Snow-white palm-fringed sandy beaches, delicious treats from the crystal-clear sea, a vibrant nightlife and accommodation in all price ranges make the Thai island of Koh Samui a holiday island that couldn't be better.
The world-famous holiday island of Koh Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand about 35 kilometres from the Thai mainland and is the epitome of a perfect holiday island.
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Arrival to Koh Samui
With an area of 233 square kilometres, Koh Samui is Thailand's third largest island after Koh Phuket and Koh Chang. It can be reached by plane from Bangkok, Phuket and Krabi and by ferry from the provincial capital Surat Thani on the mainland.
The northern neighbouring islands of Phangan and Tao also have ferry connections to the capital Na Thon. There is a breathtaking ring road around the island, about 50 km long, which is the best way to discover Kho Samui - ideally with a motor scooter, which can be rented at almost every beach at reasonable prices.
Tip: If you rent a car, motorbike or moped on Kho Samui, you should definitely check the condition of the vehicle beforehand and, if in doubt, go somewhere else. Kho Samui also has left-hand traffic and for Europeans accustomed to the traffic regulations, the chaos on Koh Samui's roads can take some getting used to at first.
Koh Samui - THE holiday paradise par excellence
Koh Samui is best known for its gorgeous, fine-sand beaches and laid-back lifestyle. The temperatures of 30°C in the air and 28°C in the water make Koh Samui an absolutely fantastic holiday island. For Europeans, the best time to travel is from December to February, as it is still the least hot and humid.
Just about every beach in Koh Samui is worth a visit. There are world-class restaurants to try and fantastic coral reefs to discover everywhere.
The most beautiful beaches on Koh Samui
The most popular beach sections include Chawaeng in the east, the longest and most beautiful sandy beach on Koh Samui with the lively town of "Chawaeng City", THE tourist centre on Koh Samui.
Lamai beach, popular with surfers, ends in rugged granite cliffs. Koh Samui's most photographed stone landmark is also found here. The Grandmother Rock and the Grandfather Rock are popular photo motifs due to their amazing resemblance to the male and female sexual organs.
To the north are the beaches of Bo Phut, with its charming original village crossed by a road lined with shops and bungalows, and the fine-sand horseshoe of Mae Nam. The latter offers a spectacular view of the neighbouring island of Koh Pha-ngan and is the new home of many dropouts and expats. Hidden behind its hills is Koh Samui's world-class golf resort.
The two beaches of Taling Ngam and Lipa Noi in the west are known for their breathtaking sunsets over the islands of the nearby Angthong Marine Park, which are best enjoyed from one of the many exquisite fish restaurants. The quieter Choeng Mon in the south cannot be reached directly via the ring road and is thus the destination of holidaymakers who are not looking for the cheerful hustle and bustle of Koh Samui, but for peace and relaxation.
Things to see on Kho Samui away from the beaches
In addition to Kho Samui's beaches, the perfect place to relax is the Muslim fishing village of Hua Thanon. Amidst untouched nature and rustling coconut plantations, time seems to have stood still. The fishermen still sail out to sea in their magnificently painted boats as they did 50 years ago and offer their catch of the day at the local markets. If you want to get to know Koh Samui's original culture, this is the place to be.
Jungle and mountains
Not only the coast of Koh Samui is worth seeing. The paradisiacal island also has a lot to offer away from the dreamlike beaches. The interior of Koh Samui was originally covered by dense jungle, which was completely cleared to create coconut plantations. In the meantime, the limestone and granite mountain landscape of Koh Samui is once again overgrown by primeval forest. In the southwest of the island, the highest mountain on the island, Khao Thai Kwai (635 m), can be climbed.
Buddhist Temples on Koh Samui
Also worth seeing are the Buddhist temples on Kho Samui, such as the golden Chedi Laem So on the southern cape of the island or Wat Phra Yai on the small offshore island of Ko Fan in the north, where Koh Samui's Big Buddha, a 12-metre high Buddha statue, is located.
From Bang Rak beach, the golden statue's splendour is easy to admire, which is why the beach is also called Big Buddha Beach. Animal lovers can attend monkey and snake shows or try a ride on an elephant at the top of the spectacular waterfall at Na Mueang.
First settlement and tourism on Koh Samui
Koh Samui has long been known to Chinese sailors and Malaysian fishermen. They repeatedly stopped on Koh Samui to repair ships and replenish their drinking water supplies. Chinese ceramics from the 17th century have been found in some shipwrecks off the coast.
The first permanent settlers from the Chinese island of Hainan and the Thai mainland settled on Koh Samui in the 18th century, later joined by Buddhists and Thai Muslims.
The mixture of several ethnic groups and religions on Koh Samui led to a very unique self-confidence of the people of Koh Samui, who do not see themselves as Thai, but as "Chao Samui" ("People of Samui"). They live mainly from fishing and from processing and exporting coconuts, which are considered the best in Thailand.
Since the 1970s, tourism in Koh Samui experienced a strong upswing. It was discovered for itself by the dropouts of the West and, similar to Goa in India or Bali in Indonesia, was a popular destination especially for hippies. In the course of the 1980s, the infrastructure to and on Koh Samui was massively expanded, and in 1989 the airport was opened, via which Koh Samui can be reached in a good hour from Bangkok.
This opened the gateway to Koh Samui for mass tourism. Several restrictions were imposed in an attempt to stop this. For example, building on Koh Samui is only allowed to be "palm-high", which prevents the construction of buildings higher than two storeys. Nevertheless, there are accommodation options in every price range on this paradisiacal island, from simple huts to luxury hotels.
The downside of tourism on Koh Samui
The arrival of mass tourism in Koh Samui brought disadvantages for nature on the island and especially for the local population. Many inhabitants of the atoll complain that they have lost their land to foreign investors. The quality of drinking water has declined, traffic on the ring road around the island has increased significantly and food prices have risen by 300% within a few years.
The lush belt of coconut trees that used to line the entire island has now had to give way to paved beach paths, bungalows and long hotel complexes in many places. The coral reefs around Koh Samui have also already suffered severe damage.