each one still maintains a strong sense of local tradition and also offers glimpses of the original natural environment, which many visitors enjoy exploring.
From authentic family-owned Thai restaurants to waterfalls nestled in the jungle below are a few ways to get a feel for the original versions of Phuket and Koh Samui.
At the Market
Fresh markets have long been a vital part of Thailand’s social life, often forming the glue that unites the entire local community. Take a stroll around any fresh produce market on Phuket or Samui and your senses will be ignited by the colourful array of goods on offer, the aroma of street food, and the cheerful chatter as locals purchase their daily supplies. In Phuket, the Kamala Village Market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and is well worth a visit if you fancy sampling some exquisite local fare. In Koh Samui, Lamai’s Fresh Food Market offers an excellent opportunity for visitors to browse a plethora of fragrant stalls whilst sipping local iced coffee from a plastic bag, just like the locals do.
Whether its street stalls or local restaurants, plenty of local island traditions revolve around food in Thailand and a visit to the most popular local restaurants on Phuket or Koh Samui gives you the chance to literally taste history. In Phuket, the Mor Mu dong seafood restaurant is the perfect place for those that want to sample the fresh catch of the day prepared in a variety of dishes that please the local palette. With a nod to days past, guests are seated in rustic bamboo salas on mats and eat from low tables. On Koh Samui, visitors can head to the quiet end of Bophut Fisherman’s Village to try the authentic Thai cuisine at the Hut Café. From spicy curries to seafood stir fries, this family-owned eatery will not disappoint.
Over 90 percent of Thailand’s population are practicing Buddhists, so for those that want to delve a little deeper into Thailand’s culture a trip to a local shrine or temple is an absolute must. In Phuket, there are Buddhist temples (wats) as well as Chinese Taoist shrines. Situated in Phuket Town, Wat Khao Rang is a spiritual hub for many locals, and is often particularly busy at weekends. Like Phuket, Koh Samui is also home to a wealth of Buddhist wats and Chinese shrines. Combine a physical and spiritual excursion with a visit to Wat Namtok Hin Lad, a place of worship situated at the base of the path that leads all the way up a mountainside to reach the stunning Hin Lad Waterfall.
Rather than rushing to the beach to jump in the sea when they want to cool off and relax for the afternoon, local Thai people on Samui and Phuket are much more likely to head inland to one of the islands’ cherished waterfalls. Samui’s Na Muang waterfalls are positioned between Nathon and Hua Thanon. Visitors that make the light trek through the jungle to reach these waterfalls are rewarded by a shady jungle haven. In Phuket, Bang Pae Waterfall is another popular picnic spot for locals and a swimming destination during Thailand’s green season. It is located in the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park to the north of Phuket Town.
Part of enjoying local island life on either Phuket or Koh Samui is visiting less developed areas that are off the beaten tourist track. Luckily, despite the high volume of international visitors, both islands still offer a choice of spectacular ‘secret’ beaches. Phuket’s Banana Beach on the north west coast sits in a small cove most easily reached by boat and fringes beautiful crystal clear waters from November through to May, making it an excellent spot for swimming. On Samui, Throng Krut Beach is situated on the island’s quieter southwest coast and a great place to sit and relax as you watch local fishermen take their long tail boats out into the Gulf of Siam.