Koh Samui Travel Guide
If variety is truly the spice of life, Thailand ensures the most exciting holidays possible. Not only does it feature beach resorts amongst its myriad attractions, it also offers a widely differing choice of beach locations. Among these Samui Island is a rare gem.
Whereas Pattaya blends the city with the seaside and Phuket adds luxury comforts to natural beauty, Samui preserves the idyllic simplicity of a tropical hideaway. It is characterized by almost deserted beaches of powdery white sand, crystal-clear waters and a hinterland of fresh green coconut plantations and rice paddies. Here you can delight in a letter-day Robinson Crusoe experience — in comfort.
AWAY FROMIT ALL
Ko Samui (the full name, with Ko meaning “island” in Thai) is located some 80 kilometers off the coast of Surat Thani, about 560 kilometers from Bangkok. It is part of a true island world being just one of a group of more than 80 tropical islands, only four of which are inhabited.
An airport has being built and you may access Samui by ferry boat from Surat Thani which can be reached from both Bangkok and the main southern town of Hat Yai by plane, train and tour bus. So Ko Samui remains very much away from it all, complete unto itself as it has been for centuries.
The island, Thailand’s third largest, measures 21 kilometers at the widest point and 25 kilometers in maximum length. A mountain ridge runs east to west and most of the hinterland comprises forested hills. The rich hues of wild vegetation are dappled throughout with the contrasting greens of coconut palms and emerald paddy. Indeed, besides fishing, cultivation of coconuts is the main source of livelihood for the islanders and Ko Samui ships some two million nuts a month to Bangkok — they are reputedly the best in the country.
Sometimes trained monkeys are employed to help harvest the coconut and these nimble creatures provide endless entertainment as they go about their work.
Against the backdrop of green hills, the shore line of Ko Samui stands out as one of palm-fringed beaches and quite coves and bays.
Clean and uncluttered, the beaches are long, near-deserted strands of fine sand — everyone’s dream of a tropical island escape. The most popular spots are Chaweng and Lamai. Both are on the east coast where each day greets you with a spectacular sunrise.
In such an idyllic setting the temptation is simply to laze peacefully on the beach and soak up a tropical sun tan. But if you want more there are amenities for water sports, such as windsurfing and snorkeling. The coastal waters are exciting to explore and are especially rich in shoals of brightly coloured fish and exotic coral formations.
EASE & COMFORT
Although there are a few first-class hotels, Ko Samui’s typical form of accommodation is the beach bungalow. Usually palm-thatched and commanding uninterrupted views of the beach and sea beyond, bungalows offer good, simple facilities, with or without airconditioning. You are assured of all basic comforts and yet the amenities we all appreciate do not detract from the easy-going Robinson Crusoe feel of an island retreat.
Most beach bungalows have their own restaurants, while other small establishments are common. Fresh seafood and tropical fruits are the natural specialties of Ko Samui, though you’ll find menus sufficiently varied of cater to all tastes. International favorites as well as spicy Thai dishes are available.
Getting around the island is easy. A 50-kilometre ring road skirts the coast, giving ready access to all beaches and the little administrative centre of Na Thon, a compact beachside huddle of houses, shops, restaurants and small hotels. The best form of transport is a motorbike which can be readily hired. This gives the freedom to explore at your leisure, although mini buses do ply the main routes.
Should you want a little more activity than simply swimming, windsurfing and sunbathing, the other islands in the archipelago beckon. You can easily hire a boat for a trip to Ko Pha Ngan, the nearest and largest island nest to Samui which has some economy class bungalows. The beaches are good and there are also several scenic waterfalls. Close by and accessible on day trips by boat are two smaller, uninhabited islands, Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan, where beautiful bays with colourful coral formations offer excellent conditions for snorkeling.
A more adventurous full-day excursion can be made to Ang Thong Marine National Park, a group of 40 islands northwest of Samui. Here you will see spectacular limestone formations, caves, blue lagoons and amazingly beautiful beaches. On Ko Wua Ta Lap, where the park headquarters are located, there are bungalows for rent. Organized daily tours to Ang Thong are available from travel agents in town on Samui.
Either on your outward or return journey, it is worthwhile to spend a little time in Surat Thani, the mainland hopping-off point for Ko Samui. this bustling fishing and shipbuilding centre is picturesquely located and has a distinct charm. A casual stroll around town or a canal tour on the Tapi river are rewarding for the glimpses they give of southern culture. Surat Thani is also a famous for its oyster farms, harvesting a giant species of the mollusk.
More specifically for the serious sightseer, Chaiya, about a 45-minutes drive north of the town, is a major historical site. Its importance stems from the fact that some scholars contend that it was here that the ancient Srivijayakingdom had its capital.
Whatever the merits of the claim and despite the fact that little remains to attest to the glories of Srivijaya, Chaiya does boast some ancient temples of note. Wat Phra Boromathat Chaiya, a highly revered temple, has a Chedi believed to be more than 1,300 years old, while Wat Wiang, Wat Long and Wat Kaeo are also worth visiting.
A few kilometers west of Chaiya is Wat Suan Mok, “Monastery of Flowing Water” which is a tranquil meditation centre for both Thais and foreigners set amid a peaceful natural park.
The picturesque Khao Sok National Park, about 100 kilometers west of Surat Thani, is another notable attraction. The are is rich in flora and fauna and basic bungalow accommodation is available. Alternatively, there is a “tree-top” guesthouse near by.