The King of Thailand visiting Koh Samui... History and Culture on Samui

Just Imagine...

A look at how Koh Samui evolved into the tourism hub as we know it today.

Have you ever wondered what Koh Samui was like 100, 50 or even 20 years ago? You may be reading this while reclining on a sun-lounger at your 5-star resort, sipping a cocktail, after arriving via the quaint airport that resembles a hotel lobby. Imagine how your tropical holiday would have been different before the airport was built, before the ring-road let you travel right around the island in an hour, and before the electricity cable from the mainland was built allowing us to wallow in air-conditioned rooms, and keep in touch with the world via WiFi.

Historians generally believe that Samui was first inhabited around 1,500 years ago by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and traders from the southern coast of China. Ancient Chinese maps, dating back to 1687, show the co-ordinates we now know as Koh Samui, as 'Pulo Cornam'. There are two schools of thought as to where the name 'Samui' originates from. 'Samui' may be derived from the name of a native tree, Mui, or may have evolved from the Chinese word 'saboey' which means 'safe haven' which it was to the Chinese traders who moored at its shores.

Scenes from old Samui... History and Culture on Samui

Little was known about the island until the first boat transportation service to Samui was launched in the mid 1800s. Back then, it took a full day of sailing to cover the 35km voyage from Surat Thani on the mainland vastly different to the easy one-hour flight from the capital now.

So when did the Samui as we know it, evolve? A few decades ago, the island was an isolated community, with little contact to the mainland. But in 1967, Khun Dilok Suthiklom, leader of the island at that time, decided to ask the government for help in developing Ko Samui's infrastructure.

Two main obstacles were the high hill between Nathon and Mae Nam, and the rocky and mountainous area between Chaweng and Lamai which had to be blasted to in order to construct the road. Vegetation and rocks had to be cleared. Dynamite and heavy construction vehicles were needed, and these had to come from the mainland. The result was a narrow track around the island. Before concrete was laid along this track, it was not unusual to see passengers exiting the cars to help push the vehicles up steep inclines.

Construction of the ring-road was constantly interrupted by heavy downpours during the rainy season. Finally the concrete was poured in 1973 to complete the 52km stretch that made its way around the island. Initially, the road was only two metres in width, but over the years it was widened to accommodate more traffic, to form the (mostly) tarred ring-road that we know today.

Nowadays, we can hardly imagine a time when the only way to go from one place to another on Koh Samui was on foot or by boat. Prior to the ring-road being built, a journey from the east to west coast meant a 15 kilometre trek across the island's mountainous jungle. Watching sunrise in Lamai, and nipping across to watch sunset along Lipa Noi beach in a day, was just not a reality.

In the early 1970s, word started spreading among the hippie backpacking community of a beautiful unspoilt hideaway in the gulf of Thailand. This was the start of tourism to Samui. Back then, the only accommodation was in the form of a few wooden beach shacks with no electricity, and little more than a hammock to swing in for entertainment.

Nathon town on Samui in the old days... History and Culture on Samui

John 'Squall', owner of Tradewinds Cottages on Chaweng Beach, was one of those first backpackers to reach Samui's shores, and decided to make it home. A keen sailor, he was also a pioneer in discovering the island's waters and collection of neighbouring islands that make up the marine park. John speaks of days when Chaweng beach road was only a dirt track and the area from the beach road to where Tesco is now was merely a swampland with no buildings whatsoever. With no Tesco or Big C around, getting provisions was touch and go, and meant buying whatever could be locally produced. John remembers when a Swedish chap by the name of Bill owned the only real supermarket, aptly named Bill's Supermarket, located in Chaweng. Bill would do regular trips to Bangkok, bringing butter and bacon back in ice chests - a highly sought after commodity to sell to the island's few resorts and restaurants.

