A popular backpacking destination and a vacation spot for those looking for a little luxury and pampering
Koh Samui is the third largest island in Thailand, after Koh Chang. It is located off the country’s east coast, off the Kra Isthmus. It is in the Chumphon Archipelago and is part of the province known as Surat Thani. The island is an extremely popular tourist destination, which is visited by many different people with a range of different interests and backgrounds each year. This is at one and the same time a popular backpacking destination and a vacation spot for those looking for a little luxury and pampering.
Koh Samui is chic, sophisticated, and sanitized. It is a shiny place whose wrinkles all seem to have been airbrushed over. Yet this is also an island of endless charm, in spite of its heavily tourist-orientated side. This is a place that retains little authenticity but is nonetheless perhaps what people conjure to their minds when they think of the perfect beach-bliss vacation, complete with clear seas, white-sand beaches, and coconut palm-fringed coastlines. The beaches of the island itself and the access from this island to more remote and unspoiled islands make this one of Thailand’s premier destinations.
Koh Samui has an area of 228.7km sq. It measures around 25km at its widest point. It is surrounded by over sixty other islands, many of which are popular tourist destinations in their own right. These are included in the Angthong Marine National Park. The center of the island is an almost uninhabitable tropical jungle, the highest point of which is 635m above sea level. While it is more difficult to penetrate the lush center of the island, it is easy to travel around the coast, where the settlements are joined by a 51km road that encircles the bulk of the island.
The center of life on Samui was long considered to be Nathon. But though Nathon is still the seat of the regional government and the center of the fishing industry and goods transportation, the tourism industry has grown and the commercial center is shifting towards Chaweng, due to the north-eastern location of the airport and a range of other factors. For most tourists, Chaweng is an appealing place to stay as it offers the widest range of facilities and nightlife. Lamai and Maenam are somewhat less crowded and offer a more laid-back vibe, popular with young backpackers. Bophut is a more sophisticated choice of resort, with a distinctly Mediterranean feel to its sophisticated beach-front village.
Samui has changed dramatically in the last fifty or so years. When you visit the island today it is hard to believe that until late in the 20th Century, Koh Samui was an isolated and largely self-sufficient community which has little connection with mainland Thailand, let alone with the rest of the world. There were no roads here until the 1970s and the 15km trek from one side of the island to the other took a long and arduous day as one would have to pass through the central mountainous jungle.
The climate in Samui is one of the tropical monsoons. There is technically only one ‘dry only one ‘dry month’ in the year, which comes in February when rainfall drops below 60mm though it should be said that Samui’s climate is generally a little drier than other destinations such as Phuket and other places in southern Thailand. The showers are plentiful but tend to be short in duration. Between twenty and sixty minutes seems to be the length of time that rain showers will generally last.
It is easy to see why so many people are so drawn to this beautiful and somehow magical island destination, whether for the rest and relaxation of the beaches, bars, and boutiques of the island, or the waters and natural wonders found on and off its shores. This island has much to recommend, which is why it can sometimes be rather crowded in places, especially during the Christmas and New Year rush. But in spite of the crowds of the tourist resorts, it is still very easy to find somewhere for some quiet tranquillity. At some of the lesser of the islands offshore and in the mountainous jungle interior, it is possible to find places to be entirely alone and to imagine that Koh Samui is still the remote and almost unchanged place that it was for much of its human history.
Intrepid explorers and adventurers will find the vacation destination of their dreams here, where comfort meets seat-of-the-pants excitement. You can be exactly as intrepid here as you want to be. You can follow the crowds, or strike out on an independent activity on land, through dense rainforests, or on the sea, between myriad unspoiled islands on a sea teeming with life. Here you will never be bored and you can choose to do as much or as little as you want to.
As if there was not already enough to see and do here, the year is also punctuated on the island by a series of events and festivals. There is a sailing regatta in May or June each year and in September you can come here to enjoy a week-long festival of jazz music. Nightlife is buzzing and there is always something going on, for all tastes, throughout the year. Of course, the food is also top-notch and you will be able to find plenty of fine dining in beautiful spots around the island.
Koh Samui really is one of those holiday destinations that does not like to be pinned down. It is capable of being all things, simultaneously, to all people. It is capable of being exactly as wonderful as you make it, and there really are a wide variety of amazing vacations to be had here. If you have an image of the blissful beauty of Thailand’s islands then Koh Samui is likely to be the embodiment of those images – only better than you ever dreamed that it could be.