The island of Koh Samui has developed rapidly over the last twenty years and it has come a long way since its days as a quiet island of sleepy fisherman and coconut plantations. Today, Koh Samui is one of the Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations with people flocking from all over the world to visit this paradise island.
Koh Samui is famous for its incredible sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and stunning natural beauty. Situated 35km from the town of Surat Thani, the island itself measures approximately 25km at the widest point and covers a total area of about 230 square kilometres.
The island is actually surrounded by more than 60 other islands that make up the Ang Thong Marine National Park, also known as the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. Some of the islands that are part of the Marine National Park are uninhabited and others, which are close to Koh Samui, are also popular tourist destinations, most notably Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan.
The very centre of Koh Samui is almost completely uninhabitable due to a large jungle mountain, known as Khao Pom, which peaks at some 635 metres. The various different lower areas and settlements on the island are connected together by on single main road, which runs along the coast and circles the majority of the island. This main coastal road is 50 kilometres in length.
Each of Koh Samui’s main beaches, which include Chaweng, Lamai, Bang Rak, Bo Phut and Mae Nam are normally thought of as small towns due to the number of restaurants, hotels and local amenities that are available in each of these areas. The old island capital, Nathon is situated on the southwest coast of the island and to this day remains the major port for both inter-island transportation and fishing. It is also the main commercial hub or centre for many of the Samui locals and is also represented by one seat in the regional government.
Koh Samui is an administrative district of the Surat Thai Province, which has a further 18 districts, known as ‘amphoe’ under its administrative rule. The island itself is then divided into 7 further sub districts that are known as ‘tambon’, which include Ang Thong, Lipa Noi, Taling Ngam, Na Mueang, Maret, Bo Phut and Mae Nam.
According to the national census of 2008, the official population of Koh Samui can expect to reach 50,000 during the peak tourist season between the months late September and February. Although, it is worth bearing in mind that this figure can rise dramatically during this time due to holiday makers and tourists who also visit the island.
Thai nationals make up the vast majority of the islands permanent residents, although there is an ever increasing number of foreigners that have setup up home on the island, that originate from different parts of the world including mainland Europe, the UK, Australia and other parts of Asia. There is also a small Chinese community on Koh Samui, which can be traced back to some of the earliest settlers on the island, who were, amongst others, Chinese fishermen and sea traders.
Many of these foreigners have chosen to settle on the island as part of their retirement or own holiday properties on Koh Samui that they frequent during the holiday season. Others own businesses or work in the islands tourism industry.
The majority of Thai’s who live on the island are Buddhists, although there is a small Muslim community on the island also.