Drawing beach lovers from all over the world with its lengthy stretches of sand, the tourist-friendly Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations, loved for its developed infrastructure, sophisticated accommodation and lively nightlife and dining scenes. Snorkelling and sunbathing are perhaps the most popular activities here, but interesting Buddhist temples and animal parks offer worthy diversions.
History: the first inhabitants of the island were fishermen from southern China and the Malay Peninsula, with the island first appearing on Chinese maps in the late 1600s. The island remained self-sufficient until the late 20th century, and the first roads on the island weren’t constructed until the 1970s, when tourism to the island began to take off. Today the island’s thriving tourist trade is its main industry.
Sightseeing: if you tire of lying on the island’s beautiful beaches, Samui has some worthwhile diversions, including both natural and manmade sites of interest. Waterfalls such as Hin Lat and Na Mueang make for pleasant daytrips, as do Wat Khunaram Ko Samui and Wat Phra Yai Buddhist temples, the latter being home to the island’s iconic 15-metre tall Buddha statue. Animal attractions suitable for kids include Samui Butterfly Garden, Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo, and monkey shows at Bophut.
Shopping: is best done at the busier east coast resorts of Cheweng and Lamai where tailors, handicrafts and beachwear can be found. While there are plenty of modern boutiques at the larger resorts, locals markets at Cheweng, Lamai and Nathon provide a more traditional Thai shopping experience. Popular buys include Thai silk, tailor-made clothing, jewellery made with locally cultured pearls and handmade woodcarvings, all of which offer fantastic value for money.
Eating and drinking: the island’s large resorts of Cheweng and Lamai offer the best selections and most sophisticated eateries on the island, but you will find tasty Thai food across Samui. All of the busy resorts offer tourist-friendly restaurants with English menus as well as fast food options and street hawker food. For a low-key romantic meal, head to Bophut where candle-lit dining can be enjoyed, but if you want to try southern Thai food – among the country’s most spicy – eat where the locals congregate at the island’s night markets.
Where to stay: if you enjoy the lively upbeat character of a busy beach resort, Cheweng will suit you. Here hundreds of guesthouses and beach bungalow operations from mid-range to upscale offer accommodation, as well as there being a handful of luxury resorts. Nearby Lamai offers a quieter scene and less choice, but there are still plenty of options. The low-key, north coast Big Buddha and Bophut offer affordable and quiet bungalow lodgings. November to April is the high season when Samui’s hotels fill quickly.
Getting there: Samui has its own airport which receives nearly hourly flights from Bangkok, including services with low-cost carriers, as well as less frequent services from Phuket and Chiang Mai. Regional destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur are served less frequently. Alternatively, you can reach the island by boat from mainland Surat Thani, from where regular express ferries make the journey in three hours. Once on the island, a hire car makes getting around easy.Author's Google+ Page