Saturday, June 12, 2010


Surat Thani Province features southern Thailand’s ultimate holiday trifecta, Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao – three idyllic island paradises hidden behind dozens of jagged islets peppered throughout the stunning Ang Thong Marine National Park.


At first glance, Ko Samui could be mistaken for a giant golf course floating in the Gulf of Thailand. The greens are perfectly manicured, sand traps are plentiful, and there’s a water hazard or two thrown in for good measure. Middle-aged men strut about donning white polo shirts that contrast with their cherry-red faces, while hired help carry around their stuff. But Samui is far from being an adults-only country club – a closer look reveals steaming street-side food stalls, 2am jet-setter parties, secreted Buddhist temples, and backpacker shanties plunked down on a quiet stretch of sand.

Ko Samui is a choose-your-own-adventure kinda place that strives, like a genie, to grant every tourist their ultimate holiday wish. You want ocean views, daily massages and personal butlers? Poof – here are the keys to your private poolside villa. It’s a holistic auracleansing vacation you’re after? Shazam – take a seat on your yoga mat before your afternoon colonic. Wanna party like a rock star? Pow – trance your way down the beach with the throngs of whisky bucket– toting tourists.

Beyond the merry-making machine, the island will also offer interested visitors a glimpse into local life. Chinese merchants from Hainan Island initially settled Samui and today these unique roots have blossomed into a small community that remains hidden beneath the glossy holiday veneer.


Ko Samui is quite large – the ring road around the island is almost 100km long. The island has been blessed with picturesque beaches on all four sides. The most crowded are Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai, both on the eastern side of the island. The beaches on the island’s north coast including Choeng Mon, Mae Nam, Bo Phut, Bang Po and Big Buddha Beach (Bang Rak) are starting to become busy as well, but the prices are still decent, and secluded nooks can still be found. For a quieter experience, try the secluded beaches along the southern coast, and western shore south of Na Thon.


Ko Samui has four private hospitals, all near the Tesco-Lotus supermarket on the east coast, where most of the tourists tend to gather. The government hospital in Na Thon has seen significant improvements in the last couple of years but the service is still a bit grim since funding is based on the number of Samui’s legal residents (which doesn’t take into account the heap of illegal Burmese workers).


Changing money isn’t a problem on the east and north coasts, and in Na Thon. Multiple banks and foreign-exchange booths offer daily exchange services and there’s an ATM every couple of hundred metres.


In several parts of the island there are privately run post office branches charging a small commission. You can almost always leave your stamped mail with your accommodation. Main post office (Na Thon) Near the TAT office; not always reliable.