The tropical island of Koh Samui is one of the most popular tourist destinations within Thailand. It is the third largest island behind Koh Chang & Phuket and has an “official” population of about 55,000 people according to the Mayor’s office as at 2008.
The island is located only 35km(21miles) northwest of Surat Thani town on the mainland, in the Gulf of Thailand & is the largest of around 60 islands composing the Ang Thong National Marine Park which lie off the west cost of Koh Samui .
Koh Samui measures some 21kms(12.6miles) at its widest point, and 25kms(15miles) at its longest.
The population & all the hotels & resorts are located all around the coast as the centre of the island is a very dense mountainous jungle. The highest point on the island is Khao Pom, which is 635metres(2,116feet).
The capital of the island is Nathon(pronouced Nat-on), which is located on the south-west coast, it is also the major port for fishing and ferry services between Koh Samui, the mainland & other outlying islands.
Nathon is the seat of the regional government, and the true commercial hub of the island and is popular with Samui locals. It has a charming pace, and is still small enough to walk everywhere.
One particular area of interest are the old Chinese shop houses along the middle street which all whisper of an exotic history !.
The island is thought to have been first inhabited around 1,500 years ago,with the first settlers being fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and Southern China.
The island first appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687, under the name “Pulo Cornam”, its present name of Koh Samui is considered a local mystery, perhaps it is an extension of one of the islands native trees “Mui” or it could be a corruption of the Chinese word “Saboey”, meaning “safe haven”.
Koh meaning “island” in Thai, so its naming would best suit the description of “safe haven” particularly if used by the fishing populations that might have sheltered on the island from the tropical storms typical of this area of South-East Asia.
The island remained an isolated self-sufficient community until late into the 20th century, having little connection with the mainland, no formal roads until the early 1970s or airport until 1989.
The main development of the island as a tourist destination is attributed to early hippy backpackers who were overwhelmed by the islands natural beauty & completely laid back lifestyle.
Koh Samui since those days has been developed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams,and is now one of the world’s top 10 exotic holiday locations, most of the traditional backpacker style accommodation has gone, being replaced by high quality Koh Samui Hotels & Spa Resorts, the backpackers having moved onto cheaper “climes” such as Koh Phangan , Koh Lanta (near Krabi) & Koh Tao.
The island’s economy is now very dependent upon tourism,with the majority of its Thai population involved in every different aspect of it.The small fishing fleets that operate from its shores provide fresh delicacies for its ever increasing & demanding audiences.
Its core products of Coconuts & “latex”(rubber) are still exported from the island, but these industries are diminishing, as the forests are felled to create even more tourism opportunities.
The Koh Samui International Airport serves not only as a “hub” for flights from Bangkok, but also offers direct international flights to other major South-East Asia cities including Hong Kong & Singapore, handling over 1,000,000 passengers per year.
With the phenominal growth of tourism seen over the last 10 years, most of the beach communities on Koh Samui have grown into small towns each offering a differing array of services, there are not many palm-leaf covered “beach huts” left but you will find Places to Stay suitable for every pocket!:
Chaweng Beach is a large beach on the northeast coast. It is the most crowded and tourist friendly beach on the island. Along the beach there is lodging ranging from budget bungalows to luxury villas. 100 metres from the beach there is a bustling town with all kinds of western and Asian food options, including Starbucks, McDonalds & KFC !!.
Lamai Beach is south of Chaweng has a smaller beach, and the whole community is a little more chilled and cheaper than its rich “neighbour” to the north.
Maenam Beach is on the north coast of the island giving this beach amazing views! Its golden sandy beach is stunning and is usually less crowded than the east coast beaches. The area is still heavily Thai making food and accommodation more reasonably priced.
Bophut Beach is known locally as the “Fisherman’s Village” this beach has a more chilled vibe and is a good place to relax.
Bang Rak Beach is home to the Big Buddha statue(the first landmark you see before arriving at the airport), it’s a is very relaxed beach, under-developed & affordable location.
Choeng Mon Beach is one of the smallest tourist beaches on the island,although it lies in a nice secluded bay on the north eastern tip of the island. This is a nice place if you are looking for some peace and quiet.
Ao Tong Takian Beach also known as “Silver Beach”, for its white sands,this small cove just north of Lamai has always been popular with the “ganja fans” for decades.
Lipa Noi Beach long curving beautiful white sands and is the only good swimming beach on the west coast of the island, it has the most amazing sunsets every night, its also one of the least touristy beaches on the island,very laid back & affordable.
If you have been to Koh Samui before, and have really great memories of places to stay, visit, beaches or just fun things that happened, please share your Koh Samui Memories here.
Koh Samui Weather
The island really has only two seasons, a rainy season & a dry season. Koh Samui’s Rainy Season lasts from October to mid-December, and the dry season is from January-February to October.
As the island’s weather is tropical(high in both temperature & humidity), it does rain regularly throughout the year, the rain, when it does fall, is quite often heavy but a “storm” usually doesn’t last long, and any signs of rain disappear very quickly.
During the rainy season it can rain for days and even weeks almost without interruption, which does lead to heavy flooding.
Most people find Koh Samui’s year round temperatures pleasant, the average daytime temperature is constantly around 30C (86F), with nights being only 5 degrees or so lower.
How to Get There:
Samui Airport (USM) is a very beautiful privately owned airport, hourlyflights to Bangkok, good services to other Thai cities & international destinations.
The main Ferry Crossings to Koh Samui are to the terminal which is located at Nathon this supports most of the traffic from the mainland( sailing time 3 hours), there are several other smaller ports that offer services to all the outlying islands.
There are extensive Bus Services from Bangkok to Koh Samui, buses leaving daily,travelling time approximately 12 hours.
The roads from Bangkok to the south & Koh Samui are generally very good the travelling distance is around 700kms (430 miles) and takes around 9-10 hours to cover the distance.