Holiday in Ko Samui
For some, the tourism industry has brought blessings in the form of economic development to what could have been dilapidating communities in Southeast Asia. Such is the case for the island of Ko Samui in Thailand.
Discovered by pioneering backpackers in the 1970s, Ko Samui has indeed come a long way since the days of what were then luxury accommodations --- huts with electricity and running water. Now, everywhere you go in Ko Samui, you will see that it is host to so many kinds of accommodations, from posh, high end resorts to your run of the mill, budget rooms.
Although history about the island is very limited, Ko Samui used to be the stopover for both Malay fisher folks and Chinese tradesmen who saw the fisheries industry as a possible lucrative source of income. Some say the island got its name from the common tree found indigenous here known as “mui”. Others say that the name came from the Chinese term for ‘safe haven’ (“saboey” in the Chinese dialect). And indeed, it is such a haven that so many Chinese made the island home up to this day. Their influence is still very much evident especially when roaming through Fisherman’s Village where you will see so many boutiques set against the backdrop of European inspired architectures. There are also numerous temples frequently used especially during the Chinese New Year. If you end up at Ko Samui during this event, we recommend stopping by Mae Nam for that authentic street market experience and Chinese celebration.
Second only to Phuket in being favourite destinations of foreign travellers, Ko Samui comes equipped with over 500 guesthouses and hotels, an international airport and a vast network of ferry connections to other neighbouring islands. The development boom on the island has gradually evolved through a trial and error experience, as many lessons were learned in having an unsustainable form of development. Now, there exist laws designating the height of any building to equal or preferably shorter than the nearest coconut tree. This was learned from the mistakes made at Phuket where the uncontrollable building of several hotels and apartment has greatly destroyed the skyline views. What you will see in Ko Samui are lots of bungalows instead and just one four-storey building.
Yet it still remains uncertain if the measures to save the island’s natural beauty can keep up with the millions of tourists a year plus the already existing and still growing 40,000 people who have made Ko Samui their residence and the development they bring along. The initial uncontrollable building booms of the millennium were slowly managed and the residents together with the local government have tapered off the how, when and where development happens for the past five years. Only after the big floods that inundated the island almost to oblivion back in November 2010 and March 2011, did the local government diverted its attention and dedicated its financial resources into the building of several infrastructure related and connected to having a more responsive drainage system. Now, after every big storm, resort owners and concerned residents all automatically combine their efforts to clean up and consequently repair damages right away to avoid further expenses.
But Ko Samui still remains a crowd pleaser, if you know how to look further and deeper than its surface. You might need to employ a travel guide to get you to the secret spots where the sun shines its brightest, the waters still glisten in its emerald glory and the sands are still fine and powdery. We recommend getting up early everyday to get ahead of the crowd. Visit the quaint towns of Mae Nam, Chaweng and Lamai. Or just hang out at the beaches of Bophut, Choeng Mon and numerous hidden bays around the south and west parts. There are plenty to do so don’t miss out by just staying put at the first beach you find. Or if you want to further explore, Ko Samui is the perfect jumping board to start your expedition to the islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan, all reachable through a quick trip via ferry or boat.
Don’t forget to ask your guide for the highly recommended hotel, guesthouse or bungalow which fits your preference. For those with cash to spare, your options are the all inclusive, pampering, luxury resorts or if you are on a very limited budget, the Fisherman’s Village and Mae Nam area offer that one-of-a-kind authentic lodging experience.
You will also see that the island’s residents are a mix of locals and expats from countries like Russia, UK, Scandinavia, France and Germany which consequently have made it possible for the many schools to pop up everywhere. Some, like the International School of Samui, is proudly supervised by its UK affiliate and enrols the children of expats and the well-to-do locals. Because of this, English is widely used and spoken, a huge advantage for the island’s tourism industry. Furthermore, the island has so many businesses all catering to the needs of the residents and tourists like grocery stores (Macro, Tesco Lotus and Big C, to name a few) and a handful of hospitals, pharmacies, optometrists and dentists. Western influence is evident with the existence of cinemas and a bowling alley. But again, it is still second to Phuket when it comes to having huge malls.
It really seems like Ko Samui is no longer authentically Thai, right? Yes, perhaps that is the opportunity cost that comes with the industry but there are still small pockets of communities in the island which proudly represent the old, traditional Thai way of life where you can witness traditional games like the famed muay Thai and buffalo fights and even bird singing competitions. So gear up and get ready for the time of your life at this dynamic but ever Thai island.