Koh Samui Archipelago

Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ko Samui or Koh Samui,  or often simply Samui as it is referred to by locals, is an island off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand. It is located close to the mainland town of Surat Thani in Surat Thani Province. Ko Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket, with an area of 228.7 km2, a population of over 63,000 and an annual tourist population of 1.5 million. Abundant natural resources, white sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees are present on the island, and it is part of Mu Ko Samui.


The island was probably first inhabited about 15 centuries ago, settled by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and Southern China. It appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687, under the name Pulo Cornam. The name Samui is mysterious in itself. Perhaps it is an extension of the name of one of the native trees, mui, or from the Malay word Saboey, meaning “safe haven”. Ko is the Thai word for “island”.

Until the late 20th century, Ko Samui was an isolated self-sufficient community, having little connection with the mainland of Thailand. The island was even without roads until the early 1970s, and the 15 km journey from one side of the island to the other could involve a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.

Ko Samui’s economy now is based primarily on a successful tourist industry, as well as the more traditional exports of coconut and rubber.

Whilst the island presents an unspoiled image to the public perception, economic growth has brought not only prosperity, but also major changes to the island’s environment and culture, a source of conflict between local residents and newcomers from other parts of Thailand and elsewhere. Reflecting Samui’s growth as a tourist destination, the Cunard ship MS Queen Victoria (a 2000-plus passenger ship) docked at Samui during its 2008 world cruise.


Ko Samui is in the Gulf of Thailand, about 35 km northeast of Surat Thani town (9°N, 100°E). It is the most significant Island in the Chumphon Archipelago. The island measures some 25 km at its widest point. It is surrounded by about sixty other islands, which together compose the Ang Thong Marine National Park (Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park) and include many other popular tourist destinations, including, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan.

The central part of the island is an almost uninhabitable tropical jungle mountain called Khao Pom, peaking at 635 m. The various lowland and coastal areas are connected by a single 51 km road, running mostly along the coastline and encircling the bulk of the island. On the northwest coast of the island is the old capital, Nathon. Although Nathon spreads over a large area, the actual port and main business district is relatively small.

Nathon is the major port for vehicular and goods transportation from the mainland, it is the centre of the fishing industry, and remains the seat of the regional government. The majority of the government functions are based here, as is the public hospital. Being the location of the main port and the closest inhabited area to the mainland provided the impetus for Nathon becoming the commercial centre for Samui locals. More recently, the decline in dependence on the local coconut industry, the continued growth and development of the tourist industry, and the northeastern location of the airport, has seen the slow move of the commercial centre to Chaweng.


Ko Samui features a tropical monsoon climate under Köppen’s climate classification. However the city only has one true dry season month. Average monthly precipitation in February falls below 60 mm, the threshold for a tropical dry season month. The climate is warm and humid for most of the year. However, in comparison to Phuket and most of the rest of Southern Thailand, Samui’s weather is relatively dry. The heaviest precipitation is typically seen in the months of October and November.  For the rest of the year, given the tropical climate, rain showers are brief; 20–60 minutes duration is typical. The island sees on average just under 2000 mm of precipitation annually.

Climate data for Ko Samui (1981–2010)
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Rainfall mm (inches)
Avg. rainy days (? 1 mm)
 % humidity
Source: Thai Meteorological Department (Normal 1981-2010), (Avg. rainy days 1961-1990)


Ko Samui is an Amphoe (district) of Surat Thani Province, subdivided into 7 subdistricts (tambon). The complete island is one city municipality (thesaban nakhon). The district covers the island, as well as the Ang Thong archipelago and some other small islands nearby.

1. (Ang Thong) 6 villages
2. (Lipa Noi) 5 villages
3. (Taling Ngam) 5 villages
4. (Na Mueang) 5 villages
5. (Maret) 6 villages
6. (Bo Phut) 6 villages
7. (Mae Nam) 6 villages
   Map of Tambon



Historically the island’s economy has been based around subsistence agriculture and fishing, with coconuts as the main cash crop. From the 1980s onwards, tourism has become an economic factor and is now the dominant industry. Ko Samui transport links have made it a destination for tourists seeking to explore the other islands in the area.

