Photo: Chaweng Beach.

Introduction

Our rating:

Back in the 1970s, when backpackers to Southeast Asia were first discovering Ko Samui, magic mushrooms were on the menu and a basic thatched hut with running water and electricity were about as luxurious as it got. What a difference 40 years makes. Today, the mushrooms have been replaced by fancy wine bars and night clubs, and the island is home to some of Thailand’s most luxurious resorts.


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With an international airport, a mass of ferry connections and more than 1,000 hotels and guesthouses, Ko Samui is not somewhere to come to glimpse a corner of the Thai kingdom untouched by tourism development. Rather, this is a place to witness first-hand the unwieldy juggling act Thailand is trying to pull off as it strives to attract literally millions of new tourists annually while struggling to maintain some semblance of sustainability (and/or sanity).

Late light on Bang Po. Photo taken in or around Ko Samui, Thailand by David Luekens.

Late light on Bang Po. Photo: David Luekens

Two theories compete to explain where the name "Samui" came from. The first is that it is derived from a commonly found tree called a "mui"; the second that the name comes from the Chinese word "saboey", meaning ’safe haven’, which it was to the original fishermen who made port here in the Taling Ngam area.

Malay fishermen from the mainland as well as immigrants from Southern China saw prosperity in a surrounding sea teeming with fish and limestone outcrops filled with swift nests. Their legacy can be seen in the trading houses of Hua Thanon and Fishermen’s Village, along with several Chinese temples dotted around the island and a raucous celebration of Chinese New Year.

Over the years, the island’s fishing industry has been superseded in importance by that of coconut plantations. By 2006, the island exported more than two million coconuts per month to the Thai mainland for processing. While the island’s hinterland is still given over to coconuts these days, the beaches have been repurposed to host an even more lucrative crop: ... Travelfish members only (Around 2,900 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Ko Samui.
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 Read up on where to eat on Ko Samui.
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