Ko Samui island of Surat Thani Province (or Koh Samui, เกาะสมุย) is an island off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, close to the mainland Surat Thani town. It is Thailand's third largest island, with an area of 228.7 km² and a population of 47,874 (2006). It is rich with natural resources, white sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees.
Based upon the Surat Thani province, Ko Samui holds the same slogan as the province, i.e. Hundreds of islands, tasty rambutan, huge oyster, fermented eggs and Dharma land
The island was probably first inhabited about 15 centuries ago, settled by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and Southern China. It appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687, under the name Pulo Cornam. The name Samui is mysterious in itself. Perhaps it is an extension of the name of one of the native trees, mui, or it is a corruption of the Chinese word Saboey, meaning "safe haven".
Until the late 20th century, Samui was an isolated self-sufficient community, having little connection with the mainland of Thailand. The island was even without roads until the early 1970s, and the 15km journey from one side of the island to the other involved a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.
Samui has a population of about forty-five thousand, and lives on a successful tourist industry, as well as exports of coconut and rubber. It even has its own international airport, Samui Airport, with flights daily to Bangkok and other major airports in Southeast Asia. While the island presents an unspoiled image to the public perception, economic growth has brought not only prosperity, but changes to the island's environment and culture, a source of conflict between local residents and migrants from other parts of Thailand and other countries. Reflecting Samui's growth as a tourist destination, the Cunard ship MS Queen Victoria (a 2000-plus passenger ship) will dock at Samui during its 2008 world cruise.
Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand, about 35km northeast of Surat Thani town (9°N, 100°E). The island measures some 21 kilometres at its widest point, and 25 kilometres at its longest. There is a 51-kilometre ring and largely coastal road encircles the island.
The island is roughly circular in shape, and is about 15km across. The central part of the island is an (almost) uninhabitable mountain jungle (peak Khao Pom, 635m) and the various lowland areas are connected together by a single road, that covers the circumference of the island.
The old capital is Nathon, on the southwest coast of the island, and remains the major port for fishing and inter-island transportation. Nathon is the seat of the regional government, and the true commercial hub of the Samui locals. It has a charming pace, and is almost small enough to walk everywhere. The old Chinese shop houses along the middle street whisper of an exotic history.
Administratively, Ko Samui is an Amphoe (district) of Surat Thani Province. The district is subdivided into 7 subdistricts (tambon). Also the complete island is one municipality (thesaban mueang). The district covers the island, as well as the Ang Thong archipelago and some other small islands nearby.
Ko Samui, like the rest of the south of Thailand has only the two seasons. The rainy season is from May to December and the dry season is from January to April. Since the weather is tropical however, the rain when it does fall, does so heavily but doesn’t last long.
Historically the island's economy has been based around subsistence agriculture and fishing, with coconuts as the main cash crop. From the 1980s onwards however, tourism has become an economic factor and is now the dominant industry. The construction of a stable, high-speed internet connection in recent years has also made the island a practicable location for IT-based enterprises, which are beginning to provide a certain degree of economic diversity. The island's climate and accessibility make it particularly attractive for international investors.
Ko Samui Airport (USM) is a private airport originally built by Bangkok Airways, which is still the main operator and was for a long time the only airline with services to Ko Samui from Thailand.
Samui Airport (USM) in the northeast of the island is served by Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways International. Several ferries connect the island with the mainland, including the car ferry from Don Sak to a pier in the west of the island, south of the main town Nathon.
Bus and Boat
There are both non air-conditioned and air-conditioned buses to Bangkok and other southern provinces. There are also non air-condition inter-provincial buses. From Ko Samui are regular boats to and from Surat Thani and Ko Phang-ngan. There is also a daily boat to Ko Tao. Private speedboats are also hired for travel to and from Ko Samui.
Taxi The Ko Samui Taxi Service is a public taxi service which operates around the island.
Pickup trucks/public passenger pick-up vehicles (songthaews) are the most popular form of transport on Ko Samui
Motorbike Motorbikes are out rented virtually everywhere on Ko Samui. Popular with the locals are motorbike-taxis.
Many foreign visitors prefer to use the rented bicycles to get around.
It was only the early 1970s that the first backpackers traveling on the back of a coconut boat arrived on Ko Samui. And for years after that the island just had a few bungalows and a trickle of travelers. Things started to change however, in the early 1990s; tourists started arriving in the boat-full and since then the place has soared in popularity. Samui is now the second most popular place as an island destination in Thailand (first is Phuket). Ko Samui may not be the country’s most beautiful island but it is still an oasis of natural beauty with its white sandy beaches, dazzling coral, luscious lagoons, picturesque waterfalls, swaying coconut trees and crystal clear water. Tourism is now ahead of coconuts as the islands main industry.
