The second-largest island of Thailand, Ko Samui is a gem of an island in the Koh Samui (or simply Samui) Archipelago which lies in the Gulf of Thailand. Once a hidden secret of only persevering travellers, the island has transformed into one of the most visited tourist destinations of Thailand. Coconut and rubber export along with the ever-growing tourist trade constitute the bulk of the island's source of revenue. From the wealthiest holidaymakers to budget travellers, the island has something to offer for everyone.
Fifty years back, even getting to the centre of the island involved arduous treks through the middle of a thick jungle. Today tourists flock in large numbers for the summers and winters. Head to south Samui if you tend to shy away from crowds. Places like Chewang and Lamai although famous for their nightlife may tend to get overcrowded at peak seasons. Adventure activities are fast becoming popular in Koh Samui, but overall the island is still most popular for its resorts and relaxed beaches. Be sure to try the salted eggs when in town. Also popular is the tropical fruit Rambutan which tourists cannot stop talking about even when they get back to their home countries.
The island looks tranquil with clear blue waters, and white sand beaches surrounded by lush green forests. Whether you love the noisy and happening Chaweng Beach or the lively yet relaxed atmosphere of Lamai Beach or the timeless feel of Bophut's Fisherman's Village or the tropical beach paradise of Maenam, Koh Samui provides a unique experience whatever the purpose of your travel is!
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Historians discover that Ko Samui was inhabited 15 centuries ago.
Ko Samui, earlier called under the name Pulo Cornam appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687.
In the late 1800s, sailors, fishers and sea traders from China and Malaysia rediscover the island. Impressed by the beauty and abundance of the island, the seamen stay on the island.
Foreigners make the island their home influenced by the fertile soil, pleasant climate, calm seas and plenty of fish. They also bring Buddhism, which is the main religion of the island, along with a small Muslim population.
Tourism didn't exist on the island before the 1940s, and only a brave traveller could reach the island. A six-hour night boat journey was the only option to get from mainland Thailand to Ko Samui.
To move around the island, one would either walk or use boats as there were neither any roads nor any vehicles on Ko Samui.
Owing to the fertile soil and growing tourists, the settlements on the island increased, and soon became an excellent place to live and work. Variety of fruits, rubber plantations and coconut exports attracted more visitors to start new ventures in Ko Samui, and Ko Samui soon played a significant role in Thailand's economy.
The mountainous topography of the island made the transportation and running of heavy machinery arduous and retarded the growth of infrastructure on the island. As the task was treacherous, the road construction project never took off.
In 1967, the leader of the island Khun Dilok Suthiklom petitioned the Thai government for assistance in improving the island's infrastructure. After the government's approval, the road construction began, and despite all the hurdles, hundreds of labourers pressed on.
Finally, in 1973, the project emerged triumphant after having built a 52 km long and 2-metre wide road circumnavigating the island! Expansion of the roads to accommodate more traffic happened gradually.
Somewhere in the mid-1970s, beach lovers discovered this hidden gem and started visiting the pristine paradise of Ko Samui. They slept on the beach, in little hammocks or simple bungalows until the islanders saw this as a business opportunity and built simple guesthouses, restaurants, and other services for the foreigners.
Through the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, the island became a popular tropical island getaway, amongst people looking out for a real escape. Fruit and coconut exports to Thailand grew exponentially.
In 1980, the Government of Thailand gave the go-ahead for a project to develop and promote the island as a tourism destination. Quickly Ko Samui became a favourite destination for both Thai nationals and foreign tourists.
Though very popular, it was quite a daunting task to get to Ko Samui, until Bangkok Air themselves funded the first ever international airport on the island in 1989. This airport is still in use and is the most charming tropical airports in the world.
With the new airport, the island saw an influx of visitors, and a large number of hotels, restaurants, dive shops and cafes popped up.
The island continued to grow as one of Thailand's best tourist destinations through the 2000s. Currently, the island has a permanent population of over 63,000 people and a hotel occupancy rate of 73% for its 17,479 hotel rooms, with the number still expanding.
Two types of taxis can be found in Samui - metered taxis and songthaews (pick-up taxis). Before boarding the metered taxis, make sure that the meter is turned on (on distance 0) and never discuss the fare beforehand. Songthaews, on the other hand, are cheaper than metered taxis but have set routes so they might not take you precisely to your destination. Most drivers are also guilty of applying double pricing. Should you feel that you been have been cheated, stay calm, pay the fare, take note of the taxi's number plate and driver's license and report it to the authorities.2. Dangerous Driving
Thailand consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous places to drive in the world but shows no signs of implementing road safety rules and checks. Due to the increasing number of vehicles, and the tropical maritime climate which, in low season, spoils the road surfacing, the roads are in poor condition. Despite all this, driving in Samui can be very pleasant for experienced drivers. Just ensure you pay more attention while driving and ride your rented motorbike slowly, especially at night.3. Infamous Jet Ski Scam
With several world-class restaurants serving both traditional Thai food and trendy fusion creations, Ko Samui has become a culinary destination. Being an island, visitors can feast on delicious seafood. Please note that Thais consider vegetarian food to be anything which doesn't have 'visible' pieces of meat hidden items like fish sauce and pork stock might spring up on you out of nowhere. One should note that most traditional dishes are generally served with sticky rice.
Here is the list of some top-rated restaurants on the island -
1. The Boudoir, Maenam
With magnificent interiors featuring swirling silks, scintillating satins, luxurious textiles, and oriental lanterns, The Boudoir provides one a splendid dining experience. Mainly serving French cuisine, you'll also find cheeses, meats, foie gras and even escargots – and excellent and cheap house wine.
2. Tree Tops, Chaweng
Tree Tops, located in Anantara Lawana in north Chaweng, is one of the top-rated and busiest restaurants of Ko Samui. The place serves red meats, seafood and Thai cuisine – all up to highest standards and is a must-visit place for a fine-dining enthusiast. The area has only eight tables with each table an individual' treehouse', providing a distinct dining experience. Make sure you book in advance as the place is always crowded.
3. Dining on the Rocks, Six Senses Hideaway
Sitting on the top of the high-end Six Senses Samui Resort, this restaurant is built on rocks hosting a vast wooden terrace as well as an open-sided dining room, both overlooking the sea. The place serves both regional and international cuisine, which can be paired up with wine. With 270° view of the ocean, this place is a treat to all the six senses as the name says.
4. 2 Fishes Samui, Bophut
Love Italian food? Then you must head to 2 Fishes Samui located in the heart of Bophut's Fisherman's Village. You get to savour the freshest local seafood prepared by the talented Chef Leandra Panza who has over 25 years of experience in quoted Italian restaurants in various cities. 'Grilled king prawns with hot garlic oil, chilli and lemon' and 'Steamed Red snapper fillet with sautéed kale and hot garlic dressing, olive oil parsley and aged red wine vinegar' are a few of the must-try dishes.
A few places which serve excellent Thai food like the world-famous tom yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup) to pad thai (fried noodles) to the lesser-known Kua Kling (dry curry from southern Thailand) are Saffron (part of Banyan Tree Samui resort, Lamai), Kob Thai (Lamai), Khaw Glong Thai Restaurant (Chaweng) and Farmer Restaurant (Maenam).
Here are a few recommendations for Indians who are looking out of pure vegan hotels: Curry Pot Indian Restaurant (Chaweng Beach road), The Art Club (next to Koh Samui Hospital), Pure Vegan Heaven (Lamai), Jay Tamachad and Wild Tribe.