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KOH SAMUI

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Overview

Ko Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, lies in the Gulf of Thailand off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus. It’s known for its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves and dense, mountainous rainforest, plus luxury resorts and posh spas. The landmark 12m-tall golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yai Temple is located on a tiny island connected to Ko Samui by a causeway.

In the tourism business longer than almost any other Thai island, Ko Samui has pretty much something for everyone. Backpackers can eke out bungalows, hammocks and cheap beer, sunseekers can hunt down fine stretches of sand clogged with beach loungers, while the luxury market continues to grow, luring the top-end dollar. There’s rubbish-free roads, world-class international cuisine, exclusive spas and beach bar parties for scantily clad 20-somethings that start at noon. The mood swings from brash and noisy Chaweng to hearing the soft thud of a coconut falling on deserted sands.

Look for steaming street-side food stalls beyond the beach, backpacker shanties plunked down on quiet stretches of sand and Buddhist temples secreted along the backstreets. To really escape, head to the south or the west of the island where authentic Samui family-run seafood restaurants, tourist-free towns buzzing with descendants of the original Chinese merchant settlers and long stretches of refreshingly wild and shaggy coconut palms await.

Spending time in Bophut is a wonderful way to soak up local culture; the beachy village restaurants and pubs are perfect spots to experience the sunset. There aren’t many other places where you can bask in the camp of a cabaret show and the solemnity of a Buddhist temple. As far as the latter goes, Wat Plai Laem is a magnificent vision of gilded red rooftops and a massive spindly-armed statue of Guanyin.

The first settlers of the island are believed to be fishermen from the Malay Peninsula and southern China who resided here about 15 centuries ago. It is indicated on old Chinese maps as ‘Pulo Cornam’. No one really knows how the current name came about. Some people say the word ‘samui’ came from the Malay word ‘saboey’ meaning safe haven. Ko is a common prefix as it is the Thai word for ‘island’. Before the 20th century, the island was a self-sufficient community and was isolated from the others, including the mainland of Thailand. There were no roads, which meant that travelling across the island involved a one-day trek through the mountains and jungles. The island’s economy now relies on the tourism industry as well as the exports of coconut and rubber. The rapid growth of this region has not only brought it prosperity, but also given rise to major changes to its environment and culture.

Food Must Try

Tom Yum

Tom Yum or Tom Yam is a classical dish in Thailand. It is a unique sour yet spicy hot clear soup with an intense, seductive aroma. Just a whiff of its smell is enough to stimulate a person’s taste buds. The soup consists of seafood like shrimps, fragrant herbs and fresh ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, pounded chili peppers, fish sauce, and lime juice. Even though the soup originated from Laos and northeastern Thailand, its popularity extends up to the Koh Samui Island. When ordering the soup, however, it is wise to go for a less spicy version if you cannot bare a real spicy treat.

Pad Thai

It is a healthy traditional treat comprising of stir-fried rice noodles, tofu, fish sauce, tamarind pulp, egg, shallot, soybean, palm sugar, red chilli pepper and garlic. If a person wishes, he or she could also add chicken, shrimp or crab to the menu. The Pad Thai is available in many of the Thai restaurants, recreation establishments and also along some parts of the streets.

Khao Pad

The term Khao Phad means fried rice. However don’t let the name trick you into thinking it is the traditional fried rice. It sports several appetizing flavors like jasmine rice, garlic, egg, oyster sauce, salt, sugar, and soy sauce. The servings include either chicken or shrimp flipped in eggs, tomatoes and onions, thereby guaranteeing to satisfy one’s hunger pangs. Some of this dish’s accompaniments include slices of tomatoes and cucumbers, lime, and salad.

Excursions

Angthong National Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park is a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It features towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, waterfalls and hidden coves and lakes to explore. Within sight of Koh Samui, Ang Thong park is a protected area of more than 100 square kilometres of land and sea. It is home to a rich variety of exotic wildlife and sea creatures. Snorkelling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, and simply relaxing are the main activities to enjoy at Ang Thong. Most Ang Thong visitors arrive on a join-in day trip or by boat charter from Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan. For those who wish to stay overnight, there are simple bungalows and camping tents available on Koh Wua Ta Lap. The Park Headquarters also hosts a simple restaurant. Despite its increasing number of visitors, the Ang Thong islands remain the postcard-perfect image of a tropical paradise.

Koh Tao Island

Koh Tao – meaning ‘Turtle Island’ – lives up to its name, being the scuba diving destination of choice in Thailand. The perfect white-sand beaches which ring the hilly 21 km² island are surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The vibrant coral reefs there are home to a wide range of exciting and colourful sea creatures, including turtles, naturally. The compact island is 55 km to the north of Koh Samui and was only really ‘discovered’ in the early 1980s, but now supports a varied selection of hotels, from budget guesthouses and beach bungalows all the way up to five-star luxury resorts. The choice of restaurants and nightlife establishments has also been constantly growing, to the point that there is now something for almost every taste. So far from civilisation while still being relatively easily reached, it is the idyllic tropical island paradise.

Na Muang Waterfall

Na Muang Waterfalls, a majestic set of two cascades on Koh Samui, show that the island’s beauty is not limited to its beaches. Found inland about 12 kilometres south-east of Nathon Bay, the Na Muang falls are reached by taking a walking path from the entrance to the park. The first waterfall, Na Muang 1, flows down into a pretty natural pool that provides a cool escape from the heat. About 30 minutes by foot further uphill is the smaller yet equally inviting Na Muang 2.

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