Over the last 30 years, Koh Samui has risen to become one of South East Asia’s most vibrant and welcoming tourist destinations, with millions of travelers and holiday-makers returning year after year to enjoy the sunshine. In addition to these visitors, many have been so charmed by Samui’s unique style of island life that they have remained or returned to build lives and settle here.
Samui’s first visitors and settlers were very different however, and began arriving back in the 6th century. Fishermen passing through from Southern China, and what is now Malaysia, stayed on to form small coastal communities, later heading inland, as the abundance of tropical fruits they found there became an important commodity.
Today, Samui is still known throughout the region for its lush seasonal harvests of strange and colourful fruits, most notable being the magnificent coconut palms of which Samui now boasts more varieties than anywhere else in the world.
Koh Samui somehow managed to remain a fairly isolated island community, until the late 20th century, when the first dusty roads began to circle the island and signalled the beginning of a new age of international tourism and development. In the 1970's it could take up to eight hours to reach Samui from the mainland, and thus it was left to the adventurous backpackers of Europe to begin the invasion, soon establishing Samui as a favoured destination and stop-off. From the start, the people of Samui welcomed their new friends with open arms offering accommodation, food, services and their world famous smiles to all comers.
And so we came...
The last ten years have seen many changes, as Koh Samui made its speedy transition from sleepy fisherman’s island to fully loaded tourist destination, and as soon as the international airport was built Samui's future as a jet-set island was sealed. Today, a recently re-furbished international and domestic terminal now facilitates the arrival of hundreds of sun seekers almost hourly. And as the range of technologies, facilities and services on the island continues to improve and diversify almost daily, you'll find everything you need is now here, from international chain stores to wireless Internet.
Throughout Thailand you will find a diverse mix of culture, language and cuisine, as each province brings something unique to the table. This diversity becomes even more apparent here on Samui where many different people from all over Thailand and the world have slowly migrated and merged with the relaxed and laid back Samui folk, bringing with them a slice of life from back home and a pot of mama's favourite dish to share.
Despite the pace of this change, Samui has retained much of its charm. Quaint local villages and coconut plantations are still very much in evidence, especially in the south and west of the island, as many locals continue to live the old school island life. And though perhaps no longer the untouched paradise it once was, Samui has evolved into the perfect mix of east and west, old and new - of simple living, street markets, temples and traditions, set alongside five-star spas, resorts, bars and gourmet restaurants - all on hand, and making Koh Samui an idyllic and unique spot to escape the hassles and stresses of the modern world, for a vacation, or maybe a lifetime.
- The name Samui still remains a slight mystery, though could it be just a whisper away from the Chinese word ’Saboey’, meaning ’safe haven’.
- Koh Samui is Thailand's 3rd largest island after Phuket and Koh Chang, and is located in the Gulf of Thailand, and surrounded by no less than 60 other islands.
- Roughly circular in shape, and about 15km in diameter, Samui covers an area of approximately 244km2.
- The central part of the island, once almost uninhabitable mountainous jungle, has a mountainous peak named Khao Pom standing 635m high.
- Koh Samui is part of the mainland province of Surat Thani, and is located 700km south of Bangkok, off the East Coast of the Kra Isthmus, about 35km northeast of Surat Thani town.
- The Population stands around 50,000 - on the verge of a change in status to become a City. In the high season this figure can reach more than a million!
- The skies are blue and the weather is hot virtually all year round. Temperatures peak in April and May, and monsoon season comes sometime between October and December, however in recent years rainfall, seasons and hot spells have all become a little more unpredictable.
In the warm tropical waters of the Southern Gulf of Thailand, sits the eclectic scattering of islands known as the Samui Archipelago. There are well over 60 islands in this formation, the largest of which being Koh Samui, with Koh Toa and KOH PHANGAN very close by. While Samui takes on the livelier side of proceedings, and Koa Toa remains a less developed diving destination, KOH PHANGAN sits between the two and manages to bring just about everything to a south east Asia adventure or holiday.
As with the other nieghbouring islands in this region, the first arrivals on Koh Phangan were believed to be the nomadic sea gypsies, passing through from what was then the Malaysian Peninsular and China. These visitors formed isolated fishing and fruit farming communities and were to remain Koh Phangan’s only inhabitants for many centuries. Things stayed pretty much the same until the fully hedonistic set of the 1970’s arrived.
Luckily, certain aspects of Koh Phangan's rugged geography have helped keep things close to the paradise first glimpsed by those fisherman long ago. Many areas, beaches and bays are still inaccessible by road to this day, and may only be reached on a long-tail boat as it has always been.
Today a very mixed crowd is found on Koh Phangan. Fun seekers from all over the world still descend upon the beach town of Haad Rin, stomping holes into the sand and dancing all night at one of the world’s biggest beach parties, every month. The legendary Full Moon parties are for sure a sight to behold, but probably not a family occasion. Going high and going deep remains one of Koh Phangan's many charms, as thousands are also drawn to this magical and famously high-energy island, to heal, de-tox, and learn something about themselves or some wellness bringing technique. Many resorts and centres offer daily yoga, yoga teachers' training, meditation, and a variety of natural therapies, spa treatments, services and trainings.
But it’s not all yoga mats, buckets and backpacks these days, as a much more sophisticated experience is now possible on Koh Phangan. A growing movement of perfectly located air-conditioned resorts and villas, overlooking spectacular beaches have been developed especially with the more discerning visitor in mind. To the family, or couple in search of a perfect romantic setting Koh Phangan has much to offer. Beautiful beaches will keep you and your little ones endlessly entertained, while elephant trekking, safari trips, and boat trips to the Amphong National Marine Park can fill the rest of your time.
The beaches of Koh Phangan are some of the most picturesque and inviting in the Southern Gulf, especially popular with those wishing to avoid the crowds, and what's particularly exciting about the coastline of Koh Phangan is that not all of its beaches have been developed, so there are still deserted beaches where you can drop anchor and spend an afternoon on your own beach. Many of these beaches have their own vibrant living-coral reefs, so there's plenty of snorkeling on hand, and excellent diving is not far away, on Koh Tao or the Marine Park island sanctuary of Koh Ma.
Relaxed and slow is the pace of life on Koh Phangan, and all that you will need is here to escape the hustle and bustle of the west, or even Koh Samui. Thankfully paradise is still here on earth, thanks to places like Koh Phangan.