Some 1,500 years ago Samui was probably first inhabited by fishermen using the island as a base to fish its rich waters. The island was first officially recorded on a Ming Dynasty map from China in approximately 1,500 AD. Many immigrants from Hunan have settled in the northern villages of Nathon and Maenam. Muslim fishermen settled in the South and East and Huan Thanon is still a strong Muslim enclave. During the 17th to 18th centuries the islands came under the rule of Nakhon Si Thammarat which at that time was the main power in southern Thailand. Eventually it came under the direct rule of the Siamese from Bangkok in the late 18th century, but Samui and other islands have always been essentially self-governing. By the end of the 19th century, the remote communities had been established and word of the beautiful islands in the Gulf of Thailand was already seeping through to the greater Thai country. After the Second World War, Thailand became more economically sophisticated and natural products such as timber, rubber and fruit became tradable commodities. These fertile islands were important for the plantations of coconuts which began to assume economic value to the country. Then the backpackers arrived and gradually tourism began to dominate the island economically and socially.
Ko Samui, the third largest island of Thailand and the largest in the southeast in the Gulf of Thailand, is surrounded with almost a hundred islands. The main islands, which are all near Samui Island and are inhabited, are Phangan, Tao and Tan Islands. Samui Island is 247 sq km It is full of tropical jungle and mountains up to 600 m high and is covered by almost 3 million coconut trees, some over 160 years old and 35 m tall.
The interesting spots on the island of paradise include:
Big Buddha Temple: The Big Buddha temple, locally called "Wat Phra Yai", is named after the 22 m golden Buddha enshrined at the very far end of the northeast coast. It is really a must for every visitor to Samui.
The temple is located on route 4171 not far from the airport. The Big Buddha sits magnificently upon the small island, Ko Fan. Usually plenty of tourists both local and international visit the huge statue. It is the island's most prominent landmark, which you can often see from the air before your aircraft even lands. There are a number of restaurants and souvenir stands around the temple to serve the visitors.
Kunaram Temple: The highly respected Kunaram Temple houses the mummified body of Samui's most famous monk, Loungpor Daeng. The body is on display here in a specially constructed building. Over 20 years ago, he died in the sitting position while he was performing meditation and his body shows few signs of any major decay. Wat Khunaram is on the 4169 ring road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon.
The Laem Sor Pagoda: The pagoda is located on the grounds of Laem Sor Temple. It sits magnificently at the rocks on the water's edge. It is covered in countless small yellow tiles, which appear golden when viewed from a short distance. At the far south of the island off the 4170 road between Ban Tale and Ban Page Ka, you can reach the temple by following the track with a sign that reads "Waikiki Bungalow."
Sumret Temple: This old temple is the guardian of the ancient White Marble Buddha, believed by the monks there to be many hundreds of years old. It also has within its grounds the "Secret Hall of Buddhas." This building houses a fine collection of revered and valuable Buddha images, some of which have recently been stolen resulting in the temple doors being locked most of the time. However, the monks will open them for a request, although a donation will be expected. Wat Sumret is 200 meters down the second concrete road on the left, West of Hua Thanon on the 4169 ring road.
The first level of Na Muang Waterfalls is 18 m high and tourists can easily take a vehicle to reach there as it is at the end of the road. The second level of falls is about 80 m high and a 30 minute walk is the only way to reach them. The second level is less frequently visited even though they are arguably the prettiest falls on the island and worth the walk. If you prefer to experience the elephant ride into the forest, Na Muang Safari located at the cross roads and can take you for a wild ride.
Hin Lad Waterfalls: Hin Lad Waterfalls with a well-posted sign are a 2 km walk from the main road just south of Nathon. It is quite a tough trek so make sure you have decent footwear or else you may get hurt from the uneven uphill and downhill track. The falls are really nice as long as there is enough water, but during the dry season, it is probably not worth the trek. Within the waterfalls, there is a pool that you can swim in to cool off.
Hin Ta and Hin Yai: The famous Hin Ta and Hin Yai or Grandfather and Grandmother rocks are strange natural formations fashioned by the elements into massive sculptures of male and female genitals. The strange, scenic spot makes an interesting viewpoint where the tourists can take great photographs. A local story has been told generation to generation about an elderly couple. They sailed a ship and it was wrecked in the bay. Their bodies were washed ashore to create the rocks. The rocks are well signposted and can be reached from the 4169 ring road just south of Lamai.
Samui's Butterfly Park, Bee House and Insect Museum: For nature enthusiasts interested in tropical insects, Samui's Butterfly Park houses many brightly colored butterflies. They live in a peaceful garden setting within a huge net cage. It is probably worth visiting for a nature walk although the price is quite expensive.
At Samui's Butterfly Park there is also a Bee House. All bees are kept in an old traditional Thai-style house and visitors are allowed to observe the activities of bees. Rare insects from Thailand and other countries are on display in the Insect Musuem. The Butterfly Park is situated in Laem Set on the southeast coast of Samui off highway 4170.
Samui's Monkey Center: Samui's Monkey Center is located on highway 4169 near Bophut. There are funny and enjoyable elephant and monkey shows. There are daily elephant rides for an adventurous jungle trek. The Monkey Center is open daily from 9 am until 5 pm. Show times for the hilarious performances are 10.30 am, 2 pm and 4 pm.