Ko Samui island of Surat Thani Province (or Koh Samui, Thai: เกาะสมุย, Thai pronunciation: [kɔ̀ʔ samǔj]), or often, simply Samui as it is referred to by locals, is anisland off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, close to the mainland Surat Thani town and in Surat Thani Province. It is Thailand’s second largest island afterPhuket, with an area of 228.7 km2 and a population of over 50,000 (2008) attracting 1.5 million tourists per year. It is rich with natural resources, white sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees.
The island was probably first inhabited about 15 centuries ago, settled by fishermenfrom 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 from theMalay word Saboey, meaning “safe haven”. Ko is the Thai word for “island”.
Until the late 20th century, Ko 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 15 km journey from one side of the island to the other involved a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.
Ko Samui has a population of about fifty-five thousand (source: Samui Mayor’s Office) and is based primarily on a successful tourist industry, as well as exports of coconutand rubber. It even has its own international airport, Samui Airport, with flights daily toBangkok and other major airports in Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong andSingapore. Whilst the island presents an unspoiled image to the public perception,economic growth has brought not only prosperity, but changes to the island’senvironment 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) docked at Samui during its 2008 world cruise.
Ko Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand, about 35 km northeast of Surat Thani town (9°N, 100°E). The island measures some 25 km at its widest point. It is surrounded by about sixty other islands, which compose the Ang Thong Marine National Park (Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park) and include other tourist destinations (Ko Phangan, Ko Taoand Ko Nang Yuan).
The central part of the island is an almost uninhabitable jungle mountain, Khao Pom, peaking at 635 m. The various lowland areas are connected together by a single 51 km road, running mostly along the coast to encircle the bulk of the island.
The old capital is Nathon, on the southwest coast of the island. It 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.
Ko Samui is an Amphoe (district) of Surat Thani Province, subdivided into 7 subdistricts (tambon). The complete island is one municipality (tesaban mueang). The district covers the island, as well as the Ang Thong archipelago and some other small islands nearby.
Ko Samui features a tropical monsoon climate under Koppen’s climate classification. However the city only has one true dry seasonmonth. Average monthly precipitation in February falls below 60 mm, the threshold for a tropical dry season month. Ko Samui, being in Surat Thani Province, is warm and moist for most of the year. However, in comparison to Phuket and most of the rest of Southern Thailand, Samui’s weather is relatively dry. The heaviest precipitation is typically seen in the months of October and November . For the rest of the year, since the weather is tropical, when it does rain, it usually doesn’t last long; rain showers of 20–60 minutes are typical. The city sees on average just under 2000 mm of precipitation annually.
|Climate data for Ko Samui, Thailand|
|Average high °C (°F)||29.0
|Average low °C (°F)||24.1
|Precipitation mm (inches)||137.8
|Source: World Weather Information Service: Ko Samui, Thailand |
Historically the island’s economy has been based around subsistence agriculture and fishing, with coconuts as the main cash crop. From the 1980s onwards, 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 feasible 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. Koh Samui transport links have made it a destination for tourists seeking to explore the other islands in the area.
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 mainland Thailand. The airport is additionally served by 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. Public buses to all parts of the mainland operate from a small bus station located in the south of Nathon. Songthaews (tuk-tuk style buses) circle the ring road, and private taxis are available throughout the island although these are often criticised for failure to use meters and flagrant overcharging.
From Surat Thani train station and Surat Thani Airport (URT), there are combined bus/ferry services to Ko Samui cost 200-300 baht – some entail a 60 minute bus ride to Donsak pier followed by a 90 minute ferry crossing, others a 30 minute bus ride but the ferry takes extra time. Tickets are sold by numerous agents that meet each train and airport. Should cost certainly less than 300 baht even if bought this way (return combo boat+bus ticket on more comfortable Seatran ferry bought on the Na Thon pier on Samui officially costs 230 baht).
From Donsak pier, there are 2 ferry companies (departures every 30-60 mins) who terminate at Na Thon pier: Songserm Travel  and Seatran (, the website is mostly in Thai, however). The first one is what you more often get if booking via the travel agency. It’s a rather small ferry with two decks, often very crowded so you can’t get the seat on the lower one if you come late (and the upper, while air-conditioned, costs extra, so you may end up sitting around the pile of backpacks on the back of the boat under the sun, if you do not want to pay). There is a small onboard shop on the lower desk but the prices are grossly inflated (instant noodles cup, which costs 15 baht in 7-eleven, was sold for 50 there), so if you still choose this boat – better bring you own snacks. The people aboard Songserm ferry are mostly, if not all, foreigners.
Seatran ferry is much bigger, has several decks (entrance to most of the those, including air-conditioned areas, is free), much less packed just because of size (still can be at peak times of high season), equipped with numerous TV’s (Thai channels), has a big cafeteria (with much friendlier prices, such as 20 baht for the same cup of noodles), and the passengers are mostly Thai, as well as some expats and tourists. Their schedule can be found here  (the first list is departures from Donsak to Samui, the second is return).