Unfortunately, development on Ko Samui is starting to take its toll and the beaches of Chaweng and Lamai are as overcrowded as anywhere on the Costa-del-Sol. Other than that however, there are still legions of quieter locations to ‘get away from it all’.
Samui is visited mostly by holidaymakers wanting to "get away from it all", and its main appeal is its funky rural beach communities with white beaches and clear & warm seas, and it has a few exceptional ones to choose from. Ko Samui is hardly "away from it all" anymore, but rather a cool and bustling international island resort.
Chaweng Beach covers a large portion of the island's northeast coast, and is easily the most crowded and tourist saturated region on the island. The beach itself, while beautiful and clean often suffers from seasonal overcrowding as ever increasing numbers of visitors discover the island. Several hotels, ranging from budget resorts to luxury villas line up the shore. Restaurants are set right along the beachside, making Chaweng Beach seem to glow from within the sands.
Set back about 100 meters from the sand the one way beach road in Chaweng has developed into a bustling international tourist town packed with every kind of resort, restaurant, and bar (ranging from busy traditional family-run open air sea food and noodle Thai at Ninja, through exclusive Thai-Californian fusion food at Jeff Lord's Betelnut to Irish Pubs and American Fast Food places McDonald's and Starbucks), Fine art, tailors, and souvenir shops, markets and wild, rambunctious, or chilled out nightclubs.
It gets ultra busy on the beach road at night with a crazy and colorful mix of pedestrians, motorcycles, and 'Song Taos', or small truck-taxis carrying people up and down the village. Chaweng is a jumping place with people exploring the shops (which also stay open late) and dancing the night away. There is plenty of nightlife, and Soi Green Mango is ground zero for a raging club and bar scene that only begins to simmer down after two AM.
In the summer months the waters in Chaweng can occasionally have some wind swell & surf, so be prepared for strong rip tides or side shore currents. The waters are shallow, but inexperienced swimmers should either stay close to shore or swim with other people.
Also on the East coast is Lamai, just south of Chaweng and smaller, but Lamai's beaches are clean and occasionally less crowded than Chaweng. Lamai was the original destination for travelers to Samui, and compared to Chaweng the town is a bit more tawdry and low budget, but it has its own distinct charms.
Greater Lamai is actually a large and beautiful valley, and as one travels inland away from the beach village the landscape is striking. Lamai has some pretty outrageous 'social' bars in the middle of town, and the once a week all girl Muay Thai boxing matches always seem to draw an eclectic crowd. Lamai has a lovely old Wat(temple), and is also the location of two of the most endearing original spas on the island, one on the beach, a hipster paradise called 'The Spa', and the other called 'Tamarind Springs', which has long been the class act on the island.
In the center of the North coast of the island, Maenam offers spectacular views of Ko Phangan to the North, and the Ang Thong National Marine Park to the East. The waters are calm and clean, being protected from the North Easterly currents by Ko Phangan. Because the sans are golden rather than white Meanam is usually much less crowded than Lamai or Chaweng, and Maenam's restaurants and bars still retain much of the local Thai flavor as well as being more reasonably priced, or even inexpensive. Overall Maenam is quieter, more relaxed, with local Thai community still pretty much intact. Meanam is also home to the Santiburi Resort, still considered by many to be the premier hotel on the island. The major golf course on the island is also in Maenam.
Bophut is the beach/bay just to the east of Maenam. Its lifestyle is relaxed and more traditional than the larger communities, referring to itself as Fisherman's Village. Bhophut's laid back vibe is popular with the more chic sort of travelers, and has a number of pricey but very good French-owned cafes and restaurants.
Bang Rak, just two kilometers east of Bhophut, and part of Bhophut 'province' is also known by the name Big Buddha Beach, after the 19-metre gold tinted statue of the ancient spiritual master which overlooks the entire bay (Big Buddha). Bang Rak is quite close to the airport, and is one of the calmest beaches, though the huge sweep of its jade colored waters are often a bit murky. Bang Rak is the jump off point to sister island Ko Phan Ngan, and the ferry goes every day.One of the best restaurants here is Ocean 11 with their fantastic Italian/European and Seafood.