Samui Airport is a private modern airport built and owned by Bangkok Airways, which is still the main operator and was the only airline with services to Koh Samui from mainland Thailand since the airport’s construction in 1989. Due to its use of locally produced palm leaves and a natural, open-air cooling system, the complex received an Environment Impact Assessment Award under the guidance of Dr Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth. In 2009, the airport handled 1.3 million passengers and 17,707 aircraft operations.  The airport is now additionally served by Thai Airways International to Bangkok, Firefly Airlines to Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and SilkAir to Singapore.

Flights from Samui to Phuket and other Thai destinations are also available, and in 2012, the Thai Government announced the possibility of a second Ko Samui airport due to complaints of high airport fees.

Following the reopening of Don Mueang airport in early 2012, Air Asia offered flights from Kuala Lumpur to Surat Thani airport. Flights began on February 6, 2012.

Several ferries connect the island with the mainland, including two car/passenger ferries (Raja Ferries and Seatran), and connect Don Sak to piers in the west of the island, in Lipa Noi and in Nathon. Public buses to all parts of the mainland operate from a new bus station north of Nathon. Songthaews circle the ring road like a bus service with fixed fees in daytime only, and private so-called ‘’Taxi Meter’’ taxis are available throughout the island; from 12th August 2014 the taxis shall drive on meter fare only, but is allowed a surcharge on 50 baht (thb).


The expansion of tourism in Ko Samui has resulted in growth in building resorts, bungalows and luxury private villas on the island. This economic growth has led many businessmen from all over the world to invest in Ko Samui. With over 260 resorts and bungalows in Samui, counting from the end of year 2009, it has become Thailand’s second largest resort business behind Bangkok and surpassing Phuket.

Events and festivals

  • Buffalo Fighting Festival: One of the best-known festivals on Ko Samui is the Buffalo Fighting Festival, which is held on special occasions such as New Year’s Day and Songkran. Unlike Spanish bull-fighting, the fighting on Ko Samui is fairly harmless. The fighting season varies according to some ancient customs and ceremonies. The buffalo are beautifully decorated with ribbons and gold-painted leaves. Before the contest, which lasts just two rounds, monks spray the buffalos with holy water. The winning owner typically takes home millions of baht in prize money.
  • Samui Regatta: The Samui Regatta is a sailing tournament held every year. The tournament is internationally known and competitors come from as far away as Australia, Singapore, Japan and China. The event began in 2002.
  • Ten Stars Samui Art Party: A recurring cultural event bringing together art lovers, local Thai and international artists, and their new, original artworks. The annual event, hosted at various high-end resorts and other high-end venues on the island, focus on building the art community on Ko Samui, with presentations by featured artists.
  • Triathlon Event: The International Triathlon Union organizes this event every year. This event draws more than five hundred participants from around the world.

Local food

In general, Southern Thai food is renowned for its spiciness. Much of the cuisine is derived from Malay, Indonesian and Indian cuisines. Favorite dishes from the south include Indian-style Muslim curry (massaman), rice noodles in fish curry sauce (Khanom chin), and chicken biryani.

Local food products of Ko Samui and Surat Thani province include salted eggs and rambutan.

Medical care

Four international private hospitals are located on Samui: Samui International Hospital on the Beach Road in North Chaweng; Thai International off the Lake Road in Chaweng; Bandon Hospital on the Ring Road; and Bangkok Samui Hospital in Chaweng Noi. The Government Hospital is located in Nathon.

