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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Thailand’s docile water buffalo is a gentle giant – until he gets in
the ring, that is!
Tale of Two Chopsticks Stories and
myths about the Asian cutlery for both skilled
and novice users.
Traditional herbal remedies and strong liquor
combine to create the intoxicating yaa-dong.
Siamese Fighting Fish have become a favourite in
aquariums around the world.
Fit For A
Royal Thai cuisine is a treat that even us mere
mortals can enjoy.
Island Transformation Samui has grown from a
rustic little island into a major holiday
Few monarchs can match the philanthropy
of His Majesty King Bhumibol
Resorting To Myths Little pieces of Thai
history and legend are tied into some of Samui’s
Spirits There’s nothing ghostly about these
spirits from Thailand!
“The feet are the lowest part of the body
(spiritually as well as physically)”
Dining with Thailand’s famous Benjarong
chinaware adds to the whole experience.
The Third Sex
The fantastic life of a beautiful ladyboy in
today’s Thai society.
“The feet are the lowest part of the body
(spiritually as well as physically)”
Why Wai? A
traditional Thai greeting can be difficult to
master but start with a smile.
Wonder The Garuda is Thailand’s most famous
mythological creatures – but there are others.
In Good Spirits Understanding the Thai
culture of spirit houses. You’ll see them
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
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.
about rejuvenating body treatments...
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
Read more about food and
restaurants on Samui...
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.
information? Click here...
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...
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
Click here to see the weather
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
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
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
Read about where to go
and what to see...
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
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...
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
Read about getting
married on Samui...
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...
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...
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...
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
Read about Songkran and
and Loy Krathong...
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
Read here what Samui
has to offer...
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
Flying, sailing, driving
- click here to read about it...
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...
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
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
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...
Please feel free to share your experiences on Koh
Samui, good or bad, with other travellers to help
them make informed decisions during their visit.
Read other travelers
comments or write your own...