YOUR GUIDE TO KOH SAMUI
Apartments for rent
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Koh Samui, on Thailand's south-east coast, has grown from a sleepy island frequented by a few backpackers looking for the ideal getaway, to a high-quality destination where the relatively low cost of land and construction guarantees that you can own land and build your dream house at a more than reasonable cost, and given the proven popularity of Koh Samui as a holiday and retirement destination you can expect a high yield on your investment.
Names such as Amari, Six Senses, Four Seasons, Le Meridien, Beach Republic, Renaissance, Banyan Tree, NiKki Beach and Intercontinental have invested heavily here and are reaping the rewards as up-market tourists come to seek the lifestyle that others can only dream of.
The long-term future looks rosy for Koh Samui. Certainly, companies such as these would not be investing in the island if they did not see continued growth in the upper end of the tourist market.
Large Map - Click To Enlarge. Map provided by Samui Community Publications http://www.samuicommunity.com/
Koh Samui is Thailand's third largest tropical island, situated in the safe and scenic Gulf of Siam. It is also the largest of an archipelago of 80 islands, six of which are inhabited. At 25km long and 21km wide it is home to approximately 40,000 people, many of whom are fishermen-turned hoteliers. The number of annual visitors is many times this figure. The first foreign tourists began stepping ashore on Samui in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. At that time there were no hotels, no electricity (except generator-supplied), no telephones, no surfaced roads - nothing, it seems, but an over-abundance of coconuts. Even now, apart from tourism, the mainstay of the economy is coconuts; two million of which are exported to Bangkok each month. Today the island is very different, far more cosmopolitan in nature, although the south of the island still retains the peace and tranquility enjoyed before tourism arrived.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING BACK
Visas and passport requirements
All tourists must possess passports valid for at least six months longer than their intended stay in Thailand.
30 day visa exemptions: Passport holders from the vast majority of countries do not require a visa when entering Thailand for tourist purposes, but it is always best to check with your Embassy or High Commission whether you need to apply for a visa before travelling.
Visas on arrival: It is also possible to apply for a visa on arrival (VOA), at Airports in Thailand that handle international visitors'.
Tourist visas: these are valid for 30 days from the date of entry (single entry) and must be obtained from a Thai embassy before arrival in Thailand. They can be extended for a further 30 days.
Visa extensions: these are obtainable from immigration offices. The length of time a visa is extended varies, according to the office and the official. However, those on a 30-day VOA entry can usually have their stay extended by 10 to 15 days; those with a 30-day tourist visa can usually expect a 30-day extension.
For the latest information on visas and tourist visa exemptions visit the Consular Information section of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mfa.go/
No vaccinations are required, unless you are travelling from an infected area (if visitors have been in a yellow fever infected area in the 10 days before arrival, then they must produce a vaccination certificate upon arrival). There is no Malaria on Koh Samui, but if you are travelling in from elsewhere in Thailand, or surrounding countries where Malaria is prevalent, then you should seek advice from your medical practitioner before travelling.
Flying is the easiest and quickest option. It is relatively inexpensive and hassle free, landing you in the north eastern corner of the island after a flight from Bangkok of little more than an hour. The airport (really an airfield), is on the northeast side of the island, and is privately owned by Bangkok Airways. There are multiple daily connections with Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. There are also daily International connections with Singapore. (The airport has won many awards for its environmentally-friendly design).
Train: from Bangkok's Hualamphong Station to Phu Phin, outside Surat Thani, the journey takes 10-12 hours. The State Railway runs a rail/bus/ferry service from Bangkok to Koh Samui which takes 18 hours. This needs to be booked 2-3 days in advance. Note: it is not necessary to buy a combination ticket; buses from all the ferry companies meet trains to transfer passengers to the various ferry terminals.
Road Bus: to mainland Surat Thani, from Bangkok's Southern bus terminal, air-conditioned buses leave between 2000 and 2200, and the journey takes 12 hours.
Ferries: Over the last couple of years the ferry service has been upgraded and now runs on an hourly basis from 5 am until 7 pm, although if there are sufficient numbers the service will run later; Seatran ferries leave from Nathon pier and are generally superior to the Raja ferries that leave from Lipa Noi. The journey to the mainland takes 1 hour and 30 minutes by Seatran and 1 hour and 20 minutes by Raja.
Both ferries reach the mainland at Donsak but have separate terminals a few kilometres apart. On arriving, air-conditioned buses meet the ferries for transfers to Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai and Penang. The bus usually travels with the ferry for those travelling to Bangkok and is boarded at a small bus station just outside Nathon half an hour prior to the ferry departing.
When travelling from Donsak to Koh Samui, Seatran ferries are usually the better option as many taxis and songtaews are found waiting for disembarking passengers at Nathon pier, unlike Lipa Noi where the transport options are limited (although, if travelling by bus from Bangkok, your bus will drop you at the bus station in Nathon).
March-October is the driest period of the year, although short sharp downpours can still occur, as this is the southwest monsoon period. The northeast monsoon, which occurs between November-February usually brings heavier rainfall.
