About Koh Samui
Koh Samui is a magical tropical island in the Gulf of Siam about 80 km from the mainland. Koh Samui, the Coconut Island, is Thailand’s third largest island with an area of 247 sq km after Phuket and Ko Chang.
The island was probably first inhabited about 15 centuries ago, settled by fishermen from Malay Peninsula and Southern China. It appears on Ming Dynasty 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.
Today, 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.
Koh Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand, about 35km northeast of Surat Thani town (9°N, 100°E). It is surrounded by about sixty other islands, most of which comprise the Ang Thong National Marine Park, but also include other tourist destinations Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan.
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 wisper of an exotic history.
Each of Samui’s primary beaches is now also nominally considered a town, due to the number of hotels, restaurants and bars that have sprung up in recent years.