Samui Holiday's very own managing director, Henrik Bjork, who has been living on Samui for around 17 years, reminisces about a few entrepreneurs trading here 12-15 years ago. These guys would drive trucks up to Chiang Mai to bring fruit and vegetables back to the island, as the best produce is grown up north. They made a good living selling to expats, locals and the fledgling hospitality industry. Unfortunately they got greedy, and ended up in trouble for bringing back more than just veggies. I'll leave that up to your imagination says Henrik.

During the 1980s, on realising the island's true tourism potential, the Thai Government started pouring resources into Samui. Word of our tropical paradise continued to spread and more and more tourists flocked to the shores of Kho Samui - at first only via ferry, but then in droves when the airport was built by Bangkok Air in 1989. Unfortunately, as with most tourism booms, the infrastructure did not increase at the same pace as the visitors arriving to the island. John 'Squall' says there was never a flooding problem before the island's busiest areas were so built up, even though Chaweng sits mostly on swampland. The water's natural runoff paths became blocked by large hotels, without adequate drainage being allowed.

Samui scene in the old days... History and Culture on Samui

There will always be those for and those against development. But, there is no arguing that progress cannot be halted - it can however be controlled. We are seeing better building regulations aimed at keeping Samui aesthetically pleasing. Now law states that roofs must be pitched Thai-style, and height restrictions have been set in place (12 metres, not higher than the closest coconut palm, in fact). Huge budgets are being spent on improving the roads and drainage; all good news.

We may not see Koh Samui as the hidden paradise it was four decades ago, privy only to a few travelers in on the secret. We can however learn from the mistakes made by the early developers and let Samui evolve gracefully, protecting her natural beauty, preserving the heritage of her Thai, Chinese and Malay founders, and making sure that it keeps its identity and doesn't become just another beach holiday location which it isn't.

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Maps of Koh Samui

Samui, Samui Archipelago and Thailand Maps

Orientate yourself on the island. These maps are produced and constantly updated by Siam Map Company Ltd. and are trusted for their accuracy. As well as the complete Samui map, in this section you will also find detailed section maps of the busiest areas of Samui, the surrounding islands and a map of the whole Kingdom.

Click here to see the high resolution guide maps...
Pampering on Samui - Samui Spa Guide

Pampering on Samui

Let our spa guide be inspiration on just how and where you plan to unwind and be pampered. From aromatic steam baths to herbal body masques, Samui's spas and retreats offer the utmost in rejuvenating body treatments. Read stories and reviews about individual spas in this section to prompt your choice of pampering.

Read more about rejuvenating body treatments...
Dining on Koh Samui

Dining on Samui

Eating and traveling go hand in hand, and discovering a new location is all about trying new foods. This section contains a compilation of restaurant reviews to guide you through the island's culinary minefield to ensure that each dining experience is one worth remembering – for the right reasons.

Read more about food and restaurants on Samui...
Samui Directory

Samui Directory

Samui's premier business guide contains comprehensive listings of local businesses A to Z - accommodation to zip-lining. Find postal addresses and telephone numbers, email and website info too.

Need contact information? Click here...
Samui in Brief

Samui in Brief

Why Samui? What makes this tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand so popular, welcoming around one million tourists annually via air and ferry. An overview of this amazing island of coconuts, its beaches, and what it has to offer the holidaymaker.

Read more about the beaches on Samui...
Weather on Koh Samui

Samui Weather

When is the best time to visit Samui weather-wise? Check here to find out. Should you book that boat trip for tomorrow, or would an indoor day of massage and pampering be a better option? Make the most of your holiday by planning around the weather.

Click here to see the weather forecast...
Samui Archipelago

Samui Archipelago

It’s pretty good being on a paradise island. But what’s better than one paradise? Well four, of course! And that’s what you’ve got on Samui. The cluster of islands that make up the archipelago include Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and the Angthong Marine Park – and across all are pristine beaches and sparkling blue waters.

Read more about the Samui Archipelago...

Samui Sports and Activities

Samui Sports and Activities

Tired of lazing under a coconut palm? Not to worry, Samui will not disappoint adrenaline junkies and fitness freaks alike. Golf, stand-up paddling, Muay Thai training or football to mention but a few - Samui has it all.