Table of Islands

Nr Island District Province Capital Other Cities Area (km²) Population[a] Notes
1 Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani Province Thong Sala Mae Hat 147.0 15,435 District is in Mu Ko Samui.
1.1 Ko Pha Ngan Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani Province Thong Sala Wat Khao Tam, Ban Tai, Ban Nok 125.0 13,705
1.2 Ko Maa Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani Province Green Bar Beach 0.1 2
1.3 Ko Nang Yuan Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani Province Nang Yuan Dive Resort 0.44 10
1.4 Ko Tao Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani Province Mae Hat Chalok Ban Kao, Hin Wong, Sairee 21 1,713
1.5 More Ko Pha Ngan Islands Amphoe Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani Province Ko Tae Nok Ko Tae Nai, Ko Than Sadet Kong 0.46 5
2 Amphoe Ko Samui Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Nathon Lipa Noi 270.5 63,000 The district also includes the northern (32 km², population 440) of Mu Ko Ang Thong with Ko Phaluai
2.1 Ko Fan Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Ko Fan Noi Ko Fan Yai 0.07 0 This is the location of Wat Phra Yai, the Big Buddha Temple, adjacent to Bang Rak, Ko Samui
2.2 Ko Mat Lang Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Laem Son 0.26 0
2.3 Ko Matsum Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Treasure Resort Naga Pearl Farm, Nong Matsum 0.31 18 Also known as Mudsum
2.4 Ko Samui Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Nathon Lipa Noi 228.7 62,500
2.5 Ko Som Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Ko Som 0.19 2
2.6 Ko Taen Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province Ko Taen Laem Hua Kruat, Ao Tok, Laem Hua Sai, Ao Ok 7.5 30
2.7 More Ko Samui Islands Amphoe Ko Samui Surat Thani Province 0.47 0
3 Amphoe Khanom Amphoe Khanom Nakhon Si Thammarat Province Khanom 433,926 28,000 The district includes also a huge part of mainland Thailand.
3.1 Mu Ko Thale Tai Amphoe Khanom Nakhon Si Thammarat Province Ko Rap Ko Wang Nai, Ko Wang Nak 2.0 2
Mu Ko Samui Mu Ko Samui Mostly Surat Thani Province Nathon Thong Sala 386.5 78,000

Below are some interesting facts about the populations of sharks on Koh Tao and around the globe:


  • There are 5 species of sharks found around Koh Tao:
    • Black Tip Reef Shark
    • Bull Shark
    • Grey Reef Shark
    • Whaleshark
    • Leopard Shark
  • The largest populations of sharks on Koh Tao can be found in Shark Bay, and are most easily seen by snorkeling
  • Only 4 sharks attacks have been recorded in the Gulf of Thailand in the last 100 years, and all have been on fisherman. No divers or swimmers have ever been attacked by sharks on Koh Tao.
  • Whalesharks are most commonly seen during March and October, but can be found passing by the island all year. The best dive sites to see a whale shark around Koh Tao are:
    • Chumphon Pinnacle
    • Southwest Pinnacle
    • Sail Rock
    • White Rock
    • Shark Island


  • The Whale Shark is the biggest fish in the ocean
  • Sharks hunt using 6 senses, all of the ones we are familiar with, plus they can sense the electrical flow in the neurons of other animals
  • It was recently discovered that Lemon Sharks return to the place of their birth in order to breed, about 15 years after leaving it.
  • Thresher Shark’s use their extra long tail to slap fish, stunning them and allowing for the shark to eat at is leisure.
  • The Oceanic White Tip shark was recently found to travel more than 1,900 km per year, and dive as deep as 1,082 m into what is known as the mesopelagic zone of the sea.
  • There are more than 350 species of sharks worldwide
  • Bull sharks can survive in both fresh and brackish waters, and will sometimes swim up rivers to feed.
  • Being top-predators, pollutants in the food chain (such as mercury and radioactive cesium) get concentrated in the fat and muscle of sharks, making their meat unhealthy for human consumption


Animals which are long-lived and slow to mature or reproduce often cannot be harvested in a sustainable way (especially with 7 billion human now on the planet). The fact that some sharks can live for over 100 years demands our respect, as the human lifespan is only about 76 years. Let’s take a look at how long some of our local shark species can live for:

  • Whale Shark: unknown, estimated at 100+ years
  • Grey Reef Shark: at least 25 years
  • Bamboo Shark: about 25 years
  • Blacktip Reef Shark: up to 25 years
  • Bull Shark: 11-16 years