Samui Island is a rare gem, preserving the idyllic simplicity of a tropical hideaway. It is characterized by beaches of powdery white sand, crystal-clear waters. Here you can delight in a latter-day Robinson Crusoe experience-in comfort.
The island, Thailand's third largest, measuring 21 kilometres at its widest point and 25 kilometres in maximum length, is one of a group of more than 80 tropical islands, only a few of which are inhabited. 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 fields.
Koh Samui (the full name, with ko meaning "island" in Thai) is located some 80 kilometres off the coast of Surat Thani, about 560 kilometres from Bangkok. It can be reached by air from Bangkok, or by ferry boat from Surat Thani town.
The major access to the island is still by sea, with a large car ferry running continuously from Don Sak to the west coast and passenger craft running between Surat Thani and Na Thon. Buses carry passengers over the ferry, allowing uninterrupted travel between Samui and Bangkok, or Samui and Hat Yai.
Two ferry companies operating from three ferry piers along the Surat Thani coast on the main land and two on Koh Samui
Ratcha Ferry Co.
Operates the vehicle and passenger ferries from the Don Sak pier to the Thong Yang pier on Koh Samui. The ferry departs Don Sak daily at 8.00 am, 10 am,12 noon, 2 pm and 5 pm and the crossing takes one and a half hour and costs about 25 Baht.
From Samui's Thong Yang pier, there are seven daily departures at 7 am, 8 am ,10 am, 12 noon, 2 pm, 4 pm and 5 pm.
Express Passenger Ferry
Songserm Travel operates the express passenger ferries from the Tha Thong pier with 3 daily departures at 7.30 am, 11.30 am, and 2 pm.
Songserm Travel also operates a slow night boat from Ban Don pier in downtown Surat Thani to Koh Samui, departing at 11 pm nightly and reaching the Nathorn pier around 5 am.
The major accommodation beaches, Lamai and Chaweng, are both on the east coast and are lined with bungalows and hotels, though most are hidden among the foliage, allowing the natural beauty to remain intact.
Samui has a few deluxe hotels but the island's characteristic style 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 air-conditioning. You are assured of all basic comforts and yet the amenities we all appreciate do not detract from the easygoing Robinson Crusoe feel of an island retreat.
SIGHTS, SCENES & SPORTS
Against the backdrop of hills, the beaches of Koh Samui stands out as one of the palm-fringed beaches, with strands of fine sand. The best 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. Principal among Samui's natural sights are two picturesque waterfalls, Hin Lat and Na Muang, while on neighboring Ko Fan, connected to Samui by a causeway, in Wat Hin Ngu temple and meditation centre.
Island hopping is another attraction and boats can be easily hired for trips to Ko Pha Ngan (the nearest and largest island next to Samui), and to the smaller islands of 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 Park, a group of 40 islands northwest of Samui. Here you will see spectacular limestone formations, caves, blue lagoons and amazingly beautiful beaches.
The mainland is well worth exploring either on your way to or from Samui. Surat Thani, the ferry terminal, is a bustling fishing and shipbuilding centre of considerable interest. 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 famous for its oyster farms where a giant species of the mollusc is harvested.
More specifically for the serious sightseeker, Chaiya, about a 45-minute drive north of the town, is a major historical site. Its importance stems from the fact that scholars contend that it was a possible capital of the ancient Srivijaya kingdom.
Other rewarding destinations are Khao Sok National Park, about 100 kilometres west of Surat Thani, and Chumphon which lies some 195 kilometres north of Surat Thani on a picturesque stretch of coastline with fine beaches and offshore islands.
A 50-kilometre ring road skirts Samui's coastline, giving ready access to all beaches and the little administrative centre of Na Ton, 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. Organized tours to Ang Thong Marine Park are available from local travel agents.
It takes about an hour to drive completely around the island, if you don't stop along the many beaches or take to some of the side tracks. A couple of rough trails cross the mountainous interior, but this is strictly 4WD or motorcycle territory. The only real town on the island is Na Thon, the administrative and communications centre.
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT
Most beach bungalows have their own restaurants, while other small establishments are common. Fresh seafood and tropical fruits are the natural specialities of Samui, though you will find menus sufficiently varied to cater to all tastes. International favorites as well as spicy Thai dishes are available.