Read more about activities...

Samui Attractions & Excursions

Samui Attractions & Excursions

See Samui from a boat as you circumnavigate the island, or zip-line through the forest canopy seeing the island from a Gibbon's perspective; there is so much more to Samui than its beautiful beaches. Fancy learning how to cook a Thai meal? Feeling cultural? The days are just waiting to be filled with adventure.

Read about where to go and what to see...

Prices on Koh Samui

Prices On Samui

In order for you to plan your budget, we’ve compiled a list of what you can expect to pay for certain items, services and entrance fees so there are no unpleasant surprises.

Yes, let me see the list...

Learing new skills on Koh Samui

Learning New Skills on Samui

Some say, there’s no better way to stay young than to keep learning. And when you’re on holiday and relaxed, that’s a good time to learn a new skill, be it a one-day cooking course, or something a little more involved. Here’s a round-up of some of the courses available on Samui.

Read about what Samui has to offer...

Samui Wedding

Samui Wedding

Whether a simple beach wedding in sandals and sarong is your dream, or perhaps a lavish affair complete with ten monks, an elephant and a jazz band, Samui makes the perfect location to say 'I do'. As a relatively cheap travel destination, it is also easy for friends and family to join in the celebrations.

Read about getting married on Samui...

Samui Nightlife & Entertainment

Samui Nightlife & Entertainment

From boa and glitter-clad ladyboy cabaret shows to off-key singing and laughs at the karaoke bars, Samui has much to offer in the way of nightlife. Whether a few beers at the local pub with friends is your thing, or you prefer to rock it up with a DJ's vibes, Samui's nightlife has what you are looking for.

Read about where to have a good time...

Shopping on Koh Samui

Samui Shopping

Shopaholics will not be disappointed with what Samui has to offer. The island may not have big malls (yet), but this does not mean that those in need of a little retail therapy can't cure this craving. Remember to bargain at market stands, and always do so with a smile.

Read more about shopping...

Samui Safety and No-No's

Health, Safety & No-No's on Samui

Some advice on how not to upset the locals, and how to avoid getting upset yourself. Here we give you the inside scoop on fitting in like a local. Samui is probably one of the safest places you could travel to. But that's not to say there aren't a few things to keep in mind. Please take our advice to heart, and enjoy your holiday with no mishaps.

Read more about Health, Safety & No-No's on Samui...

Annual Festivals

Annual Festivals

There are several festivals both cultural and religious held annually in Thailand, but the most interactive from a foreigner's perspective are Loy Krathong, and Songkran. Here we give you a taste of what happens during the festivals, so you can plan your holiday to coincide with them, and enjoy the cultural experience.

Read about Songkran and and Loy Krathong...

Samui Accommodation

Samui Accommodation

Whether you are looking for little more than a hammock stretched between two palms to call your own, or the ultimate luxurious holiday pad complete with private chef - Samui has it on offer. Family friendly? Honeymoon? Yoga retreat? The choice is endless.

Read here what Samui has to offer...

Getting to Samui

Getting to Samui

As Samui is an island, it goes without saying that flight or ferry are your only options. Here you will find advice on not only the quickest and easiest way to reach Samui by air, but also budget options that involve trains, busses and finally ferries. It doesn't matter HOW you get here, just get here!

Flying, sailing, driving - click here to read about it...

Getting Around on Samui

Getting Around on Samui

From using your own flip-flop clad feet, to hiring scooters and jeeps, from going local-style in a songthaew to sitting pretty in the back of a taxi. Here you'll find advice on how to get around when exploring Samui's wonderful interior, beaches, resorts, restaurants and attractions.

Need to go from A to B? Click here...

Visa Requirements

Visa Requirements

How long can you stay in the land of smiles without a visa? What type of visa do you need? How do you go about getting one? All these questions and more are answered here.

Read more about visa regulations...

Samui History

History & Culture

You are not the first to visit Samui, and you will not be the last. So who discovered the island, and when did it become a popular place for 'Farangs' or westerners to visit? History buffs can find out more on the local history here.

