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chaweng high street circa 1960

History of Koh Samui

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Samui history - road builders circa 1970Prior 1940, there were no roads no vehicles on Koh Samui. The inhabitants of Koh Samui lived a simple life and almost without contact with the outside world. People moved around Koh Samui on foot or by boat by following the coast. To go from Maenam to Lamai for example, it took several hours of walking through Koh Samui’s mountainous jungle. Going there and back in the same day was impossible.

Tourism was non-existent in Koh Samui partly because there were no convenient means to get to the island. The only way of reaching Koh Samui from mainland Thailand was by a daily night boat, which took more than 6 hours to get to Nathon. Once you arrived in Koh Samui, it then took several hours to get to where you wanted to be on the island.

big buddha circa 1970Due to the mountainous topography of Koh Samui and the difficulty of transferring large machinery to help with the construction, the first plans to build a road in Koh Samui were abandoned. Finally in 1967, Khun Dilok Suthiklom, the head man of Koh Samui, decided that something must done and approached the Thai government for help.

There were 2 obstacles that had to be resolved: the high hill between Nathon and Maenam and the rocky and mountainous region between Lamai and Chaweng. At the beginning, construction was achieved with several hundred manual laborers to clear a way around Koh Samui. Trees and rocks were moved that finally resulted in a narrow track circumnavigating Koh Samui. In the first years before the concrete laying, you would frequently see the passengers of a vehicle outside pushing it up the hillside.

bungalows on a beach big buddha circa 1980The area between Lamai and Chaweng had to be cut in to the mountain along a 3km length, only achievable with the use of dynamite and heavy construction machinery. Machines were brought to Koh Samui from mainland Thailand but unfortunately had to be brought to an area of the coast that was deep enough for the transport container to land without getting stuck. During this period, delays plagued the project due to the monsoon season making progress practically impossible.

Finally in 1973, the Thai government gave the order to complete the project by pouring 52km of concrete to finish what is now known as the ring road of Koh Samui. For a long time, this road was only 2 meters in width until it was widen to cope with the increase in traffic.

Samui history circa 1989 houseAccompanying the rise of Koh Samui was a influx of immigrants from mainland Thailand and further afield, who quickly discovered the richness of the soil on Koh Samui was perfect for agriculture, starting a very important chapter in the history of Koh Samui. Coconut tree plantations were started as well as fruit plantations and orchids growing a variety of fruits such as banana, durian, lychee, pineapple, mango, guava, and rambutan.

It is thought that the first tourists to Koh Samui were European backpackers, who discovered this beautiful and tropical Thai island in the 1970’s. Obviously at this time the infrastructure was not in place for mass tourism. Back in those days most visitors slept in basic beach huts along one of Koh Samui’s beautiful undisturbed sandy beaches.

first bungalow circa 1970Tourism has advanced a great deal in Koh Samui since then and has overtaken farming as the main source of income for the island. The quality of the hotels in Koh Samui has improved dramatically along with the service, amenities, infrastructure and attractions. Koh Samui is now littered with high end 4-5* spa resorts and private villas to indulge your every desire.

Category: Culture & Religion, Koh Samui

Steve
A professional PADI & BSAC trained scuba diver with over 8 years experience living & working in Koh Samui, Thailand.

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