History of Koh Samui Island – Thailand


Koh Samui, also known as the Coconut Island

History Of Samui


According to research it is estimated that people first inhabited Koh Samui around 1200 years ago. However the island was relatively unknown till around 1687, which old maps from China show it’s location. Whilst some of the earliest maps of Koh Samui can be traced back to the 17th century, no one really knows much about the island before this date as there is very little documented about its history from before the 1800’s. It is believed that much of the history or knowledge about the island at this time was likely to have been passed down from generation to generation or by word of mouth.

Old Samui Bar 1980


History Of Samui
Around the 1800’s, Koh Samui was rediscovered by sea traders, fishermen and sailors from China and Malaysia, they used Samui as  a place to stop and to shelter the from the storms as they travelled across the waters of Thailand. Many of the Chinese and Malaysians stayed on the island due the beauty of the landscape and the rich produce from the land and ocean, such as (fish, tropical fruits, and coconuts). Samui  has a lovely climate and calm waters throughout the year which was another appealing factor. The Chinese and Malaysians introduced Buddhism to the island but as well as Buddhism which is now the Islands main religion, there were a lot of muslims that also settled on the island.

Chaweng High Street 1980

History Of Samui
Prior to 1940 there was no tourism on the island of Samui, mainly due to it being not accessible, at that time the main way to get to the island from the mainland was by overnight boat. During this time no motorised vehicles existed on the island, people got around by foot and by boats, the island was covered in dense jungle and a sort trip today back then took several hours. As more and more boats came to the island the population started to increase due to outsiders visiting the island and finding it a beautiful place to stay. Samui had vast natural resources such as fruit trees, good fertile soil and rich waters. Rubber plantations and coconut exports were two of the main ventures on the island. The infrastructure on the island took a long time to develop due to the geography of the island such as the jungle and mountains, as it was difficult to get machinery and vehicles around the island.

History Of Samui
Around 1967 Khun Dilok Suthiklom the leader of the island asked the national Thai government to assist in developing the infrastructure on the island, the government agreed to help and building commenced on the island. By 1973 a 52km road was completed on the island and by mid 1970’s Western and European hippies / backpackers and travellers started arriving on the paradise island. When they first arrived there was no accommodation on the island, and tourists slept on the beach. The local people quickly extended their business on the island by establishing small bungalows, beach huts and restaurants to cater for the visitors.

History Of Samui
Between 1970-1980: the island became very popular to travellers and the islands popularity grew the island continues to export produce to the main land. Some of the varieties of fruits exported today are , mango, orchids, bananas, durian, lychee, pineapples, guava, and rambutan.
History Of Samui
In 1980 the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) started to promote and develop the island as a tourist destination. Many more business opened not he island, such as dive shops, guesthouses, and shops many expats came here and got married and set up life on the island.

History Of Samui
In 1989 (Bangkok Airways) funded the first international airport on the island, which is still in use today, this airport today is very distinctive, with it’s open air layout and bungalow type  buildings it has a wonderful tropical feel. Through the 1990’s the tourism on the island grew and new hotels were built on the island to cope with the  mass influx of tourists visiting the island.

Koh Samui Coconut Plantation

History Of Samui
Thankfully, still very much in evidence are quaint small villages and coconut plantations, which can still be found throughout the island. Whilst Koh Samui might not be the tropical paradise it once was some travellers who visit the island for a couple of weeks are still so entranced by its beauty, three months later they are still there. Some visitors feel that the island has been too over developed and leave. Whichever train of thought you fall into there is no denying that Samui can still provide a great setting in order to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. It is fair to say that during the last decade Koh Samui has undergone the biggest changes in its entire history. Not long after both international and Thai investors marvelled at the beauty of this one time remote paradise island, that construction of luxury and five star resorts and hotels began. This rapidly changed Koh Samui from a quite, sleepy island to one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of South East Asia.

History Of Samui
Hua Thanon (1989) Today Koh Samui is very much the modern jetsetters destination of choice where 5 star resorts and spas, as well as luxury properties are very much the norm.


Have you visited Koh Samui? What are your views on the island? What are some of your favourite places? We would love to hear your comments ..

Showing 9 comments
  • lilian

    Wow wow wow! What really lovely history with beautiful photos , i am very interested with this .Thank you so much for sharing

  • Kim

    I’m going back to Thailand this December with a friend and both of us are looking for new places to visit there. I’m going to mention Koh Samui island to her and see. Thank you!

  • Halley Wright

    I never knew about this history! The fact that the island has developed so much, but still holds its quaint, traditional charm is amazing! Thanks for sharing this!!

  • David

    Rich history and culture. Very informative and educative post.

  • Heraa Farooq

    It’s a good historical post explains a lot about the history of Koh Samui. I didn’t know Koh Samui had that much history behind it, the place is really beautiful and knowing about it’s history made me love the place more.

  • Gabi

    Have been coming to Samui for 5 years now every January. We love it here! It’s like a second home to us. Usually we spend 3 months on the island and enjoy the simple joys-good food,fab weather,wonderful people. I definitely recommend it to everyone! It’s paradise on Earth!???

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