Read more about the good old days...

Living on Samui

Living on Samui

Many people visit Samui on holiday, only to fall in love with the island, and on the plane ride home, they start dreaming of ways to make moving to the island a reality. Of course, holidaying in a place and living there are completely different, and there are practicalities to consider.

Read more about living on Samui...

Samui Picture Gallery

Samui Picture Gallery

A collection of some of the most brilliant and interesting photography from in and around Koh Samui in Thailand. From aerial photos of the region to brilliant sunsets here you will find all the imagery you need to get a vision of our beautiful island.

See photography from in and around Koh Samui...





Samui Holiday Magazine... Read the online version of our stunning large format glossy magazine Browse through the online version of our high-quality newspaper to get your digestive juices flowing. Samui Dining Guide... Eating and traveling go hand in hand, and discovering a new location Samui Directory... Search the on-line version of Samui Directory - Samui's premier business guide Samui Spa Guide.... Let our spa guide be inspiration on just how and where you plan to unwind and be pampered

Read the online version of our stunning large format glossy magazine prior to your visit and once here, pick up a printed copy available free all over the island. Here our writers bring you interesting stories of our island paradise, offering inspiration on what to do and where to go in a light-hearted story style.

Read more about the best beach destination in Asia...

Browse through the online version of our high-quality newspaper to get your digestive juices flowing. Comprised of food and beverage related articles and Samui's wining and dining scene. Reading a few articles will make you want to book that ticket to Samui's culinary wonderland right away.

Read more about the food served on Samui..

Eating and traveling go hand in hand, and discovering a new location is all about trying new foods. This section contains a compilation of restaurant reviews to guide you through the island's culinary minefield to ensure that each dining experience is one worth remembering – for the right reasons.

Read about the recommended restaurants on Samui...

Search the on-line version of Samui Directory - Samui's premier business guide. Here you will find comprehensive listings of local businesses from accommodation to water-sports, with postal addresses and telephone numbers, as well as email and website addresses.

Find the contact information you need here...

Let our spa guide be inspiration on just how and where you plan to unwind and be pampered. From aromatic steam baths to herbal body masques, Samui's spas and retreats offer the utmost in rejuvenating body treatments. Read stories and reviews about individual spas in this section to prompt your choice of pampering.

See the recommended spas on Samui....






Samui in Brief

Maps of Koh Samui

Attractions and Excursions

History & Culture

Weather on Samui

Samui Holiday Magazine

Samui Holiday Comments


Samui Spa Guide

Samui's Attractions

Annual Festivals

Learning on Samui

Samui Nightlife

Sports and Activities

Weddings on Samui

Living on Samui


Dining on Samui

Samui Dining Guide

Wining & Dining Newspaper



Shopping on Samui

Prices on Samui


Annual Festivals

Events Calendar


Accommodation on Samui



Getting here

Getting around on Samui


Visa, Customs, Legal

Samui Directory

Health & Safety on Samui

Home Samui Holiday





The Samui Holiday Website is created, developed and published by Siam Map Company Ltd., Koh Samui, Thailand.
Established in 1997, the company is Samui’s premier publisher producing high quality publications and web pages for visiting travelers.

Our team of in-house graphic designers, editors, journalists and photographers ensures that all our
printed publications and the Samui Holiday webpage are relevant, informative and interesting with accurate, beneficial and up to date information.

Web-development Kim Carter / Carsena Technology Services, Photography Claudio Cerquetti / Fantasy at Work, Photography Ugrit Komlue / Siam Map Company,
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is copyright material of Siam Map Company Ltd. Use of this material may only be made with the express, prior, written permission of Siam Map Company Ltd., Koh Samui, Thailand.

Siam Map Company Ltd. seeks to ensure that information contained in these pages is accurate and up to date. However, no liability or responsibility is accepted
arising from reliance upon the information contained in these pages or any other information accessed via this site, including without limitation for information reached via links on this site to external sites.