Choeng Mon is one of the smallest of Samui's tourist beaches, but lies in a secluded bay on the northeastern tip of the island, making it perfect for those who want peace and quiet. It doesn't have much of a town but there are a number of small restaurants and a couple of shops, in addition to some very luxurious (and expensive) hotels that surround the bay...and it is only five minutes north from the bright lights of Chaweng.
Ao Tong Takian is a small cove north of Lamai beach. It's long been popular among stoners and hip tourists for its inviting white sand, and is also known as Silver Beach. Here you will find five resorts: La Mer Samui Resort, the Samui Yacht Club (with no yachts or sailors at all), Tong Ta Kian Villa, Silver beach, and Crystal Bay. This used to be a relatively unknown spot. There is great swimming here if the local fishing boats are not around. Be a careful if you are walking in the water, as Tong Takian has a lot of sharp rocks.
Nathon on the Southwestern coast is the island's main port and the beaches here lack the beauty or deep water found on the east coast of the island. The city of Nathon offers great shopping with some of the best prices to be found anywhere on the island, as well as some truly good local restaurants, including a fantastic place on a side street where you can get a low priced Chinese Duck lunch. The open-air food market is piled high with inexpensive and fresh local produce. Some of the shops in Nathon are really offbeat, selling umbrellas, computer parts, stationary, and cheese in a single shop. Banks and Travel agencies here make it happen for travelers, and the ferry to the mainland and point beyond departs from this port.
Lipa Noi is really the only useful swimming beach on the west coast, and its wide sweep of sand is the last quiet place on the island. Lipa Noi faces due west and looks directly into the stunning Thai sunsets. It won't last long, but this is the part of the island where you can still feel like you are free from the tourist circus. It's really romantic, and there is not much to do.
Tong Krut on the South West corner of the island is currently one of the quieter areas of Ko Samui and is being proposed as the site for the islands future mega-yacht harbor.
Scuba Diving & Snorkelling
Ko Samui’s clear waters are not the best but snorkeling and diving are still popular at Angthong Marine National Park. The dive boats tend to leave from the pier at Bophut
With a coastline composed of mangroves, limestone, small coves, caves and islands, and an interior with rivers lined with cave systems, Ko Samui provides a popular environment for kayaking.
Samui’s pristine forests are decent for bird watching. The areas are a nesting ground for several rare species of birds.
Sailing Yachting & Cruising
All types of boating have soared in popularity in Samui over the past decade. This is probably the result of the success of the Ko Samui Regatta and day cruises and sunset cruises aboard large catamaran Kia Ora. The only problem with sailing however, in Ko Samui, is that there isn’t much in the way of safe mooring, good support infrastructure and services.
Fishers catch the likes of marlin, sailfish barracuda and tuna. The majority of the fishing tours leave from the south-west corner of Ko Tong Krut.
Krabi’s forests with attractive flora and fauna are popular for trekking. The Khao Phanom Bencha National Park and the Khao Pra-Bang Khram are regarded as the two of the favorites among trekkers.
Bungy Jump situated on the Reggae Street side of Chaweng lake.
Thai Boxing or Muay Thai has risen in popularity in Koh Samui and there are a number of gyms such as Lamai, WMC and Pinyo.
There is one 18-hole golf courses available on Samui called the Santiburi Samui Country Club. It is popular for its scenic natural surroundings and high valley fairways. The island is also the location of a few golf shops, especially on Chaweng Beach.
Trekking & Elephant Trekking
Due to diversity of the landscape and tropically lush forests, Samui is a great place for trekking, either on foot or by elephant
Snooker & Pool
There are snooker clubs at the main beaches in Thailand and they are popular with the local Thais. More popular with the western tourists is pool which can easily be found at the island’s bars. At most bars, pool can be played for free.
For those who love to ‘spa’, Thailand is the perfect destination to indulge in this pastime therapy. The country prides itself in countless spas offering the highest world class services at extremely reasonable rates. Much of the recent success of this therapy is due to the tremendous support given by the Thai Spa Operators Association. Not only have they assisted in the training of therapists to international standards but also trained them in keeping methods traditionally and distinctively ‘Thai-style’. Spas can be found at major hotels and resorts on Ko Samui.
Shopping in Koh Samui is by far most intense in areas such as Nathon, Chaweng and Lamai. You will find all kind of shops and boutiques here. There are a number of skilled tailors and dressmakers, who can sew a perfect fitting suit or dress of your choice with one of the most reliable and trusted names being Timmys Massschneiderlocated in Chaweng. You will also find several sport shops, beauty shops, clothing and fashion boutiques (brand names in the shops and the copies outside) a few DVD and CD shops, photo shops and opticians etc.
