Overview of the History and Geography of Koh Samui

Koh Samui Hotel - Utopia Resort - Lamai Beach - Thailand - The resort for a perfect holiday on Koh Samui
Nathon 1965


Koh Samui lies 35 kilometres off the Surat Thani (one of the major cities in southern Thailand) coast and about 700 kilometres south of Bangkok. The island was probably originally settled about 1500 years ago by fishermen, but its existence has first been officially recorded by the Chinese only as late as about 1500 AD, in ancient maps from the Ming dynasty. Apparently Samui Island had trade connections with China (at least Chinese ceramics were found in ship wrecks from that period that has sunken near the coast of Samui). The probably most dramatic episode in the history of the island
was the short Japanese occupation during World War II. Today Koh Samui belongs to Thailand but due to the long isolation from the rest of the world (little was known about Koh Samui until the early 1970s) the islanders (Samui has about 35.000 inhabitants) still think of themselves as really different from the rest of the country and are proud of their island culture. Samui has a size of about 250 kilometres in square (comparable to the Malaysian island Penang). As everywhere in Thailand, the major religion is Theravada Buddhism and there are lots of simple temples and shrines on the island, sometimes hidden in the jungle.

Koh Samui Hotel - Utopia Resort - Lamai Beach - Thailand - The resort for a perfect holiday on Koh Samui
Ancient Map

Until the year 1940, Koh Samui was without any road and cars. The Island lived in its own pace with almost no contact to the outside world . Getting from Maenam to Lamai Beach for example meant walking through the mountain jungles for hours and hours, a trip that was impossible to make to and back in one day. Tourism was unknown, there was simply no convenient way for anybody to come to Koh Samui. The only way to reach the island from the mainland was by a daily boat (6 hours from Surat Thani harbor to Nathon). At arrival here one had to count on another couple of hours or more to reach ones final destination. Early plans of a road construction were laid down because of the mountainous area and the impossibility to get heavy construction machines to the island. In the year 1967, Khun Dilok Suthiklom, the headman of the island decided that something had to be done for development and contacted the government for help. First start of construction consisted of manual labor by hundreds of people cleaning a way around the island. Rocks and trees has to be cleared out of the way and the result after long hard handwork was a kind of dirt track that lead almost all the way around. Two major obstacles were the high mountains between Nathon and Maenam and the long mountain stretch between Lamai and Chaweng. The former had to be lowered by dynamite to allow the road to climb up in an acceptable angle; even so, in the first couple of years before laying out concrete it meant usually that everybody except the driver had to get off the car and help pushing it up. The area between Lamai and Chaweng is the rockiest cliff landscape on Samui and road had to be more or less carved out of the
mountains on a length of 3 km, an impossible task without dynamite and heavy construction machinery. So these machines were slipped over from the mainland and in lack of a deep water pier had to be brought to land on beaches that were steep enough to allow the large carrying vessels to anchor at land. In-between there were further delays due to prolonged rainy seasons, the heavy monsoon rains making it virtually impossible to work at all, not to mention laying out concrete. Finally in the year 1973 order came from Bangkok to finish the Samui ring road project and concrete started to run to complete a 52 km. long, 12 metres wide road all around the island that now seems indispensable to us and most people cannot even imagine anymore there was time when the only way to get from one place to other on Koh Samui was on foot or by boat. Life on the island is still very quiet, much more so than for instance on Phuket. There are schools on Samui but the more well-to-do families prefer to send their children to the colleges and universities on the Thai mainland. The main produce of the island are coconuts (which are processed for copra production), tropical fruit, and bamboo. Fishing is of course also a major source of income and recently the tourism industry (most of the accommodation offered on Samui is still owned by locals, not by large hotel chains) has become more and more popular.

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