Many of Koh Samui's inhabitants are not Thai, but Chinese from Hainan who settled on the island between 150-200 years ago. So far as most visitors are concerned, this little nugget of history will remain hidden; the Chinese across Thailand have assimilated to such a degree that they are almost invisible. However, evidence of this immigration of Hainanese can be seen reflected in the traditional architecture of the island. Houses, though they may also incorporate Indian, Thai and Khmer elements, are based on Hainanese prototypes. The use of fretwork to decorate balconies and windows; the tiled, pitched roofs; the decoration of the eaves - elements such as these make the older houses of Samui distinctive in Thai terms. Inevitably as tourism grows, they are being renovated or replaced by more modern structures.
LANGUAGE AND RELIGION
The Thai language is tonal and strictly speaking monosyllabic. There are five tones, high, low, rising, falling and mid tone. These are used to distinguish between words which would otherwise sound identical. Although tones make Thai a challenge for foreign visitors, in general English is widely spoken on Koh Samui, and English is taught to all school children. Competence in English is regarded as a very useful qualification especially for those keen to work in tourism. Despite Thai being a difficult language to pick up, it is worth trying to learn a few words, as Thais generally feel honoured that a farang (foreigner) has bothered to learn their language, and will be patient and helpful. We have put together some useful advice which we hope will be of help to you on your travels through Thailand and Koh Samui, click here for download (word doc)
The last Thai census recorded that 94% of the general population is Buddhist. In Thailand's case this means Theravada Buddhism, also known as Hinayana Buddhism. The other 6% of the population are made up of Christians and Muslims. Although the King is designated the protector of all religions, the constitution stipulates that he must be a Buddhist. It is important to draw a distinction between the 'academic' Buddhism, as it tends to be understood in the West, and 'popular' Buddhism practiced in Thailand. Thai Buddhists pursue the Law of Karma, the reduction of suffering of people. Meritorious acts are undertaken and demeritorious ones are avoided so that life, and more importantly future life might be improved. Outside Wats it is common to see caged birds being sold; these are purchased and set free, and in this way the liberator gains merit.
A substantial number of expatriates now live and work on Samui and this has meant an increase in the provision of amenities and services. Medical facilities currently include three International-grade hospitals: Bangkok International, Samui International and Bandung International, all within a few minutes drive from each other just outside Chaweng, in addition to the Government hospital just outside Nathon. There are also a number of other private clinics (Bupa have an office near to the Bangkok International hospital) and several opticians. Other facilities include: five Internet Service Providers, three mobile phone networks, printing facilities, electrical supplies, and of course the huge Tesco Lotus supermarket and department complex just outside Chaweng. Koh Samui might seem a long way from the developed West, but nowadays there isn't much that isn't readily available on the island. Most medical and dental services are substantially cheaper here than they would be in, say, Europe. Many of the hospitals in Bangkok now do a roaring trade in international health care as they are substantially cheaper than in other countries.
Plastic is increasingly used in Thailand and just about every town of any size has a bank with an ATM, and Koh Samui is no exception.
The unit of currency is the Baht (THB) which is divided into 100 satang. Notes in circulation include 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (orange and grey). Coins include 1, 2, 5 and 10 Baht and 25 satang and 50 satang.
You can convert THB into any world currency by visiting http://www.xe.com/ or http://www.bangkokbank.com/
Koh Samui is a large island, and beaches and hotels and guesthouses can be found on just about every stretch of coastline although the two most popular and developed beaches are on the east coast, Chaweng and Lamai. The main town of Nathon, where most of the ferries dock, is on the west side of the island. A road circumnavigates the island, following the coast along the north and eastern sides, and inland on the south-east and western stretches.
Songtaews, red coloured converted pickup trucks with two long bench seats facing each other, serve as the island's local bus service. They follow set routes to and from most destinations around the island. The destination is easily marked in English on the front and back of the vehicle. Daytime rates are between 40-60 Baht per passenger, depending on where you are going. After 6 pm you may have to charter a Songtaew if you want to travel between different resorts, and rates vary.
Yellow and Red Taxis; air-conditioned car taxis are in yellow and red. Most have meters but many taxi drivers prefer to negotiate a fare. So make sure you ask the driver to use the meter before you set off, or if not, settle a price before you start.
Motorbike taxi drivers can be identified by their coloured numbered vests. For short journeys they are the fastest way to get around as they can dodge in and out of the traffic. Fares start from 30 Baht upwards depending on where you are going.
Jeep rental is widely available on the island. Rates usually start from 800-900 Baht per day, depending on the type and condition of the vehicle and the season.
Motorbike rental; a motorbike is the most convenient way to get around town. Rates start from 150 Baht for a small bike, and you pay for the gasoline you use. You can bargain for a discount on long term rentals.
Mountain bikes can be rented at many places around the island for 150 Baht per day. They are ideal for those who want to discover some of the many nature trails and tracks of the island's interior.