Raja Ferry Port  operates services between Donsak pier and Lipa Noi pier on the western side of Samui (several kilometers south of Na Thon). It includes a free air conditioned deck and several comfortable seats. This ferry also transport cars, so can be used should you decide to come with your own transport. Without a car, however, there are less options for a transportation there, and songthaew/taxi drivers may be more reluctant to bargain. Songthaew transfer from the pier at Lipa Noi on Samui to either Chaweng or Lamai will cost 100 baht per person. Taxis will be more expensive, with initial asking prices of up to 500 baht.
Numerous ferry services are direct from mainland Surat Thani including an express boat (3 departures daily, taking around 3 hours and costing 150 baht) and slow night boats (taking 6-7 hours). Call operator Songserm Travel (252 9654 in Bangkok) for the latest schedules, which varies according to the season.
Lomprayah  offers a combined bus/high speed catamaran ferry service from Bangkok to Ko Samui which takes about 11 hours (5.5 of them by boat) and costs around 1250 baht (1000 baht in the opposite direction). The bus pauses in Hua Hin and then stops at Chumphon, where it connects with the ferry, which calls at Ko Nang Yuan, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan on its way to Ko Samui. While the route may be more scenic (as includes the long boat trip via 2 islands), and the ferry itself is comparable to Seatran, the entire way to Samui will take more time, and will cost more too.
Lomprayah, however, is a good (if not exactly cheap) option to get to Samui from Ko Tao or Ko Phangan, as well as a reasonable one to get to those islands from Bangkok. There are also regular speedboats and ferries of other operators.
The original inhabitants of Ko Samui, known as ‘Chao Samui’, are predominantly Buddhist, unlike areas of Thailand further south, where Islam has a strong influence.
In the past, most made their living in coconut farming. Nowadays, work in tourism has taken over.
Many 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 (Khrung-Thep). Most of the manual labor needed to keep up with the island’s growth has been provided by people native to the country’s poorer north-eastern region. As a result, there is a wide cross section of economic classes on the island.
The south of Thailand is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai Chinese, Muslims and traditional sea-faring gypsies. Ko Samui does not seem to suffer from the religious tensions in communities along the southern border of Thailand, and in general the locals live in harmony. Outside of the tourist areas, the Thai language is spoken with a thick Southern dialect which can be difficult even for northern Thais to understand.
With this broad mixture of cultures, Ko Samui is always celebrating some tradition or another, including some western ones.
Resorts & bungalows
After the exploding tourism in Ko Samui there has been a growth in building resorts, bungalows and luxury private villas on the island. This economic growth has led many businessmen from all over the world to invest in Ko Samui. With over 260 resorts and bungalows in Samui, counting from the end of year 2009, it has become Thailand’s second largest resort business behind Bangkok and surpassing Phuket.
Events and festivals
- Buffalo Fighting Festival One of the best-known festivals on Ko Samui is its Buffalo Fighting Festival, which is held on special occasions such as New Years Day and Songkran. Unlike Spanish bull-fighting, the fighting on Ko Samui is fairly harmless. The fighting season varies according to some ancient customs and ceremonies. The buffalo are beautifully decorated with ribbons and gold-painted leaves. Before the contest which lasts just two rounds, monks spray them with holy water. The winning owner typically takes home millions of baht in prize money.
- Ten Stars Samui Art Party A recurring cultural event bringing together art lovers, local Thai and international artists and their new, original artworks. These bi-monthly events, hosted at various high-end resorts and other 5-star venues on the island, focus on building the art community on Ko Samui with presentations by featured artists.
- Bowling Championship This is an annual bowling event held in May every year.
- Avis Samui Tennis Open The annual amateur tennis tournament held in July.
- The Fisherman’s Village Festival This five-day festival is celebrated with fun, music and food. The music is usually played by well-known artists and food tents sell inexpensive cuisine provided by local hotels.
- Triathlon Event The International Triathlon Union organizes this event every year. This event in Ko Samui draws more than five hundred participants from around the world. The event attracts competitors and visitors as well as locals.
- Samui Regatta The Samui Regatta is a sailing tournament, held every year. The tournament is internationally known and competitors come from as far away as Australia, Singapore, Japan and China. This event, for boats of all sizes and shapes, began in 2002.
In general, Southern Thai food is renowned for its spiciness. Much of the cuisine has its origins in Malay, Indonesian and Indian food. Favorite dishes from the south include Indian-style Muslim curry (massaman), rice noodles in fish curry sauce (Khanom chin) and chicken biryani.
Local food in Ko Samui and its province of Surat Thani are salted eggs and rambutan.
There are four international private hospitals on Samui, Samui International Hospital on the Beach Road in north Chaweng, Thai International off the Lake Road in Chaweng, Bandon Hospital on the ring road and Bangkok Samui Hospital in Chaweng Noi. The Government Hospital is in Nathon. There are also numerous clinics and pharmacies, especially at Chaweng Beach.
There are many retirees living in Koh Samui. This is probably due to the climate, natural surroundings, and ease of living on the island.