Thai traditional handicrafts and souvenirs like Thai silk, sovenir, antique, lacquer ware, paintings and more can be found along with other jewellery, gold, silver shops. Thip Chang a place to find the best selection for Buddha idols, antiques and spouvenirs in Chaweng. Several 7-Eleven and Family Mart (Japanese chain) and local owned convenience stores are found all over Chaweng too. Big department stores such Makro, Tesco Lotus, Big C offer a big range of products for all your needs at reasonable prices.
Besides coconuts, Samui is also famed for its silk, handicrafts and precious gems and these can easily be bought at great prices from reputable shops and companies. There is also lacquerware, silverware, nilonware, pewterware, wood-carvings, brassware, gold and tailor-made suits.
Chaweng Beach is especially famous for its beer bars (also called bar-beers), staffed by pretty hostesses, usually from the north-east of Thailand.
Beer bars can be found all over Chaweng. Besides having just girls for hire, the bars offer pool, Connect4 and other popular bar games. Since the nightlife on Chaweng can see serious debauchery at times, the local law enforcers are strict in concern to enforcing closing times.
Chaweng Beach is packed out with nightclubs playing the latest rave sounds and serving exotic cocktails.
There are various Karaoke shops for people who can either choose a private room or sing in the main lounge for everyone to hear. There are Thai songs and international songs.
Ko Samui is also where the protagonists in the movie The Beach pass through in order to reach their destination, a secret island/paradise.
Ko Samui is featured in the video game Burnout 3 although not mentioned by name. The Big Budda Statue on the island is prominently featured in the game.
Ko Samui is among 67 global locales listed in Lemon Jelly's song Ramblin' Man.
Even though Koh Samui dominates the islands of Southern Thailand, where Islam has a strong influnce, the original inhabitants of the island, known as 'Chao Samui', are predominantly Buddhist. In the past most of the island locals made their living in the coconut farming business. Nowadays, however, the majority of them work in jobs related to the tourism industry.
Many of the locals have become wealthy from selling off land they have owned for decades. As a result of the extensive development of the island many Thai-Chinese have come to Samui from the capital of Bangkok (Khung-Thep) to do business. Most of the manual labour needed to keep up with the island’s growth has been supplied by folks native to the country’s poorer north-eastern region, and as a result you have a wide cross section of economic classes on the island.
The south of Thailand is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai Chinese, Muslims and the traditional sea faring gypsies. Koh Samui does not seem to suffer from the religious tensions that one hears about in the news originating in communities along the southern border of Malaysia and Thailand, and in general the locals live in harmony. Outside of the tourist areas one can hear Thai language spoken with a thick Southern dialect which is even difficult for northern Thais to understand.
With this broad mixture of cultures Koh Samui is always celebrating some tradition or another, be it part of Thai Buddhist, Thai-Chinese, Thai-Islamic, or western culture.
Learning Thai Cooking
There are schools which provide basic skills sufficient to prepare a Thai meal at home, or even training to professional standards. Some hotels that have their own in-house Thai restaurant offer cooking classes to their customers.
Samui has a few gyms where wanna-be kick boxers can learn this unique martial art which is embedded in culture and tradition.
Thai way of meditation can help treat those suffering from a bugging, moody, monkey-like or impatient mind. This can be done at either a temple or Samudra Retreat.
In general, Southern Thai food is renowned for its spiciness. Much of the cuisine has its origins in Malay, Indonesian and Indian food. Favourite dishes from the south include Indian-style Muslim curry (massaman), rice noodles in fish curry sauce (Khanom Jeen) and chicken birayani.
Local food in Koh Samui and its province of Surat Thani are salted eggs and rambutan.
Samui has the internationally renowned Bangkok Samui Hospitals. For those who are just a little sick there are countless clinics and pharmacies, especially at Chaweng Beach.
There are a lot of retirees living in Hua Hin making it one of the more popular destinations for retirement in Thailand. This is probably due to the climate, natural surroundings and cheap cost of living.
Internet Dial-up connection in Thailand is getting rarer as people are turning to ADSL. Typical monthly charges including the telephone line are around 20USD+. Thailand also has more than its fair share of Internet cafes, the hourly charge is about 1USD. For those residing in rural areas, hooking up to the Internet can be done via broadband satellite.
Cable TV Most foreigners living in Ko Samui usually prefer more than just Thai language TV and yearn for something in the English language. Western TV is available on UBC with all the usual channels such as BBC, CNN, MTV and Star Sports etc.
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