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iXiGOers Dec 09 2012

What is the culture and history of Koh samui?

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Koh samui or Samui as it is known by the locals, once a part of the hippie travel loop of the 1970s, has come a long way in a short span to throw the veritable red carpet welcoming the tourism tidal wave that has swept it in the past 3 decades. Located on the Gulf of Thailand, the island is a part of the Thailand archipelago  and is surrounded by some 60 other islands. Second largest island after Phuket, Koh Samui’s history stretches back to 15 centuries when fishermen from the Malay peninsula and Southern China migrated to its shore and set residence. Ko is actually the Thai word for island, while the origin of the word Samui remains debatable. It could be an extension of the word mui, name of the one of the island’s native trees or equally plausible, it could have its base in the Malay word for safe haven, Saboey.


Hard to believe now from the number of flights that land at its International airport every day, Ko Samui had little to do with the mainland of Thailand and was a veritable oasis of white sands dotted with palm trees. In fact the until the 1970s, to venture from one side of the island to the other required an entire day’s trek through its forested mountains-a distance of mere 15 km. Roads didn’t make an appearance until early 1970s. Even today Koh Samui’s central part is virtually uninhabitable where stands tall and hulking its jungle mountain, Khao Pom, at a height of 635 meters.


In contrast to the southern islands of Thailand where Islam has a wider influence, Koh Samui has a stronger Buddhist influence, with its original inhabitants being referred to as Chao Samui. Given that the island possibly has the largest number of coconut species than anywhere else in the world, it was only natural that coconut harvesting (and rubber) became the island’s primary source of income. However, with tourists having engulfed its shores and pathways, today the dominant source of income is from tourism and its associated activities. Koh Samui’s yesteryears moniker can still be seen and felt alive in its general, all-pervading harmonious atmosphere, a distinct contrast from the religious tensions that grip communities along south Thailand. In the typical hippie and backpacker style of those who first made their way towards this safe haven from Bangkok adrift a coconut boat, Koh Samui is only too happy to welcome everyone in its celebratory folds, provided you bring your sense of life and joy.


Nathon is the island’s capital on the southwest coast and is the seat of regional government and where you are likely to see most of the island’s commercial bustle. The extent to which tourism maintain its stronghold over the island and influences its way of life, can be seen in the administrative change wherein each of Koh Samui’s primary beaches are now considered as a small town, given the number of world class resorts and hotels, cutting edge dining scene and pulsating nightlife has sprung up in the last decade.


Whether you are seeking out a safe haven of endless white sand beaches and crystal clear bays to rainforest or looking out for the biggest bohemian-style beach party to dance up a storm,


Koh Samui is your one-stop destination for all that and more.

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